Isaiah part 23: The Lord of History, chapters 28-37
As we have been doing, we will overview the section and then look at it more closely.
In the last section (13-27) the prophet gave us an overview of divine purposes, and now Isaiah reveals the reality of divine power that moves and controls history and fulfills all promises. Buckle up - God is going to reveal His purposes and no one nor anything is going to stop them.
At two points in the last section, Isaiah predicted the gathering of Egypt and Assyria into the perfect, righteous brotherhood of God’s people in full submission and fellowship. This would have sounded unlikely and fantastic to those who heard. Enemies would become friends, those who hated God would become submissive, outsiders would become willing and happy insiders within God’s kingdom. Could this really be?
Interim promises fulfilled means the certainty of last day promises.
Isaiah has offered interim fulfillments of promises already: the conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (8:4-8), the conquest of Moab (16:13-14), Assyrian victory over Egypt (20:1-6), Shebna and Eliakim (22:15-25), the economic ruin of Tyre (23:17). These are given to the people so that they may believe the Lord’s promises about the far off future, and in this next section Isaiah is going to give his greatest of interim fulfillments, demonstrated before the very eyes of the people. The great Assyria would surround helpless Jerusalem and the Lord would miraculously destroy the Assyrian army, revealing real time, unmistakably clear evidence that the Lord is sovereign over Judah, Assyria, and Egypt. The outcome would be just as the Lord willed, and that by direct divine action. First, Judah, under king Hezekiah, would make an alliance with Egypt rather than trusting the Lord (though warned against this by Isaiah). Egypt is shown to be all talk, hot air, and ineffective as Assyria flexes its colossal muscles, releasing its strength upon the rebel Egypt. Then the vicious conqueror, who swept over all foes as easily as a tidal wave, is found on Judah’s doorstep while Jerusalem trembles with fear, and they are destroyed in one night by the angel of the Lord. The people will see it all happen right before them, and all orchestrated by God so that they will trust Him to do all that He has promised.
We can divide this section into sub-sections. In the first (28-29), the lines concern the alliance between Judah and Egypt, though neither Egypt nor Assyria are mentioned by name. Names are left out so that our attention will focus on the principles of how the Lord deals with His people. This is much like chapters 1-5.
Then in chapters 30-32, Isaiah brings in the names of Egypt and Assyria, plainly dealing with his own current events, but as he deals with current history, he interweaves it with the distant future (eschatology). The future Messianic kingdom is placed side by side with the downfall of Assyria. This is like chapters 7-11.
In chapters 33-35 the acts of God in history become the pattern of His acts in the distant future. This is like 13-27. God shows His fulfilled future to every man through the very circumstances and events that they live through.
Finally, God wraps up this section with a grand display of His latent power in chapters 36-37. It is as if God were saying, “Look what I can do, and I can do it at any time I please. Now trust Me, for I will do all that I have promised.”
It is clear that the human race has a ‘trusting in God’ problem and God is gracious in the face of it, reminding us again and again and proving the immutability of His promises and the inexhaustible depth of His power.
Chapters 28-35 have their own six-part unity, marked by the recurrence of the word “Woe” or “Ho!”. The first three offer principles of divine action, and the second three give matching applications to history and eschatology.
The first three “Woes”: God’s people reject His word, disaster comes upon them, there is a deliverance but many remain unchanged.
The second three “Woes”: Refuge is sought in Egypt, divine deliverance scorns Egypt’s help proving that there is only one kingdom and King, and the treacherous people who currently rule will not last.
Obvious and not so obvious:
There are obvious points in this section that God never seems to tire of repeating. People who reject His word will only come to disaster. The road to disaster always leads just there.
I recently read a story in which there was a Christian couple living in a suburban neighborhood who loved the Lord and lived for Him. They had friends and neighbors who were making terrible decisions and were overcome with greed, addiction, selfishness, sexual immorality, etc., and these would often come to the Christian couple for advice and help. The questions would go something like this: “We’re on the road to disaster, can you help us to avoid disaster?” To this, the couple would always say, “Stop what you are doing. Turn away from it, and get on the road that leads to life.” The response was always the same - No. “We don’t want to get off the road. We like it. What we want you to tell us is how we can remain on the road and not meet with disaster.”
The road to disaster always ends up there. God is patient and mercifully makes that road longer than He could so that we have plenty of time, along with pain, to conclude that it’s time to take that exit up ahead that says “Road to Life” and say farewell to the road we have travelled for too long.
Another obvious point is that God’s kingdom is wonderful. His future kingdom, in which His will for mankind finally comes to fruition, is morally, socially, and spiritually pure and rewarding. The enemy will finally be destroyed. We need not fret over the evildoer or the treacherous tyrant. They will meet their end justly.
One of the not so obvious points is that historical deliverance, strikingly done by God and recorded in chapters 36-37, does not change people spiritually. In chapter 29 we see the promise of deliverance from Jerusalem’s (Ariel’s) enemies, but the people become unseeing and unhearing of reality like a staggering drunk. Physical or historical deliverance does not always change people’s hearts. Only faith in the truth of God’s grace enacts change. God uses the disaster, the overwhelming conqueror, the sickness, the war, the economic collapse to reveal the truth of His grace in that only He is life and hope, but still many go down as rebels against Him.
Isaiah creates cleverly integrated mosaics. We saw this in the ten oracles of the last section and we see it in the six woes of this section. They are designed to present a unified message that thrills the hearer and begs him to dig deeper and look more thoroughly. The message is that God is sovereign over every situation from beginning to end, and therefore, there is no one else to trust for deliverance and a good destiny. The message is that God is gracious; He will deliver all who come to Him by faith and they will anticipate, hope in, and rejoice in their certain future with the Lord, and they will not fear the history through which they pass.
[Says Sennacherib king of Assyria to Hezekiah king of Judah]
'Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying," Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria."
[Says Yavah Elohim to Sennacherib, king of Assyria]
“Because of your raging against Me,
And because your arrogance has come up to My ears,
Therefore I will put My hook in your nose,
And My bridle in your lips,
And I will turn you back by the way which you came.”
Amen and amen. “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” (EXO 14:14)
Love in Christ,
Pastor Joseph Sugrue