Posts Tagged 'Assyrians'

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 3

God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

ISAIAH, Part 5

The Assyrian army taking a city.

The Power of Prayer

Isaiah 37:14—20

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD… (Isaiah 37:14, 15)

At first blush, that seems like a strange thing to do. Why would King Hezekiah take his mail into the temple of the Lord and spread it open, as if to let the Lord read it. Understanding why leads us to see the amazing power of prayer.

1. Historical facts

a. Summary of history

Chapters 36 to 39 form a “historical interlude.” They break a string of prophecies and give us a glimpse of Isaiah’s world. Why do you suppose there are four full chapters of pure history sandwiched in between Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the government and judgment of God and the grace of God, that is, salvation instead of judgment? Most scholars cite three good reasons.

First, history from God’s perspective is often quite different from that of man’s perspective. God’s view of history is laced with great spiritual truths missing from secular history. One can only see these truths through eyes of faith; it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to see God’s hand and purpose in the affairs of man.

Second, the events that we read about in chapters 36 to 39 are found in three different locations in Scripture: 2 Kings 18—19; 2 Chronicles 29, 30; and here in Isaiah. We have to ask ourselves: Why did the Holy Spirit see fit to have three versions of this piece of Hebrew history in God’s Word? Without a doubt, the Lord has some special truth or truths for us to learn. Among the great lessons God wants us to learn, we see some really remarkable miracles taking place during these years:

  • The death angel slays 185,000 Assyrians (Isa. 37:36—38)

  • The sun moves backwards ten degrees on Ahaz’s sundial (Isa. 38:7, 8)

  • God heals Hezekiah and extends his life 15 years (Isa. 38:1—5)

Third, this section opens with the Kingdom of Assyria and closes with the Kingdom of Babylon, spanning the decline and rise of two world empires key in Hebrew history. In chapter 36, King Hezekiah deals with the invasion of Assyria under Sennacherib. Chapter 37 details Hezekiah’s prayer and the resultant destruction of the Assyrian army. Chapter 38 records Hezekiah’s illness, prayer, and healing. And in chapter 39, we see Hezekiah making a fool of himself.

b. Attack of the Assyrians

To set the scene for Hezekiah’s action of 37:14—20, we look back at chapter 36.

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. (36:1)

Sennacherib, King of Assyria, and his mighty army came down on Judah with an army as large as a swarm of locusts. He had three reasons for this attack on Judah:

  • Hezekiah had refused to pay the tribute to Assyria since the days of King Ahaz;

  • He had opened negotiations with Babylon and Egypt for the sake of an alliance against Assyria;

  • He had helped the Philistines of Ekron to rise against their king, who supported Assyria, and had kept that king in prison at Jerusalem.

Things were bleak in Judah, and the army of Assyria was facing the walls of Jerusalem when the commander of the army relayed a message to King Hezekiah, designed to undermine his confidence in his allies, in his God, in Judah’s military strength, and ultimately in Judah’s divine destiny.

Then the Assyrian turned his attention to the common Jew, speaking loudly to them, shut up behind the great wall, in Hebrew:

This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! (verse 14)

He tried to win the Jews over with promises of food and drink if they would just surrender to him and go with him to his land, a land as good as theirs. Worst of all, he tried to convince the people that their God was no better than all the other gods of all the other nations around Judah.

c. God’s response

Hezekiah wasn’t a good king, he was a truly great king. In 2 Chronicles 29:1 and 2, we are told that Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as David had done. He loved Judah so much that that single fact alone was arguably his greatest weakness. At one point, he attempted to stave off the Assyrian invasion by bribing Sennacherib with gold he stripped off the temple (see the story in 2 Kings 18). However, the politically expedient policy of appeasement has never worked in history; you just can’t pay an evil power to be your friend, and so now the Assyrian army was just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Hezekiah turned to the Lord:

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. (Isaiah 37:1)

The king did exactly the right thing in turning to the Lord for help. Here is a great lesson for the believer to lay hold of. You must ask for help before you can receive it. In this case, the help from God came in the form of advice from the prophet Isaiah. We don’t know what Hezekiah had in his mind when was in the temple praying, but God sent him Isaiah. This reminds us of what James wrote, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). Isaiah’s message was startling and to the point:

Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’” (Isa. 37:6, 7)

This must have been welcome news indeed for the king to hear! It was literally fulfilled, but not after the Assyrian tried one more time to capture Jerusalem by send Hezekiah one last letter.

2. What Hezekiah did

a. The cause of the king’s trouble

This brings us to the reason why Hezekiah took his mail into the temple that day. He received a final letter from the Assyrian and it caused the king great trouble. We don’t know what was in that letter, but it must have been disheartening. Consider the context. Hezekiah had just been in the temple praying about this dreadful situation. God had seemingly answered Hezekiah’s prayer through Isaiah; Judah was to be spared and the Assyrian army would be destroyed. But now another threatening letter; what did it mean? Had God changed His mind? Was Isaiah wrong in the first place?

A lot of Christians have found themselves in this exact same uncomfortable position. They have had prayers answered, been the recipients of great blessings and even miracles, yet trouble continues to come at them. They do the right thing and live their faith yet they continually hear from the “messenger of Satan.” Like it or not, the enemy of our souls never rests, and he will be active until his bitter end. That can be very disheartening to the child of God. This is why Peter wrote these words:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:7—9)

His advice is worth following. When you get anxious, tell God about it. Keep your wits about you. Be aware that the devil isn’t going anywhere soon and eventually he will set his sights on you. This happens to every Christian, no believer is exempt, not even the greatest saint of the church! So resist the devil; stand firm in the faith. In other words, don’t feel sorry for yourself when you get bad news! It happens to us all; just keep trusting in the Lord and let the Lord deal with it.

b. What the king did

Verse 14 tells us that Hezekiah spread out this letter before the Lord in the temple. He didn’t read it to everybody, he let the Lord read it personally. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that when we come the God, we must come to Him in faith, believing that He exists. In other words, we must come to God in a personal way, as we would come to any human being, believing Him to be that real, which He is. Hezekiah did just that; he spread open this letter as though God were right there in front of him, ready to read it.

c. How the king prayed

And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD. (verse 15)

Is there anything else a human being can do when faced with a crisis to which his resources are inadequate? Hezekiah’s prayer is jam-packed with Biblical theology from beginning to end. True prayer never denies the facts, rather, it faces them head on but interprets them theologically. That’s how Hezekiah prayed. That’s also how the early church prayed in Acts 4:24—31.

Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” (Acts 4:24b)

Sennacherib’s challenge was in essence a showdown. But it wasn’t between Nehemiah and the Assyrian commander. It wasn’t between the Jews and the Assyrians. It was between the real and the phony; between the truth and lies. Hezekiah’s prayer indicates that he realized that and he expressed it the words he chose.

  • LORD Almighty, the God of Israel… The first thing the king acknowledged was that even though he was the king, there was One greater than he, and it was really God who was over Israel. Other nations had their gods, other people worshiped their rulers, but not Israel. Israel’s God was Yahweh.

  • you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Not only is Yahweh sovereign over Israel, He is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth. This is a profound statement. It indicates that God is literally overseeing what is going on in every nation, not just Israel. Psalm 102:15–The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

  • You have made heaven and earth. If Yahweh made all that can be seen, it’s reasonable to see Him as ruler over it!

  • ...they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Other nations have come and gone and their so-called gods have perished because unlike Yahweh, they were not real

  • Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God. Now all the nations needed to see who really is God alone. He cannot be stopped by the plans of any man. Fire cannot stop Him because Yahweh was not fashioned by the hands of man; He is an eternal spirit who dwells among the angels.

Linked to Judah’s deliverance—their salvation—was a revelation of God to all people, acknowledging that Yahweh was God alone. So, for Hezekiah, the salvation of Israel meant the vindication of God among the heathen, and the possibility that they, like Israel, would come to know Him as God alone.

3. Hezekiah’s success

Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! (verse 36)

“The angel of the Lord” is described as “going out.” The Hebrew word is usually used of going forward in battle. Though the “angel of the Lord” is distinct from God, He is identified with Him. It was God who fought for Hezekiah and the Jews. How did He slay all those soldiers?

The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that that night Sennacherib’s camp became infested with rats that destroyed the soldier’s weapons and killed the soldiers. In the ancient east, rats are usually identified with some sort of terrible plague. However God did it, He decimated the Assyrian army and those left alive beat a hasty retreat.

But God wasn’t finished with the Assyrians just yet. There is a span of some twenty years between verses 37 and 38, but Isaiah seems to indicate that all the events were part of God’s judgment on Sennacherib and the Assyrians:

One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword…

Sennacherib was assassinated while worshiping his false God. The God of the Jews protected them, Sennacherib’s gods did nothing for him. This was more than enough evidence that Yahweh was real.

The power of prayer is evidenced by success.  Sometimes that success is a long time in coming.  Ultimately, Hezekiah’s prayer was completely answered after his death.  That’s a good thing to remember when we pray!  We need to pray in faith believing for an answer.  We need to look for the answer.  But we need to realize that God’s time isn’t necessarily ours.

Is there any sadness or sorrow so great or circumstance so frustrating that the prayer of faith can’t bring deliverance and success? The words of Jesus affirm what King Hezekiah knew:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

ISAIAH, Part 4

One spoiled kid!

Woe to Rebellious Children

Isaiah 30

Chapter 30 of Isaiah presents another “woe,” this one issued by the Lord to Judah. These “woes,” beginning in chapter 28, contain both promises and threats to various people. The “woes” proclaimed went out to:

  • the leaders of Ephraim and Judah (ch. 28)

  • the City of David (ch. 29)

  • Judah, the stubborn nation (ch. 30)

  • those who were relying on Egypt, (ch. 31)

After all that God had done for His people, for some reason, instead of turning to Him for help in times of crisis, they continually turned away from Him and sought the help of other nations. This time, they turned to the now-feeble nation of Egypt. It was a ridiculous idea; Egypt was weak and getting weaker. What help could they possibly offer to Judah? Turning to them made no sense whatsoever, but that fact didn’t stop Judah from doing just that.

Like all sin, this rebellious act had no thought behind it. It would only harm Judah. When sin is looked at from God’s perspective, it never makes sense. It always harms the one involved in it. But that is the nature of rebellion. Like the spoiled child who, though hungry and thirsty, screams and throws his bowl of food on the floor and spits out his milk ends up with nothing to eat or drink, when the believer stubbornly refuses to turn to God, preferring to turn to others for help, he ends up with nothing.

While time and again God’s people turned a deaf ear to the prophets, this time Judah actually listened! The Southern Kingdom listened to Isaiah and did not join with Egypt in order to be delivered from the Assyrians. However, the Northern Kingdom of Israel ignored the prophet’s warning and the result: they were utterly destroyed as they were taken into captivity.

Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes. (2 Kings 17:3—7)

1. Like rebellious children, verses 1—3

This is the fourth “woe,” and it was an unmistakable warning. Essentially, this woe is simple: Don’t go to Egypt for help.

One thing is certain, a person never wants God to pronounce a “woe” against them! Generally speaking, when God pronounces a “woe” against a person, nation, or group of people, it’s already too late for them.

a. The nature of this “woe”

Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.” (verses 1, 2)

The proposed alliance with Egypt occasioned this “woe.” The TNIV’s translation “obstinate” can also be translated “rebellious.” Either is correct, but “rebellious” might convey Judah’s attitude better. Judah’s rebellion against Assyria was also a rebellion against their God. A rebellious child of God never pleases anybody; not God, not the world, and never themselves. Sin never satisfies.

Judah’s idea of aligning themselves with Egypt was not only a rebellious action against God, it was a cruel, in-you-face manifestation of self-will. Judah, though, had a bad habit of manifesting self-will, since we are told this latest idea was one more sin, piled high on an already high pile of sin.

The Jews were not being led by God’s Spirit in this venture. This alliance was not His idea, therefore it was a bad idea. God was not angry just because the Jews strayed from His will, He was angry because His people were so spiritually dull they couldn’t see how harmful this alliance would really be.  This reminds us of James’ “double minded man.”  Here is a spiritually dull believer who can’t muster the faith to receive anything, including direction, from the Lord.

Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:7, 8)

It was dangerous to seek help from Egypt because at this point in history, they were far into their state of decline. Isaiah rightfully referred to the kind of protection Pharaoh could offers as merely “shade.” Indeed, his protection would have been an illusion.

Whatever any sin promises the one being tempted, it is in reality just an illusion. It is true that sin can make the sinner feel good; that’s why even good Christians struggle against it. But whatever good feelings sin provided, they are temporary. Sin never satisfies because it can never deliver what it promises. God is the Author of joy and happiness, peace and prosperity, not sin. Do you know why sin cannot satisfy any human being? The answer may surprise you:

…you were dead in your transgressions and sins… (Ephesians 2:1)

A corpse is incapable of any feelings whatsoever. Judah, on the verge of committing this dreadful sin, would get nothing in return for jumping in bed with Egypt, a corpse.

b. The result of this “woe”

But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. (verses 3—5, verse 3 cited)

In spite of Pharaoh’s friendly reception of Judah, their trust in his support would result only in disillusionment and disgrace. Just as Judah got themselves into deeper trouble by turning to others for help and rejecting the Word of god, so believers, when they seek anything from any source other than God find themselves in spiritual quicksand.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13—15)

The outcome for one involved in sin is never good. James gives us the “gestation of sin.” Sin and sinning have consequences: ultimately ending in death. One way or another, the sinner will die; he will die in his sins and he will die spiritually. But there is another law at work here. Jeremiah 17:5 is a frightening verse for anybody considering yielding to temptation and sinning:

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who trust in mortals, who depend on flesh for their strength and whose hearts turn away from the LORD.”

God actively campaigns against those who willingly and knowingly turn from Him and get involved in things not His will. So sin carries with it natural consequences and supernatural consequences. Does sin make any sense? Of course not! But that doesn’t seem to deter many Christians from committing them.

c. Reaction to this “woe”

The people of Judah were so bent on going their own way according to their own plans, they wanted nothing to do with Isaiah and the Word of the Lord.

For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction. (verse 9)

It seems as though the more Isaiah preached the truth to his people, the more his people became filled with antagonism. The Word of God sometimes has this effect on people. We frequently hear about the “drawing power” of the Word, but sometimes for stubborn, obstinate, rebellious believers, who know full-well their sin, it has the opposite effect. It arouses feelings of anger and bitterness within, usually toward the one giving them the truth.

See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (verses 10, 11)

In other words, “Either make us feel good with your preaching, or take your God and go!” Is it possible to fall so far from God that a Christian can adopt that attitude? One only has to watch the “sermons” that are broadcast on so-called Christian TV these days to realize how watered down the Gospel has become. Christians would rather feel good than feel God.

2. God’s ever-gracious response

In spite of Judah’s stubbornness, God never stopped longing for His people:

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! (verse 18)

Isaiah’s “therefore” and “because” of verse 12 begins a series of startling expressions of “the law of relationships.” Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul expressed Isaiah’s “law of relationships” this way:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8)

The Jews were sowing the wind and were about to reap the whirlwind!

Historically, the alliance with Egypt never happened. This was one instance where God’s people heeded God’s Word. Judah, because of that obedience, was spared the destruction that was the fate of Israel.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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