The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 27; Chapter 31-32: Deliverance and Renewal
There are six ‘woes’ in this section (chapters 28-37). 28:1 to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim. 29:1 to Jerusalem (Ariel) because she draws near to God’s altar with words only and therefore Assyria will surround her. 29:15 to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord. 30:1 to the rebellious children who execute a plan in human willfulness while rejecting God’s. 31:1 to those who go down to Egypt, relying on horses and armaments rather than God. 33:1 to Assyria the destroyer and deceiver, used as an instrument of God while rejecting Him as God.
Divine sovereignty over human history, which is the point of the fourth ‘woe’ is the bridge to the fifth ‘woe’ in 31:1. God does not react to human history, He makes it. In verse three He stretches out His hand to dispose of whom He chooses. Don’t get caught up in the paradox of the sovereign will of God and the sin and evil of man. There are more questions than answers, but one thing is for sure, God controls all things in history.
We will find in this part, as we did in almost every other, that the ‘woe’ is followed by the future of the coming King and His kingdom. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion [Jew and Gentile] … your King is coming to you.”
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!
As we have noted in several articles, in the face of Assyrian aggression, the leadership in Judah thought it prudent to make an alliance with Egypt, to which Egypt agreed. The Lord is unchanging. He demands that His nation rely upon Him and when she will not, He will make war with her. He will also reveal His grace by delivering her, as He has already done on several occasions, desiring that the nation see God’s wisdom and strength and repent from their own way. The nation must choose, just like each individual, that after seeing the Lord deliver them time and again, they are faced with the question, is the Lord worthy of their trust? There will come a final instance when the nation will not be delivered, and then it will be too late for the nation to choose. The application to each of us is obvious, though our situation as believers in the church is different to Israel as a nation. The nation of Israel will actually lose their city and sovereignty. We cannot lose our salvation, but we might go through life with the habit of depending on ourselves or any other flesh or fleshly scheme. God delivers us time and again, and after each deliverance we are confronted with the question of whether God is worthy to be trusted with our entire lives, and make no mistake, when you trust God with your life you obey Him. Trust is not only an ascent or lip-service, it is an actual yielding of our will to Him.
Horses, chariots, and horsemen are all images of worldly security. “Trust, look, and seek” are all perfect tense, meaning a settled attitude. It is not a passing doubt in their minds that is in view, which the greatest believers confront from time to time, but a stubborn and settled conclusion that reliance on human strength will win the day.
2 Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster,
And does not retract His words,
But will arise against the house of evildoers,
And against the help of the workers of iniquity.
All the verbs in vs. 2 are also in the perfect tense, describing what never changes. God is wise and strong in contrast to man’s attempts at security. Don’t miss the contrast. Man’s trust in himself is rooted and stubborn, but undependable; while God’s wisdom and strength are rooted and unchanging and the only thing dependable. Man clings to that which is undependable while rejecting the only One who is unchangeable. Man doesn’t have to be the source of wisdom and strength, which should be a relief to him. God is wisdom and strength, and He has offered them to man by grace.
3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God,
And their horses are flesh and not spirit;
So the Lord will stretch out His hand,
And he who helps will stumble
And he who is helped will fall,
And all of them will come to an end together.
4 For thus says the Lord to me,
As the lion or the young lion growls over his prey,
Against which a band of shepherds is called out,
Will not be terrified at their voice, nor disturbed at their noise,
So will the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill."
5 Like flying birds so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem.
He will protect and deliver it;
He will pass over and rescue it.
Vs. 3 beautifully shows the folly of trusting men rather than God. God states a comparison - God or men; horses or the Holy Spirit. In vs. 4 the shepherds that can do nothing against the lion gobbling up their sheep represent Egypt called by Judah to help. Assyria will gobble up Israel as a lion does a helpless sheep and if Egypt were to actually come and help (she won’t), Assyria will continue to feast undisturbed. And, like so often in God’s revelation, there is an ironic twist - the Egyptians, the ones whom Israel has called for help, are anti-semetic and they loathe shepherds.
the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians.
for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.
In ISA 31:5, God protects Jerusalem as ‘flying birds’. They trust in armaments and horses. God sends a small flock of sparrows. Can a group of sparrows protect the city from almost two-hundred-thousand seasoned warriors? When the sparrow is the Lord’s - yes! Can the death on a Roman cross of one man from an insignificant town in Galilee forever save men from the grip of sin and death? “The weakness of God is stronger than men” (1CO 1:25).
Call to return to God.
Return to Him from whom you have deeply defected, O sons of Israel. 7 For in that day every man will cast away his silver idols and his gold idols, which your hands have made as a sin.
8 And the Assyrian will fall by a sword not of man,
And a sword not of man will devour him.
So he will not escape the sword,
And his young men will become forced laborers.
9 "And his rock will pass away because of panic,
And his princes will be terrified at the standard,"
Declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.
There is a sense of urgency in these two stanzas, for the Assyrian issue is a point of no return. A failure to believe God after seeing this event will likely mean an inability to return to Him from the darkness of unbelief. This is a poignant truth that raises the question whether a man can reach the point of no return after frequently rejecting the Gospel.
God again tells them that He will have His victory and His kingdom, and those who enter with Him are they that have faith in Him. The Assyrians are coming and they will be defeated. God doesn’t hide the fact that the aggressor will perish. He does not say to them, this time, that their deliverance hangs in the balance. They will be delivered. So the issue for Jerusalem is not whether they will survive the Assyrians, but whether they will believe that God is worthy of their complete trust and devotion. God is raising the question yet again, “Now do you believe in the Deliverer as the one, true God who has the power to redeem?”
“Return” of vs. 6 is more than a redirection to avoid destruction. It is a faith in the reality of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness. In the Day of the Lord (vs. 7) Israel will cast away her idols. This was also promised in the last chapter. This promise is a call to faith; to make a reality now what will be a reality in the future and forever. We are called to be holy, perfect, conformed to the image of Christ, and in eternity we will be, and so our election for this life is to, by means of the wisdom and power of God given to us by His grace, make a reality (consistent lifestyle, not sinlessness) what some day will be an unalterable and eternal reality.
After this event, Assyria will literally pass off the stage of history. “His rock,” (vs. 9) his highness, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, will be assassinated soon after God destroys his army with “sparrows”, and his kingdom, at the time at its mighty height, will fall. The fire of God still burns on the altar in Jerusalem.
God, the King, will make a new society.
It is common in prophecy to allow the ultimate vision of God’s victory to brighten the dark days that were promised just before it.
Behold, a king will reign righteously,
And princes will rule justly.
(The princes are His faithful executives.)
2 And each will be like a refuge from the wind,
And a shelter from the storm,
Like streams of water in a dry country,
Like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land.
(finally a barrel without a bad apple - all will be conformed to Him)
3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be blinded,
And the ears of those who hear will listen.
4 And the mind of the hasty will discern the truth,
And the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak clearly.
5 No longer will the fool be called noble,
Or the rogue be spoken of as generous.
(the blindness, deafness, and foolishness of ISA 6:10 is reversed)
6 For a fool speaks nonsense,
And his heart inclines toward wickedness,
To practice ungodliness and to speak error against the Lord,
To keep the hungry person unsatisfied
And to withhold drink from the thirsty.
7 As for a rogue, his weapons are evil;
He devises wicked schemes
To destroy the afflicted with slander,
Even though the needy one speaks what is right.
8 But the noble man devises noble plans;
And by noble plans he stands.
After God describes His kingdom as full of those who are righteous, wise, discerning, and gracious as He is, He is sure to remind us, who are not yet there, of what a fool and a rogue (scoundrel) are made of. Until we are literally in that future kingdom, there is always the opportunity to play the fool and the scoundrel. The descriptions from Isaiah need no explanation or expansion from me. Read them and soak them in. And then perceive the few words stated of the “noble man”, the type that fill His kingdom. They devise noble plans and stand by them no matter what. The themes about standing, being grounded, rooted, and on a firm foundation are frequent in the Bible. How beautifully terse, simple, and life-changing for us and our impact on our immediate world is verse 8.
Rise up you women who are at ease,
And hear my voice; Give ear to my word,
You complacent daughters.
10 Within a year and a few days,
You will be troubled, O complacent daughters;
For the vintage is ended,
And the fruit gathering will not come.
11 Tremble, you women who are at ease;
Be troubled, you complacent daughters;
Strip, undress, and put sackcloth on your waist,
12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine,
13 For the land of my people in which thorns and briars shall come up;
Yea, for all the joyful houses, and for the jubilant city.
14 Because the palace has been abandoned, the populated city forsaken.
Hill and watch-tower have become caves forever,
A delight for wild donkeys, a pasture for flocks;
These women are seen as the carelessness and complacency that hinders spiritual vigor and urgency. Being alert and sober, as well as being ready for action are also frequent themes in the Bible.
Complacency is often confused with trust. The blind assumption that nothing will happen to us is a misplaced belief. The devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour; pick up and put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil - it doesn’t read like nothing is going to happen to us. Naivete is not trust, but childish foolishness. We are to be ready and alert to move and act and seek like a watchman at the gate.
The prophet bolsters the mindset of being ready for action with the forecast of coming events, which are nothing they haven’t heard before, nor which we have ready a lot of lately; in about a year the Assyrian’s are coming. The walls of the city will not be breached, but the vineyards (“vintage” vs. 10) will be destroyed as well as the other crops with the result that there will be much hardship in the coming years and much work to do in helping their neighbors to survive the famine. A complacent mind is never ready to act when the emergency hits.
The Spirit and the New Society:
Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fertile field
And the fertile field is considered as a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness will abide in the fertile field.
17 And the work of righteousness will be peace,
And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.
18 Then my people will live in a peaceful habitation,
And in secure dwellings and in undisturbed resting places;
When the Lord establishes His kingdom, the Holy Spirit will be poured out, the world will become a fertile field, justice and righteousness will dwell in the land, and the world will be filled with peace. This reality of the future fulfillment of God’s promise is not a motivation for complacency now, but for courage. The kingdom is coming, but not yet. In the meantime the world is full of sin and evil and the servants of God are to be at the ready, alert to the will of God, eager to obey. In the age of the church, due to the partial fulfillment of the New Covenant, we live in a time where the kingdom of God (in our hearts) overlaps with the kingdom of the world. This would have to make us more alert than even Israel was called to be, for we are the light of the world living and moving amongst its darkness, called at any time to shine our light forth in the face of darkness and in firm opposition to it. We are not looking for the arrival of Assyrians on our walls, but we live in the constant expectancy of an invisible foe who schemes constantly and wrestles against us daily.
Our current section - The Lord of History (chapters 28-37)
One: The One Foundation (28)
Two: A Problem Stated, a Problem Solved (29:9-14)
Three: Spiritual Transformation (29:15-24)
Four: Human Faithlessness and the Faithfulness of God (30)
Five: Deliverance and Renewal (31-32)
Six: Victory (33-35)
Seven: The Rock of History (36-37)
Epilogue (to the fifth part of this section)
And it will hail when the forest comes down,
And the city will be utterly laid low.
20 How blessed will you be, you who sow beside all waters,
Who let out freely the ox and the donkey.
The great hope in the prophet is much more than a future bliss, like some eternal tropical paradise where everyone is nice and no one causes any trouble. He is sure to remind us that the city will be laid low. The future kingdom is one of justice and brought in through justice. The kingdom of God is an eternal and living testimony to the cross of Jesus Christ who became the Substitute for mankind and made the statement real that man shall live by faith.
“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.”
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
The power of Isaiah’s short conclusion to this section is the reality that both judgment and glory lie ahead and each person must choose during his own lifetime. The city will be laid low, and both Assyria and Jerusalem will receive judgment. This would refer to any city that is built without God, as the first one of Babel. The “forest comes down” refers to the world where there is no place remote enough to hide from judgment, and also, no place to which the gospel will not travel allowing every person to either accept their own judgment or believe on the Lord’s at the cross. And for those who believe in the precious Savior of the world, who reconciled the world to Himself, “how blessed will you be.”
Through Christ alone,
Pastor Joe Sugrue