The first chapter here, 31, is called woe on Judah or woe to those who rely on Egypt or, the folly of not trusting God. This fifth woe affirms the fourth Oracle found in 30:1-33. Isaiah delivered yet another vision regarding Judah’s negotiations with Egypt, which probably occurred between 705-701 B.C. During that time, the conquering Assyrians were on the move, swallowing up everything in their path, including threatening Judah. If we go back to 2 Kings 18:13-16 we will find that at first, king Hezekiah tried political and military means to avoid being totally conquered by Assyria. But now things have changed for Hezekiah. Looking to the Lord here implores going to Him seeking guidance with a worshipful attitude. We also see a recognition that the Egyptians are just like the folks from Judah. They are only humans and at the rate they are going they will perish together. Verses 4-9 are prophecy concerning God’s protection of Jerusalem and her rescue from Assyria. The lion here is the Lord of hosts and His resolve to fight the enemy, and the multitude of shepherds are the Assyrian officers. The hill and Mount Zion are synonymous and the birds flying overhead picture the Lord’s passionate commitment to defend Jerusalem. We even have a reference to the original Passover, when the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites on His way to kill all the firstborn of the Egyptians. The Assyrians would not be destroyed in battle but at the hand of the angel of death who would slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. The battle flags were rallying points but the Assyrians would be too dispirited to rally for the cause. Instead they fled, the few left after the 185,000 were killed, and God Himself would be the fire that would devour Assyria.
First we have the woe and now we move a chapter and see the Kingdom of Righteousness, Israel’s ultimate deliverance. The righteous king was coming, but not for nearly 600 more years, in the person of Jesus Christ. Now the emphasis is in righteous and wise leadership. In Isaiah’s day honest princes were few and far between. Isaiah gives us four similes here to describe the future kings protection and provision for His people that are contrasted with Israel’s current leadership. There would be shelter, refuge, shade and plenty of water. Perhaps you caught a phrase from a Lenten hymn in verse 2…”the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land”. People’s eyes and ears would be opened, they would have a heart that understands, and a tongue that speaks plainly. Isaiah reminds the people that only foolish people value fools and scoundrels as heros and because they do not care about God’s standards of justice and righteousness, fools have no regard for those who are hungry or thirsty. How we speak and treat others comes straight from our hearts.
The prophecy of verses 9-15 is yet another prophecy of judgement, this time against the complacent women of Jerusalem. God’s promises regarding the future did not justify continuing in sin. The women of Jerusalem had a high standard of living and a low standard of morality. They put their trust in things of the world, wealth, status, and maintaining their way of life. However, trouble was looming with Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. Not only would the people be in danger but all of the crops would be lost because of the invasion. Isaiah told the people they would end up wearing sackcloth, a sign of grief and mourning. The Assyrian conquest of the farmlands of Judah and most of her cities, except for Jerusalem, would cause the rich people in the large cities to mourn. Not only would their access to fine goods be severely limited but they would lose money on crops that would not be harvested and sold. Jerusalem would eventually be destroyed but not by the Assyrians. The Babylonians would cause this destruction. It would be the Spirit who would transform the nation into a godly community and bring in an era of justice and righteousness. The Spirit is connected to the Messiah, the servant. Isaiah also reminds the people that when the people are finally transformed, nature will be as well. Being right with both God and others will bring peace, or shalom. This is more than just no fighting. Shalom is a concept rather than just a word. It includes personal wholeness and does not depend on outside circumstances. God’s people will live in safety and they will be at rest in the blessings of the Lord’s covenant promises…the ones He had made many years before. The people’s sin had prevented them from enjoying these blessings, but there will come a time when every blessing God has for His people will be enjoyed without interruption. Both city and forest might be destroyed but the godly would remain secure.
Chapter 33 is entitled a prayer in deep distress or distress and help. This is the sixth threat of woe and although the text does not specifically name Assyria as the object of the prophecy, Isaiah most likely had them in mind. They were the destroyer at hand when this was written, but this prophecy has a bigger target. Isaiah is prophesying to any who might seek to destroy God’s people, including the Babylonians who had not yet come to power. Wicked nations often broke alliances with other nations when they were no longer to their advantage. The godly community here prayed for God to be merciful as they waited. Isaiah references Sharon, Bashan, and Carmel. These were all fertile and fruitful areas and their destruction represents the destruction Assyria inflicted on Israel. In most places Assyria was turning other nations into worthless dry grass and stubble. Now they would get a taste of their own medicine. Isaiah speaks often about the godless. These were people who lived without regard for God and His laws, statutes and commandments. God’s judgement would come as a devouring fire. He expects people to worship Him in reverence and awe. Verses 17-24 is a vision about God’s reign in Zion. The king here is a representative of the Great King, God Himself. The land belonging to God’s people would appear to be without borders because the foreign enemies would be judged and destroyed. The Assyrian officers had brought terror to Jerusalem but God had been faithful to His promise that Assyria would not invade the city. The strange language would have been first that of the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. And the people would no longer be sick because the Lord would forgive their sins.
The last two chapters of today’s reading are like an appendix to the sixth woe. Chapter 34 is a judgement against the nations. There is language that some will find offensive but blood and gore were a very real part of everyday lives. There was the slaughter of animals for food and worship, and there was brutal warfare. This type of ‘street language’ simply confirmed to Judah that a day would come when God would bring justice. This judgement of the nations would come at the terrifying day of the Lord, and they would be completely destroyed. This terminology is something we have seen before, when Israel was moving into the promised land. This total destruction refers to the complete consecration of things, animals, or people to the Lord, either by destroying them or by giving them as an offering. The host of heaven in verse 4 refers to pagan deities. All of the old will go away and the new ushered in. There are references to this in the books of Joel, Matthew, Mark, 2 Peter, and Revelation. Edom became what all the nations would experience, and all the adversaries of God and His people.
Isaiah reminds us that sin must be atoned for, here signified by the blood and fat. The fat was considered the choicest portion and was always given to the Lord. Blood was shed for the atonement of sins. Bozrah was a significant Edomite city, located about 25 miles southeast of the southern tip of the Dead Sea. And once again we see a reference to the burning surfer and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord’s revenge refers to God’s wrathful but righteous vengeance against His enemies and the oppressors of His people on the day of the Lord. There will be retribution for Edom’s crimes against Judah and Edom with its history of treachery will come to an end. Edom’s judgement will be similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of people there wild animals, night birds, and hostile plants with thorns and nettles and they will create an eerie environment. Note that many of the animals listed here were on the list of unclean creatures in Deuteronomy 14:11-18. When it comes to searching the book of the Lord, this is most likely a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy. This was God’s witness to the truthfulness of his Word. The Spirit of the Lord enacts the Lord’s decrees, assuring that all prophecy comes together to be fulfilled as God promised.
We end once again with hope for restoration, the joy of the redeemed, and the future glory of Zion. God will come to vindicate and transform His people. Instead of being blind, deaf, and lame the people will be holy, pure, and redeemed. This is amazing news! First, God’s land would become a wasteland, spiritually desolate and physically exiled. But, there would come a time when God would turn the wasteland into a garden…taking His people from exile to glory. There will be a reversal of earlier judgements and the glory of the Lord will be on full display through the renewed earth, and the returning captives from exile. Tired hands and weak knees are signs of both discouragement and anxiety. Isaiah shares words that Moses shared with Joshua, be strong and do not fear. The Lord is assuring His people of His presence and purpose. There is good news that the Lord is coming to save His people. And His coming will bring with it spiritual transformation as well as rescue from their enemies. The transformation will be from spiritual blindness and deafness to understanding and knowing God. All handicaps will be removed so every believer can come to the Lord.
The great road, or safe road may mean a couple of different things. A safe highway is a reversal of judgement but its might also be imagery of Israel crossing through the parted Red Sea. ONLY the holy and undefiled people will share the highway of holiness. God’s goal in salvation is that humans will share in His character and act as He does. However, this prophecy of Isaiah extends way past the return of the exiles from Babylon. It takes God’s people all the way to the final establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. This will be characterized by joy and gladness and the absence of sorrow and mourning. (Revelation 7:17).
We are fortunate that Isaiah breaks up his oracles and woes with hope and good news. For the people of Isaiah’s day and for us today, all the bad news Isaiah had to share would be overwhelming all at once. But like today, there is challenge and good, all mixed together. We can choose to focus on only the challenges and the bad or we can look for the good in the midst of it all. Because there is always good. Sometimes we just have to look a bit harder for it than others.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W