Too Ignorant to Know It

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” – Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV

God has made Himself perfectly clear by boldly declaring, “besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6 ESV). Then, as if to see if His audience has gotten the message, He asks, “Is there a God besides me?” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV). And, just in case they failed to nnow the answer to the question, He gave His divine opinion: “I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV).

He has established Himself as the Creator-God, the one who made Israel. He is Jehovah, the King of Israel. He is their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, the first and the last. And He alone is able to “declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isaiah 44:7 ESV).

And yet, the people of Judah continued to worship false gods – idols they had made with their own hands. They had substituted worship of and reverence for the one true God with the adoration of lifeless and powerless statues made of wood and stone. And God systematically and somewhat sarcastically exposes the absurdity of their actions.

Over time, the people of Israel had adopted an assortment of pagan gods, from Baal and Molech to Ashtoreth and Chemosh. The Israelites seemed to be equal-opportunity idolaters. They were not picky. And, they never really replaced the worship of Yahweh, they simply added the other gods to the mix, creating a confusing syncretistic amalgamation of for virtually every occasion. But God Almighty had warned them about this very thing. All the way back when Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, God had provided them with the Ten Commandments, and the very first command on the list had been: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). And He would later expand on that command, providing them with clear and irrefutable details regarding His expectations.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV

And yet, the people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of obeying this very command. All that God had told them not to do, they had done – repeatedly and knowingly. They were operating out of obstinance, not ignorance. They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. So, God decides to show them the sheer lunacy behind their actions.

“How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.”
– Isaiah 44:9 NLT

Notice that God uses the third person. It is as if He is asking the people of Judah to consider how idiotic it is for those other nations to worship false gods. He wants them to step back and take a long and close look at just how ridiculous idolatry really is.

“Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?”
– Isaiah 44:10 NLT

That had to have hurt. God was not pulling any punches, but wanted them to see the sheer stupidity of what they were doing. Not only were they disobeying His commands, they doing so in order to worship gods they had made with their own hands. And God goes out of His way to ridicule the “mere humans—who claim they can make a god” (Isaiah 44:11 NLT).

God paints the image of a craftsman working diligently to manufacture the tool he will use to manufacture the god he is going to worship. His efforts leave him worn out before he has even begun to make his god. The effort required to make the god he is going worship leave him hungry and faint.

God describes a wood carver going through the process of selecting just the right tree from which to make his god. Then he proceeds to cut it down, carefully delineating which part of the log will become his god and which part he can use build a fire to keep himself warm.

“He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!”
– Isaiah 44:14-15 NLT

When you step back and examine idolatry from an objective viewpoint, it is not difficult to see just how ridiculous it appears. But God says, “The people who worship idols don’t know this” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). They are blind to the reality of their actions. They are incapable of seeing just how bizarre and nonsensical their actions appear. Which is why God goes out of His way to expose the sheer stupidity of what is going on in Judah. They enjoyed the privilege of being created by the one true God, and being chosen as His prized possession. And yet, they were busy creating their own gods out of wood and stone, and expected these man-made deities to provide for and protect them.

“He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!”
– Isaiah 44:16-17 NLT

And while it may be easy for us to judge the people of Judah and question their sanity, we would be wise to examine our own lives to see if we might be guilty of the very same thing. Their sin seems blatant to us. But God reveals that they were blind to it.

“Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.” –
Isaiah 44:18 NLT

They couldn’t see what they were doing. And, if we are wise, we will recognize that we have the same capacity to blindly and ignorantly worship gods made with human hands. While our idols may appear more sophisticated and less religious in nature, they are false gods nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, describes an idol in terms that may make you a bit uncomfortable.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

When put in those terms, it becomes a bit more easy to see how we can have idols, in spite of our more enlightened and sophisticated mindset. And, like the people of Judah, we can find ourselves deluded and unaware of the fact that we have created substitutes for God. We have turned to other things in the hopes that they might deliver what only God is capable of providing: Peace, hope, security, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and salvation. And God warns that we all run the same risk the people of Judah did. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves putting our hope in the wrong god, and failing to recognize the futility of our actions.

“He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
– Isaiah 44:20 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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Do Not Forsake Them

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
11 Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
    the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
    let them shout from the top of the mountains.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord,
    and declare his praise in the coastlands.
13 The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.

14 For a long time I have held my peace;
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
    I will gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
16 And I will lead the blind
    in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
    and I do not forsake them.
17 They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
    who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
    “You are our gods.” –
Isaiah 42:10-17 ESV

At hearing the news of the coming of God’s Servant, Isaiah can’t contain his excitement and breaks out into song. Verses 10-13 contain a joyous hymn of praise to Yahweh for His goodness and greatness. God’s Servant, the Messiah, was going to bring redemption to the people of God. He will bring justice to the nations and be a demonstration of God’s righteousness on earth. God had made it clear that His Servant would “be a light to guide the nations.” He would “open the eyes of the blind” and “free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons” (Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT). And Isaiah saw this as ample reason to praise God.

But Isaiah’s song was also a call for others to join him in singing the praises of God. He addresses those who sail the seas and those who live in the deserts. From the farthest coastal towns to villages in the mountains, all the inhabitants of the earth were to recognize and respond to the unequaled power of God. As far as Isaiah was concerned, this was to be a global celebration of the one true God

Let the whole world glorify the Lord;
    let it sing his praise.
– Isaiah 42:12 NLT

And the reason behind Isaiah’s enthusiastic call for universal praise of God was quite simple.

The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
– Isaiah 42:13 ESV

It is important to recall that, at the time Isaiah is singing this son, the situation in Judah remained unchanged. There was still the looming threat of invasion. God had already told Isaiah and King Hezekiah that the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. And yet, here is Isaiah singing about God marching forth like a mighty hero and crushing all his enemies, as if it had already happened.

For Isaiah, the word of God was all he needed. If God said it, Isaiah believed it. He had learned to take God at His word and to trust Him to do what He had promised. God had said He would send His Servant and that was enough for Isaiah. He would put his trust in God.

And God would eventually prove Himself trustworthy – yet again. The day would come when He would use King Cyrus to decree the return of the people from captivity in Babylon. This Persian king would even help fund the return of the remnant to Jerusalem and help defray the cost of rebuilding the city and the temple of God. Yahweh, the very one who brought judgment on the people of Judah for their rebellion against Him, would be the one to restore them to the land.

And one day, God would send His Son to earth, in the form of an innocent baby, in order to bring salvation to the people of God. Born a Jew, Jesus would bring His message of the Kingdom to His own people, calling them to repentance and offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Yahweh. But sadly, as the apostle John records, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT). The Servant of God was sent by God to sacrificially serve the people of God. Mark tells us, He “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). But Jesus’ offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone was rejected by the majority of His own people. They refused His gracious offer of redemption.

And yet, there is a another day coming when Jesus will return to earth again. The Servant/Savior will come a second time, and He will bring redemption to the people of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel wrote about this coming day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

There is a sense in which this prophecy was fulfilled when the people were given permission to return to the land of Judah by King Cyrus. But if we continue to read God’s words, as recorded by Ezekiel, we will see that there is an as-yet-unfulfilled aspect to this prophecy.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-28 NLT

God will accomplish all this through His Son, the Servant and Savior of Israel. God will use Jesus, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had been unable and unwilling to do for themselves. God will transform them into the faithful, obedient, children He had called them to be.

And, suddenly, God interrupts Isaiah’s song of praise with an announcement that is intended to bring assurance to Isaiah and the people of Judah. God admits that, from a human perspective, He has appeared to be silent and inactive. All kinds of things have happened around the people of Judah. There have been alliances made between nations, with the intent to defeat Judah. The Assyrians have plundered and pillaged their way through the land of Judah, leaving a wake of devastation in their path. They have even set up camp outside the walls of Jerusalem, threatening the city with destruction if the inhabitants refuse to surrender.

But all that was about to change. God describes Himself as a woman about to give birth. He is on the verge of delivery, not of a baby, but of salvation for His people. And while this imagery conveys a certain sense of immediacy, it does not mean that God’s salvation is right around the corner. It is meant to convey the idea of inevitability and certainty. Once a woman goes into labor, the baby is going to come, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. God is letting Isaiah and the people of Judah know that when the time comes for Him to act, He will do so. And He emphasizes the inevitability of it all by stating what He will do when the time comes.

I will level the mountains and hills
    and blight all their greenery.
I will turn the rivers into dry land
    and will dry up all the pools.
I will lead blind Israel down a new path,
    guiding them
along an unfamiliar way.
I will brighten the darkness before them
    and smooth out the road ahead of them.
Yes,
I will indeed do these things;
    
I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:15-16 NLT

He will do all that He has promised to do. And the greatest challenge the people of Judah faced was taking God at His word. They were going to face some significant setbacks in the days ahead. There were going to be plenty of moments when God’s presence and power were difficult to comprehend. They would find themselves facing all kinds of difficulties that seemed to contradict the promises of God. But circumstances are always a lousy litmus test of God’s power and presence. Just because we can’t see God doesn’t mean He is not there. Too often, we allow the presence of trials to cause us to conclude that God is inactive or indifferent to our situation. We may even assume He lacks the power to do anything about our problem.

But this passage is meant to encourage faith in God, regardless of the circumstances. It is easy to praise God after the fact. It takes very little faith to sing His praises when the victory has been accomplished and we are on the winning side of the battle. But to praise Him based on nothing more than His word – that take real faith. That requires true trust. When God says, “I will,” He expects His child to respond, “I believe.” It’s all about trust. And God makes it clear that those who refuse to place their trust in anything or anyone but Him, will be disappointed.

“But those who trust in idols,
    who say, ‘You are our gods,’
    will be turned away in shame.”
– Isaiah 42:17 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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behold My Servant

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged[
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you[b] in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.” –
Isaiah 42:1-9 NLT

God now attempts to turn the attention of the nations from their false gods to His servant. Unlike idols made by human hands, this individual brings delight to God. And while God also refers to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as His servant, there is a marked difference between this pagan king and the one in whom God delights.

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. – Jeremiah 27:6 NLT

First of all, this servant would have the Spirit of God upon him. He would operate under the power and influence of the Spirit. And, while Nebuchadnezzar would be used by God to bring judgment upon Judah, the servant will bring justice the nations.

There is a sense in which this description of the Servant/Savior points to Jesus at His first coming, but also alludes to aspects of His ministry that will be tied to His second coming. When Jesus came to the earth in human form, He did not do so with a lot of fanfare. He came quietly and rather obscurely. Most people alive at the time had no idea He had even been born. Mary and Joseph had been told of His coming and informed of His unique status as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The angel Gabriel made this perfectly clear to Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-32 NLT

Yet, apart from the wise men who saw the star signifying His birth, there were not many who made their way to Bethlehem to celebrate His birth. The shepherds were privileged to be among the few who saw the baby Jesus, but only because they were informed by the angels. For the most part, the birth of the Servant/Savior was a quiet affair.

And once Jesus began His earthly ministry, He turned His attention to the downtrodden and outcasts of the society. He met with prostitutes and tax collectors. He touched and healed the unclean, including lepers. He made it a habit of ministering to all those in society who were weary from life and spiritually worn out from carrying the heavy burdens that come with slavery to sin (Matthew 11:28).

He will not crush the weakest reed
    or put out a flickering candle.
– Isaiah 42:3 NLT

Instead, “He will bring justice to all who have been wronged” (Isaiah 42:3 NLT). And that is exactly what Christ did. He offered justice in the form of His sacrificial death on the cross. He provided a means by which the just and righteous wrath of God against the sins of man could be delivered without anyone having to die, but Himself. He became the substitutionary atonement for sinful man. And He did it for those who did not deserve it and had not earned it. We were little more than flimsy reeds and flickering candles, without any real worth or value, and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT

And during His earthly ministry, Jesus refused to give in or give up. He faced mounting opposition and repeated rejection by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 1He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

But Jesus was determined. He was out to finish the assignment given to Him by God the Father. Isaiah describes Him as not losing heart.

He will not falter or lose heart
    until justice prevails throughout the earth.
    Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction
. – Isaiah 42:4 NLT

Jesus declared that His whole purpose for coming in the first place had been “to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And as the tension between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased and the time for His death drew closer, He became all the more determined to complete His God-given task.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV

Luke utilizes a line found in the fiftieth chapter of the book of Isaiah, reflecting the early church’s belief that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

But when Isaiah refers to a time when justice will prevail throughout the earth, he is clearly indicating a future period of time. Jesus’ birth, death and, resurrection have made it possible for sinful man to be made right with a holy God, but we do not yet live in an all-prevailing atmosphere of justice on this earth. Sin is still rampant. Injustice is alive and well. Impurity surrounds and even, at times, infects us. But there is a day coming when Jesus will return and He will make all things right. He will restore justice to the earth. He will rule in righteousness.

And God makes it clear that He was sending His servant, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had not been able to do for themselves. He would redeem and restore them.

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
– Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT

Jesus even referred to this passage when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Jesus did all of these things in His first coming. He did deliver good news to the spiritual impoverished. He did proclaim a way for the spiritually imprisoned to be released. He did restore sight to the spiritually blind. And for all those who placed their faith in Him, they were set free from the oppression caused by their death sentence.

But Jesus is far from done. He came, but He left. He rose from the dead and returned to His Father’s side, where, we are told, He intercedes on our behalf. But there is a day coming when He will return. And the full weight of this chapter will be felt as every aspect of its message is fulfilled in Christ.

And now, God returns to His original message, reminding the people of Judah that He is the one and only God. He alone knows the future and He has just told them what it will contain. But, more than just predicting the future, God assures them that He is one who will bring it about.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols.
Everything I prophesied has come true,
    and now I will prophesy again.
I will tell you the future before it happens.”
– Isaiah 42:9 NLT

The Servant did come. The Messiah came to earth and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. But He returned to His Father’s side, where He is waiting for a word from His Father to one day return for His bride, the Church, and then to make His second grand entrance into the world as the King of kings and Lord of lords. God has said it and He will accomplish it.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Recipe for Restoration.

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.
For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
    and trust in oppression and perverseness
    and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill. – Isaiah 30:8-17 ESV

God commands Isaiah to make a permanent record of all that He has said against Judah. He wants it all in writing so that the people of Judah cannot disagree with the words that Isaiah spoke to them, or deny that they ever heard them. It seems that Isaiah is commanded to use two different mediums upon which to record God’s words against Judah. One was a tablet, on which he would inscribe the words and place in the public record. The second was a book or scroll, made of papyrus, on which he would record the very same words, but for future use. This scroll would be set aside and kept safe so that Isaiah could bring it out at a later date and remind the people of their refusal to listen to God. It would act as a permanent witness against them.

And all of this was necessary because the people were stubborn. God describes them as “a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). Like immature children, who think they can avoid anything bad by simply refusing to acknowledge its presence, the people of Judah begged their seers and prophets to stop giving them bad news.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right. – Isaiah 30:10 NLT

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They truly thought the could just escape the bad news by denying its reality. If they covered their ears, they wouldn’t hear. If they closed their eyes, they wouldn’t have to see what was happening around them and to them. And if the could only get everyone to stop talking about all this doom and gloom, they could go on with their lives. They could get back to business as usual. They even demanded that Isaiah change his message and tell them what they wanted to hear.

“Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:11 NLT

This reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. They were tired of hearing about God and His holiness. They even distance themselves from Yahweh, describing Him as Isaiah’s God, not their own. This desire to ignore God’s holiness and escape His judgment is nothing new. Remember, they had convinced themselves that God couldn’t see what they were doing anyway.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

This tendency among God’s people has always been around. Paul warned Timothy that the day would come in his own ministry when people would want their preachers to tell them nice things.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

For some reason, we think we can escape the truth by simply redefining it. In our day, we deny the reality of hell, by turning it into nothing more than the earthly results of our bad decision-making. Hell becomes figurative, not literal. But denying hell or redefining it, does not make it go away. Another major trend in modern evangelicalism is the emphasis being placed on the love of God, at the expense of His holiness. It goes something like this: A loving God would not send condemn anyone to an eternity in hell. Or another manifestation of this redefining of God shows up in a message of tolerance. We demand that a loving God is accepting of everyone and everything. He is all-loving. But in reaching this seemingly correct conclusion, we leave out the very important doctrine of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin. God does not tolerate sin. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin with His own life.

And God would tell us the same thing He said to the people of Judah:

“Because you despise what I tell you
    and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly.” – Isaiah 30:12-13 NLT

They didn’t like what God had to say. His words of condemnation and the constant call to repentance were not what they wanted to hear. So, they trusted in lies and half-truths. They changed the rules of the game. But their denunciation of Isaiah and their denial of his message would do nothing to alter the outcome. Their calamity was going to come – suddenly. Like a bulging wall that is on the brink of failure, their demise would take place quickly, and the consequences would be devastating. Their wall of lies and self-constructed truth was not going to stand the onslaught of God’s judgment. And God warns them, “You will be smashed like a piece of pottery—shattered so completely that
there won’t be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well” (Isaiah 30:14 NLT). 

But it didn’t have to be this way. Their inevitable destruction could have been avoided. And God makes it clear how they could have escaped what was about to happen.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

And it’s essential that we not miss how God refers to Himself in this passage. He is the “Holy One of Israel.” Remember, they had refused to recognize Him as such. But here, God is letting them know that He is their God, not just Isaiah’s. And He is holy. He is also sovereign. He is in complete control of all things, whether they want to admit it or not.

As the Holy One of Israel, He lets them know that remedy for their coming fall was simple. All they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him. Repent of their sin of trusting in Egypt, and rely upon Him instead.  It was that easy. And God lets them know that it was the only way they would find salvation. He uses two Hebrew words to describe what they had to do: shaqat and bitchah. The first refers to a state of rest or inactivity. It’s the thought conveyed by the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). It carries the idea of tranquility, even in the midst of trouble.

The second word has to do with a confidence that is a direct byproduct of trust. It is the same idea expressed by Isaiah earlier in this book.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
 – Isaiah 26:3 NLT

God spells out the remedy for what ailed them. But He also sadly states, “But you would have none of it” (Isaiah30:15 NLT). Rather than repenting and returning to God, they had made the decision to trust and find confidence in Egypt.

“No, we will get our help from Egypt.
    They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.” – Isaiah 30:16 NLT

But God breaks the bad news to them that their so-called savior was going to prove completely unreliable. The only swift horses they were going to see would be the ones their enemies rode. It would be a lopsided battle with the people of Judah completely routed and destroyed. And God describes their post-battle condition in bleak terms.

“You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
    or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” – Isaiah 30:17 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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Fruit of Righteousness.

20 For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
    and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
21 For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
    as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
    and to work his work—alien is his work!
22 Now therefore do not scoff,
    lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
    from the Lord God of hosts against the whole land.

23 Give ear, and hear my voice;
    give attention, and hear my speech.
24 Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
    Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25 When he has leveled its surface,
    does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
    and barley in its proper place,
    and emmer as the border?
26 For he is rightly instructed;
    his God teaches him.

27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
    nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
    and cumin with a rod.
28 Does one crush grain for bread?
    No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
    with his horses, he does not crush it.
29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
    he is wonderful in counsel
    and excellent in wisdom. – Isaiah 28:15-29 ESV

The nation of Judah, under the leadership of their scoffing leaders, had chosen to make an alliance with Egypt. In the face of God’s warnings of judgment and the eminent arrival of the Assyrians, they had decided to seek help from a foreign power rather than repent and return to God. And they had convinced themselves that their decision was going to provide them with all the protection they needed.

“…when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us.” – Isaiah 28:15 ESV

But Isaiah warns them that their arrogant decision was not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. In a sense, Isaiah paraphrases a well-known maxim: You’ve made your bed, now lie in it. They were going to have to endure the consequences of their poor choice. And Isaiah put it in terms that anyone could understand.

“…the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
    and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.” – Isaiah 28:20 ESV

A short bed with insufficient covers was going to result in a sleepless, uncomfortable night. No rest. No escape from the weariness. Their alliance with Egypt was going to prove inadequate when the judgment of God came against them. In fact, Isaiah describes their fall as coming by the hand of God Almighty, and the manner by which it came would be “strange” and “alien.” He compares the coming judgment of God with two remarkable events in Israelite history. One took place immediately after David had become the king. Upon hearing the news of David’s anointing as king, the Philistines determined to attack him early in his reign, before he had the opportunity to win the allegiance of all the tribes of Israel. But David sought God’s counsel, and was told, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand” (2 Samuel 5:19 ESV). David did as the Lord commanded.

And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away. – 2 Samuel 5:20-21 ESV

The second historic event that Isaiah references is one that took place in the early days of the Israelite’s conquering of the land of Canaan. They had just defeated Jericho and Ai, and had made a peace treaty with the people of Gibeon. When Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem got wind of all this, he formed an alliance with four other kings, and made plans to march against Gibeon. The Gibeonites called on Joshua and the people of Israel to come to their defense. And Joshua, like David, sought the will of God, and was told, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:8 ESV).

Joshua and the Israelites came up against the forces of the five allied kings and routed them. But the text tells us that, “the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel” (Joshua 10:10 ESV). When the enemy panicked a fled, Joshua and his forces gave chase.

And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. – Joshua 10:11 ESV

And if that was not strange enough, the text tells us that Joshua asked God to halt the sun in the sky so that they might have more time to defeat the enemy, and it states, “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies” (Joshua 10:13 ESV). And just so we don’t miss the significance of this remarkable event, the text tells us, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14 ESV).

So, why did Isaiah bother to bring up these two historic occasions? What was his point? First of all, these two stories would have been highly familiar to Isaiah’s audience. At the very mention of Mount Perazim and the Valley of Gibeon, they would have known the facts associated with these two locales. As Hebrews, they would have loved recounting these two stories of Israel’s defeat of their enemies. But now, God was telling them that the tables were going to be turned. The strange and alien works of God were going to be used against them.

So, Isaiah warns the scoffers to stop scoffing or their judgment will be even worse. He begs them to listen to what he has to say.

“Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.” – Isaiah 28:23 ESV

Their fate depends upon it. They can continue to reject the words of Isaiah and face inevitable destruction, or they could repent and be given a milder punishment from the hand of God. They were going to suffer God’s discipline either way, but now it was matter of intensity. So, Isaiah provides them with two real-life illustrations to convince them to heed his warnings.

The first has to do with plowing and sowing. A farmer operates based a plan. There is a time to plow and there is a time to sow. He doesn’t just keep plowing indefinitely. When the soil has been prepared, he sows the seeds, each at their appropriate time and manner. A farmer has the innate understanding to do the right thing at the right time in order to get the right results. Why? Because God has instilled it in him.

The farmer knows just what to do,
    for God has given him understanding. – Isaiah 28:26 NLT

And when it is time to reap what he has sown, the farmer understands that each plant must be reaped in the right way. By listening to God, the farmer is able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. But if he rejects God’s wisdom, he will end up destroying the potential blessings from the crops he has planted and cultivated. Following God’s divine plan always results in blessing. Choosing to do things our own way will always produce less-than-satisfactory outcomes. And Isaiah reminds his audience, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom” (Isaiah 28:20 NLT).

So, why will they not listen to God’s words of wisdom spoken through His prophet? Why will they continue to reject the blessings God wants to bestow on them by refusing to follow His instructions? They will end up reaping what they sow. And Isaiah longs for them to listen to what he has to say so that they might experience the blessings of God and not the curses.

In the same way that a farmer plows so that he can plant, and sows so that he might one day reap, God had prepared the people of Israel to produce the fruit of righteousness. He had chosen them and planted them in the soil of Canaan, with the intention that they would produce abundant fruit and fill the land with their product of their relationship with Him. And one of the things the people of Judah failed to recognize was that, in order for them to be fruitful, God would employ cultivating and pruning. Like a faithful farmer, He would do whatever was necessary to get the most out of His crops. And just as a wise farmer knows what threshing method to use on each plant, God knows exactly what the people of Judah need in order to produce the kind of fruit He was expecting.

They may not like His ways. They might see them as alien and strange. But God knew what He was doing. He was intimately familiar with His people and knew what it would take for them to yield the fruit of righteousness. As God had made clear earlier in this very same passage, He was looking for justice and righteousness from His people.

I will test you with the measuring line of justice
    and the plumb line of righteousness. – Isaiah 28:17 NLT

And later on in this book, Isaiah will write concerning a future day when justice and righteousness will be found in the land of Canaan.

Justice will rule in the wilderness
    and righteousness in the fertile field.
And this righteousness will bring peace.
    Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. – Isaiah 32:16-17 NLT

God will one day reap the fruit for which He has sown. He will harvest the bounty He has intended all along. And the cultivating and pruning of His people was part of the divine process. He has the end in mind. He is focused on the fruit and the harvest.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Plans Formed of Old.

1 O Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
    plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
    the fortified city a ruin;
the foreigners’ palace is a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
    cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
    a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
    a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,
    like heat in a dry place.
You subdue the noise of the foreigners;
    as heat by the shade of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is put down.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.
    He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
10 For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain,
    and Moab shall be trampled down in his place,
    as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.
11 And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it
    as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim,
    but the Lord will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands.
12 And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down,
    lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust. – Isaiah 25:1-12 ESV

Chapter 25 points to a future day when the kingdom of God will be established on the earth. According to Revelation 20, Jesus Christ will return after a great period of tribulation on the earth. At that time, He will defeat the enemies of God, bind Satan, and set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. In chapter 19 of Revelation, the apostle John describes His coming.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. – Revelation 19:11-13 ESV

He will bring with Him the armies of heaven, which will include all those who belong to the church, the body of Christ, who will have been raptured before the beginning of the seven years of tribulation. And John describes a great battle and a decisive victory taking place, with Jesus conquering His enemies with the word of His mouth.

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. – Revelation 19:29-21 ESV

With the earthly allies of Satan defeated and Satan himself confined to the pit, Jesus will rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And John describes this future scene.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 ESV

And it is this future period that Isaiah seems to be describing. Verses 1-5 features the many pilgrims, those who will come to faith during the days of the Tribulation, making their way to the city of Jerusalem. They are praising God for the unfolding of His plan, made long ago, but coming to fruition just as He had said it would. In the midst of all the persecution and moral decay of the Tribulation, God will prove Himself a stronghold to the poor and needy. And His Son will destroy the cities of the enemy, bringing to account the ruthless, godless and wicked who dwell on the earth.

In verses 6-12, Isaiah describes the “mountain,” the city of Jerusalem. This is the same imagery he used back in chapter two.

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between nations
    and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 NLT

With Christ ruling on the throne of David in Jerusalem, things will be radically different on the earth. For the first time in human history, a truly righteous individual will rule over the nations of the world. During the thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign, there will be peace on the earth. While there will be believers and unbelievers living during those days, the presence of Christ on the throne of David will ensure that justice is meted out perfectly and sin is dealt with righteously and justly. People who choose to sin will suffer the consequences of their choice. But the prevailing atmosphere during those 1,000 years will be that of righteousness and justice. And many, seeing the righteous rule of Christ on display, will come to faith during those days.

But Isaiah goes on to describe what will happen when the thousand years is complete. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. John gives us a description of this amazing reality in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:1-4 NLT

And Isaiah describes this as a time when death will be swallowed up, and God will wipe away all tears. Paul quotes from this very same passage in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT

The threat of death will be eliminated once and for all. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and His Son for eternity, with no fear of ever having to experience death again. And Isaiah quotes those who survive the Tribulation and enter into eternity as they praise God for His salvation.

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9 ESV

God’s divine plan of redemption and restoration, made long before He created the world, will come about just as He said it would. And all of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior will be able to join with those who come out of the Tribulation, in saying, “O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”

Even during the dark days surrounding the people of Judah, God was allowing Isaiah to see into the future and glimpse the fulfillment of His plan. There was far more to the story than Isaiah could see with his eyes. Sometimes the current circumstances we face paint a bleak and foreboding picture that can cause us to doubt and question whether God is really in control. But through prophets like Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel and Micah, and the vision given to John as recorded in the book of Revelation, God has provided us with the rest of the story. He has everything under control. He has plans, formed of old, that are faithful and true.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith, Not Fear.

The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.

As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
    it comes from the wilderness,
    from a terrible land.
A stern vision is told to me;
    the traitor betrays,
    and the destroyer destroys.
Go up, O Elam;
    lay siege, O Media;
all the sighing she has caused
    I bring to an end.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
    pangs have seized me,
    like the pangs of a woman in labor;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear;
    I am dismayed so that I cannot see.
My heart staggers; horror has appalled me;
    the twilight I longed for
    has been turned for me into trembling.
They prepare the table,
    they spread the rugs,
    they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes;
    oil the shield!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman;
    let him announce what he sees.
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
    riders on donkeys, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
    very diligently.”
Then he who saw cried out:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
    continually by day,
and at my post I am stationed
    whole nights.
And behold, here come riders,
    horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the carved images of her gods
    he has shattered to the ground.”
10 O my threshed and winnowed one,
    what I have heard from the Lord of hosts,
    the God of Israel, I announce to you. – Isaiah 21:1-10 ESV

babylon-1200x831x300God now turns His attention to the land of Babylon, located on the eastern side of the Fertile Crescent about 55 miles south of modern Baghdad. The oracle describes Babylon as “the wilderness of the sea.” This was likely because of its close proximity to the Persian Gulf. The use of the term “wilderness” seems to contradict the fertile and fruitful nature of that part of the world, so it is more likely a description of its post-judgment condition.

The great city-state known as Babylon has come to symbolize mankind’s attempt to build powerful religious and commercial centers that ultimately stand opposed to God. During the 16th-Century, Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin regularly referred to Rome and the papal state as Babylon. Even the apostle Peter used the name Babylon to refer to the city of Rome in his first letter.

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. – 1 Peter 5:13 ESV

In Peter’s day, Rome was the capital of the empire that ruled the world, and it was marked by religious pluralism, immorality, military power, and commercial success. So, in Peter’s mind, Rome was the modern-day embodiment of ancient Babylon.

The book of Revelation speaks of a future Babylon that will be destroyed by God for the role it plays as part of Antichrist’s earthly government during the Tribulation.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
    the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” – Revelation 18:2-3 ESV

Chapter 17 of Revelation describes this future city as a “great prostitute…with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality” (Revelation 17:1-2 ESV). John goes on to provide further details regarding this future incarnation of the infamous city-state known as Babylon.

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” – Revelation 17:4-5 ESV

The spirit of Babylon is always alive on the earth. Of course, in Isaiah’s day, it took the form of the actual nation of Babylon, which had become one of the major forces vying for control of that part of the world. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Elamites, and Egyptians were all in a constant state of warfare, jockeying for position and brokering alliances in an attempt to seize the upper hand in the battle for domination. And during the Chaldean dynasty and under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon would rise to its greatest period of power and influence.

But the oracle describes Babylon’s fall coming as the result of a desert wind, a sirocco, blowing across the land, leaving a wake of destruction in its path. This devastating “wind” would be sent by God in the form of the Elamites and Medes. These two nations would bring an end to Babylon’s reign as a world power. And what is truly amazing is that this prophecy was given 200 years before the events actually took place. At this point in time, Elam and Media were not even major players on the world scene. Media was little more than a tribe and Elam, which would later become the Persian empire, is referred to by its tribal name. And yet, God is predicting the fall of Babylon to the combined forces of the Medes and Persians.

And Isaiah is shocked by what he hears. The news of Babylon’s pending doom leaves him reeling. Not because he had any love affair for the Babylonians, but because it all sounded so far-fetched and unbelievable. The stability of the entire region was up for grabs. Nothing was certain anymore. Just when he thought things had settled down and the geopolitical landscape had stabilized, Isaiah hears news of more change, accompanied by more war and bloodshed. And he reacts accordingly.

“My stomach aches and burns with pain.
    Sharp pangs of anguish are upon me,
    like those of a woman in labor.
I grow faint when I hear what God is planning;
    I am too afraid to look.
My mind reels and my heart races.
    I longed for evening to come,
    but now I am terrified of the dark.” – Isaiah 21:3-4 NLT

He describes the uncertainty and instability of the times.

“Look! They are preparing a great feast.
    They are spreading rugs for people to sit on.
    Everyone is eating and drinking.
But quick! Grab your shields and prepare for battle.
    You are being attacked!” – Isaiah 21:5 NLT

God commands Isaiah to post a watchman on the wall, to keep a lookout for what is to come. A train of soldiers and their supplies is on its way. The watchman is to remain vigilant, looking for the inevitable signs of God’s judgment against the Babylonians. It will happen just as He has predicted. And, sure enough, the day comes when the watchman sees exactly what God has prophesied.

“Day after day I have stood on the watchtower, my lord.
    Night after night I have remained at my post.
Now at last—look!
Here comes a man in a chariot
    with a pair of horses!” – Isaiah 21:8-9 NLT

The armies of the enemy have arrived. And the watchman cries out, not a warning, but a statement declaring the inevitable outcome.

“Babylon is fallen, fallen!
All the idols of Babylon
    lie broken on the ground!” – Isaiah 21:9 NLT

Isaiah’s day was marked by a constant state of turmoil and political unrest. The nation of Judah was surrounded by powerful enemies who were constantly threatening the stability of the region and the security of Judah. But God was trying to let the people of Judah know that He was in control. He was not dismayed by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Elam or any other nation. They were little more than pawns in His hands. What God wanted was for the people of Judah to wake up and realize that He was their hope and help. Their fear of the circumstances surrounding them was unwarranted. God was not only aware of all that was happening, He was in control of it. He was letting them know ahead of time, exactly what was going to take place. The events God predicted were so certain that a watchman would see them coming.

Isaiah reacted to this news as if everything was out of control. The world was falling apart. There was nothing anyone could count on. But God wanted Him to understand that just the opposite was true. God was sovereign over all. He had everything well in hand. There was not reason to panic or fear. Which is why Isaiah was able to say:

“…what I have heard from the Lord of hosts,
    the God of Israel, I announce to you.” – Isaiah 21:10 ESV

The chaos of the times was not meant to cause fear, but to instill faith in the people of God, as they looked to Him who was sovereignly orchestrating each and every outcome.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Righteous Judge and King.

1 Send the lamb to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
    to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
Like fleeing birds,
    like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
    at the fords of the Arnon.

“Give counsel;
    grant justice;
make your shade like night
    at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
    do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
    sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
    from the destroyer.
When the oppressor is no more,
    and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness.”

We have heard of the pride of Moab—
    how proud he is!—
of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence;
    in his idle boasting he is not right.
Therefore let Moab wail for Moab,
    let everyone wail.
Mourn, utterly stricken,
    for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.

For the fields of Heshbon languish,
    and the vine of Sibmah;
the lords of the nations
    have struck down its branches,
which reached to Jazer
    and strayed to the desert;
its shoots spread abroad
    and passed over the sea.
Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer
    for the vine of Sibmah;
I drench you with my tears,
    O Heshbon and Elealeh;
for over your summer fruit and your harvest
    the shout has ceased.
10 And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
    no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
    I have put an end to the shouting.
11 Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
    and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.

12 And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail.

13 This is the word that the Lord spoke concerning Moab in the past. 14 But now the Lord has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.” – Isaiah 16:1-14 ESV

moabChapter 16 continues God’s oracle concerning the Moabite kingdom. And, in reading this section of the oracle, it is important to consider how much, if any, of God’s words, have been fulfilled or remain to be fulfilled. It is clear that God has already warned them of a day when they would suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of some outside force. The cities of Ar and Kir would be laid waste in a single night. The temple to their false god, located in Dibon, would be destroyed, and the people would be left in a state of mourning.

But now, God speaks of a day when the Moabites will send tribute to the king of Judah, in the form of a lamb. The refugees from Moab, shaking with fear and desperate for aid, will beg the king of Judah to provide them with shelter.

“Give counsel;
    grant justice;
make your shade like night
    at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
    do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
    sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
    from the destroyer.” – Isaiah 16:3-4 ESV

The oracle speaks of a time “When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land” (Isaiah 16:4 ESV). While that aspect of the prophecy could have been fulfilled sometime in the past, the next verse suggests that it remains yet to be fulfilled. The oracle speaks of a king and a throne.

…then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness. – Isaiah 16:5 ESV

This prophetic promise speaks of a very specific king, one who will be a descendant of David and rule with love, faithfulness, justice, and righteousness. This ties into an earlier promise revealed in chapter nine.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV

This passage speaks of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ when He will rule from the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years. This will not take place until the end of the seven-year period of Tribulation when God will bring His judgments upon the earth. But when the time of the Great Tribulation is complete, Jesus will return and establish His kingdom on earth. That can be the only fulfillment of the oracle found in chapter 16 of Isaiah. And Isaiah spoke of that day all the way back in chapter two.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

Moab will be among the nations in that day, that flock to the land of Israel, seeking to worship Jesus Christ and God Almighty. But long before that day takes place, God warns the Moabites that their coming destruction will be due to their excessive pride.

We have heard about Moab’s pride,
their great arrogance,
their boasting, pride, and excess.
But their boastful claims are empty! – Isaiah 16:6 NET

The oracle pictures utter devastation. Their pride would be replaced with humiliation and their joy with sorrow. All that they had put their trust in will have been destroyed. Their fields will lay barren. Their vines will no longer produce grapes. And, in their devastated state, the Moabites will continue to seek the aid of their false gods.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

Their idols will prove no match for God Almighty. But in the midst of all the judgment, God will reveal His heart for the people of Moab.

My heart’s cry for Moab is like a lament on a harp.
    I am filled with anguish for Kir-hareseth. – Isaiah 16:11 NLT

God does not find some kind of perverse joy in His judgment of the wicked. The prophet, Ezekiel, records God’s sentiments in His own words.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 ESV

But, because He is righteous and holy, He must punish those who reject Him as God. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. He cannot simply tolerate the rebellion of His own creation. And, much of what God does to the nations by way of judgment was intended to wake up His own chosen people, Israel. He wanted them to know that they to would suffer a similar fate, if they did not repent and return to Him.

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

The judgment of God was coming. In fact, within three years time, the Moabites would be overwhelmed and destroyed. And their fall should have been a wakeup call to the nation of Judah. There was no reason to hope and trust in nations because they would fail and fall. There was no sense in continuing to rebel against God because His judgment was inevitable and inescapable.

But God, in His grace and mercy, reveals that a remnant of the Moabites would remain. And it will be the future descendants of those survivors of God’s judgment who one day will flock to the city of Jerusalem and worship the right King of Israel, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Full End.

20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.

24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. 25 For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. 26 And the Lord of hosts will wield against them a whip, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb. And his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. 27 And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.”

28 He has come to Aiath;
he has passed through Migron;
    at Michmash he stores his baggage;
29 they have crossed over the pass;
    at Geba they lodge for the night;
Ramah trembles;
    Gibeah of Saul has fled.
30 Cry aloud, O daughter of Gallim!
    Give attention, O Laishah!
    O poor Anathoth!
31 Madmenah is in flight;
    the inhabitants of Gebim flee for safety.
32 This very day he will halt at Nob;
    he will shake his fist
    at the mount of the daughter of Zion,
    the hill of Jerusalem.

33 Behold, the Lord God of hosts
    will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the great in height will be hewn down,
    and the lofty will be brought low.
34 He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
    and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.Isaiah 10:20-34 ESV

God has made it clear that King Sennacherib and the Assyrians are nothing more than tools in His hands. Like an ax to a woodsman or a saw to a carpenter, the Assyrians would be used by God to accomplish His divine will concerning Israel and Judah. But they could no more than He decreed and allowed. The prideful and arrogant Assyrians would do what they did, not as if they were being forced to or against their own wishes, but according to their desire to “remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures” (Isaiah 10:13 ESV). Like an ax is designed to chop wood, the Assyrians were built for conquest, and their heart’s desire was to rule over all the nations.

And in 701 BC, the Assyrians came against Jerusalem, besieging the city in an attempt to destroy it as they had done the capital of the northern capital of Israel. But God had other plans.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  – Isaiah 37:33-35 ESV

God’s work for Sennacherib and his forces was complete. They could do no more to harm the people of Judah, because Isaiah tells us that, in the middle of the night, “the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36 ESV). The next morning, Sennacherib and his army broke their siege, returning to Ninevah, where he was later assassinated by his own sons.

But, beginning in verse 20 of chapter 10, the content of Isaiah’s prophecy shifts from Assyria to Judah. He begins this section, “In the day.” This is a reference to some future time period when God will restore His people. Isaiah describes it as a day when “the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 10:20 ESV). Any time you see a statement like this in Scripture, you must ask yourself whether this has been fulfilled? Has it already taken place? Is there a time in the national history of either Israel or Judah where we see the promise of this prophecy having been fulfilled?

In verses 21 and 22, Isaiah speaks of a remnant returning. We do know that after Judah eventually fell to the Babylonians and ended up in exile for 70 years, God allowed a remnant of the people to return to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, they were able to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem, destroyed by the Babylonians. They restored the demolished walls and gates of the city and, eventually, reconstructed the temple and reinstituted the sacrificial system.

But Isaiah’s prophecy is very specific. He mentions both Israel and Jacob. The northern kingdom of Israel lost their capital of city of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Three years later, after having failed to pay their annual tribute to the king of Assyria, Samaria was captured, and the people were taken captive and deported to Assyria. And there is no indication that any of the Israelites ever returned to the land. Yet, they are included in Isaiah’s prophecy. So, the day to which Isaiah referred must lie in the future, as yet unfulfilled. And while a remnant of Judah did eventually return to the land, they did not “lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” Over the subsequent centuries, they would prove unfaithful to Yahweh. And, the apostle John lets us know that, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they were living in spiritual darkness.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Isaiah stresses that only a remnant will return to the land. Even though God had kept His word to Abraham, and had made his descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea, their disobedience had brought God’s judgment, overflowing with His righteousness. He had punished them for their rebellion but had spared them from complete destruction, because of His covenant promise to Abraham.

Through His prophet, Isaiah, God comforts the people of Judah, telling them not to fear the Assyrians. He will protect them and prevent their complete destruction. In fact, He promises, “For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction” (Isaiah 10:25 ESV). And as we saw, God fulfilled that promise.

And Isaiah, referring yet again to “that day,” states that “his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken” (Isaiah 10:27 ESV). There was a day coming when God would remove His judgment completely. While the Assyrians would eventually march their way through the land, systematically passing through Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Giba, Ramah, and Anathoth, on their way to Jerusalem, they would fail in their quest to conquer Judah. God would do to them what He had done to the Midianites and Egyptians.

And, as we saw in Isaiah 37, God fulfilled this promise, sending Sennacharib packing with his army having lost 185,000 of its soldiers.

But there is an aspect of this prophecy that remains unfulfilled. The full implications of “that day” have not yet been experienced by Judah or Israel. God is not yet done. His plans for His people have not expired or been exhausted. In his letter to the Romans, Paul stresses that there is a day coming when God will completely fulfill His promise to restore His people.

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

And the prophet, Ezekiel, prophesied about this very same day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT

Isaiah had said, “Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.” God would bring judgment against His people, but He would also shower them with His righteousness, doing for them what they could not do for themselves. The day is coming when God will restore His people. He will return them to the land. But, more importantly, He will restore their hearts to Him.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson