The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 10; Chapters 13-14 in Overview
Israel in world history:
Chapters 6-12 painted a Zion centered picture of history. Chapters 13-27 seek to justify this picture in the actual historical situation of world history. The world history of this section merges forward to the prophecies of the end of world history, the coming Day of the Lord and the Millennium of Christ that caps it. Isaiah masterfully uses contemporary events and near future (interim) prophecy to point to, as well as give proof of, the far future prophecies (eschatology) concerning Israel and the end world for both the saved and the judged.
Since we have removed Friday night classes in the ministry, I still intended on working in my office on Fridays. My wife, quite brilliant and insightful at times, suggested that I use the time to write, as she knows how much I enjoy writing freely, but seldom find time for it. Taking up this suggestion, I spend my Fridays now writing, among which projects is this blog. Yet, this time affords me more opportunity for research, the heart of writing; and my research on this section of Isaiah has for me opened up more of the purposes of God for which He used this great prophet. And so, we restart chapters 13-14 as I have restarted the whole section of 13-27 in my research. As stated above, this entire section points to world history as a guided picture for the end of history and the eternity to come, made up of people, the saved and the judged, and God and angels. Knowing this section gives any believer the backdrop that he needs to interpret all history, including the contemporary history he is walking through, or sleeping through, if that unfortunately be the case.
Is the Lord really and truly ruling history and guiding it to His predetermined end? Isaiah throughout deals with the present, the impending (near future), and the eschatological (far future) in order to prove exactly that God is indeed ruling and guiding each and every day of human history.
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!
It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
Therefore all hands will fall limp,
And every man's heart will melt.
And they will be terrified,
Pains and anguish will take hold of them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor,
They will look at one another in astonishment,
Their faces aflame.
Babylon is here presented by Isaiah as eschatological within the motif of the Day of the Lord (13:6-8), and if this should appear unreal, Isaiah offers an interim fulfillment (the overthrow of Assyria) that the people can watch, guaranteeing the far future. Assyria was such a superpower at the time, that her overthrow was unimaginable. Here, God demonstrates His management of history. God asks us for faith, but it is not so much a leap in the dark as some deniers proclaim.
The appearance of things in world history is a view of the exercise of power by human will, which in Isaiah’s day are the kingdoms of Assyrian, Egypt, and (coming soon…) Babylon at their height. The reality behind the appearance, however, is the exercise of sovereign rule by the will of God, which is judgment (the Day of the Lord) and restoration (the Millennium for both Jew and Gentile).
The human mind cannot always trace out the course of divine purposes, and even the believing mind has to admit that everything looks like a terrifying mess.
God’s word in these prophecies contrast the appearance of human glory with the reality of human emptiness; exposing the crack in the foundation, the worm in the bud, the viper in the tall grass. Man’s glory and his kingdoms are not as mighty as they appear. God’s kingdom is far more mighty than it appears, even to the believing mind. And, as we (they and we) witness the overthrow of Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Rome to come, we imagine, with blessed assurance, that coming day when we will stand in the midst of the kingdom of God, visible to our physical eyes, while today we rejoice that we are members of it, and that forever, beholding its halls, paths, and spires with the eyes of our heart.
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
Through all of Isaiah’s prophecies we find the care of the people of God - the power that gathers nations (13:2-5), overthrows kingdoms (13:17-19), breaks kings (14:5 f), and ends empires (14:24 f) is the same power of compassion to the remnant of Israel and of the church. And in unfathomable grace, this power brings peace to a divided world when aliens shall be joined to Israel (14:16; 19:24-25) in the Millennial reign of Christ - a union, to be sure, prototyped in the mystery of the church where Jew and Gentile would become “one new man” (EPH 2:15).
We will see in this section of Isaiah, as well as the section we are about to tackle in Ephesians, that God finds unity and peace among men to be of such great importance that He made it one of the permanent results of the finished work of Christ and one of the banners of His kingdom to come. How far outside His will are any of us when we foster or create disunity, division, jealousy, or strife.
Babylon of chapter 13:
Babylon, the historical city and empire, is the ancient locus of arrogant self-sufficiency (Gen 11; and in the future, REV 14:18). Isaiah knew that Judah would be deported, but that Assyria wouldn’t be the tool used to do it. When Assyria did invade Judah, Isaiah knew that would be the beginning of the decline of the empire (10:24-34). The dark force gestating, lingering, waiting, seething that would take Judah away, destroying the grand Temple of Solomon, was Babylon.
This is all a mini dress rehearsal for the actual day to come, the Day of the Lord.
What is man?
When the Day of the Lord comes (Tribulation) people will show their true colors, their sin and evil that God is in the process of cleansing the earth from, and they will turn on each other with grotesque fury (13:14-16, 18). It will be a remorseless slaughter, even upon innocent children; without a modicum of mercy. This shows us that man is not a mere puppet in God’s hands, but, allowed to be the right circumstances, he is simply being himself to the fullest, his unnatural acts fulfilling God’s supernatural purposes.
"This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?"
The stretching forth of His hand can also be understood as the withdrawing of His hand, removing His restraining power to leave sinners to implement all of the inhumane savagery of their fallen, corrupt nature, bereft of God’s limitation.
Humane (from the word human) is defined in the dictionary as having the qualities befitting human beings. These qualities are further defined as compassion, tenderness, kindness, courtesy, civility, obligation. Yet, these are divine characteristics, as God is the only source of them. We can readily understand that these traits are desired in man as being made in the image of the divine, especially when the man is my overlord or ruler or wife or husband. Do we find them in man? Somewhat. Almost always, when we walk by a man on the street, he doesn’t turn and bash us over the head and take our valuables. People are civil to one another because invisible forces (societal norms, God’s judgment, inner conscience) around them and in them force them to be. It is only the devout Christian who actually does them well, and consistently, and especially when there are no witnesses to say, “Ahah, pig!” Fallen man has but a tarnished piece of them, and that only with God’s restraining hand. Remove the hand and find unregenerate man to be what he really is.
In the Day of the Lord sin will be able to take center stage, allowed to play itself improvisationally, without a script to follow, letting its hair down, so to speak. It will reveal its dark soul. It is a destroyer and its sister is death. Independent man will finally have what he has always claimed to want - godlessness.
The Day of the Lord has many interim prequels that are a sort of type or mini-preview. The overthrow of Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Rome are examples. With an understanding of Isaiah as a backdrop, we can read contemporary history with open eyes.
Chapter 14 is the blessed compassion.
The atonement of Christ frees up the justice of God to bless man. God’s blessings change the man, allowing him to see and enjoy God’s compassionate blessings - one of which is wisdom (EPH 1:8 - right after forgiveness). All who believe, Jew and Gentile, OT or NT, are changed. Faith in the OT changes the principles and foundations of thought. To know that the Lord is your only Redeemer, the only source of life and truth, changes the footing upon which all important thoughts about life rest. Faith in the age of the church goes further and changes the entire man by implantation of a divine nature, making a brand new man. Neither the lesser or the greater change makes for a sinless man, but it does most certainly open his eyes, and thus opened, God can put something precious in front of them - divine love. The atonement of Christ had this end in mind …
"I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known Thee, yet I have known Thee; and these have known that Thou didst send Me; and I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou didst love Me may be in them, and I in them."
… that we would be unified in the same envelopment of the love of God.
(Notice in the John passage above the instances of "___ Me". Read through it again and say them out loud, "in Me, send Me, given Me." It has a powerful impact.)
Sin and unbelief spit on that love. So while judgment has a universal purpose for some, so does compassion for some others. To believers in all ages, beholding God’s love as God has fashioned their eyes to behold, thus curing their blindness from birth, the Day of the Lord will mean the end of all suffering, turmoil, and cruel bandage.
How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!
The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
The scepter of rulers
Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes,
Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.
The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.
God's grace, peace, and mercy be with us all.
Pastor Joe Sugrue
Grace and Truth Ministries