28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:
29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
and there is no straggler in his ranks.
32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion,
and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” – Isaiah 14:28-32 ESV
The Philistines were another powerful nation that had made its presence known during the days that Isaiah prophesied. They occupied land to the west of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their presence in the Land of Promise, the land promised to Abraham by God and conquered under the leadership of Joshua, was due to the failure of Israel to remain obedient to God. The book of Judges tells us that God left the Philistines in the land as a test.
“Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23 ESV
Earlier, in the book of Judges, we are told that the tribe of Judah had been successful in conquering the cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, located in the Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast. They had also taken possession of the hill country, located to the east, along the Jordan River. But they had failed to take the area in between, known as “the plains.” This was a region occupied by the Philistines.
Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:18-19 ESV
So, as a result of Israel’s failure to obey God and cleanse the land of its immoral and idolatrous occupants, God allowed those pagan nations to remain in the land. With their various false gods, they became a constant source of temptation to the people of Israel, drawing them away from the one true God. They remained a constant thorn in the side of the people of God, conducting raids and plundering their towns and villages. Interestingly enough, the very name, “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word, Philistia. In the Greek, it is rendered palaistinei, from which we get the English word, “Palestine.” Even to this day, those who occupy this land to the west of Jerusalem and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, remain a threat to the people of Israel.
But in this oracle, Isaiah delivers a message from God to the Philistine people. And Isaiah ties the oracle to the year of the death of King Ahaz. The book of 2 Kings provides us with a bit of insight into the life of Ahaz.
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV
We’re also told that at one point during his reign, Ahaz made a visit to Damascus in Syria, where he met with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser. Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against Judah, threatening to destroy them. So, Ahaz had made a treaty with Assyria, paying Tiglath,pileser tribute money for his assistance against Syria and Israel.
Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 16:8-9 ESV
While visiting Damascus, he saw the altar that the Syrians used to worship their false god. So, he sent word back to Judah, providing Uriah the priest with detailed instructions to make a replica of the pagan altar in Jerusalem.
When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. – 2 Kings 16:11-12 ESV
Ahaz then had the brazen altar removed from the temple and replaced with this new pagan altar, where he offered sacrifices to the false gods of the Syrians. He repurposed the brazen altar, using it for divination.
So, this oracle is tied directly to the death of Ahaz. He died in 715 BC and his death marked a low point in the spiritual condition of the people of Judah. They had wandered from God about as far as they possibly could. Their land was filled with altars and high places to false gods. They were immoral and idolatrous. And yet, God focuses His attention on the Philistines.
God warns the Philistines not to be too quick to celebrate.
Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken! – Isaiah 14:29 NLT
It’s not exactly clear who is being referred to here. The “club” may be a reference to the house of David. All throughout his reign, David had waged war against the Philistines. As a young boy, he had defeated their champion, Goliath, in battle. And the tribe of Judah and the Philistines had remained enemies up until the days of Isaiah.
With the death of Ahaz, the Philistines could have been rejoicing over the loss of yet another king from the dynasty of David. It may be that they knew of Ahaz’ agreement to serve Assyria in return for their aid against Syria and Israel. Ahaz had told Tiglath-pileser, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7 ESV).
The Philistines would have seen this alliance between Assyria and Judah as a good thing, further weakening Juhah’s power in the region. But it seems more likely that the Philistines were rejoicing over the removal of Syria as a threat to the region. These recurrent power struggles were taking place constantly, causing tremendous instability in the region. And the fall of one nation in the area was viewed as good news by all the rest. But God warns the Philistines to tap the break on their enthusiasm. In fact, rather than rejoice, they should weep and mourn.
Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks. – Isaiah 14:31 NLT
While the people of Israel had failed to remove the Philistines from the land, God had plans for them. They could sit back and relish the troubles taking place in Judah, but the fate of the Philistines was sealed by God. There was judgment coming, and they could not escape it. While the nations could rejoice over the struggles of Israel and Judah, the would not escape from God’s wrath. God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).
God had vowed to bring His curses upon any and all nations that attempted to treat His people with contempt. And the Philistines were part of a long list of nations that had made a habit of mistreating the people of God. So, Isaiah warned them:
How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the Lord has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her. – Isaiah 14:32 NLT
We know that, in 712 BC, the Assyrians invaded Philistia. And again, in 701 B.C. they returned under the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, meting out judgment against all those, including the Philistines, who stood opposed to them.
But there is a future judgment reserved for all those nations who have stood opposed to God and His people. There is a day coming when Christ will return, and He will wage war against the nations of this earth – all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have chosen to reject the reign of God Almighty. During the final days of the Tribulation, they will join the Antichrist, choosing to worship him instead of God. They will persecute the people of God, putting many of them to death. But at just the right time, God will send His Son again. And this time, He will come as a conquering King, not a baby in a manger.
Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.