“People of Judah! Do not be fearful! I know that the pesky Philistines seem to have been getting one up on us here in Judah each time they have attacked us for the last sixteen years or so, and I know they want to wipe Jerusalem and Judah clean off the map. I know also that it seems they are continually gaining strength to fulfil their nasty threats. However, it is the Philistines that will disappear of the map, while Judah, poor and humble though its people might be, will sit in peace and comfort. Judah, hear me and hear the voice of God, Yahweh has his hand on you and wants you to know you are protected and saved in perpetuity.”
There you have it! The above paragraph is Lannon’s “free paraphrase” – or better “Lannon’s free interpretation” of Isaiah 14:28-32. What I mean by that is that it is my attempt at the gist and kernel of the message of Isaiah 14:28-32 and its statements about Gaza and the Philistines.
It is important to know the divine motive behind Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the nations and the world. It is also significant to note that what is true about Isaiah in this respect, is true of all the prophets and their messages about the rest of the world outside of, and beyond the borders of what was Israel and what was still, in Isaiah’s day, the nation state of Judah. In the context of the international upheavals and the actual dissipation of many of the nation states of the Middle East during the era between the eighth and the fifth century BC, as well as the rise of other empires, God required all the Jewish nation as well as anybody else who heard what the prophets were saying, to know that the course of history was in Yahweh’s hands. It always was, always is, and always will be. God is in complete control. Such an issue is vital when millions see the world as being out of control. His control of all things was always to the benefit and prime purpose of building up Israel – even the 587 BC catastrophe was really a blessing for the benefit of the Jewish people.
It was by clear accurate foretelling of the future, and the plain and literal fulfillment of many of the prophecies within the real time of Old Testament history, that the reader and thinker cannot but be awed by the fact that the seemingly random battles, with rises and falls in the size, strengths and attitudes of various nations, were not random at all, just as they are not random in our day. God is in total control. God had a purpose just as He has today. And in the midst of His overarching control of the international scene, He has His eyes particularly on the blessing of Israel, and always on the increase of His kingdom.
In the vast swathes of prophecy that have already been fulfilled we are painfully aware that the prophets and their predictions were so accurate that we have had, for 150 years or so, the so called “Higher Critics” claiming that the prophecies claimed as being fulfilled were all written after the events that each respective prophetic theme refers to. For instance: The details of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” is a classic example of what I am talking about. Isaiah’s predictions of the birth, ministry localities, death and resurrection of Christ the “servant of Yahweh,” were so literally and accurately fulfilled that a couple of generations of modernists were convinced it was religious nonsense written after the events had taken place. It would have to have been divine and …wait for it, while I use what was to them the dirtiest of foul language… it would have to have been miraculous, supernatural and directly inspired of God. Steady! Some readers might want to pause for a while and take their breath with that remark.
The promulgation of the arguments of faithlessness about the inspiration of scripture seemed to drag on and on in the nineteenth century. The evangelicals generally backed out of the discussions (at least I do not think I have read any volume of the late 1800’s or even the early 1900’s that “took them on.” Most Bible believing evangelicals just tended to ignore the faithless arguments and got on with preaching the word.). The unbelieving academics, like King Jehoiakim of old, simply cut scripture up into fire fodder while they laughed at its message and its claims of relevance and credibility to their respective generations. The evangelical argument was simply to affirm that they still believed God’s Word was inerrant and true.
Then the Bedouin shepherd Muhammed edh-Dhib discovered the caves at Qumran between November 1946 and the following few months, and changed the world’s perspective on Bible text and prophecy when, amongst 932 scrolls, he found complete and intact copies of Isaiah (the entire book) which carbon tested to dates that were undoubtedly and uncontestably two centuries or more before Christ was born. All arguments were settled.
The prophets put history, which was still future to them, in the divine spotlight, enabling us to see the hand of God in various issues around the planet. The prophets help us understand that the godless and demonised dictatorships that have long been building empires and slaying millions in order to achieve their selfish purposes have all been limited in their activity by God Almighty Himself. They go as far as they are allowed, and then are removed from the scene of time. Having seen the history of the Middle East with a Bible in one hand and a History book in the other, and having noted how clear and literal the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy has always been, why on earth do we have academic debates on, “How to Interpret Biblical Prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled.” It is plain, it is literal, and it is definitely set for fulfillment.
You may think that this broadly viewed introduction to Isaiah 14:28-32 seems to be making a debate worthy “mountain” out of a happenstance of a “mole hill.” Judah at that point of time was, I believe the tiniest of tiny states, and Philistia (so called here by Isaiah) was hardly anything more than the Gaza Strip. (It was always and ever referred to in my life time as the Gaza Strip, until the Palestinians moved in and claimed it, whereupon it was deemed insulting to the Palestinians to refer to the land they claimed as theirs as nothing but a “strip.” Yet! Truly! A strip of land 7 miles or so wide and 32 miles long is exactly what it is. I am told that there is many a farm in the USA that has more square miles than Gaza.
In Isaiah’s day, believe it or not, the Philistines were still there after something similar to 400 years in the land. They were what was left of the nation Yahweh had at first demanded that Israel annihilate (Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:16.). The Philistines had from the days of the Judges been spared, as the tribe of Dan merely decided not to fight them and move north. It is not that Israel spared them after hard fought battles where Israel had been defeated. Not at all. The tribe of Dan simply decided it was too much trouble to live amongst the Philistines and moved away (Joshua 19:47). So “Philistia” was left to prosper and conquer, excepting through the days of the Kings David and Solomon, after which they never returned to the strength and dominance of the days of the Judges, yet their entire history was still infamous as a thorn in the side of the Hebrew people (Numbers 33:55.). The noxious acrimonies which were seemingly ever existent between these two nations, meant that whenever the Jews sustained any defeat, the Philistines rejoiced. They all heartily wished the disintegration of the Jews, and no incident could give them greater enchantment than when the Jews were reduced to the deepest misfortune and anguish. The Prophet therefore reveals the divine purpose against them as against the constant enemies of the Kingdom of God.
To the five verses of the text itself:
In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden- this vision – this oracle. (14:28)
Ahaz died 716 BC at 40 years of age. It was six years after the fall of Samaria. Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz as king of Judah at the age of 25. Sargon II was ruling Assyria and had done since 722 BC. The Philistines, at this time were being ruled by a certain king named Hanno.
Whilst under the rule of Ahaz, the Philistines were continually victorious over Judah. That wicked monarch, who had forsaken Yahweh and eagerly hunted the external aid of the arm of flesh via the force and face of idolatrous Assyria, was divinely penalised for his treachery. During his reign the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18) had occupied those towns which Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6-7) had relieved from their occupation. Because of the death of Ahaz, however, the Philistines became still more arrogant and militarily aggressive towards Judah. They fully expected that they would be able to occupy more towns and cities, as Ahaz’s son, they thought, was a young man who had no experience in kingship or warfare. They cockily perceived Hezekiah as being without shrewdness, authority, or wisdom. Isaiah had words, however, that might have upset the Philistines if any of them had rallied the nerve to visit Jerusalem and hear what he had to say. But those same words were targeted to comfort, edify and inspire the new king Hezekiah and his people. The Philistines were a spent force in history’s timeline.
Ahaz was buried in Jerusalem but not with the other kings. (“Ahaz rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Hezekiah his son succeeded him as king.” (2 Kings 16:20) and “Ahaz rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of Jerusalem, but he was not placed in the tombs of the kings of Israel. And Hezekiah his son succeeded him as king.” (2 Chronicles 28:27)) The Philistines had suffered grievously at the hands of Judah in the reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), and had retaliated robustly throughout the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18). Isaiah warns Philistia that her rejoicing at the death of Ahaz and the advent of the young and inexperienced new king was profoundly premature and based on a gross error of judgement. Hezekiah was not to be the insipid ruler of Judah that the Philistine people hoped for. In that respect he was not a chip of the father’s block at all. The purpose of Isaiah’s prophecy to Judah concerning the Philistines was to put faith in the heart of Judah. It was not in order to call the Philistines to repentance, since the prophecy was undoubtedly never circulated among them. Isaiah announces their final subjugation by the power of Yahweh through the hands of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was to be a great king, and that vision is cryptically embedded in this prophecy concerning the end of the Philistine people.
In human terms, the dynamics of international politics in the area that plotted the Philistines’ annihilation were as follows: Shalmaneser died 722 BC just before Samaria fell. Sargon II finished the job as the new Emperor of Assyria. Having taken Samaria and exiled its people, he rushed home quickly to ensure his throne from insurgent usurpers. On the way home he even suffered a defeat in battle in 721 BC. The nations that were servile to Assyria were set alight by encouragement that Assyria had lost a battle, and the king was insecure on his throne. If there was ever a time when some of the tiny states thought above themselves, thinking themselves ready to take on Assyria, this was the moment. While all this was known to the nations round about, in hope that Assyrian politics would keep them off their back and making them weak, the King of Hamath, Damascus, the tiny remnant that was left of Samaria and Hanno the king of Philistia formed a coalition against Sargon. To sat that this was a huge error in judgement is an understatement..
It was in these moments of 716 BC, while the Philistines seemed stronger than they had been for generations, that Isaiah spoke doom over them. The prophet’s words defied what empirical evidence told any political observer. “The Philistines are on the rise!” or so many saw and believed. “The Philistines were doomed!” said Isaiah.
Rejoice not thou, whole Philistia and Philistines, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. (14:29)
Isaiah starts by confronting the vain and groundless confidence with which the Philistines were puffed up. He stresses that the whole of Gaza is to be annihilated as did Amos, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Ezekiel and the whole of Jeremiah 47. There would not be a corner of Philistine land exempted from the stroke of Yahweh’s sword. In all its length and breadth, it would immediately and universally be visited with utter destruction. Only a handful would survive, and they would be spending the rest of their lives in deep and sorrowful mourning.
“The rod” that Isaiah refers to could not be referring to Ahaz because in all his battles with the Philistines he was vanquished. The book says so: (2 Chronicles 28:18). With the treaty of Philistia, Damascus and Syria (together also with Egypt some think) giving a false identity of strength over Assyria, and the death of Ahaz giving the Philistines a fabricated optimism in having repeatedly defeated their closest neighbours, Philistia was in a state of solemn delusion. The Philistines might have had a momentary glimpse and a faulty hope of regaining the “power” days of their history…but Isaiah tells them not to get too optimistic. For the Philistines, “the only way is down!”
The practical reason why Isaiah addresses the prophecy to “whole Philistia,” was simply because it was made up of a number of Philistine principalities (1 Samuel 6:18). It was divided into five districts over which there were five lords, (Joshua 13:3. 1 Samuel 6:4) and just as they were all rejoicing in their late successes in Ahaz’s days, and were now in hopes of still greater success, how difficult it was for them to even conceive of how they were to suffer in the calamity hereafter threatened by several Hebrew prophets. Isaiah’s message concerned the Philistine population in its entirety. Pronouncements like this, against the Philistines, are common amongst the writing prophets:
“This is what Yahweh says; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom: But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof: And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holds the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn my hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says Yahweh the Lord.” (Amos 1:6-8.)
“For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up. Woe to the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! The word of the Lord is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy you, so that there shall be no inhabitant. And the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon. In the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening: for the Lord their God shall visit them, and turn around their captivity.” (Zephaniah 2:4-7.)
“This is what the Lord Yahweh says: Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred, therefore this is what Yahweh says; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast. I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance on them.” (Ezekiel 25:15-17)
“Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited. A bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remains, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.” (Zechariah 9:5-7)
“The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Philistines, before that Pharaoh smote Gaza: This is what God says: Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land, and all that is in it; the city, and them that dwell in it: then the men shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl. At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands; because of the day that comes to spoil all the Philistines, and to cut off from Tyre and Zidon every helper that remains: for Yahweh will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor. Baldness is come upon Gaza; Ashkelon is cut off with the remnant of their valley: how long will you cut yourself? O you sword of the Lord, how long will it be before you are quiet? Put up yourself into your scabbard, rest, and be still. How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord has given it a charge against Ashkelon, and against the sea shore? There has he appointed it.” (Jeremiah 47 – the entire chapter)
And the firstborn of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety: and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. (14:30)
Isaiah sees Judah so impacted by the raids if the Philistines that he refers to the nation as “the first-born of the poor.” Judah must have, economically speaking, been in a wretched state. The prophet promises that the Lord will deliver them from misery and defeat, and will again feed and nourish them. This tells us forcibly that the Philistines were cut down and destroyed for the benefit of Judah and the people of God. The message is not to mess with God’s people, whether it be ethnic Israel, or the church of Christ. God Almighty who obliged Himself with a promise to Abraham saying “I will bless them that bless thee, and I will curse them that curse thee” is ready to act. Those who are hostile to the children of God will find that ultimately God is hostile to them. (Genesis 12:3)
While Isaiah promises that Judah shall be made to lie down in safety, the promise is also to kill the roots of the incredibly deeply embedded society of the Philistines. Yahweh shall slay the remnant no matter which human hand he uses. I have not a clue what the scholars mean when they tell me that “the possessive before the word “root” is emphatic.” However I do understand that the first half of verse 30 refers to Judah, and the latter half refers to the Philistines. While the Philistines disappear because of famine, the people of Judah shall sit comfortably. Israel good and prospering. Philistines bad and dying. That is the true essence of Isaiah’s prophetic statement in these verses.
Having had an easy 16 years or so when fighting against King Ahaz, Isaiah warns the five Philistine lords that Hezekiah would be more terrible to them than Uzziah had ever been. Instead of rejoicing, there would be sore agonizing cries of lamentation amongst the Philistines. Their whole land, tiny though it was, would be ruined.
Howl, O gate; cry, O city; you, whole Philistia are dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed time. (14:31)
The howling of leaders everywhere shall be shocking. The smoke from the North is the camp fires of armies coming down through Syria, undoubtedly referring to Assyria. He threatens that there will be mourning in each of the cities, and mourning of no ordinary kind, for it will be spread through every one of the most crowded areas.
The Philistines may have indeed thought that they were gaining by what the Jews suffered, as, for instance, when they sustained any defeat from the Assyrians; but they found at length that they suffered along with the Jews in such defeats. The day and the time is set and divinely appointed- the prophets had said so
What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it. (14:32)
I see a picture here of multi-racial visits of both politicians and traders to Jerusalem. They enter the city and discuss. “Have you heard the news? What do you Jews say about the fact that the Philistines are no more? It is as if Isaiah is asking, what shall we of Judah answer when asked about the fall of Gaza? He directs his people not to mock, or smirk and make joke of the disappeared race or their culture,no matter how cruel it was, and especially against Israel and Judah. The answer must be a solemn line of thanksgiving and praise to Yahweh. “The Lord hath founded Zion.” The destruction of the Philistines will be a singular proof of God’s compassion towards his people, that all may understand that the Lord is the guardian and protector of Judah. Their foundation does not consist of lime or stones, but of the gracious promises of Yahweh.
When reading the Hebrew prophets it must always be remembered that prophecy against other nations is always a moral and a spiritual issue. God’s judgement stands against the breaking of natural law. All men are conscious of their sin and evil. That the Philistines had committed deep crimes against Israel throughout the centuries was (and is) a well-known fact. But their deepest sins were directly against Yahweh Himself.