The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 26: Human faithlessness and the faithfulness of God; chapter 30.
Twenty-five extensive blogs and we’re still not at the half-way point of this monumental prophetic book.
Outline of part 1 of Isaiah:
- The Book of the King (Isa 1-37)
- The Preface (1-5)
- The Triumph of Grace (6-12)
- The Universal Kingdom (13-27)
- The Lord of History (28-37)
Within the fourth and final part (d) of the Book of the King there are further divisions which speak of the Lord’s one foundation, His ability to solve man’s problems (which includes judgment), His ability to spiritually transform those who have faith, His faithfulness even though we may be unfaithful, His deliverance of man from sin and evil, His victory and the coming home of the believer, and finally, all things will historically work out for good, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary.
In chapter 30 we encounter God’s faithfulness in the midst of human faithlessness.
The Lord of History (chapters 28-37) moves from the general to the specific.
If you remember, in chapters 28-29, which began this section, the names “Egypt” and “Assyria” were not mentioned though these nations were very much implied. God had been focusing on the timeless principles of His work and word in dealing with man rather than specifics. Now, in chapter 30, the timeless principles turn into real-life application as the names of these nations are included (vv. 2, 31).
We begin with the fourth “woe” and it applies to the foolish alliance that Judah had made with Egypt in the hope that it would somehow assuage the assault from powerful Assyria. In chapter 28, we find the principle that there is only one foundation, the Lord, and outside of faith in His promises there is no deliverance no matter what earthly alliances have been made.
But chapter 28 also teaches that the Lord always works purposefully which God stated in two agricultural parables (28:23ff).
Egypt will be of no help:
"Woe to the rebellious children," declares the Lord,
"Who execute a plan, but not Mine,
And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,
In order to add sin to sin;
It is rebellion to make plans without consultation and authorization from the Lord. Human willfulness and obstinacy is in view where man is bent on making plans, but without consulting the Lord.
The word alliance (masseka) means “a protective covering” that is sought instead of the ever available covering of the Holy Spirit, obtained by obedient waiting upon the Lord in the trust of His promises.
Putting them together we find the error of making plans without the Lord and then seeking covering (protection and providence) through something other than the Holy Spirit.
Who proceed down to Egypt,
Without consulting Me,
To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh,
And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
3 "Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame,
And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.
4 "For their princes are at Zoan,
And their ambassadors arrive at Hanes.
5 "Everyone will be ashamed because of a people who cannot profit them,
Who are not for help or profit, but for shame and also for reproach."
Throughout the Bible narrative, no one is to go down to Egypt, for she represents the world and death.
Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have made a pact.
The only one who was to go there was Jesus as He fled from the wrath of Herod as a child. Jesus is the only One who can do what we cannot.
Again, the charge is that the Lord was not consulted. It is a desire to make some kind of life without Him in it. Life without fidelity to God and His word is a life of slavery to passions and desires (Egypt is slavery) along with death constantly overwhelming the soul (Pharaoh the genocidal king).
Zoan and Hanes represent the alliance that Egypt had made with Ethiopia around 715 B.C. and this added partner gave Egypt the appearance of strength (more guys on the team though they are all useless), yet the prophet clearly tells Judah that there is none (vs. 5).
In vs. 8 God instructs Isaiah to make a sign or a billboard for all Judah to see, and the words he is to put on it are in vv. 6-7. No matter how much effort they put into it, man cannot achieve his own security.
The oracle concerning the beasts of the Negev.
Through a land of distress and anguish,
From where come lioness and lion, viper and flying serpent,
They carry their riches on the backs of young donkeys
And their treasures on camels' humps,
To a people who cannot profit them;
7 Even Egypt, whose help is vain and empty.
Therefore, I have called her
"Rahab [Egypt] who has been exterminated."
8 Now go, write it on a tablet before them
And inscribe it on a scroll,
That it may serve in the time to come
As a witness forever.
“While the politicians in Jerusalem were doubtless wondering, ‘How will our ambassadors [to Egypt] fare?’, Isaiah suggests ironically, ‘Never mind them, what about the pack animals?’, as though their welfare was the only important thing.” [Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah] What Isaiah says so beautifully is that this whole expedition to secure Egyptian alliance is a waste of time. The pack animals are more important to the people of Judah than the ambassadors who are only adding to their curses.
Another irony is that the route they took through the Negev is a reverse of the Exodus. The twelve spies went this way to scout out the Promise Land and ten of them and the majority of the people refused God’s security. Now the people who refuse God’s security within the Promised Land follow the same route in reverse and back to Egypt.
Refusing God’s word is the way of death (vv. 9-17):
Judah’s action in regards to Egypt is only a symptom of the deeper problem, which is the refusal to hear and believe God’s word.
For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the Lord;
10 Who say to the seers,
"You must not see visions";
And to the prophets, "You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
11 "Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."
They would not have said this openly. No one openly asks to be told what is illusion, wrong, and deceitful, but the prophet knows their heart, and it doesn’t want God’s instruction. They didn’t crave any supernatural intervention or moral guidance. Yet they did want their ears tickled with pleasant words and sound bites (illusions). Can we imagine God’s “feeling,” if I may get a bit anthropopathic, when He hears His people tell His messengers to no more mention the Holy One of Israel? How beautifully ironic that they continue to address Him as holy and yet want nothing to do with Him. Doesn’t that prove their unholiness? I don’t have to point out that this mindset continues in our world.
I think it is important to notice that they did not ask for the preaching to cease. They demanded that it fit their personal fancy. In our age, people don’t cry out for the churches to be closed, rather they request that they teach what is in line with progressive culture.
In the next line (vs. 12) God immediately repeats “the Holy One of Israel.” Though they reject Him and His word while using this name, they could never erase its reality. God is and always will be holy, and the results of holiness’ proximity to all men, salvation or judgment, will not be escaped.
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
"Since you have rejected this word,
And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them,
13 Therefore this iniquity will be to you
Like a breach about to fall,
A bulge in a high wall,
Whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant.
14 "And whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter's jar;
So ruthlessly shattered
That a sherd will not be found among its pieces
To take fire from a hearth,
Or to scoop water from a cistern."
“Iniquity” is stressed. It is an offense against God’s Law, “Hear, O Israel,” which begins the first and foremost command to love the Lord. They chose this path. Iniquity is from within and Isaiah gives its results with two illustrations, a collapsing wall and a smashed pot. The wall falls under its own weight as it is either built badly or decayed. The pot is smashed by an external force. Thus iniquity both destroys itself and invites judgment.
Next, the Holy One of Israel speaks again.
For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
In repentance and rest you shall be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.
"But you were not willing,
16 And you said, "No, for we will flee on horses,
"Therefore you shall flee!"
And we will ride on swift horses,
"Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
17 One thousand shall flee at the threat of one man,
You shall flee at the threat of five;
Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top
And as a signal on a hill.
The way of returning to peace is repentance (vs. 15). The iniquity that has caused us to lose our rest/inner peace has to stop and faith must be turned to. Then, “quietness and trust is your strength,” (vs. 15). Isaiah’s formula for national security hadn’t changed since he spoke it to king Ahaz in chapter 7, and it wasn’t military tactics or alliances, but faith in the Lord who would fight for them. Naturally, they might still have to take the field and fight, but as with Joshua when taking the land, the Lord would go before them, and the fact that they might lack chariots (JOS 11:6) and have only horns (JOS 6:5), the Lord would bring them victory.
The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
Yet Judah in this case decided to reject the counsel of the prophet and they made a pact with Egypt, choosing armaments and horses, and they are told, no matter how fast they ride, the enemy will be faster and all that will be left of them will be a flag of a hill (vs. 17). Strategy without faith will always find the enemy to be smarter and faster. “Not alliance but reliance.” [G. A. Smith]
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
God is faithful and will wait for the proper time of His Kingdom.
Now, as Isaiah so often does, he leaves behind the ugliness of faithlessness (for now) and turns to the beauty of God’s faithfulness in seeing, yet again, God’s future kingdom and the fulfilment of His promises.
God’s divine name, Yavah, is used as bookends to this beautiful poem; seen only in vs. 18 and vs. 26.
Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.
19 O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. 20 Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. 21 And your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left. 22 And you will defile your graven images, overlaid with silver, and your molten images plated with gold. You will scatter them as an impure thing; and say to them, "Be gone!"
23 Then He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground, and bread from the yield of the ground, and it will be rich and plenteous; on that day your livestock will graze in a roomy pasture. 24 Also the oxen and the donkeys which work the ground will eat salted fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 And on every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be streams running with water on the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 And the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted.
Holiness has to be served. Justice has to be satisfied. Only the remnant (believing Israel, ROM 9:6) will enter God’s kingdom, but they will enter under the same family name, Israel. Therefore, God’s promise that they will defile and scatter their idols means that the remnant will reject them from their nation’s history. In essence they will cast them away from their people, and in identifying with their people, from themselves. And along with the idols, they will cast out all weeping, affliction from enemies, and enmity with God. God alone has done all of this and by their faith they have entered into the fruits of God’s redemptive work, and in them the name of Israel will be clean and pure; washed by the blood of the Lamb.
There will also be incredible material bounty (vv. 23-24) as the curse upon the earth is removed.
The day of “slaughter” and falling “towers” depict the Lord’s victory over all the power of the enemy. The running water and bright light of sun and moon refer to God’s glory on the day He heals His people and His nation.
Back to contemporary events - Assyria is no threat:
Vv. 27-33 constitute the second movement of this section on God’s faithfulness. It is given in a poem of three seven-line stanzas.
The Lord turns from eschatology to imminent history. Judah’s temptation of the Lord by aligning with Egypt is offensive to Him and it will do nothing to curb the Assyrian threat, yet Jerusalem will not fall (this time). God is patient and longsuffering, and though Judah has rejected Him, God will give her more time and more prophets over whose words they can ponder. Jerusalem will survive, and though he doesn’t know it, the king of Assyria is being used by God and he is climbing up his own funeral pyre (vs. 33).
The imagery in this poem is very strong.
Behold, the name of the Lord comes from a remote place;
Burning is His anger, and dense is His smoke;
His lips are filled with indignation,
And His tongue is like a consuming fire;
28 And His breath is like an overflowing torrent,
Which reaches to the neck,
To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve,
And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin.
This opening stanza makes full use of anthropomorphisms (the Lord’s smoke, lips, tongue, and breath) and its intention is to show the Lord fully involved in the actions of human history, while the power of His person marks its end as certain. His “name” is the sum of His character. His anger is His inescapable justice. Smoke and fire are symbols of His presence and holiness, ala the Exodus. His tongue is the ever-present truth, rejected or accepted. His breath (or spirit) relates to His purpose, which will be done; and as it reaches the neck (a picture of the Assyrian invasion as they would tie up their prisoners by the noose) it is an “overflowing torrent,” or overwhelming.
Shaking the nations back and forth in a sieve is a mighty picture of God’s justice which will expose the false and the true, and this is followed by another mighty picture of God putting the bridle in the mouth of the false to control and direct them to ruin. This stanza envelopes us in the proper fear of the Lord while rejoicing in His salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.
You will have songs as in the night when you keep the festival;
And gladness of heart as when one marches to the sound of the flute,
To go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel.
30 And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard.
And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger,
And in the flame of a consuming fire,
In cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones.
In this central stanza, the Lord’s people rejoice as they witness His victory. We find fire and cloud again as symbols of God’s presence and holiness. His people are not rejoicing because some people were destroyed, but because God’s purposes were victorious.
For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified,
When He strikes with the rod.
32 And every blow of the rod of punishment,
Which the Lord will lay on him,
Will be with the music of tambourines and lyres;
And in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them.
33 For Topheth has long been ready,
Indeed, it has been prepared for the king.
He has made it deep and large,
A pyre of fire with plenty of wood;
The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.
Line two: “When He (or he) strikes with the rod,” might have God as the subject or Assyria. When compared with 10:5, it is likely Assyria. Assyria will be terrified when they strike, for God is going to strike them.
Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
Topheth means “disgraceful burning place,” and it was “long ready. Little did the Assyrians know that they were marching to their own funeral; their own funeral pyre that the Lord prepared for the king of Assyria (Sennacherib). Sennacherib imagined himself a great king, and on the world’s score-card he was, but he met a greater King when he unwisely approached the King’s city and tempted Him.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Praise be to God for His indescribable gift,
Pastor Joe Sugrue