111. The Doom and Damnation of Damascus – The Emptying of Ephraim Isaiah 17:1-3

Isaiah 17:1-3

 

Damascus1-General Bonfils 1877

General Bonfils 1877

On no occasion, or generation, has there ever been another prophet to match Isaiah. Isaiah, whose voluminous activity evidences his perpetual unbroken status of having his head in the throne room of heaven simultaneous to him keeping his feet on solidified dense terrain. This is the son of Amoz, whose spirit was immersed in the stuff of eternity at the same time that his mouth and hands were toiling in the murky issues of things of the here and now.  We are talking of a man who was never out of earshot from the eternal counsel of Yahweh, while his entire body was contemporaneously moving and breathing in very definite moments and locations in the confines of this time-space world and its hugely complex history. Isaiah stood alone in the days of his flesh and would have done so with or without a school of disciples. He still stands alone even now, as we in the twenty-first century can appraise the entire body of Hebrew prophets. One of the characteristics of biblical holiness is the aloneness and uniqueness of being in God, with God and of God. By its very etymological meaning, one attribute (of many) of holiness is being unique and “one alone,” yet never lonely.

 

During his life, and especially after his legendary martyrdom, the entire history of the Hebrew people bore, and still bears, the impress of Isaiah’s activity. What he said or did, or prophetically pointed out, is seen as being true and/or fulfilled throughout the centuries in the ups and downs of the land of Israel and the diaspora’d Jews.

 

It was because of Isaiah’s stature, depth and consistency that prophecy, per se, came to be accepted and treasured amongst the Hebrew people as part of their heritage in God, even though it had been despised and rejected when it was spoken by the likes of men like Amos and Hosea (both contemporaries of Isaiah). These two minor, yet “major” prophets were merely men from a lower income bracket, moving naturally amongst the common people. Yet, they were clearly despised and rejected amongst the professional and upper classes of their day. Amos was seen for what he really was, a simple farmer from the southern Jewish kingdom well out of his comfort zone and geographically out of his own domicile up north in Bethel. There was clearly no mask or pretentiousness nor posturing about him. Hosea, on the other hand, was a figure to be pitied and even mocked. Imagine how he was received in a society where having no children was seen as a curse, but having a child with a prostitute who was his wife and being public enough to call one of his children, “Not Mine!” would have been the basis of a million and one personal and deeply humiliating jokes. It was because of Isaiah that prophecy and the role of a genuine prophet of God became a practical force in the nation’s affairs, not only in the corridors of power within the nation, but in the life of the people and the common man on the street and in the field. Isaiah, it would seem, not only had a group of disciples with him wherever he went, but also had a wife who was a prophetess. To cap it all, he lived and ministered and wrote in the home city of his upbringing. Somehow, however, I cannot even imagine Amos or Hosea being jealous of his circumstances. But by a long life of persistent, consistent and insistent calls to follow after righteousness, I believe he turned the hearts of many towards God Himself.

 

It is plain to see how we can readily grasp that so great a work within the life of the nation could not have been affected by isolated characters like Amos, or Hosea, who stood apart from all the leaders of the two Jewish states. Neither of them had friend nor disciple to assist in the espousal of their cause. Isaiah, however, won the esteem and reverence of the leaders of a generation. It is generally recognized by academics that Isaiah ultimately became the acknowledged head of a great religious movement, especially in his later years. It is, perhaps, a little too much to say that as an older man he was “The First Man” in Judah, practically guiding the helm of the State, and encouraging Jerusalem to hold out against the Assyrian when all besides had lost courage. I have read some volumes, however that make that very claim. It does have to be conceded nonetheless, even to the political historian, that Isaiah is the most notable figure after David in the whole history of Israel. He was the man of the moment in the midst of a supreme and perfect crisis. He proved himself worthy by guiding his nation through the crisis with nothing but the prophetic word with which to fight and battle.

 

Damascus4 Amarah Jouwaniyah, Damascus, Syria

Amarah Jouwaniyah, Damascus, Syria

His commanding influence of prediction, protection, prophecy and direction as well as the glorious anticipation of the coming Messiah remains as a skeletal template splayed out on the history of his nation. It naturally suggests comparisons with other prophets like Moses and his unique leadership characteristics spanning 40 years in harness with eighty years of training. We stand Isaiah next to father figures like Samuel rebuilding the nation of Israel from the rabble sunk into the muck of idolatry and Godlessness. See Isaiah stood back to back and heel to heel with the likes of Elijah, the author of the downfall of the cult of Baal, and Elisha, the prophetic originator of the revolution of King Jehu and his dynasty, and the soulical force of Israel’s great struggle with Syria. These contrasts exemplify the astonishing transformation which little more than a century had wrought in the charisma and objectives of prophets and prophecy. True prophecy was, and always will be the pure word spoken by God to the children of Israel, and was never to be edited or abridged. Yet, as society and the crises and needs of the generations changed, so did the long term vision of each generation’s pastoral prophet. Elisha achieved his first objective by following divine inspiration and speaking into the sphere of ordinary political intrigue. By this means Elisha saw the God ordained downfall of the house of Ahab.  Isaiah, on the other hand, somewhat after the model of Elijah, stood distant from all governmental groupings, and his stimulus and input was simply that of his authoritative charisma, and of the majestic word of Yahweh declared both in and out of season with stanch constancy and consistency. Elisha in his latter days was the inspirational spirit of a courageous encounter, inspiring his people to fight for autonomy and liberty, and to repel the Syrian aggressor by armed force. Isaiah intelligently knew quite well that Judah had no battle-hardened metier that could avail for even a moment against the authority and military supremacy of Assyria. Isaiah did not aim at domestic freedom by means of fighting to the death. Rising above the dreams of unrefined nationalism, he was comfortable to accept the unavoidable, and set out for Judah a course of patient submission to alien bondage, in order that Judah could focus itself on the assignment of in-house reformation and restoration, till Yahweh Himself should eliminate the blight prearranged for His people’s debauchery, iniquity and their deep dyed sin. In this idea he took hold of and integrated into one practical aim ideas which had appeared separately and individually in the teaching of each of his prophetical antecedents, Amos and Hosea.  In the ultimate catastrophe of the Assyrian wars, Isaiah was no less truly the human fortification of faith for the nation than Elisha had been during the dreadful Syrian wars. Isaiah’s heroism was one of patience and faith, and the supernatural and downright miraculous deliverance came exactly as he had foretold, not by political wisdom or warlike prowess, but by the direct intervention of Almighty Yahweh.

 

These series of prophetic messages speaking into the turmoil of the Middle Eastern countries of his generation, and many of their futures are just as miraculous as the Angel of the Lord delivering Jerusalem in 701 BC when surrounded by, possibly, something like a quarter of a million soldiers. Having thus far spoken of the exile of Israel before it took place, the rise and fall of Babylon, the collapse of Assyria, the demolition of Philistia, the holocaust that was to sweep across Moab – Yahweh now opens Isaiah’s eyes to see what was to take place in the location that was known as Damascus.

 

If one trawls through the vast spread of biblical prophecy, no matter where one stands in the interpretation of the predicted events, literal, figurative or metaphorical, one must concede that in the prophetic telescope from Isaiah’s day right through to the very last days, we are told that a horrible series of events will take place in the lands of Israel and Syria. One of these events is the complete annihilation, disappearance even, of the city of Damascus as one of the premiere cities on the planet. Damascus, so we are told, is probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus has witnessed at least five thousand years of human history, if we are to believe archaeologists and academics. Some historians even believe the city actually dates back to a seventh millennium BC. Not sure about that one!

 

From scouring through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos and Zechariah I am convinced that at some critical moment somewhere in the future, be it near or far, Damascus will once again play a major role in human events.

 

However, the text here in in Isaiah 17 and the first three verses, the prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s own commentary on a foreknown future conflict between Damascus and some unknown and unmentioned force, and in so doing. The prophet declares certain prophecies that have been partially fulfilled in the past. Yet I am strongly of the opinion that the ultimate fulfillment of the majority of Isaiah 17 remains still in our future, that is, I believe it is not all fulfilled.

 

The current existence of Damascus, which will one day cease to be a city, as well as the historical absence of the coalition of nations prophesied to attack Israel and be destroyed by God, is, to me at least, proof that Isaiah 17 prophesies events yet future. Unless one chooses to pretend it is all allegory and parable of course, in which case it could mean anything one wants it to mean.

 

Using my own wordy, yet thorough paraphrased interpretation, this is what Isaiah saw and said concerning Damascus:

 

Damascus3Old Fountain Sarrafian

Damascus. The Old Fountain, Sarrafian.

This divinely revealed prophetic message, this oracle, came to me concerning Damascus: Look! See! Damascus will cease to be and is no longer a city. It will be taken away as a metropolis. It will, disappear and become a heap of fallen ruins, a pile of rubble. The cities of Aroer also will be abandoned, forsaken and deserted. They will be devoted to sheep that will graze in the streets undisturbed and lie down unafraid. There will be no terrorists to make them afraid or to chase them away – Terrorism will be no more. The bulwark of Ephraim will also be removed leaving them without aid or succour, and the royal power of sovereignty in the kingdom of Damascus will end. The few left in Aram (Syria) will be like the splendour of the sons of Israel and share the same fate of Israel’s departed glory. This is the declaration of Yahweh Almighty of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 17:1-3, Lannon’s own paraphrased interpretation).

 

What is future and what is already history? I am talking about a major issue when one reads any of the writing prophets both Major and Minor. I have a problem when all the academics and “students of theology” agree with what seems to me to be an easy way out of explaining the intricacies of what the prophets actually said. Let me explain my own conundrum about Isaiah 17.

 

In 732 BC, Assyria pummelled Damascus and left it standing but depopulated. The Syrian Damascene state had allied with the northern kingdom of Israel just prior to that and had come sweeping southwards to get rid of Judah’s King Ahaz. Why? Because he would not join Damascus and Israel in a futile effort to attempt to withstand Assyria.  It was truly ridiculous. It was like Monaco and Luxembourg joining forces to fight Russia, and them getting upset because the Isle of Man would not join them. The discussion and the strategy of it all was like a TV sitcom.  That aside, the fact was that the allied forces came down to put their own puppet king – a gentile man – on the throne of David in Jerusalem, to rule over the state of Judah. Unfortunately they had little concept of the line they had crossed with Almighty Yahweh. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but their mission to oust Ahaz failed. Shortly after Damascus was castrated and the majority exiled in 732 BC, and then in 722 BC Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel fell. OK! That is the end of that story. Why am I telling you this?

 

I share this because here in chapter 17, Isaiah damns the fortunes of Damascus and Israel with the same breath. So, the academics claim that this section of Isaiah is not in chronological sequence with the other batches of prophecy, and that it is therefore, either Isaiah telling the story after the event (why on earth would a prophet do that? Any unbelieving godless Newspaper reporter could do that.). Or, it is an earlier prophecy given and published by Isaiah before 732 BC, predicting the fall of Damascus and Israel the two allies rebelling against vows made to Assyria. Easy peasy jackamasqueezy. Prophetic problem resolved! The claim is, therefore, that we know exactly the full depths of Isaiah’s vision about Damascus. So let’s move on to Isaiah chapter 18.

 

But wait a minute! Hold on to your horses! I can cope with the possibility that the prophecies against the different nations are not in their real-time chronological sequence. I do not necessarily accept that statement, but I do not think that is necessarily important. But my first question is more important. The first verses of Isaiah 17 explain how Damascus is wiped off the map, and it being so deserted that sheep will graze where Damascus once was. So, how could this prophecy be referring to 732 BC if Damascus was not razed to the ground?

 

“Don’t worry about that one,” say several of the most widely read commentaries, “Damascus has had many ups and downs over the centuries, so Isaiah must have been talking figuratively or metaphorically when he stated those first three verses. 732 BC fits the bill when Assyria beat Damascus and exiled the majority of its population.”

 

Well, folks, this writer utterly contemns that opinion, and the degraded definition of Holy Spirit inspiration that birthed it. The reasons why I think that making Isaiah 17 apply only to 732 BC is a fallacy are as follows.

  1.  The fact that Damascus has never been reduced to grazing fields and has never been totally depopulated tells me that the prophecy has either been fulfilled later, or has not been fulfilled at all as yet. That means that the prophecy’s fulfillment was clearly future to Isaiah, and may very well be still future to us in our generation. I totally reject the stuff and nonsense of those that interpret via the suggestion that Isaiah did not mean what he said. Damascus was not destroyed in the Assyrian conquest. Damascus did not”cease from being a city,” and it was not reduced to “a heap of ruins” as prophesied by Isaiah. Matter settled!
  2. (Just as a “By the way,” to take the conclusion a little further, and to explain the matter from the biblical narrative take note that the Assyrian conquest of Syria (Aram) the capital of which was Damascus, that took place in 732 BC is explained to us in 2 Kings 16 as a historical narrative.  Judah’s king Ahaz initiated the Assyrian tyrant and king Tiglath Pileser III to launch an invasion of Damascus which then was under the reign of king Rezin.  Believe it or not,Ahaz  king of Judah paid for the Assyrian invasion with gold and silver he took from the Temple in Jerusalem. Ahaz was a bit of a faithless man as you can imagine. 2 Kings 16:9 says , “So the king of Assyria heeded him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin.”  But to rub in the point that Damascus was not razed to the ground, in the very next verse we see king Ahaz meeting with Tiglath Pileser in the centre of the city of Damascus. It clearly was still standing. In fact I have read books that claim that while Assyria was in charge of Damascus, Damascus enjoyed some of its most prosperous years ever. So absolutely and certainly Damascus was not destroyed in any manner, and most certainly not according to the prophecy here in Isaiah 17. The Aramean Damascene people of Aram-Damascus were deported as was the sickening Assyrian modus operandi after a conquest. The Assyrians then re-populated the city with people from elsewhere within the empire and Damascus has remained a settled city continuously for the past two and a half millennia.  Volumes that I have read tell me that  Damascus was still mentioned in Assyrian sources in 727 BC, 720 BC, and 694 BC. The city is even mentioned as late as the reign of Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC).  Assyrian decline led to Damascus being taken over by Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt circa 610 BC. Damascus then fell to the Babylonians when Pharoah Necho II lost the epic Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. In the Persian period, Damascus was an important administrative center, and may have been the capital of the satrapy of Trans-Euphrates (Ezra 4:10, Ezra 8:36; Nehemiah 2:7-9). Around  333 BC there occurred the conquest of Damascus under the rule of Darius III of Persia by Alexander the Great. Damascus was thereafter a Macedonian colony and the capital city of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia to 111 BC. At the risk of boring those of you who hate historical dates and statistics we mention the Roman times when Damascus was conquered from the Seleucid’s by Roman General Pompey in 64 BC, and of course. There are, of course, quite a number of references to Damascus in the New Testament, the many references to Damascus in the New Testament. Why do I put all this stuff in the middle of my own thoughts? I do it simply to make the point that the majority of commentary’s and books and teachings on Isaiah 17  nearly all state that Isaiah 17 is about 732  and 722 BC respectively. However, since 2 Kings 16 does not tell us that Damascus ceased from being a city,” that it became “a ruinous heap” at the hands of Assyria’s Tiglath-Pileser, twe have to conclude that it has not yet been fulfilled as Damascus still stands. )
  3. The fact that Isaiah likens the dissipation of Damascene glory to the dissipation of Israel’s glory (i.e. the Northern kingdom), and seeing that Samaria was dissipated 11 years after the fall of Damascus, makes it nonsense to apply it to the generation that covers 732 and 722 BC. It would be like prophesying to Kaiser Willhelm of Germany in 1914 that, “Your loss of splendour in this war will be similar to Hitler’s loss for Germany in 1945.” How could that make sense if those words were spoken in 1914. So to say, “Damascus the degradation of your glory will be similar to Israel’s loss of glory,” to the Damascene people would not have meant anything at all, because Samaria was still standing when this prophecy was purportedly declared prior to 732. Such a statement could only be stated to the latter dissipation comparing it to the former.
  4.  Why should Isaiah here suddenly insert a passage that is at least 17-18 years old (probably more) when hitherto everything seems to be chronological? I am not insisting strict chronology, neither am I even hinting that the entire volume needs to be chronological in anyway. In fact, I am sure that the strict chronology of his pieces and sections of his book are way down in the list of priorities of his composition of the book. However, the majority of commentators having concluded, fallaciously I believe, that the fall of Damascus here referred to MUST be the fall of 732 BC, one would definitely have to believe that this disjointed piece is out of place. As said in number 2, I discount the thought that verses 1-3 are referring to the Assyrian strategy that brought Damascus down, but something much more in the future.

Obviously, Isaiah 17 is an unfulfilled prophecy! The bottom line is this: Because of the statement of Isaiah that Damascus will be razed to the ground,  and because Damascus still stands, I cannot but conclude that here Isaiah has done a quantum leap in Isaiah 17 and is predicting something in his and our distant future.

Damascus11 The Straight Street of Damascus, the Biblical Street called Straight

The Straight Street of Damascus, the Biblical “Street called Straight”

 

 

110. “The End of days.” Time has a goal. Time will not go on forever as it is. (Isaiah 2:2)

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days [that] the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it.” (Isaiah 2:2.)

 

22h

The End of Days will be the End of Time.

Will things ever come to an end? Does this world go on forever? Because there are masses that believe that it has taken billions of years for things to develope into what we have and are today, is that why they are living and talking as if the world will never end? Is it nutty, or is it perfect spiritual sanity to tell people, “The end is near?”

 

Kingdoms and empires have risen and fallen and their narratives fill the history books. As far as the Bible is concerned from Isaiah’s day through to the end of Daniel’s day a world syndrome, or cycle has been clearly seen, predicted and explained in language that needs no interpreter to make plain its profundity.  The Assyrian Empire would rise and then be conquered by another empire; Babylon. Babylon would be larger than Assyria was at its peak, and thereafter the Medo-Persian Empire would rise and conquer Babylon, and rule the known Middle East with more square kilometres than both Assyria and Babylon ever saw. Then along came Alexander the Great who built an empire so vast, it is said that he wept when he realised there were no more nations to conquer. He died early, dividing his Empire into four. Then the Roman Empire arose and demolished the four divisions of what was the original Greek empire.  One has to be intellectually stultified to miss the cyclical process in the cut and thrust of political power in the world. The saga and sequence stated immediately above has clearly taken place and is part of history.  Any history book will validate those empires mentioned, clearly predicted before they arrived on the scene of time by the biblical Old Testament prophets. This series of predictions seen, stated and graphically illustrated in Daniel (especially chapter 2) suggests that history will just roll on and on repeating itself. Wars and conflict, nations rising and falling, empires built and then destroyed, civilisations doing the most uncivilised things to become top dog, and so the human race becomes cynical, depressed and frustrated in it all – unless you are part of the nation and/or empire that tends to be on the rise at the moment.

 

It is logical that people without hope, and without faith, without a moral or spiritual compass, will believe that the world will just roll on and on like the endless waves of the sea. If there is no God, surely the only end in sight is for mankind to destroy itself.

 

However!

 

What I have stated above is incomplete. As I have told it above, is true and correct, but that is not the whole story! To add an unmissable Post Script to this recurring cycle, Daniel and the apostle John added closure to all things.

 

22adaniel-2-image

The cycle of powers rising and disposing of previous powers.

Daniel continued his account of the future by talking of another Roman Empire made of both Iron and clay in its ten toes. And wait for it: nobody has ever reconciled the ten toes of iron and clay to any portion of Roman history, political, geographical or ecclesiastical. In other words – it is still future! What happens to this “other” Roman Empire made of Iron and clay? Daniel explains how it gets annihilated by a rock that comes to smash this kingdom of ten toes (Daniel says that the ten toes will be ten kings). He saw the vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare that troubled him and the movie of the dream finished with, a stone that was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. That rock is Christ and His kingdom.

 

We ask Daniel the prophet; “So what does this mean?” and he tells us explicitly, “In the days of these (ten kings) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this.”

 

What’s my point? Or better still; what is God’s point? The point is that when left to itself mankind will rise and conquer, kill and then be killed, rule and then be ruled over in an endless cycle of violence and godlessness. However, God has a set time. There is a point on the calendar of the universe that only God the Father knows when the cycle will come to an end. It is an appointed time that nobody knows but the Father in Heaven.

 

John shows us something also in the book of Revelation.

 

22bIn the book of Revelation, the “ebb and flow of power” syndrome has reached its peak. The ever enlarging empire reaches its zenith. In Revelation 14 we hear that “Babylon is fallen.” And why? “… because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” That is, it wasn’t just one nation’s empire, or a couple of allies challenging the world. What the apostle John saw was a manifestation of Babylon that polluted the whole world. In Revelation 16:19 we have: “And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. “ The language infers that all the cities in all the nations in all the earth, fell. The syndrome has mushroomed in John’s vision from a Middle Eastern series of empires, to European and Asian syndromes, to American and then intercontinental power cycles, resulting in the global village imploding in upon itself. Endorsing this “world vision” of spiritual and moral horror, Revelation 17:5 relates Babylon to the entire planet again. “A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” So, in the final show of the rise and fall of empires in the world, all nations are corrupted to the point of being “drunk with fornication,” “all prostitutes and obscenities in the world” as well as “the fall of all cities.” What was true of Assyria, and then of Babylon and onwards through the various sequential empires ruling, the syndrome has tied the entire planet in the evil of the final ruling powers both human and demonic.

 

The picture expands in Revelation 18 when verse 2 imprints on our minds, “And he (an angel) cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” It covered and influenced, not only the known world of humanity, but in its fall and the end of all humanity that was within her, the skeletal remains of its demonic infestation is all that is left. “Every foul spirit,” was the energy and force that drove Babylon the harlot to its destruction. Verses 10 and 21 of that same eighteenth chapter explains how shocked will the world be at the speed at which Babylon the great whore had fallen. Time will not just roll on for millions and millions of years. The world’s regular routines and cycles will end when Christ returns, and some of it will clearly cease before His appearing. Whether or not time will cease at that time, I very much doubt. However, the return of Christ will be a huge step towards the end of things as we now, at present, know it.

 

22c

Time will close one day

It is God’s intention to “finish” with time someday. The time line of history will be complete, and we and the cosmos shall enter into a timeless eternity.  Isaiah refers to it as “the End of Days” – that is, “the end of time.” It cannot be the end of life, for the resurrected Christ is a man for ever, and so will be the resurrected redeemed. “The End of Days,” is set in God’s diary. Whether it is today, in a year from now, or whether it is thousands of years from today’s date, God has a target to arrive at when all days and times are completed, finished, and a new kingdom will rule on a new earth and impact the universe with the ripples of God’s glory, and Christ’s reign will be visible and seen on the new planet earth. Earth will be linked to heaven, the invisible will be linked to the visible, the spiritual shall rule over the physical and Christ shall be all in all.

 

God will bring absolute closure to the status quo of the world order somewhere along the timeline and He wants us to prepare for it, whether it is tonight, or in ten thousand years’ time.

 

Generally, our thoughts and meditations of life and our reading of the Bible direct us toward the future and what it will bring. Whether it be the personal free-will and choices for our individual futures, our children’s or our nation’s future or, indeed, the world’s future, what lies ahead can be pretty dominant in our hearts. It can be overwhelming sometimes.

 

When the world was fully, and realistically expecting World War III to break out in October 1963 over the Cuban Missile Crisis, even at the age of fourteen it seemed to me that everybody old and young was thrown into the despair of, “We have no future! We are about to die!”  There is a degree to which we have no control over the future. But there is also a sense in which we can take hold of the future by the scruff of the neck and make it our servant and not allow it to become the cruel fascist dictator of all we are and all we do.

 

22d

In these, the closing days of time …

The implications and explications of Isaiah (and not only Isaiah but all the Hebrew writing prophets) and the predictions and exhortations of his preaching are intended for us to choose and to act on our, hopefully, wise choices based on what we have heard from the word of God. “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it” (Isaiah 1:19). That is, one can conduct one’s self in a manner which will result in blessing for us and for others in the end. It is a glorious and straightforward promise from Yahweh Himself. It is also a promise relevant to both Old and New Testament believers. Contrariwise, of course, one can act on bad, wicked and even downright evil advice so that one’s end will be destructive both to self and to others, where the evil committed can have roots that unfairly go under the orchard wall and develop more evil seeds and fruit in somebody else’s garden. When thinking of individuals, all depends upon one’s choices and the road one chooses to follow. A man’s beliefs settle his relationship or non-relationship with God, and the deeds that flow out of the abundance of one’s heart determine one’s happiness or grief, eternal life or eternal death. What thoughts and concepts are the treasure of your heart?

 

Nowhere is it indicated in human philosophy or history that time, such as it is, or countless days gone by, have a destiny, or that that the world and the souls of men per se have a destination, apart from the grave and annihilation. Outside of scripture the general philosophy held is that we will just carry on for millions of years in the imagined process of evolution. But Isaiah, and of course, the whole of biblical teaching tells us that time flows toward a port, a dock, a haven, a full-stop even, which is the veritable goal, the target, the purpose and the objective of all motion in this vast unfathomable and infinite universe. Not only has nobody else called us to see that an “End of Days” (or shall we say, “End of Time”) is on God’s agenda, but its justification and rationalisation is rarely touched on by those that read the scriptures that take us to this thought. The great news brought to the Jews and the world by prophecy is that time does indeed, really have an End, a Purpose.  “And it shall come to pass in the end of days…” (Isaiah 2:2. Darby Literal Translation) and then Isaiah shares about an existence where absolute good and perfect righteousness will prevail.

 

The world-picture which we now have before our own eyes each day in the news and on our streets is far short of the ideal, nor is it the destined world that God has in mind. What has shockingly been the status quo since the fall of Adam, is to cease at the Second Advent of the resurrected Christ, and will move redeemed humanity and indeed the entire universal cosmos towards that state of (Sorry! I cannot avoid the words!) Heaven – quite literally.

 

22eHowever, the goal is not somewhere in a great beyond, in some way out, new age, imaginary, reincarnated after-life. Generally most religious concepts are wont to spell it out thus: Life as we know it is only a corridor, to be followed by eternal life. That is, after our allotted “seventy years, or if by reason of strength eighty years” – only in the hereafter will eternal life begin.” In other words, the individual human being is “promised,” so the lie goes, that reward and/or punishment will be dealt out in the “world to come” – beyond, outside of and nothing to do with the historic experience of life. The goal is over there – beyond the mortal coil we refer to as a lifespan. This is what was said to be the universal human destiny – that of the individual. This is an idea and a concept that I scream as loud as I can in the ears of the world: “Absolute Tosh!”

 

Such an answer may have served and satisfied some individuals, but it hardly serves me and what I read in the Bible, and here especially I am referring to what I read in Isaiah. In the course of history, the biblical prophets asked questions about the destiny of life, the substance of the purpose of life, and, yes, even the very purpose of time, and the days we have within time.

 

The question is: Does time have an end? Do the days of man’s existence have a destination or not? Will we rise again, after death to give a full and detailed account of all we said, did and thought in this life? Will our motivational issues, momentary or lifelong, that led us to do good or evil, be exposed before God and ourselves and be left to His all wise all-knowing judgement?  The prophetic message of Isaiah and all the other biblical prophets give the divinely definitive answer. YES! Time does indeed have a destination. Days have an End. Time will cease. In prophetic language this is referred to as: “The End of Days.” And when this point of existence is reached, the lost will be eternally damned, and the saved and redeemed will be the inheritors of the world, and judges of the angels. The End of Days is where nothing but God and good rule and govern the hearts, ways and circumstances of mankind. It is, and it will be what is most important: The Perfect Good! Nobody will be able to say or think, “God got that wrong!” because it will not be true, and we will be assured of that fact.

 

From this high perspective, a perspective taught us by the Spirit of God Himself in Isaiah and his writings, the fundamental issue is not the question that has engaged religious thought for so long a time, whether man’s impulses and inclinations are evil from his birth or not, but rather: where does the stream, the river – the waterfall of human life flow to? And where does it find its destination? Does it flow toward Yahweh and good? Or does the very life of humanity flow toward nothingness? We can personally and individually chose the answer to those questions.

 

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The End of Days

“And Jacob called to his sons and said, ‘Be gathered together, and I declare to you that which happens with you in the latter end of the days” (Genesis 49:1.) When the patriarch Jacob speaks to his sons on his death bed of the “latter end of the days”, he is still within the universe of time and the narrative of the ancients. Jacob’s “End of the Days” are of this earth – all too human. The blessings he then speaks of promise “fat bread” and royal dainties – i.e. this world’s goods. Jacob’s prophetic dying moments also included angry words, concerning Simeon and Levi. All such things come to pass within the range of the ordinary, the world as we know it.

 

Isaiah’s “And it shall come to pass in the end of days…” (Isaiah 2:2. Darby Literal Translation) however, is of an entirely different character. They constitute a new world-order, indeed a new world. And going further, a new dynamic of life, of God and of human purpose.  Isaiah’s “End of Days” does not, to my mind, even involve time as we know it, but rather long term destiny as well as final destination. Mankind and the purposes of God will have “arrived.” Life and the ongoing existence of redeemed humanity, together with angels, cherubim and seraphim will all be in such bliss and harmony and God will be at the centre in the permanent, physical, tangible person and presence of Jesus Christ. Things will have developed, and will be ever expanding in that settled development in such a glorious manner that the “End” that the Just will be experiencing will forever rationally and truthfully justify all that went before.

 

The “End of Days” in Isaiah’s vision means that the “evolution” of the days and the development of God’s purpose in time will manifest in a great End. That day, the anticipated future beyond time, will compensate for man’s suffering and the human aberration that existed in between the fall of man and the Second Advent of Christ. Thus the old status quo of the world will yield to the new revolutionary status of a new world. But all that will occur within the range of history. Here we are dealing not with the struggles and fights of the individual, but rather with the fulfilment of the dreams of all of history, the completion and “arrival” of all that people were made for and meant to be. This is the ultimate intention of the creation of mankind.

 

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…………………………………….

In that new order, which the prophet envisioned, new concepts are actualized. First of all, peace among nations. There is no desire for warfare nor any wish for rancour or vengeance. The picture is that of “beating swords to ploughshares” and the presence of the Ultimate Judge among the nations. He Himself will transform the world as we know it, which takes bloodshed for granted, the struggle for power and the banishment of peoples (“exiles”) all that is part of the passing order. Life is set on a stream which flows to a new world where “they will not learn the art of war any more” and “the lion will lie down with the lamb.” I cannot state for a certainty that the prophet meant that the nature of the animal will actually change, or that “the lion will eat straw,” Man will be different and his impulses will be constructive rather than destructive. “On my holy mountain” man will not even have the wish to hurt his fellow man. Such is the picture of the world to which humanity is moving, unconditionally. God has decreed it to be so. For this is the destination for which man was brought into the world. Man has through his misdeeds wandered from the right path, but he will find his way back to it – on the road to his destiny. This is the meaning of faith in the “End of Days.” While the attainment of the ideal world is inevitable as the Almighty’s predestined plan, man can truly hasten its arrival. Man may delay its arrival, for decades, centuries and even millennia, but that other greater, better, eternal divine order will surely arrive. Count on it. Mankind’s ultimate divinely set ideal destination is, to understate things, Good. God has planned a good world, a perfect society and quite literally “heaven on earth.”  And I don’t think it will stop there.

 

This is the optimum of optimism, the most perfect of all that is perfect, the heaven of all heavens which Isaiah, and indeed the entire Old Testament bequeathed to us all. As human beings, created by God this is the inheritance of those that choose to love God with all their hearts, minds and bodies, and to love mankind as much as they love themselves.

 

It is more than painfully obvious that very little of the prophetic ideal has been realized since Adam fell. Nevertheless, much of what has happened in the full revelation of God in the scriptures, the development of Israel and faith, the spread of faith in Messiah throughout the gentile world and the closure of time in an unmeasured and incalculable point of time is fully and graphically explained by the direction pointed to by Isaiah and his prophetic burdens and visions. To Isaiah, that new order of a world in which peace is to reign, justice is to prevail and Israel is to play a, if not the central role in society under the grace of the physical presence of Messiah – that vision is the solid reality of the future – the certain “End of Days.”  Amos and Zephaniah spoke of, “The “Day of the Lord” or of, “That Day,” as that which is to be man’s lot; Judgement not blessing, darkness and not light.” Isaiah, however, lives on a more distant planet, with a much more futuristic viewpoint and turns it all around. That Day will see the culmination of the best of man’s hope and potential. The very Chesed of God shall dominate the entire cosmos. The human heart will be true and straight and desperately righteous. Grace and peace will flow like a river to and from That Day.  And in the great finale of the planet, trust me when I say – and if you can’t trust me, trust Isaiah, when he tells us that Israel and Jerusalem will be the glorious arena where this great human divine drama will be staged – within the sight of all peoples, and the descendants of Abraham’s line who lived in faith will host the pilgrim nations who flock to sit at the feet of the Mighty King on David’s throne.

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109. A Tiff between the Prophet and the King? Or just a Mix-up between Monarch and Ministry?

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An artist’s impression of the Angel of the Lord slaying 180,00 Assyrian soldiers in the course of a single night.

Yeh! All men of God, especially those who are “big” in the Bible must have lived in “love and peace, man!” Surely they epitomised joy and happiness like the Cisco Kid and Pancho, The Range Rider and Dick West, Morse and Lewis, and Holmes and Watson? Isn’t that what Christianity and Godliness is all about?

 

If that is how you think of life, allow me to conceivably pop your bubble.

 

I am not sure at all that Prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah got on very well. I am totally serious. It’s one of those things where if I tell you just one reason why I think like this, you would laugh and call it trivial nonsense. But when there are a few little things that I remark upon in order to build a case, suddenly, what I say here has gravitas. There was a row between royalty and radical Yahwehism. There was a mix-up between monarchy and ministry. There was division between the Davidic and the Divinely inspired.

 

Where am I coming from? Well! Let’s start at a distance with an aerial view and zoom in close as we go and stare into the whites of the eyes of this dynamic duo … eh! …dynamic individuals.

 

Throughout history, we read how smaller nations have been dominated by greater powers. Some times the big boy helped the little brother, sometimes they crushed them to smithereens. It is plain to see on Television News programmes that I have watched for over six decades that nothing in nationhood and the world status of all countries is ever static. Today’s superpower was yesterday’s forgettable minnow and tomorrows “has been.” Think of biblical history when Assyria ruled the world. They receded into nothingness while Babylon ascended. Babylon died while the Medo-Persians were reigning supreme, then it was the turn of Greece and then Rome. And so on ad infinitum. Time was when Spain and Portugal vied with England for world supremacy, and that was only 400 – 500 years ago. The Ebb tide of fortune for individual nations has always been followed, somewhere along the line, with a receding flow that regresses sometimes to a greater degree of irrelevance than some nations had before they ascended to world dominance.

 

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Sennacharib possibly was the catalyst that brought Isaiah and Hezekiah together for the first time.

It is when a nation reaches the point of smug self-satisfaction, believing that their power and authority is their right and theirs alone that the life blood of their achievements coagulates in their history books and psyche, helping them to falsely believe that they are set forever on the world’s throne, and they then become convinced of their own indestructability, superiority and decadence. It is these very things that begin to mark each step of its deterioration.  Next, the once genuinely superior superpower helplessly falls apart while lesser, erstwhile acquiescent nations seize the opportunity to throw off the yoke of bondage and become the bond masters themselves. This freshly attained self-determination is, as usual, quite short lived as history proves. Some last a bit longer than others, but because, being feeble and at odds within themselves, they become easy prey to the next rising power in the time line of the world two or three hundred years is a long time for such a world power to stay supreme. There are some occasions when a “superpower” may retain its influence and reputation long after it has lost its real strength.

 

In the eighth century BC, during Isaiah’s lifespan, Assyria was an example of the former and Egypt of the latter of this kind of Ebb and flow of power and domination. Egypt was in recession thinking above themselves, and Assyria was discovering its violent military ability. Egypt once ruled all in the Middle East, and in the early days of their supremacy Assyria were nowhere near as infamous as they were becoming in Isaiah’s day. A small country, like Judah, or Israel – known around the Middle East as Ephraim – had to throw in its lot with either one or the other to survive. All the tiny Nation States had to make sure they chose to side with the ultimate winner. Making the wrong choice could be absolutely calamitous. But we need to take note that any prophet who urged the likes of Judah and its King, not to get involved with any of the mighty powers who flaunted their sense of world authority (in this case we are referring to Egypt and Assyria) whose message was, “Trust in God and He will protect you,” (Isaiah 26:3) was considered by many people and most importantly the leaders to be speaking as a fool and of a mad spirit (Hosea 9:7). They were thought to be just dreamers who did not understand real politics and had no grasp of reality. As it is today, they were heard in all their preaching, teaching and prophesying about Yahweh, until what they said addressed the people’s fears and dreads. Isaiah was the biggest and most widely known of all prophets. He had been in public ministry from, at the very latest 740 BC, and Hezekiah started his reign in 716 BC. 24 years at the very least, 30-40 years at the most (nobody knows for certain when he started) means that Isaiah was part of the spiritual staple diet of the people of Judah. A Billy Graham kind of position in the Jewish recent history.

 

Hezekiah grew up watching his father king Ahaz rule, and studied how he responded to pressure as well as observing the impact of his father’s responses upon soldiers, politicians, and military men. Ahaz was a wimp when placed under pressure. The man Hezekiah was fortunately or otherwise, born in such an era as we have described above in the paragraph about world powers. He grew up hearing his family table talk on all the things to do with ruling and relating as a monarch. He would have also absorbed the facts of life to do with the kind of things that pressured Ahaz. Up to the age of nine he had seen his grandfather Jotham rule and prosper in the same spirit of faith in Yahweh as did his great grandfather Uzziah, (2 Chronicles 26 ) even though neither really accentuated or promulgated the monopolisation of worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. Since he was twenty five years old when he had ascended to the throne (2 Kings 18:2) and his father, Ahaz, had ruled for the immediate sixteen years before his reign (2 Kings16 :2), we can safely surmise that during the first decade or so of Hezekiah’s life, his grandfather Jotham was king.

 

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Hezekiah asking Almighty God to read the letter he had received from Sennacharib. He was asking Yahweh to send a reply. He did.

When he was nine years old, his grandfather died and his father Ahaz became king. Together with Ahaz, a new atmosphere of faithlessness entered the royal household at that time. This negative influence spread from the king to the aristocracy, as well as to the man on the street. Instead of putting his faith in God he went to solicit the aid of other nations, as well as other gods. When Rezin king of Syria, and his junior ally in crime, king Pekah of Israel, planned to attack Ahaz and Judah, with a view to removing the presence of the davidically descended king Ahaz, planning to place their own puppet on the throne at Jerusalem, Ahaz turned to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of the new and growing superpower, Assyria. He approached Tiggy voluntarily, that is without Assyrian solicitation and totally of his own choice, offering Assyria a huge amount of tribute money together with Ahaz’s own personal, excruciatingly embarrassing abject submission to the authority of the new boys on the block. Tiggy was of course happy to oblige because his power would now extend to three more countries. He could rule Judah as a benefactor and Israel and Syria/Aram as conqueror. Tiglath Pileser must have thought it was Christmas, or whatever the Assyrian equivalent was. There was no bloodshed, no fighting, no aggression, just a letter and a huge bag of swag asking Assyria to be Judah’s lord and master. Imagine what that kind of king and the knowledge of what how he had weakly given his nation’s independence to Assyria impacted his princes and his people.

 

Hezekiah, during pubescence and early adolescence, sadly and distressingly saw his father stray from the faith of his grandparents and the spiritual roots of his throne with dire results. He saw that, when Aram and Israel had banded together in an attempt to oust Ahaz, his own father and the people he would at some time in the future rule over, became terrified wimps filled with knee knocking spinelessness and fear made of a depth that ruled society and government. His father’s heart and the heart of his people quavered “like the leaves of the trees in the forest before the wind.” (See Isaiah 7) Having lost faith. The king was in no mood to listen to the assurances of the prophet Isaiah, that they had “nothing to fear, of the two burned out sticks of Rezin and Pekah.” I am not embellishing the story at all, I am telling it exactly as it is told in scripture. The details are all there for us to read and be shocked about (Isaiah 7:4-7. 2 Chronicles 26:3-15. 2 Chronicles 27:1-7).  His father had sought help not from the God who made his grandparents so strong and successful, but from foreign gods who, it was commonly believed, helped those who sacrificed to them (2 Chronicles 28:23. Isaiah 8:7-8. 10. 2 Kings 16:10-18). Being without faith in Yahweh meant disregarding Isaiah’s warning. Ahaz turned to Tiglath Pileser for help even though this temporary “let-off” meant complete loss of independence for Ahaz as King, and for the whole nation now under tribute.

 

Young Hezekiah must have been repulsed and sickened by his father’s pathetic and unkingly desire to stay “one” with his new Assyrian masters by even going so far as to introduce the Assyrian god, the Assyrian type of religious service in the Temple, and even making a copy of the Assyrian kind of altar to replace the alter as designed by God Himself in the Solomonic edifice at Jerusalem. It is a fascinating note to observe that of all the kings of Judah after Rehoboam, only Ahaz and Manasseh, the two idol worshipping kings, do not have God’s appellation as part of their names. Interesting eh?

 

Ahaz died. Hezekiah came to power. All the negative impressions accumulated during his father’s reign came to the fore of Hezekiah’s thoughts. A contributing factor may have been the memory of Isaiah’s prophetic vision of a glorious reign of a future king that Hezekiah may have possibly taken as to be referring to himself (Isaiah 9:5-6).  Who knows?

 

He began his reign with a public disassociation with his father’s ways and a wonderful national return to faith in Yahweh. He broke up all kinds of idol worship including the Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4) and centralized all worship and sacrifices in and around the Temple. He even tried, without much success I might add, to rally some of the ten tribes from up north. He desperately wanted to do everything properly. He even instructed the Kohathites and the Levites to offer the sacrifices, play the instruments and sing the songs exactly as David had instigated. Good man, Hezekiah!

 

But – it is strange that in his zeal and fervour to return the Temple to its previous glory, he relied solely on his own initiative and authority and never consulted ant prophet or priest. It was he who tried to instil fervour in the priests and the Levites (2 Chronicles 29:1-11). It was he who prayed to God to forgive the people, who ate the Passover lamb not according to the law. It was Hezekiah who plotted and planned the whole mega Passover, and no matter how wonderful and righteous it all seems to be at first read, I stop and note that Hezekiah does not seem to have included Isaiah in any of his spiritual, religious, worshipping, musical plans. Hezekiah seems not to have invited any prophet or priest to help him construct the logistics for such a huge undertaking. Exactly why was that?

 

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Rabshakah doing and saying his worst. If only he knew what he was doing when he belittled Yahweh.

My major issue of thought today is based around this “Lone Ranger” beginning of Hezekiah’s actions. The king neither requested nor received assistance in any form from Isaiah – nor from any other prophet if it comes to that, nor advice on whether any procedure in his reformation was “favourable in the eyes of God.” The king was a loner in all the flexing of his authority in his spiritual productions. Truly, I see here a rift, of a sorts, between Hezekiah and Isaiah. What do you think? But don’t decide yet! We need to explore a little more.

 

Perhaps the reason for what I perceive as a disaffection between king and prophet was their differences in outlook on the subject of what was of greater importance in the service of Yahweh, in whom they both trusted. I think, possibly, I have a point in suggesting that King Hezekiah was filled with perhaps too much court etiquette, protocol, law and order, and that he saw in sacrifices, and in hallowed Temple procedures what was of paramount importance to Yahweh. His level of revelation and outlook stands to be placed under scrutiny on that kind of issue. As King of Judah, I would suggest he stepped out of his calling and anointing and in his single handedness and his general spiritual outlook. Stay with me on this, because there are further occurrences that strengthen my hypothesis.

 

Isaiah regarded faith, spirituality, morality, justice, and care for the less fortunate as the primary intent of the Law of God. The full 66 chapters of the scroll that contains his name supports my statement. Isaiah was called to be a prophet to Judah and a pastor of the nation, so to speak. Hezekiah was called to be king. There were demarcation lines for both roles, just as there were for priests. Prophet’s, Priests and Kings were the special roles that all needed an anointing to prove calling and gifting.

 

To emphasize his point, Isaiah went to a considerable extreme in denying any importance of the sacrificial system when enacted and performed without faith, repentance and a righteous lifestyle. He forcefully imputed an incredibly negative relevance to sacrifices and ritual, unless faith in God was the primary and dominating factor and motivation.  I have to say, however, that I seriously wonder how Isaiah felt when he was clearly not asked to take an active role, not even in an advisory capacity in the new effort to have the entire nation of Judah return to the worship of Yahweh. Since their objective was mutual and there was no other jurisdictional or ethical distortion in Hezekiah’s reign, the prophet perceptibly found no fault in the king’s action or he would have voiced his disapprobation, as he did in the days of Hezekiah’s father.  Nevertheless, since there is no record of his having overtly applauded, or at least approved of Hezekiah’s actions, we can only guess at his feelings, especially when we recall Samuel’s anger when Saul did anything without his specific prophetic approval (I Samuel 15).

 

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When Hezekiah was ill, it meant that he and Isaiah had to meet in the same room.

To make a major observation in this matter, I note that as a matter of fact, there is no mention in scripture of any direct contact between Isaiah and Hezekiah until the fourteenth year of the king’s reign. As my view is that Hezekiah did not take the throne until 716 or 715 BC, it strongly infers that prophet and king never met until mighty Sennacharib king of Assyria was knocking on Jerusalem’s gate together with that nasty fellow referred to as Rabshakeh. It was only when threatened and surrounded by Sennacherib and his huge army that Hezekiah took the initiative and sent messengers to summon the prophet.

 

Isaiah’s energetic attentiveness to the well-being of his people, his deep concern in the political developments of his time, and his keen heavenly and spiritual insight are undeniably mirrored in all his prophecies. However, instead of facing Hezekiah directly, as he did Ahaz, in Isaiah 7:3, he preferred public appeals and demonstrations against the “pro-Egypt” clique in Judah. Though Isaiah roundly succeeded through public pressure in having a man named Shebna, a leader of the group urging dependence on a foreign power, removed from his influential position as general manager of the palace, and called for a man named Eliakim as his replacement, he could not get rid of him completely. Shebna remained as the Scribe, a position important enough to be included among a delegation of three who came to see the Assyrian Rabshakah (2 Kings 18:18) and then later to address Isaiah.

 

So, fourteen years after Hezekiah ascended the throne in Judah, and two decades after the fall of Samaria the capital of what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem was in mortal danger from the incredible force of Sennacharib. Hezekiah tried to prevent a confrontation with Assyria by sending his regrets for his former failure to send tribute money to Sennacherib and by sending him a bribe (2 Kings 18:13-16). When he failed and saw that Sennacherib’s tramping soldiers were still drawing near, he saw his worst fears coming to fruition, namely that the razing of the city was inescapable. He comprehended the horror of the depth of his error in thinking that by partial submission to Assyria, he could attain peace and retain his rebellious act of independence. He thus organised for the protection and defence of Jerusalem and inspired and motivated his people by his deep faith and practical expectation in God. At the same time he still hoped for the possibility of avoiding the inevitable by sending a committee of three, which included both Shebna and Eliakim, to listen to Rabshakah, the Assyrian general and his terms for lifting the siege. It is amazing the Hezekiah did not confront Rabshakah himself. Perhaps he took the political line that if Sennacharib wasn’t going to come, he would treat Rabshakah with equal disdain and send the three delegates of his power. The details of the dialogue between the three men and Rabshakah are frankly astonishing. The crudity and the language, together with his utter ignorance of who Yahweh is, was his downfall. His blasphemy and derision of the God of Israel was undoubtedly one of the main contributing factors to the complete annihilation of 180,000 soldiers overnight. In his arrogance, Rabshakah spelled out clearly that he meant for the total dissolution of Judah as a nation. Oh my goodness! If he only knew the kind of line he had crossed by belittling Yahweh and criticising Hezekiah’s kingliness by removing all the idols from the high places, he would have prostrated himself immediately in the dust and cried out for mercy. I cannot help but wonder if Rabshakah was one of the 180,000 cadavers spread out over the fields that surrounded Jerusalem the following morning.  Perhaps there were people there who claimed that “Rabshakah only said these things for public consumption in order to terrify us. He really doesn’t mean it.” Everything that Rabshakah said was spoken very loudly while all the onlookers from Jerusalem heard every single filthy word. However, even Shebna and his followers could not accept Rabshakah’s terms, and by the biblical script of their state meeting with Rabshakah, they were clearly shaken. Even the common rank and file were firm in their fortitude to fight when they heard that the alternative meant being uprooted from their homes and sent to a so called, unnamed “better place” as happened to the Northern Kingdom. Rabshakah’s nastiness failed. His words were intended to inject fear into Jerusalem’s inhabitants, instead, faith of the deepest kind arose in the people.

 

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Isaiah points to the Sun dial that went back an hour.

Under these critical circumstances, finally – and was it reluctantly? – Hezekiah turned to the mighty and legendary Isaiah for help. But even then he did not go to enquire of the prophet himself. He sent his aforementioned committee and the elders of the priesthood instead. In the ensuing sequence of events, Isaiah’s prophecy that the Assyrian army would leave its siege and return home, Sennacherib’s threat to return, Hezekiah’s prayer, Isaiah’s assurance that God would hear his prayer, and then the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army overnight – there is only a brief mention of the exchange of messages but, no person to person contact between the king and the prophet. Surely, the most cursory read would suggest that things were not “normal” between king and prophet.

 

We, at last, hear of Isaiah’s first visit to Hezekiah when the king later became seriously ill. However it is a shock to the system when we read that instead of greeting the king with prophetic words of comfort, he greets him with the serious cold blooded and matter of fact sounding divine message; “You are going to die” (2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38). It seems that the entire incident was unpleasant when we return to the author of Chronicles noting that he misses out this story completely. Several ancient Jewish Rabbis seem to be of the opinion that there was some kind of issue between monarch and minister all the way through their biblically recorded relationship. One wrote: “Our Sages, in their clarity of perception saw that there was something wrong between the “two righteous men.”” Rabbi Hamnuna wrote:  “Hezekiah said, “Isaiah should come to me, as Elijah came to Ahab.” Isaiah said, “Hezekiah should come to me as Jehoram came to Elisha.” God made Hezekiah ill, and Isaiah had to visit him. When he was told that he would die, Hezekiah retorted, “Son of Amoz, go home. It’s never too late to pray.”” Note that is not scripture that is Rabbinical Midrash.

 

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Isaiah puts a whole new meaning on “turning the clocks back.”

Whatever the truth is, I find myself standing both with Isaiah as well as Hezekiah in the drama of the moment. God in whom he placed his trust was going to let him die at a time when his city was threatened with destruction. In the end Hezekiah lives another fifteen years. I believe Hezekiah died 687-686 BC. If my dates are correct this means that Hezekiah’s near death experience took place round about the time of Sennacharib’s threats, if not slightly before it happened. In his despair the king turned to God in prayer. Just at that moment, Isaiah returned with the good news that the Lord heard his prayer and that fifteen healthy years had been added to his life span. Some think that it is of little wonder that he asked for a sign. I have read that some commentators believe that Hezekiah was uncertain whether the second prophecy was authentic or just an expression of comfort and well wishes, of the kind that Micaiah said when he was asked by Ahab whether he and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, should go to war: Go and prosper, and may the Lord hand them to you” (I Kings 22:15).  Ahab felt that the prophet was merely being polite, and for that reason demanded to be told the “truth”. He then prophesized that Ahab will die in that battle. Similarly here, to assure himself that the prophet Isaiah was telling the “truth”, Hezekiah asked for a sign, although I have to concede that I find it difficult to understand why it is easier for the shadow on the sundial to advance ten degrees than to recede. Ah well! C’est la vie!

 

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Hezekiah shows his wealth to the envoys from Babylon. Very unwise.

So, from this cursory view of events during Hezekiah’s reign we become aware that there was a shadow in the relationship between the two righteous men as Rabbi Hamnuna wrote so many centuries ago. Hezekiah was convinced that the fact that he returned and brought his people back to God through a hallowed ritual and Temple worship was in itself a guarantee of divine protection. Isaiah who had always placed greater stress on morality and justice, probably felt left out and somewhat insulted that, after the long struggle with Ahaz, he was not consulted more actively by the son who discarded his father’s ways. In the light of that silent conflict, we can understand the final confrontation between the two as described by the authors of Kings and Isaiah, but omitted by the author of Chronicles, though he was obviously familiar with the incident. (2 Chronicles 32:25-26.) Hezekiah was happy and impressed by the fact that his cure came as a result of his personal appeal to God and with Isaiah’s application of a mash of figs.

 

But the account of an estranged relationship between Prophet and King does not even end there. When the King of Babylon sent a delegation with gifts and congratulations on his recovery, Hezekiah preferred to forget old animosities and distrust and welcomed them with open arms, boastfully showing them all his possessions. In the keen political insight of Isaiah, Babylon was not some distant country, but a rising superpower. Now that the precedent of personal contact had been made, Isaiah came in person to make the king aware of his grave mistake. “Not you but your children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences.” The king, in no mood to listen to the prophet’s dire predictions, heard only the “not you” part of it. “All right, if this is the will of the Lord, as long as there will be peace in my time,” was his strange reply (2 Kings 20:14-19.). Doing nothing to correct his mistake and cooperate more fully with Isaiah, he brought destruction to his people in precisely 100 years after his death.

 

Now: Is that interesting? Or is that interesting? I thought you would agree with me in the end.

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A potion of figs was used by Isaiah in Hezekiah’s healing.

 

108. Mumble! Bumble! Fumble and Grumble!  On being “Off Balance” on the subject of “Balance!”

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Just Saying! Know what I mean?

My dearest, dearest friend. May I have a private chat with you? I need to get something off my chest. You know I trust you to keep things discreet and just between you and me. Is it OK with you? I really need to say something about recent experiences of life, and I feel like some sort of pressure cooker that is about to whistle or possibly explode. It all came about by a conversation I had with somebody about the Old Testament writing prophets and the response I had from a group.

Oh dear! Where on earth do I start?

I have a grumble to mumble about! Bear with me while I fumble in the midst of my bumbling mumblings.

OK! Having wiped my brow from my anxious sweat … sorry … perspiration. Here I go!

Why is it that people who seem to go on and on about “balance,” always seem to me to be off balance on the very subject of balance?

Why is it that people very often take the popular, the well-known or the easy way out in the context of a difficult confrontational issue?  I am talking of the Christian world and the things they like to preach about, talk about and know a lot about. Generally it seems that too many make the Christian life and biblical truth as a whole so elementary, and then refuse to complicate anything by digging deeper or asking too many questions. It seems to me that any issue of belief or practice that takes too much effort or makes too heavy a demand on a person’s thoughts, or does combat with questions that pressure the thinking processes, gets thrown out and hardly entertained, never mind negotiated.

I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. I don’t mind if people know more than me. What I mind is the attitude that says, “Don’t talk about that stuff, no matter how many times it is repeated throughout the Bible, because it will upset my peace and tranquillity while I struggle to understand something new.”

God has given us the Bible. There are 66 books. I am not the greatest scholar in the world. I have no delusions of intellectualism or academic superiority, or any kind of superiority at all.  However, if one was to judge by what is not read in the Bible by the vast majority of Christians, and what is generally not understood concerning God’s plan for mankind, one could conclude that God could have got away with a lot less effort and given us merely one single gospel and a couple of epistles and the Christian world would have generally been happy, if not overloaded even with that morsel of Holy Scripture.  How about a Bible that only had Philemon, Third John, Obadiah and Mark’s Gospel with or without the glorious end of Mark 16, which seems too off balance for some academics. Why do I ramble on like this? Simply because there are huge chunks of scripture that are simply never read, thought about, negotiated nor heeded.

Y2There is history that is not often consulted, prophecy that is considered inappropriate for “modern Christian living,” huge swathes of scripture in both Old and New Testaments concerning Israel that many consider too controversial, and issues concerning the power of God and the miraculous that still in the twenty-first century have armies of Christians that think it heresy to even contemplate their relevance for today. There are artificial controversies concerning where the law fits in with grace, how relevant or irrelevant is the Old Testament to Gospel understanding, and many that argue that the second coming is a myth to be ignored. “As there are so many different viewpoints in the Christian world about this topic or that topic, let’s just shut up about it so that we don’t fall out about it and keep the peace. There are millions of Christian that don’t respond well to the words “sanctification” or “personal holiness,” “discipline,” or “commitment,” “self-denial” or “discipleship.” We have a generation of Christians that are seriously religious about being “non-religious” – an attitude adopted to make themselves “relevant” to modern western society that has actually made them irrelevant in the global village. There has never been so many Christians alive on the planet in any generation in the west, yet Christianity has never been so non-influential in the world. Christians get caught up in their own sub-culture (of which each stream, denomination and or movement has their own branch) and don’t seem to realise how utterly irrelevant they make themselves to the unchurched and unsaved millions. By parleying on and on about the subject of “Christ being made relevant” we have less impact than ever in the world as a whole.

The first female Archbishop may be frontline news to the secular press, but that front page headline is not because they think it is important, they merely use it as a baseball bat with which to hit the Christian world over the head to highlight the triviality of their “in house fall outs.” There is a great number of what used to be referred to as “non-conformist” Christians who have had women in leadership and pastorates for the last century or so. Most Christians scratch their head and ask: “What’s the issue?”

How on earth does it come about that in many small minded corners of Christianity the leaders major on such minors, and yet want to be acknowledged as “relevant to society.”

Y3If one was to discuss the meaning of life, death, pain, the presence of evil in the world, and/or give a solid explanation of who and what God is, too many “believers” would just respond with evangelical truth that has been sound-byted for the modern audience to the point where they have simply become cliché’s.

Issues of grace and the biblical psychology of salvation for instance. We are living in a generation (especially in the west) where it seems that the grace of God, and every aspect of what the Bible says about it, has left the believing masses in general with an, “I am delivered from any sort of accountability to God because it’s all “under the blood,” mentality. One dear Christian soul I spoke to in recent times was horrified when I happily brought up the subject of “The Judgement seat of Christ that Christians will stand at.” “But I am saved!” was the shocked exclamation. “I have nothing to answer for!”  Oh yeah? Oh no!

I believe in the power of the gospel, the healing grace of deliverance and the awesome power of God to set free from all sin, sickness and bondage. However, I have discussed accountability and responsibility with contemporary Christian people long and often and been told too often that I am trying to put them under law. It has happened too often to leave me thinking that I have merely been talking to those who are in “a tiny minority.” I find it to be absurd to think that anybody, in Christ or out of Christ, could live a life and not be accountable for their deeds. I say that thinking of Christians with a view to heavenly rewards, and the unsaved with the reality of eternal damnation. That is why there are two different judgements separated by at least a millennium because all the people that have ever lived shall indeed be judged. How is it conceivable that victorious Christians will receive a crown without some authentic judgement from Christ Himself on the issue prior to the award? Yet I am argued with as if I am holding heresy.

Friends, saved or unsaved, Pope, priest, Pastor or Prelate, Deacon, Elder or church member, we shall all have to give an account of ourselves before Christ the Lord. Scoundrel, sinner, robber, or lawbreaker – take note that you too will have to give an account of your life while looking straight into the eyes of God Almighty. And let me add, that if you are a wonderful nice respectable person who think application to God and Christian groups is just too intense for you, like it or not, you too will have to stand and give account. You might not like the fact that judgement for what we do with our lives will be judged. It may even be the very reason why some people do not want to give their lives to Christ. Head in the sand, deny these Christians any “relevance” or “right to live” even, but it is just a fact of life (…or rather a fact of death.) It is just common sense!

Y4Law? The word is used in many Christian circles for anything that has the faintest aroma of severity and discipline. “Be holy as God is holy!” I say. “Don’t put me under law!” has been spat back at me more than once in response to such a statement. “More commitment is what we need,” say I (referring to myself more than anybody else I need to add). “Legalist!” they cry!  And let me add that if you think this writer is stood on the peaks of some Ivory tower that is looking down on you lesser mortals and bigger sinners than I am, pontificating over the horror that none of you are as perfect as I am, you could not be more wrong. There is a list of crimes in my life that could cause some of you to stop reading my blogs and never talk to me again (if you have ever talked to me at all.). Most of my horrors have been committed since I was converted. Get hold of that one! How do I handle it? Simples! And at the same time it is the hardest thing in my life. Yes! I am forgiven. I believe that. Yes! It’s all under the blood. I have no doubt of it. But I still have to give account of my thought life, my intentions, my actions, my self-denial and my likeness or otherwise to the character of Christ.

I mentioned the second coming of Christ and the millennial reign in a single sentence as a passing remark once and had a prospective charismatic minister ask me why I was complicating the Christian life together with divesting “sound Bible teaching” of its proper place. When I was once discussing with another experienced Christian person the subject of the Prophet Daniel’s early chapters with visions of the future and world empires and their significance, I was encouraged not to discuss things that “don’t help one’s Christian life.” Yeah! Right! Way to go!

I feel that it is like the Christian world in general has scooped up a cupful of the Pacific Ocean and is lecturing the world about their full and complete knowledge of the whole vast depth of its substance. It has as much legitimacy as me saying that Prince Charles is my best friend because I shook hands with him once 26 years ago. It’s like me saying that I own BT because I have £10.00 of shares in the company. It is shallow and ineffective talk trying to sound as if it has divine authority. It is irrelevance bursting out of an irrelevant attempt to be relevant.

We overstate our experiential walk with God. Evangelicals like myself, labour on and on about how the scripture tells us that positionally, via the grace of justification, we are seated in heavenly places, having the whole infinite authority and power of God resting upon our mortal frames and can speak with the love and depth of Christ Himself. And do not allow yourself dear reader to even think that this writer does not believe those precious truths. The truth of being immersed into Christ and into His resurrection is the air I breathe and the wallpaper to the rooms of my heart. But I refuse to be deluded into thinking that because I can preach and teach about that glorious elevated status in God’s love, and because I may know all the scriptures to back it up that I have arrived at maturity in those things. It’s a wine glass full of truth in the eternity of the wine vat of biblical revelation.

God help us all. The more we understand and believe, the bigger we talk. And the bigger we talk the more we need to demonstrate our talk with a proportionately measured demonstration of what we are claiming. Ah! There’s the rub! That’s the embarrassment. “Doing” what we are “saying” is always a drag. Why? Because it needs application, discipline, holiness, responsibility and a deeper experience of the love of Christ.

Y5Oops! There I go swearing again! I must watch myself with the bad language!

The main thrust of my thoughts today is concerning the Old Testament prophets in general, and Isaiah in particular. Isaiah’s vast continent of truth and insight is broader than the Pacific Ocean and deeper than the African rift valley. Yet how ignored are his statements in general. Where Isaiah gives us statements that line up with normal evangelical jargon we quote him off by heart. However, his prophetic statements like the rise and fall of Babylon, Assyria, the Philistines, the Moabites and Damascus – and other nations of history – are put on the side as an oddity.

Just why is it that as a broad brush stroke of a statement, things to do with where we come from, creation and Genesis and the like – where we are going to, the Book of Revelation and all that the Old Testament prophets say about the end of this age and thereafter – are swept aside and left for “specialist” ministries that are considered extreme or even off-balance.

The Christian world is wildly “off-balance” on the subject of “balance.” We are supposed to be revolutionaries in an evolutionary world. It was said they “turned to world upside down.” Yeh! Of course! That was done by Evensong for thirty minutes every Sunday and Jumble Sales every Bank holiday, with ballroom dancing once a week. I think not!

Isaiah and the gang of four whom we refer to as Major Prophets wrote stuff and said stuff that need pawing over, thinking through, discussion and meditation.

We simply have to move on from the elementary stuff of forgiveness, baptisms and grace. I do NOT mean to forget those truths. I do mean that those truths are supposed to build a strong, robust irresistible Christlikeness and robustness that people around us will want a piece of. Truth is a never ending ocean.

Get to it Lannon!

Just Saying!

107. Isaiah calls Moab’s survivors to shelter within Judah and share in the expectation of Messiah. Isaiah 15-16 -The Text

Isaiah 15 and 16 – the Text

Moab 0

Looking Eastward across the Dead Sea to Moab. Nowadays its part of Jordan.

From context to text! The serious and extremely emotional prophetic message that is contained throughout the next two chapters deals with, what was to Isaiah, the future history of Moab. The comparative obscurity of that history, together with the names of towns and villages which are hard to identify make this story a bit of an oddity. The simplicity of Isaiah’s free flowing language makes it paradoxically crystal clear and plainly understood, yet simultaneously confusing and fogged. Isaiah’s last words on the matter are that it will all happen within three years from the time he wrote the end of chapter 16.

  1. Isaiah 15:1-9    Dire Disaster – Cruel Conquest and Dreadful Drought in Moab.

 

A prophetic message that was given and was a burden to me (Isaiah) concerning Moab. The oracle stated: Because in a single night the town of Ar (City) Moab is ruined, levelled and laid waste, Moab is undone and devastated. It is silent.  Kir (wall) Moab is also ruined, destroyed in a single night and brought to silence. (Isaiah 15:1. My own extended paraphrase)

 

The Chaldee version renders this as, “The burden of the cup of malediction which is to come upon Moab.” The Targum has it, “The burden of the cup of cursing, to give Moab to drink.”  Heavy!  Yet it gives an opening clue as to what the prophet is about to declare.

Moab 001What these two chapters bring us is a prophetic pronouncement of the virtual destruction of the culture and existence of the Moabite nation. Moab had been an incorrigible and a relentless antagonist of the Jewish people. Their diminuation of population and power was instigated, under God, by the hand of the Assyrians, and finally completed by Babylonian monarchs a century or so later. This is a weighty, grievous and emotionally burdensome prophecy that Isaiah carried. That is not me being creatively verbose, it is plainly in the text. Isaiah himself sheds tears – he says so.

Like it was in the days of Noah, just as it was when Sodom went under water, and exactly as Christ Himself said it would be in the days immediately preceding His Second Advent, when folks would be getting on with their lives and expecting it to be the same forever, Moab’s downfall was to be very sudden and totally shocking. In fact, they were sleeping, snoring and dreaming when the axe actually fell on them – literally: Assyria came in the night.

“In a single night!” says the prophet. As a deliberate understatement, know this: This catastrophe was to take Moab utterly by surprise. Night is the time best suited for a hostile incursion when one is looking for as little collateral damage as possible. However, in Isaiah’s day, with the likes of the Assyrians running wild, collateral damage was really “the name of the game” and the goal of the whole (Isaiah 21:4; Jeremiah 39:4). Assyria’s violent tsunami of an army brought deep stressful anxiety to those who supposed themselves to be safe in the “almost” impregnable stronghold of Moab in what today is called Kerek and thought to have been Kir-Moab in biblical times. The substance of the magnificent fortress that Moab relied on is still extant today. When the prophet says at the end of verse one that Moab will be brought to silence, he is starkly referring to the hush that shrouds the dead. It is the biblical parallel of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was too sudden and too completely devastating not to leave the survivors in shock. The nation of Moab went to bed one night with wives, families, children, jobs and ambitions for the future, together with life’s agendas for tomorrow. By the following morning the world was different. Bodies, blood, death, and the normal sensibilities of any survivors blown away.

“Ar” means “city.” “Kir” means “wall.” Because these words are linked with Moab (as in Ar-Moab, Kir-Moab) I believe it suggests that the many chief Moabite cities and defensive walls were here predicted to fall. The entire nation was in for devastation. I suggest the names in this context mean, “All the cities” as well as “all the walls” of Moab. It would have been difficult for Isaiah to be more graphic.

So, they were reduced to a state of helplessness; their very idolatrous god had “forsaken” them, and had thus revealed “his” own character as and dumb, deaf, and definitely imaginary deity. It is under this kind of circumstance that men find out what their religion is really worth. The Lord taunts all the heathen nations because their “gods forsook them” in the hour of calamity (as if there was ever a time when the invented imagined deities supported them). One prophet exclaims, “Your calf has cast you away, O Samaria,” suggesting that the bull calf idol that the northern Kingdom of Israel had been worshipping had defecated its worshippers away from its unholy presence. Such is the earned mockery of such misconceived commitment.  The Lord Himself is represented as going up and down throughout the temples of heathenism, mocking and taunting the gods with which they were filled, because they were merely ornamental or decorative gods, and were utterly without power to assuage the sorrow of the human heart.

MOAB 1  Plains-of-Moab-with-Mount-Nebo,

The plains of Moab with Mount Nebo.

Your people, Moab, go up to their temple in Dibon, and to their high places to weep and mourn. Moab howls and wails over Nebo and Medeba. Every head is shaved and bald and every beard cut off and shorn. (Isaiah 15:2. My own extended paraphrase)

As Isaiah, in spirit and seemingly, by vision sees the results of the Assyrian holocaust that was to sweep across Moab, he hears survivors weeping over the numerous cities that have been razed. The remnant of the nation go to their useless idolatrous temples and pray to their man-invented tin-pot gods. There is howling and wailing from all the quarters of those who are escaped death. The Kingdom that was, is simply no more. It would be the end of the world as Moabites knew it. The survivors so few – the pain and the torment so huge. The survivors are so pained that they do not think that they are blessed for still being alive. Oh Moab! Oh, the pain and the anguish! And make no mistake, Isaiah feels their pain together with them.

The living, breathing vestiges of Moab, in shock and bewilderment will flee from their own derelict metropolises, and go up to other locations to fester their spirits in grief, and to marinade their hearts in agonising anguish. The Moabites will make hasty recourse to their tin-pot god Chemosh for relief. The story is a sick one! Ungodly men, when in trouble, have no real comforter to turn to, just the well-worn paths of the evil that got them into trouble in the first place. They are, only occasionally, brought by their terrors to approach Almighty All-forgiving Yahweh with true sorrow and believing prayer.

Moab will be howling over Nebo, and over Medeba. These were two cities of Moab, now taken, pillaged, raped and destroyed.

Moab 2  MtAbarim

Mount Abarim in Moab.

They wander in the streets wearing burlap and girded with sackcloth; on every roof and in all the public squares and broadways they all wail, collapsing, prostrate with weeping, melting and dissolving into tears. (Isaiah 15:3.  My own extended paraphrase)

Oh dear! This is not for the squeamish or the faint hearted. Children should not be watching this. This is triple X rated viewing. Isaiah is watching the future take place. He is seeing the movie. That is the very reason that all the writing prophets get their tenses mixed up at times. Some passages of scripture have the past, the present and the future tense embedded in the same thought. They saw something so vividly that was to take place, but their vision was so vivid that they referred to it as having happened. What Isaiah saw in Moab was so vivid it broke him.

Are you getting the picture? The detail, the emotion and the crispness of what Isaiah sees and says is unlike any of his other visionary experiences so far. As far as the academics and archaeologists know, Moab was strangely at peace and social serenity at the time of the Assyrian deluge. Allied to fight with other nations against Assyria, yes! Ready to fight to the death if and when Assyria was to come down to subject every nation in the locale, yes! But Assyria, in their huge numbers, had never been able to come down so far south without people knowing where they were and what their demands were to be. The grapevine passed on the news as to how big the army was and how fast they were moving. There were travellers and traders who would move quickly and pass on the news; “Assyria is so many miles up the road, coming quickly!” But not this time! Nobody had any knowledge of an imminent invasion. The Assyrians came from the north so fast and so violently. Nobody in Moab was ready for the tidal wave of death that swept through the land. Isaiah’s language reveals deep empathy, and crystal clear vision of what was at the time of delivering this news, a future event, and therefore in the most literal sense, invisible to all the senses. Isaiah saw the invisible future, and saw it with great clarity.

Heshbon and Elealeh cry out, their voices are heard all the way to Jahaz. Therefore the well-appointed, armed and bravest men of Moab cry out in distress, and the very loins of Moab cry aloud. Its heart quakes for itself, their courage wavers, or is gone altogether. Their hearts are faint and they are helpless with fear. Their souls tremble within themselves and their life is grievous to them. Each one of them cries out for his own soul. (Isaiah 15:4.  My own extended paraphrase)

The upheaval and national loss will be so great that even the hardened Moabite soldiers will be in tears with knees knocking for fear. All shall be so buried in their own grief that they will not bother about the griefs of others. The breathing extant population of Moab will be in a state of tremor. The crying and howling of woe will be so loud and widespread, that the survivors at Heshbon and Elealah will be heard all the way to Jahaz. This is a way of saying that from one end of the country to the other, everybody will be aware of the trauma of loss and bereavement. “Each one of them cries out for his soul,” reads to me like the survivors will be wishing they were added to the number of the dead.

Moab 3 Known in the Bible as Kir, Kir Moab, Kir-Heres(eth), and Hereseth, this site (modern Kerak) was the capital city of Moab.  It is situated on an isolated hilltop, with a view in all directions.

Known in the Bible as Kir, Kir Moab, Kir-Heres(eth), and Hereseth, this site (modern Kerak) was the capital city of Moab. It is situated on an isolated hilltop, with a view in all directions.

My heart cries out over Moab and weeps for her; her people are fugitives and flee as far as Zoar, as far as Eglath Shelishiyah. They ascend the hill to Luhith, weeping as they go. Their cries of distress can be heard all along the road to Horonaim. They lament their destruction as they go.  (Isaiah 15:5.  My own extended paraphrase)

Now Isaiah turns his thoughts to his own emotional response. In the Spirit and with his eyes seeing what no other could, he weeps, joining the howls of the Moabites. I mean, he literally weeps. He says so. This isn’t a BBC Television announcer coldly explaining how the masses have died in local wars or violence. This is not a case of a dynamic report spoken into the camera as he confidently concludes, “This is Isaiah ben Amoz for the BBC in war torn Moab” The prophet himself has broken down with sheer heartbreak in the midst of his delivery. Isaiah senses, feels, experiences and enters in to the pathos and suffering of their neighbouring nation, enemies though they have proven themselves to be over the centuries. Through the tears he continues to explain how the Moabite survivors flee for refuge in faraway Zoar. This was always a significant place for Moabites. Zoar was the very city Lot and his family fled to for sanctuary from the hail and brimstone as Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed. See Jeremiah 48:34.  Isaiah feels deeply for the Moabites. All the prophets shuddered at the very thought of God meting out judgement. It was a fact of revelation that the prophets were aware of, but it by no means meant that they could arrogantly look down their noses on those that were to be subject to hell and damnation.

There is no prophecy in the Book of Isaiah in which the heart of the prophet is so painfully moved by what his spirit beholds and his mouth must prophesy. All that he prophesies is felt as deeply as if he belonged to the poor people whose messenger of misfortune he is compelled to be.

It is part of the true prophet’s qualifications as held on the divine records of those that hold the function of “prophet.” Far too often God’s servants speak with dry eyes and hard voices of the destiny of the lost. At no time do preachers need so much brokenness of spirit as when God’s judgments against evil are discussed. In his autobiography, that man of God, Charles Grandison Finney writes;

“Here I must introduce the name of a man whom I shall have occasion to mention frequently, Mr. Abel Clary, He was the son of a very excellent man, and an elder of the Church where I was converted. He had been licensed to preach; but his spirit of prayer was such, he was so burdened with the souls of men that he was not able to preach much, his whole time and strength being given to prayer. The burden of his soul would frequently be so great that he was unable to stand, and he would writhe and groan in agony. I was well acquainted with him, and knew something of the wonderful spirit of prayer that was upon him. The pastor told me afterwards that he found that in the six weeks I was in that church five hundred souls had been converted.” (I have it on my Kindle so I cannot refer to the page number)

Whatever the dynamics were that precipitated Abel Clary in his praying modus operandi I honestly and with integrity lust after. I am jealous of the testimony of such a man. Methinks that Mr Clary had a taste of whatever it was that abode on Isaiah.

Moab 4 In the Bible, Moab stretched east from the Jordan river, a nearly treeless plateau bounded by Beth-jeshimoth to the north, Baal-meon to the east

In the Bible, Moab stretched east from the Jordan river, a nearly treeless plateau bounded by Beth-jeshimoth to the north, Baal-meon to the east

Even the waters of Nimrim are dried up and a desolation. The tender grassy banks are withered along with the hay; the tender plants and vegetation are gone and nothing green is left. The spring is faded. There are no plants. (Isaiah 15:6.  My own extended paraphrase)

A couple of reasons for the drought that followed the desolation! The huge war machine of Assyria would have come with battalion upon battalion of soldiers with cooks and cleaners and horse carers and servants. The king himself would have had some kind of portable tent-palace with an entourage to match his station. Their water consumption must have been huge. Secondly having defeated and destroyed a certain area and fed and watered the men and horses of their force, they would then block the wells and spoil the rivers when they moved on towards their next area of spoil in order to prevent any hasty regrouping by the vanquished nation. Rivers drying up. Lakes polluted. Vegetation gone off and ruined. The loss of the people that are left alive is deeply chronic and acutely humiliating.

So the abundance and wealth they have acquired and stored up they carry away. The people grab their possessions and flee with them over the Arab Wadi and to the ravine of the torrential streams of the Willows and Poplars. (Isaiah 15:7.  My own extended paraphrase)

Survivors will be grabbing their treasures and mementoes of life and running with them. They have no place decent enough to hide and secrete their wealth – as if wealth could help them at this point of time. So people will be burying all their savoured worldly goods beneath willow trees and poplars.

 

Their outcry of distress echoes through the land and along the borders of Moab from one end to the other; their howling and wailing reaches as far as Eglaim, their lamentation and clamour as far as Beer Elim, that is the well of Elim. (Isaiah 15:8.  My own extended paraphrase)

Just in case the reader has not grasped the unmitigated horror of what is to overwhelm Moab, Isaiah repeats the statement that from one end of the country to the other, and even to the extremity of all Moab’s borders distress will be rampant, and the ravages of warfare lost will smother the land that was Moab.

The stream and waters of Dimon are running full of blood, but I will bring still more additional woes upon Dimon – Lions will hunt down the survivors, the fugitives of Moab that escape and the remnant who remain behind in the land, the survivors from Adamah. (Isaiah 15:9.  My own extended paraphrase)

Having almost exhausted language to describe Moab’s future plight, Isaiah strains to tell us, believe it or not, that, after all the above, there is worst to come. Lions! Literal or figurative? To be honest, I cannot see any purpose or expediency in using figures of speech and metaphors. I say that there was an “outbreak” of Lions in Moab, possibly even released by the Assyrians to keep the curse of fear, as the crown princes of terror, overall that live in Moab’s vicinity. “This will teach these poor week, tiny, good for nothing nations to test the patience of Assyria!”  The waters of the Dimon River will be blood red whilst the Lions will go round seeking whom they may devour. The additions that Isaiah sees are more deaths, more maiming, more horror and more dread. The people and the lions, together, gather around river banks in order to slake thirsts. Compare Isaiah 15:9 with 2 Kings 17:25.

  1. Isaiah 16:1-5. Refugee Ranks – Miserable Migrants Seeking Sanctuary.
Herodium

Herodium

Isaiah now changes direction. He has shed tears of pity and compassion for the extreme anxiety of Moab. He has joined in their grief with reality and true pathos. However, it was not then, and indeed never has been the manner of true godliness to weep and share sorrow without efforts to bring peace and even salvation to such refugees of warfare as the Moabites were about to become. It is no good saying, “be warmed” to someone who is cold and naked, when the speaker has two shirts and several coats and keeps them for himself. So Isaiah goes where we have not seen him go thus far in his writings.

Isaiah puts forward a plan for the Moabite refugees, and not only does he voice the plan but issues to them the script that he believes will win them favour and see them through this dark and dire crisis. We are about to read how Isaiah literally invites Moab to share in what is the unique hope of Judah and all children of Israel, for the future of this life and in the hereafter. The prophet calls them to approach the compassion of the king, the rulers and the people – in Israel.  This is Isaiah preaching “salvation”to the gentiles,  both temporal and spiritual.

Send lambs or rams as tribute to the ruler of the land, from Sela. Send them across the desert, by way of the wilderness, to the mountain of the Daughter of beautiful Mount Zion. (Isaiah 16:1.  My own extended paraphrase)

It is not a suggestion that was easy or slight. The son of Amoz is asking the future homeless, poverty stricken, bereaved people of Moab to send sheep and rams as a tribute to the ruler of Judah, King Hezekiah. He was asking hungry people to send some of their best food, personified by their sheep, as food for Judah and its population. “Immediate loss for long term gain,” is what Isaiah was putting on the table of the Moabites.  It is such a sacrificial and trusting action that Isaiah is pleading for, that it seems correct to say that Isaiah was informing the refugees of the only way forward.

It is hinted at by some archaeologists and the like that the presentation of large numbers of flocks or herds was a way of declaring one nation’s submission to another. It was also seen as an emotional cry for assistance and asylum. 2 Kings 3:4 suggests that this sort of approach escalated through the generations into huge numbers of animals given as tribute payment.  I believe also that when dominating nations got used to such vast incomes received as tribute, the loss was more keenly felt if ever the tribute was withdrawn. The plea of the prophet is a statement explaining this very principle. “People of Moab! All of Judah, especially King Hezekiah will know of your plight, recommence tribute payments as best as you possibly can and you will regain access to the king’s heart.”

“Send lambs or rams as tribute to the ruler of the land…to the mountain of … Mount Zion.” The desert Isaiah refers to is the rocky plateau that is partly Moab, and then on through the desert like extremities of Judah. It is a request, instigated by the inspired prophet for surviving Moabites to send as much sheep as they could afford and still stay alive from “the rock of the land,” i.e. “the whole of Moab”, to Hezekiah in Zion, where the “God authorised” temple dwells (Deuteronomy 12:5-7. 2 Chronicles 7:12). This is, thus far in Isaiah’s volume of burdens, a unique response to those who are under God’s judgement.

Like fluttering birds flying about in panic, pushed and forced from the scattered abandoned nest, so are the homeless women of Moab at the crossing fords of the Arnon River. (Isaiah 16:2.  My own extended paraphrase)

The panic that gripped both the seasoned warriors and the females of Moab alike seems to have reached its peak as they all arrived at the banks of the River Arnon. It was like when I go walking my dog on the beach where I live (I live by the sea). There are times when I can see ahead of me hundreds upon hundreds of seabirds busily searching both water and sand for the means of sustaining life. But then my dog Kipenzi runs ahead of me and the sky goes dark as the birds of all shapes and sizes panic and flutter in the air. There is always the opening few seconds where the flight of the various birds is a visible state of panic. There is no order. Then each species and group of birds goes towards its own group direction. It is this kind of scene I believe that Isaiah is picturing. These are people who have lost everything apart from the clothes they stood up in, and a few home treasures, as many as their feeble frames could carry. They were lost and traumatised in body, soul and spirit. Trauma is the Greek word for wound.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the movie type vision of this catastrophe that Isaiah saw by the Holy Spirit, together with the traumatic loss of mind and rationale that swept through the minds and hearts of the surviving Moabites, especially the women, led Isaiah to respond as God Himself in coaching them to find respite.

Moab 6 The image above demonstrates the circle or kirkar of Jordan, and the northern reaches of the plains of Moab; once the rich plains on which Israel encamped

The image above demonstrates the circle or kirkar-of-jordan and the northern reaches of the plains of Moab, once the rich plains-on which Israel encamped with Moses.

(You inhabitants of Zion) “Give advice. Take Counsel. Make up your mind. Make a judgement. Grant our request and render a decision by executing judgement. Help us,” Moab cries. “Make your shade over us as deep as night– at the height of noon. Protect us from their relentless attack. Hide the fugitives. Shelter the outcasts and neglected ones. Do not betray the refugees who have escaped.” (Isaiah 16:3.  My own extended paraphrase)

Now the prophet, in the heart of Jerusalem, with a vision that had transported him many miles away into the ghastly and ghostly sight of what was transpiring in Moab, senses how lost the Moabites will be and how they will not be able to think for themselves in the midst of the holocaust.  ”You remnant of Moab, say to Jerusalem, “Give us advice.” Execute your judgement upon us now! Act as umpire in how we are to handle the desecration of our homes, our lives, our culture and our loved ones. Grant our request and give us sanctuary.” The cry is very expressive and passionate. “Make your shade over us as deep and as dark as the night even though we are suffering in the heat of high noon.” The poetry of the beautiful language used is touching in whatever language verse three is translated into. Isaiah implores them to ask Hezekiah to “Hide the fugitives.  Shelter the outcasts.” The situation for Moab was a pathetic one. They are dying, homeless under the burning rays of the sun and of the violence of the Assyrians. “Become a dark and cooling shade over us refugees that have little or nothing!”

Let my (i,e: Moab’s) fugitives and neglected ones, our refugees, stay with you and complete their journey with you. Be a hiding place for them in the face of the destroyer. Truly the oppression (of Judah) has come to an end, and destruction has ceased. He that tramples under foot, the aggressor is vanished from the land. 

Isaiah is Continueing to give the Moabites a script with which to ask for Asylum amongst God’s people. He suggests that they ask Judah to allow all the weary ones of Moab to finish their days amongst the people of God in Zion. “Be a hiding place in the face of the destroyer.”  Isaiah then bids them to say to Hezekiah’s face, “Surely Judah has entered into a period of peace and tranquillity.” Why this should be said, I am not sure. Perhaps Moabites could say this to Judah on the grounds that the tiny Jewish nation had not experienced the horrific holocaust that they had suffered. It always looks greener on the other side of the fence – or, in this case, the other side of the Dead Sea.

Thus far, Isaiah 16:1-4, is the script that Isaiah has written for the distressed Moabites for the day when that distress will hit their land. But then Isaiah looks heavenward and speaks the Messianic prophetic thoughts that filled his spirit and his mind so often.

Moab 6And a throne will be established in steadfast love (Hebrew: Chesed). And a man will sit on it in faithfulness in the tabernacle of David (meaning He will be a descendant of David), a ruler and one who will seek and rule with justice, mercy, truth and espouses righteousness. He will always do what is just and be eager, prompt and hasty to do what is right. (Isaiah 16:5. My own extended paraphrase)

This verse must refer to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. (conceivably as perceived in John 10:16 and 11:52).I take this to mean that Isaiah, in as plain a language as he can express, is saying that to join with Judah, and to partake in their culture, lifestyle and worship of Yahweh, Moab will also be drawn and encouraged to join them in their faith and expectancy of Messiah. “Come and join us Moabite remnant. Come and be grafted in to us. And you also, by means of faith, will partake in the blessing of knowing Him who one day will be seated on the throne of David. Oh! The majesty and glory of Messiah! What is exciting and phenomenal about Isaiah 16:5 is that the appeal to faith and oneness with Israel, the presentation of Christ and His glorious attractiveness to broken people, is here being offered to gentile Moab.  It is incredible that we are here reading of Isaiah preaching to the gentiles. Isaiah was indeed 740 years or so before his time.“

To reprise the breath-taking statement that Isaiah is offering Moab in the midst of his prophetic vision of the holocaust that they were about to endure, we restate in a paraphrase the implications to the survivors of the prophesied onslaught.

“Your throne, Moab, has been rocked and vanquished. (We are not even sure if any of their Royal family would be left alive). But take note, Israel has been promised by Yahweh, to have a dynasty that will last forever. It is a rock like and an ever surviving dynasty that is so unlike the unstable thrones, the fake kings, and the revolutionaries who murder their rulers and take those throne themselves. This is an aspect of the world that takes place in most nations.  This throne will be established by virtue of the “Chesed”, the unfailing love, which Yahweh has so graciously showered over his people the Jews. This throne and dynasty surely springs from the line of David, which, ever since 2 Samuel 7 has claimed to be the only dynasty on planet earth that has a direct divinely appointed otherness about it, together with an eternal destiny.”

I do not know whether Isaiah had any clue that one day the ultimate king on David’s throne would be the King over all kings and reign forever. However, the prophet still refers to His reign as the pinnacle of all scenarios in human history and the summit of all creation’s story. The “yet to come” projections of this inimitable and unique throne of David will consist of a man who shall reign in truth and integrity to a gradation not ever shown in the rule of any monarch (nor any other human being).

This screams with a thousand implications concerning the Jewish expectation of their Messiah. There was absolutely nothing vague and tenuous, nothing ethereal or spiritually invisible that only pertains to the unseen world. This was a concrete promise of a literal king on David’s throne on this time and space world who will reign in justice and faithfulness and impact the entire cosmos with the power of divine authority. It was also a king who was to be submitted to by free will volition. He would not be the king of the Jews in the way that excluded every gentile everywhere else. “Come and join us gentile Moab and share the blessings of sheltering under the shadow of Yahweh and His coming King of the line of David. Our King will be your king also, just join us and believe and wait for His advent.”

It is clearly Isaiah giving an evangelist’s “Billy Graham style” call to the heathen, unsaved and suffering gentile Moabites.

  1. Isaiah 16:6-12. Dogged Disaster – Continueing Catastrophe. Wineries, Vineries and raisin industry deceased.

Now, Isaiah, having been raptured into heavenly visions of Messiah for the few moments expressed in 16:5, returns to prophetically gaze again at the ruins of the nation of Moab and the remnant of its people. His vision of horror resumes. In the midst of his prophetic call for Moab to “Come up higher” and join the Jewish people’s destiny by trusting Yahweh as their Saviour, the prophet is now seeing and hearing words that, perhaps, are the responses that he perceives will come from the people of Judah, or even King Hezekiah, to Moab’s application for asylum.

DCF 1.0

The Moabite Stone.

Therefore the Moabites wail, they wail together for each other over all Moab. Utterly stricken and completely devastated, they lament and grieve for the ruined foundations and remains of Kir Hareseth, like petty raisin cakes. They are no more now. (Isaiah 16:7. My own extended paraphrase)

It’s a strange phrase, to say that Moabites wail…over all Moab, but that is clearly to be the truth. Verses 7,8,9 and 10 examine nothing but the reversal of the Moabite grape industry. This writer thinks that there would be several aspects of Moabite life and culture that could be similarly remarked upon concerning their ruination. In chapter 15 the razing of several, if not many, cities, the ravaged farm fields, the homeless remnant and whatever else was produced in Moab. The huge role that the vineyards once played in Moab are here bemoaned. No grapes means no raisins. The Moabite delicacy of their home grown raisin cakes exported at great profit are now a memory of history.

The farms and vineyards of Heshbon languish and are abandoned, wilted and withered. The terraced vines of Sibmah also are deserted. The lords and rulers of the heathen gentile nations have trampled down Moab’s choicest red clustered vines, which once had tendrils that reached Jazer and spread toward the desert. Their shoots spread out and even went as far as the Dead Sea and beyond. (Isaiah 16:8. My own extended paraphrase)

The entire agricultural infrastructure will have disappeared after the Assyrian holocaust under Sennacharib. It would seem that Heshbon and Sibmah were the choicest vineyards and production centres, and so the grief over lost profits for a luxury item, was now grief over the same item as an absolute necessity for income. Sennacharib and his physically clumsy, though militarily brilliant forces simply trampled through the vineyards treading the grape clusters under their feet so mindlessly. The rich lush vineyards were now part of a desolate wasteland.  Isaiah poetically and extravagantly talks of the vines having roots and /or branches that went over and beyond the red sea. I cannot but imagine that he is talking of exporting wine, grapes and raisins over to Judah. So Judah, and probably Edom and Ammon would also lose out because of the Assyrian plague. The bigger the business, the keener felt would be the ensuing poverty after annihilation.

Therefore I will bitterly weep over Jazer, over the vines of Sibmah. Heshbon and Elealeh, I will drench you with tears! There are no more songs of joy over your ripened summer fruits and over your harvests. They have ceased, and the conquering invaders now shout triumphantly and joyfully over your fruit and crops.  (Isaiah 16:9. My own extended paraphrase)

Isaiah reminds us again of his own broken heart fragmented over the predicted doom of Moab. He weeps as if Moab were Judah. His tears are copious. The Hebrew word “Hedad” means the shout of joy and accomplishment that was shouted as the vineyard workers trampled out the grapes. But now the “Hedad” was the Assyrian cry as they trod under foot in the most destructive manner everything to do with the Moabite vineyard industry as well as every other industry in the land.

Joy and gladness are taken away from the orchards and the fruitful fields; no one sings or shouts in the vineyards; no one treads out wine at the presses, for I have put an end to the vintage shouting.  (Isaiah 16:10.  Lannon’s Extended Paraphrase)

We are back to the silence mentioned in Isaiah 15:1. The noise and bustle of industry and labour has utterly ceased. And make no mistake, the compassion of Isaiah and Yahweh over Moab’s desolation has to be seen in the light of Yahweh’s judgement over Moab because of the full measure of their sins.

East of the Jordan and Dead Sea. Rabba (Rabbath-Moab)

East of the Jordan and Dead Sea. Rabba (Rabbath-Moab)

My heart cries, my inner parts moan, my soul intones like a lament on a harp for Moab, my inmost being is filled with anguish for Kir Hareseth. (Isaiah 16:11. My own extended paraphrase)

There are deep backdrafts of emotion as Isaiah groans and makes random groans reminding him of an untutored hand sweeping across a harp. Isaiah weeps for Yahweh. Indeed some folks think that God is talking in this verse. To myself, it seems utterly weird as to read through both chapters and to have this one meagre verse to be claimed as the direct speech of Yahweh. It is, I believe, Isaiah uttering the sincere emotions of Almighty God over what had to be the plight of Moab.

It shall come to pass that when Moab presents his self and wearies his self upon the high places and pagan shrines, and comes to his sanctuary to cry to his gods with all his might, he will be unable to achieve anything and it will be to no avail and totally ineffective.  (Isaiah 16:12. Lannon’s Extended Paraphrase)

16:12 is merely the final nail in Moab’s coffin that makes it absolutely clear that this judgement, and Isaiah’s declaration of God’s judgement is non-negotiable and totally irrevocable. Woe to Moab.

 

  1. Isaiah 16:13-14. Dogmatically Dated Day of Disaster
Moab 8

The outlook from the fortress at Kerak

Then we have a strange epilogue to Isaiah’s burden concerning Moab. Having clarified in verse twelve the immutability of Moab’s doom, it is as if Isaiah left his writing desk, and then at some future day, returned to add a P.S. (post script).

This is the word that Yahweh has announced concerning Moab over a prolonged period in times past.  Butnow Yahweh says: “Within three years, as a servant hireling bound by contract would count them down day by day, Moab’s nobles and all her upper class population will be despised, and the survivors that are left, the remnant, will be very few, feeble and powerless.” (Isaiah 16: 13-14.  My own extended paraphrase)

There will be so great a change that the surviving Moabites will have no resemblance to their former status and lifestyle. This prophecy coming to pass within three years, would confirm the prophet’s mission, and the make firm the faith that Judah and indeed all hearers of his prophecies concerning other nations.

I rather choose to believe that this epilogue was delivered either in the initial days of Hezekiah’s kingship (circa 716 BC) and fulfilled in the fourth year of his reign (circa 713 BC) when Shalmaneser, on his way to invade Israel, may have seized the strongholds of Moab as a precursor to attacking Judah. Or possibly nearer to 701 BC when Sennacharib had the loss of 185,000 soldiers outside the gates of Jerusalem by the sword of Yahweh’s Angel. Possibly we shall never know this side of glory.

Whenever it was actually fulfilled, the days of prosperity and power in the land of Moab was to be a thing of history, never to return.

Moab 7

 

106. Isaiah’s Deep Empathy for Moab’s Demise Isaiah 15-16 -The Context

Moab 0

Isaiah 15 and 16 – The Context

Something is different once we taste Isaiah chapters 15 and 16. It’s Moab! And Moab is, believe it or not, family to the Jew. I know it sounds strange after many generations had passed since Lot and Abraham separated near the Oaks of Mamre, but Moab and Edom, in particular, were both birthed out of the family of Terah and Isaac respectively. Isaiah has a different tone here than he did for Babylon, Assyria and the Philistines. Here is tenderness and shared heartbreak. And, as we will see, Isaiah even invites the surviving Moabites to align themselves with Israel’s God. But I jump ahead of our walk today.

The judgement of God on Moab was premised by centuries of history and their abuse of the people of Israel and Judah. The antiquity of Moab and its relationship with the Jews is a sorry one. For starters Moab was created by acts of incest (Genesis 19:31-37). Lot was Abram’s nephew (Genesis 11:31. Genesis 19:37). Moab grew into nation hood east of the river Jordan and the Dead Sea, from the southern end of the Dead Sea to the river Zered with their northern border about 5 miles above the Red Sea with an approximate straight line drawn from the Jordan eastward about 30-40 miles. Edom were just south of the Zered. Ammon was immediately north of Moab. Their land was originally occupied by giants referred to as the Emim. Moab fought them and drove them out (Deuteronomy 2:10). Sihon, the giant king of the Amorites conquered the northern extremities of Moab. When Israel came out of Egypt Sihon was defeated by them and all his land, as well as the land of Og king of Bashan and the land north of Og became the possession of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. Even though so closely related, the Moabites were never friends with the Jews. Moab caused great trouble for Israel in their first years in Canaan and they oppressed Israel for 18 years after the death of Joshua (Judges 3:14-21).  Peace did come a little later and in time of famin many Israelites found refuge in Moab (Ruth 1:1. 1 Samuel 22:3). This kindness to Israel, even though it was centuries before, was not forgotten God, and therefore was not forgotten by Isaiah. Saul made them subject to Israel first (1 Samuel 14:47). David consolidated Israel’s status of rule over them (2 Samuel 8:1-12). After the division of the kingdom, Moab became subject to the Northern Kingdom (2Kings 1:1. 3:4-5.) until Ahab’s reign. Jehoshaphat subdued them without battle (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). Israel lost control of the Transjordan in Jehu’s day, giving way to Syria (2 Kings 10:32 on). Moab vented their spite and spleen on Israel from that time on in various ways. When Jeroboam II regained all the old territory down to the Dead Sea for Israel at the prophetic instruction of Jonah the son of Ammitai, Moab will have been subdued without a doubt even though the scripture does not explicitly say so (2 Kings 14:25). This situation was still prevalent when Tiglath Pileser and Sargon overrun Samaria in 722BC. This is the situation as it was in Isaiah’s day at the point of time that we believe Isaiah Delivered this prophecy.

MOAB 1

…..

It is essential that we carry the fact that none of the Hebrew prophets delivered their messages like Western postmen deliver their fare. That attitude, the attitude that says, “Let me just get rid of my heavy load and then I can get on with my life,” was just not part of the prophetic heart. Your friendly neighbourhood twenty first century mail man comes down the street whistling “Dixie” and smiles all the way to your door happily greeting everybody he sees while he delivers your post. Whether he is bringing you news of the ecstatic joy of a new grandson or of a devastating bereavement, whether you have inherited a million pounds or even if it is to tell you that you are desperately bankrupt and due for prison, to him it is just another letter. What does he care about the contents? It’s his job to deliver the mail ASAP, no matter what! However it was never so with Isaiah and his prophetic ilk.

The Hebrew prophets were different. They felt their messages. When they had messages of grief, death and pain, they wept while they delivered their memorandum. OK! I accept that they may not have been quite as broken hearted as they talked of Babylon and Assyria’s future fall, but emotion and stirred spirits were embedded and engrafted in all they said. Their most tender empathy’s were reserved for the Jewish people of course, why on earth would we think Jeremiah is referred to as “the weeping prophet.” They felt the Word of God as it came to them from heaven. The Word of God is always an event that has happened, is happening, or is going to happen. And even when the event is future, the prophet sees the swords, the blood, the cadavers and the grief of the survivors more graphically than when a modern audience watches the battle of Helms Deep in the Lord of the Rings in glorious technicolour. In fact what Isaiah and the other prophets saw was even more vivid, for they smelt the blood, heard the cries and sounds of arrows and swords penetrating human flesh and bone, and smelt the foul aroma of the breath of the dying. The capacity to feel in this manner is part of the gifting, and that is why many modern prophets, as well as commentators use language like: “Being a prophet is an affliction as well as a calling.” Read Isaiah 15 and 16 out loud and tell me if you cannot agree with me and feel the emotion and the tenderness behind the words of the son of Amoz. In the days of Isaiah (8th century BC), when the concept of a movie camera was distant and far-fetched science fiction, it would seem, by reading everything he wrote, that he actually saw movies that would have been “X” rated if it had been on general release. If it was footage on the news programmes they would not have been allowed to show most of it, and what would have been shown would have had the usual label we see these days: “The following newsreel may be found to be disturbing to many viewers. It will be totally inappropriate to be watched by those of a nervous condition or sensitive state of mind.”

Moab 3 Known in the Bible as Kir, Kir Moab, Kir-Heres(eth), and Hereseth, this site (modern Kerak) was the capital city of Moab.  It is situated on an isolated hilltop, with a view in all directions.

Known in the bible as Kir, Kir-Moab, Kir-Hereseth and hereseth, this site, modern Kerak was the capital city of Moab. It is situated on an isolated hilltop with a view inall directions.

His vivid, striking detail of the holocaust that was coming Moab’s way is filled with remarks and commentary that cannot but leave us with the concept that “he saw it happen.” In fact his running commentary of the developing national decimation is of such a vivid nature that unbelieving scholars cannot quite believe it is a prediction. They calculate that whoever wrote these chapters had seen Moab’s fall, and was merely telling a story that had already taken place. How else could Isaiah know the minutiae of the catastrophe that smote Moab between the eyes. It is true that the Hebrew language does not know tenses as we know them in English.  So called, “perfect verbs,” could be, I am told, either past or future.  Some refer to it as the “prophetic perfect.” I find it strange how these academics make the vast majority of the prophet’s writings future tense however, they only query the normal routines of translation when something startlingly supernatural occurs. If any such translation could leave their readers with the impression that they actually believed in the miraculous, then that passage would become a prime target for reinterpretation and/or translation. In Moab’s case, we have to say that Isaiah 15:9, 16:2 and 16:12 clearly imply future tense.

What Isaiah saw made him cry. He actually says so. There is utterly no joy or relish in the language used. Isaiah is grieved for those on the other side of the Dead Sea. It is breaking his heart to impart the prediction, yet he knows that the burden from God has to be delivered.

Moab 5 The Arnon is a two-mile-wide valley that divides the land between Israelite to the north and Moab south (Num 21.13.Deut 3.16).

The Arnon is a two mile wide valley that divides the land between the Israelites to the North and Moab to the South. (Num21:13. Deuteronomy 3:16. There was many a battle fought over this valley as to whom it belonged.

Since we arrived at and hit the ground running with Isaiah’s “international prophecies,” back at chapter 13, we have had nothing but bad news for what was possibly millions of people. Babylon was doomed before they had even risen. Assyria, a little closer to Isaiah in the time line of Jewish history, also had the thumbs down and the pronouncement of death upon them.  It was also the same with the Philistines who were to be decimated to the point that only a tiny few would survive. The last days of the nation of the Philistines were to be concluded by the hands of Assyria cruelty.  Isaiah’s words re the end of the Philistine might are hardly tear filled, but are filled more with encouragement to faith in the people of Judah. Now, however, in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, God speaks to Isaiah about their “family” neighbours, Moab. We trust the characters of the Hebrew writing prophets enough to know that when they speak gleefully it is because God is gleeful about the implementation of His purposes, and when the prophets weep – Oh! It is because God is weeping. The prophet does not only speak for God but he feels and emotionally responds as would Yahweh.

The prophetic statements about Moab seem darker and even more solemn than what has gone previously, but this different tone and attitude of compassion and care in Isaiah’s words is striking to even the most cursory reader. There is no braggadocio, no kind of: “Tough on you folks from Moab! Just die! We’re alright over here in Jerusalem! You set of losers!” Superiority over Moab, or arrogance over their decreed misfortune is simply not on the prophet’s personal agenda, or characteristic. There is, however deep identification with their plight and divinely inspired benevolence expressed towards them. Isaiah’s attitude to Moab id paralleled by Abraham’s grace and compassion to Lot back in Genesis.

In fact by the time we have finished with Moab it is possible that my readers may even be emotionally stirred themselves as we read together what Isaiah has to say to them.

Moab 6No date is really given for what has gone before with Babylon, Assyria and the Philistines. The vestiges of Philistine culture was still there in Jeremiah’s day which was more than a century after Isaiah’s death, but that has no negative reflection on the truth of Isaiah’s word, or even the fulfillment of the divine judgement that Isaiah declared on them. It simply meant that God had given the surviving remnant of the Philistine race a longer time to prepare for their final end. Some of these tiny states that surrounded Israel were wiped away in a single Assyrian attack, or a later Babylonian bombardment. Many of them, however, were dissipated on a gradation of a decreasing population figure by attack, after attack, after attack. A sort of “Going! Going! Gone!” end to their national existence. Moab was to be one of those nations that disappeared in a single tsunami of an Assyrian wave of military violence and cruelty. We shall explain more when we get to the text.

I have to add as well, that, as far as I note throughout the Old Testament, the death of a nation state and the “annihilation” of a people and a culture always left a few of their population as survivors even when statehood was taken from them. Foer example it is reckoned that even after Judah were taken to Babylon in 587 BC and even after a few who were still rebellious fled to Egypt, there were still a few hundred Jewish people plodding on in the farms in the heart of southern Israel. It is self-evident really. If God says that “You Philistines,” or “Moabites are due for utter destruction,”  and then He starts to recite how the survivors will be wailing and crying with grief, one cannot but conclude that if some are left to grieve, there are some of the respective nation still breathing. It’s a “no brainer” isn’t it? Hence the Hittites were demolished and disappeared off the map, but Uriah the Hittite was still alive in David’s day. Canaanite culture was wiped off the map like left over food is wiped off a dirty plate early in the Old Testament, yet there is a Canaanite woman who comes to see Jesus in Matthew 15. To what nation did she belong?

There is a sub plot, of course, to everything I say here. Why does God leave us with these storylines of Israel’s history in the sacred scriptures that are seemingly utterly irrelevant to life and living today? What’s the purpose of predictions and statements about nation states other than Israel and Judah? My answers?

  1. THEY ARE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ENGENDERING FAITH IN THE HEBREW PEOPLE

Once again, at the risk of being guilty of inflicting repetition upon my readers, I make a clarion trumpet statement that these prophetic words were made by a Hebrew prophet who was based in Jerusalem. The point of this fact being that the prophecies were meant for the edification and building of the faith of the Jewish people of Isaiah’s present and of his future. It is questionable whether the Assyrians, Babylonians or Philistines heard what Isaiah had predicted about them. Isaiah spoke to the people of Judah about their future and what was going on with the individual nations and empires that surrounded them. These international predictions and statements were to encourage Judah to trust Yahweh in the midst of the very darkest of days. By stating things before they happened, the people knew that Almighty Yahweh was fighting for them, and that He who is alone Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent was their God.

 

  1. THEY ARE FOR THE REVELATION OF GOD’S GOVERNMENT OF THE PLANET

Moab 7The deep undergirding truth, of course is that the thrust and parry of the military might of the world rulers was not an issue of luck or chance. The ebb and flow of empires, powers and allies was never at the roll of the dice or dictated to by accidental happenstance. God was and is in charge even of those nations that were furthest away from Judah and Israel. This was the main purpose of the contemporaries of each of the Hebrew prophets. They may have been a large group of independent loners who just got on with life and shared whatever God told them, but their very existence was one of the most inspirational forces to the thinking of all Jewish people in their time. The prophets were powerful in God, powerful in the earth, and, in defiance of them all being martyred by their own people, they were vitally important to the psyche of the entire nation of Jewish people.

 

  1. THEY ARE FOR THE REVELATION OF GOD’S COSMIC RULE

By stating the historical outline and the archived outcome of the destinies of different peoples, kings and battles, faith in God’s word was developed by all who read what the prophet’s wrote. Via the Hebrew prophets we behold God sitting at His judgement seat and regulating everything in the cosmos according to the good-will of His pleasure. God lives outside of time. Time itself is part of God’s creation. But everybody and everything within time is seen and clearly perceived by Yahweh the Lord. His government and rule of the planet is brought to us by the prophets.

 

  1. THEY ARE FOR THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW ETHNIC ISRAEL ARE GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE FOR THE LAND’S SAKE

The predicted fortunes of nations, and indeed the world, by the Hebrew prophets, and the striking pointedness of the addressee’s being primarily (with few exceptions) the Hebrew people, reveals how Israel is treated differently than the entire gentile world, simply because of promises made to Abraham. God has a purpose overall. That purpose will bring Messiah to rule the planet. That rule will be centred in Jerusalem. And the resurrected righteous Jews who shall be living in the resurrected nation of Israel, without any other race or nationality to argue the toss with them about whose land it is that they will be dwelling in, shall be hosting visitors from all over the planet who will make pilgrimage to see and sit at the feet of Messiah.

 

  1. THEY ARE GIVEN TO US AND MIRACULOUSLY SUSTAINED FOR US TO CLARIFY GOD’S PREORDAINED PLAN AND PURPOSE

Without and room for debate we can assert that the Spirit of Christ is the source of knowledge and of strength in all prophecy (I Pet.  1:11; II Pet.  1:21). It was Erich Sauer who wrote somewhere that “Christ is not only the content and the goal of all prophecy, but He is also its origin and inherent energy.” Throughout the Old Testament prophets Christ as the Word of God, that is the Logos as stated in John 1:1 and 1:14 spoke concerning Himself.  The Logos speaks of the person and work of the Messiah. “The prophets spoke and acted in the name of the coming Christ,” said Martin Luther.

 

Moab 8In three paramount domains Old Testament prophecy concludes in detailed facets the release of its mission.

  1. Prophetic clarification of the past, specifically as historical writing.
  2. Prophetic Judgement of the present, particularly as warning, caution and call to contrition.
  3. Prophetic foretelling of the future, especially as warning and comfort. They clearly major and thoroughly explain issues in at least these five categories:

(1) God’s own assessment and judgment of and upon Israel.

(2) God’s own opinion and judgment of and upon the nations of the entire world.

(3) God’s purpose in bringing the complete conversion of Israel.

(4) God’s purpose and goals in bringing the conversion of people from all nations of the world;

(5) God’s glorious purpose for the Messiah and His kingdom.

These points are the very nerve centre and solar plexus of the vital nature of the Old Testament prophets and their requirement as necessary reading to gain a solid all round grasp of God’s purpose in foretelling the New Testament gospel.

 

Never forget these injunctions from the New Testament. These verses place upon us the necessity of reading, wrestling with and absorbing the prophets. Faith is made solid by their content, as well as the New Testament statements. Remember the apostles had no scriptures to preach from apart from the Old Testament.

This,  now,  beloved,  a second letter to you I write,  in both which I stir up your pure mind in reminding [you], to be mindful of the sayings said before by the holy prophets,  and of the command of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.  (2 Peter 3 1-2 TNIV). Peter is clearly encouraging people of faith to be mindful of not only what the New Testament apostles taught, but what the prophets taught.

 

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10 – 11 NKJV). Here, James encourages to gain a firm knowledge of the whys and wherefores of the mind sets of the Old Testament prophets. It is therefore a plea for New Testament believers to get to grasp all that the prophets carried.

moab2Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever.  Amen. (Romans 16:26 KJV). In his usual manner of stating what to us is phenomenal and to him was his daily bread, Paul here informs us that the mysteries that were hidden since time began were indeed made manifest in the teaching and works of Christ, but were also revealed to us and “made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” God’s secrets are embedded in what the prophets have written. If that does not motivate us to read the prophets, and show us the absolute necessity of their presence together with the New Testament canon, nothing will.

 

But, in these days, God’s way of justification has at last been brought to light; one which was attested by the law and the prophets, but stands apart from the law. (Romans 3:21 Knox Bible). There we have it. Justification by faith as taught by Paul was attested to and taught by the law and the prophets. Let all legalists choke on that one.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,  (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, ) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,  which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power,  according to the spirit of holiness,  by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:1-4 KJV). Paul’s understanding of what he knew and taught by the power of the Holy Spirit was something he saw clearly promised from the prophets. Remember Paul did not have the three years walking with Jesus that the twelve had. Paul obviously spent much time making himself au-fait with the prophets.

Having therefore obtained help of God,  I continue unto this day,  witnessing both to small and great,  saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer,  and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead,  and should show light unto the people,  and to the Gentiles.  (Acts 26:22-23). Paul taught and preached what Moses and the Old Testament prophets said should happen, i.e. That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. Paul’s psyche clearly had the Old Testament prophets engrafted and embedded into his psyche.

 

But this I confess unto thee,  that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers,  believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God,  which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead,  both of the just and unjust. (Acts 24:14-15 KJV). Here the apostle to the gentiles declares to a gentile audience that he believes all things that are written in the law and the prophets. Believing those sources at face value he states that his beliefs are wrapped up in the facts of having hope towards God, a resurrection of the dead, and that the resurrection of the dead will be divided between the just and the unjust. It’s all there in the Old Testament law and prophets.

Fields-of-Moab-south-of-Arnon,-tb031801023-bibleplaces

The lovely fields of Moab, South of the Arnon.

 

105. 716 BC and the Philistines are still around?

Isaiah 14:28-32.

1 philistia-1173x1800x300

The picture tells more than a thousand words

“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.

 

PHILISTINE 3ashkelon_philistine_fjenkins082308_32tIn 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!

 

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.

 

PHILISTINE 4 philistine2The 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:

 

PHILISTINE 5 This 200-foot-long Philistine structure in Jordan dates to 1100 B.C.

This 200-foot-long Philistine structure in Jordan dates to 1100 B.C.

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.

 

PHILISTINE 6 phil60

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:

 

philistine 8

Philistine incense burners

“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)

 

philistine 10 This nearly 4-foot-tall, two-horned altar from the site of Tell es-Safi (Gath of the Philistines) suggests the origins of the Philistines are to be sought in the Aegean world.

This nearly 4-foot-tall, two-horned altar from the site of Tell es-Safi (Gath of the Philistines) suggests the origins of the Philistines are to be sought in the Aegean world.

“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.

 

philistine 7 Dagon

Image of the Philistine deity DAGON

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.

philistine 9 Two Philistine temples have been uncovered by archaeologist…Both temples share a unique     design—the roof was supported by two central pillars!

Two Philistine temples have been uncovered by archaeologist…Both temples share a unique design—the roof was supported by two central pillars!