I Am

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:48-59 ESV

In the last two blogs, we have discussed the topic of Jesus and His identity. He was the Son of God who took on the form of a man but never lost His identity as the second person of the Trinity. Jesus, though fully man, was also fully God and remained so throughout His entire earthly existence, from the moment of His incarnation to His  His final breath on the cross.

In the passage above, we have yet another example of Jesus expressing His awareness of His identity as the Son of God. In fact, He takes it a step further, clearly declaring Himself to be God.

Jesus had just been accused of being demon-possessed, a charge leveled against Him by the scribes and Pharisees. They had already been shocked at the audacity of Jesus to set Himself up as some kind of authority on religious matters. To them, Jesus was an uneducated nobody who had appeared on the scene, stirring up the crowds with His miracles and radical messages. These seasoned religious leaders questioned His credibility by emphasizing His relatively young age. They saw Him as a troublemaker and viewed His teaching as antithetical to their own. They refused to accept His claim to be a messenger from God and found His tendency to refer to God as His Father to be nothing less than blasphemy.

.And His offer of eternal life really rubbed them the wrong way. After all, even Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith, had died. Did Jesus think He was better than Abraham? They even asked Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” And Jesus matter-of-factly responded:

“If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” – John 8:54-56 NLT

In this statement, Jesus claims God as His Father. Not only that, He claims to know God intimately and, if Jesus said otherwise, He would be lying. And as for Abraham, Jesus states that even this revered founder of their faith had eagerly anticipated the day when Jesus would show up as God’s messenger. Not only that, Jesus claims that Abraham saw it and was glad. He had been given a vision of this day and Jesus was the fulfillment of it.

All of this was too much for the religious leaders. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a madman and a threat to the religious status quo. But Jesus responds to their anger with an interesting statement that did little to assuage their doubts concerning Him. And the controversial nature of His words was intentional.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 ESV

Other than what appears to be Jesus’ use of poor grammar, this statement may seem somewhat innocuous to us. But we can tell by the reaction of the religious leaders that they heard Jesus saying something they considered very dangerous and worthy of death. John tells us, “they picked up stones to throw at him…” (John 8:59 ESV).

The key to understanding their anger is found in the last two words of Jesus’ statement: “I am.” Two simple words, but they rocked the world of these learned men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying and claiming. His choice of words was entirely intentional and it achieved the effect for which He was looking. By uttering those two words, Jesus was clearly declaring Himself to be God. How do we know that? First of all, by the intensity of their reaction. But more importantly, because of what they understood Jesus to be saying.

As religious leaders, they were very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and especially the story of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded how God chose him to be the deliverer who would free the people of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt and lead them to the land God had promised to Abraham, generations earlier. But when Moses had received His marching orders from God, he expressed his reluctant to God by saying, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).

Moses was concerned that the people would have no idea who he was talking about if he announced that the God of their fathers had sent him. Keep in mind, for the 400 years the people of Israel had been living in Egypt they had been worshiping the gods of Egypt. They had long ago given up on the God of Abraham. They had become Egyptianized and had acclimated themselves to the false gods of the Egyptians. And Moses was more than a bit concerned that His announcement from this unknown God would fall on deaf ears. Moses needed a name, something by which to refer to this “new” God who was going to deliver the people from captivity. And God obliged Moses’ request God by describing Himself as I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). 

This phase sounds rather cryptic to us, but to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, it was understood as God’s self-identification as the one who was, who is, and who is to come. It is a claim of His eternal nature, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. It is an expression of total self-sufficiency, existence without beginning or end, and all-pervasive presence, unhindered by time and space. God’s declaration of Himself as “I am who I am” was His way of saying that He alone was God, and there were no others.

So, you can see why the scribes and Pharisees reacted so strongly to Jesus’ claim to be “I am.” He was declaring Himself to be God, and that was unacceptable and impossible. And according to Jewish law, Jesus’ claim was a crime punishable by death.

But what Jesus said was true. He was God. He was the second person of the Trinity, the holy Godhead. He was the image of the invisible God, the incarnate Son of God – Immanuel, God with us. Not only was He a messenger sent from God, but He was also the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

Don’t miss the significance of what John is saying. Jesus was the Word and the Word was God. Yes, He was greater than Abraham, because He was Abraham’s Creator. He was greater than Moses because He was the Rock that Moses struck in the wilderness that provided water to the people of Israel (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus knew who He was. He was fully aware of His identity and was not ashamed or afraid to admit it. Because it was His identity that gave Him the authority to do what He had come to do. It was C. S. Lewis who said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Just a few chapters later in John’s gospel, he records another encounter between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. This time, Jesus claims to have the ability to bestow eternal life on men. He describes them as His sheep, those who hear His voice and follow Him. When they do, He states, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 ESV). Of course, this kind of language infuriated the Pharisees, but Jesus makes it even worse by adding, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30 ESV). And His enemies didn’t miss His point, because John states that they “picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31 ESV). And they justify their actions by explaining, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

Identity. It means everything. Even for those who don’t belong to Christ and who refuse to acknowledge the reality of God, identity is the driving force in their lives. It determines everything about them – what they eat, how they dress, where they live, the kinds of friends they choose, the brand of clothes they wear, the make of car they drive, and the way they feel about themselves. Every human being is in search of their identity. And we have plenty of help in determining what our identity is – including parents, peers, social media, the culture, the world of entertainment, the messages of advertisers and marketing firms, and the morally vacuous voice of modern identity politics and intersectionality.

For the believer, discovering who we are is simple. Our identity is made clear for us by virtue of our relationship with Christ. Because of Him, we are sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, righteous in the eyes of God, citizens of the Kingdom, members of the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so much more. Jesus knew who He was. Do you? And if you know who you are, do you live like you believe it? Jesus did, and so should we.

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

 

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The Sin of Self

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. – Titus 2:6-8 ESV

Paul has demanded that elder candidates be self-controlledsōphrōn (1:8).

He has told Titus to teach older men in the church to exercise self-controlledsōphrōn (2:2).

Titus was to instruct the older women to model for the younger women what it means to live self-controlled lives – sōphronizō (2:5).

Now, for the fourth time, Paul urges Titus to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” – sōphroneō (2:6). Obviously, this was a crucial issue for Paul. His repetitive use of this word in a variety of its forms and tenses lets us know that Paul put a high priority on the issue of self-control. And, as was pointed out earlier, this is not actually about Christians attempting to master or control themselves, but about their willing submission to the Spirit’s direction over their lives and their total dependence upon His power to live in a way that honors and pleases God.

When a believer lives under the controlling influence of the Spirit of God, he or she receives the capacity to curb their normal sinful passions. Paul points that out in Galatians 5:16:

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. (NLT)

And he follows it up with the important reminder that “the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). This is not just about controlling our sexual urges or immoral desires. The idea of self-control carries with it a sense of sober-mindedness or the ability to manage our thought processes. A sober-minded individual, who is living under the Spirit’s control, will experience a marked decrease in self-centered thought patterns. He won’t be self-possessed or think too highly of himself. Paul pointed this out to the believers in Rome.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (sōphroneō), each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3 ESV

Paul was not the only apostle who put a high priority on self-control. Peter shared his concern and wrote, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded (sōphroneō) …” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). 

So, Paul’s seeming obsession with self-control is well-founded. It is to be a non-negotiable characteristic of the Christian life and an indispensable mark of godly leadership. People without this vital Christ-like character quality tend to live out of control, exhibiting selfish and self-centered traits that reveal that they are actually living under the influence of their sinful flesh and not the Spirit of God.

Failure to control the self is at the heart of all sin. Sin is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy self at the expense of others. You argue because you want to prove yourself right. You covet because you desire for your self what belongs to someone else.  You commit sexual sin to satisfy self.

After providing his long and infamous list of the deeds of the flesh to the Galatian believers, Paul wrote:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:25-26 ESV

Notice his emphasis on conceit or love of self. When the self rules, it’s like a wild, uncontrollable animal that has escaped its cage and is allowed to wreak havoc on all those around it. Self out of control is not only self-destructive, it is a menace to the body of Christ. It has no place within the context of the church.

And Paul urges Titus that young men are to be self-controlled “in all respects.” The awkward break between verses 6 and 7 should not be there. They convey one thought, and it is that young men are to practice self-control in every area of their lives. And Titus was to be a role model. Which is why Paul tells him, “you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind” (Titus 2:7 NLT). This is the same counsel Paul gave Timothy, his other young protégé.

Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:11-12 NLT

Paul went on to challenge Titus, “Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching” (Titus 2:7 NLT). In other words, Titus was live out what he taught. The sad reality is that many Christian teachers tend to convey the idea, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Their words and their actions don’t line up. The beliefs they express and the behavior they exhibit don’t seem to match. There is a visible disconnect. But that should not be the case.

Titus’ life was to be a model of integrity and sincerity. He was to live up to the very things he taught. His life was to be a model of submission to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God. And Paul knew the best lesson for the younger men in the church was going to be the life of his young friend, Titus. And Paul warned him to “Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized” (Titus 2:8 NLT). Titus was to stick to the facts of the gospel, not adding to or adulterating it with his own opinions. He was not to play fast and loose with the truth of God’s Word as revealed through the teachings of Jesus Christ or His apostles.

Again, the key issue is that of self-control. If Titus was not careful, he could easily find self in control. When attached by unbelievers or false teachers, Titus could go into self-defense mode. When criticized by his older brothers and sisters in the church, Titus could struggle with self-doubt. When seeking out and appointing elders for the churches on Crete, Titus might be tempted to think too highly of self. In Paul’s absence, Titus had the privilege and responsibility of acting as the sole apostolic authority on the tiny island, a role which could have easily fed his sense of self-importance.  So, Paul reminds his young friend to stick to teaching the truth. He encourages him to live a life that models self-control. Why? So that “those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:8 NLT).

Love of self is antithetical to the Christ-like life. We are called to live selfless lives, focused on the cause of Christ and the needs of others. It is never to be about us. We are never to allow ourselves to become the center of attention or the focus of our thoughts. We are called to die to self. We are commanded to crucify self. We are encouraged to control self, and we have been given the indwelling power of the Spirit of God to make it possible. And we should be able to say, along with Paul, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 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.s

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

Ungodliness Among the Godly

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. – Jude 1:14-16 ESV

To strengthen his attack against the false teachers, Jude has utilized imagery from nature and borrowed from Jewish intertestamental texts, specifically the book of 1 Enoch. He has already used this book once when describing a scene in which the angel, Michael, disputed with Satan over the body of Moses. This story is recorded in the book of 1 Enoch, but most likely a part of Jewish oral tradition. The book of 1 Enoch was part of what has come to be known as pseudepigraphal writings, all composed somewhere between 200-300 B.C. Also known as the intertestamental period, this was a time marked by seeming silence from God. He had sent no more prophets to the people of Israel or Judah.

The people of Judah had returned from exile in Babylon and were living in the land of promise once again, but they had no king and were relatively powerless and defenseless. During that time, a number of these writings appeared, bearing the names of Old Testament saints, such as Enoch, Abraham, Ezra, and Solomon. Their designation as pseudepigraphal is based on the fact that they profess to be written by Old Testament characters, but were written centuries after these individuals lived. In Greek, pseudepigraphos means “false inscription.” None of these books were considered legitimate by the early church fathers, and so, they were not included in the canon of Scripture. But they were most popular within the 1st-Century Jewish community. So, Jude’s use of these texts should not be taken as his endorsement of their authenticity. He is simply using contemporary and familiar resources to drive home his point.

In today’s text, Jude seems to quote directly from the book of 1 Enoch.

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. – 1 Enoch 1:9

We know little about Enoch, other than what we are told in the book of Genesis. He appears in the genealogy of Adam, recorded by Moses. And as Jude indicates, Enoch was the seventh name listed in that genealogy.

When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. – Genesis 5:18-24 ESV

Because of this Genesis text,  the Jews in Jude’s audience would have held Enoch in high esteem. Two times in this Genesis account it refers to Enoch as having walked with God. He was a godly man. And the passage in 1 Enoch that from which Jude quotes, portrays Enoch as having been a prophet of God. He spoke on behalf of God. And the whole reason Jude used that quote was because it spoke of God’s coming judgment against the ungodly.

Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way. – Jude 1:14-15 ESV

Notice the three times in which the word “ungodly” is used. That is Jude’s whole point. The false prophets he is warning the believers about are to be seen as what they are: Ungodly individuals who are committing acts of ungodliness. This does not necessarily mean they are unsaved or devoid of a relationship with Christ. Even the godly are capable of acting in ungodly ways. Those who are in Christ can find themselves doing un-Christlike things.

The real issue seems to be how these false teachers were treating God. The 1 Enoch passage refers to “the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” The primary problem with these individuals was their treatment of God Almighty. Jude calls them “grumblers, malcontents,…and loud-mouthed boasters.” They were ungrateful and prone to complain. And, as Jude pointed out earlier, they had a strong dislike of authority. They were driven by their need for control and their desire to meet their own selfish and self-centered agendas. Jude accuses them of “following their own sinful desires,” which simply means they were following the promptings of their own sin natures rather than the Spirit of God.

The apostle Paul warned about the inner conflict that is a very real part of every believer’s life on this earth.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other… – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

These false teachers were evidently losing the battle. And, according to Jude, their lives were giving evidence of the very things Paul said would mark the life of anyone who fails to yield to the Spirit of God.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Living according to our sin nature produces a whole host of unhealthy fruit. And the false teachers who were infecting the congregations to whom Jude was writing. The works of the flesh, as Paul called them, have a way of spreading. They’re infectious. As Paul told the Galatian believers:

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!
 – Galatians 5:9 NLT

It has to be irradicated and removed. It cannot be tolerated or ignored. When these kinds of individuals show up in a local congregation, claiming to be one of the flock and giving evidence of their faith in Christ, it may be difficult to spot them. But in time, the fruit of the lives will become apparent. Their true character will ultimately be revealed, and the condition of their heart will be exposed. When that happens, action must be taken. And, as Jude will reveal, the best defense is a strong offense. He will encourage the believers to rely on prayer and the constant pursuit of spiritual maturity to resist the influence of these grumblers, malcontents, and loud-mouthed boasters.

Spiritual maturity is the best weapon in our war against spiritual apostasy. An ever-increasing faith in Christ is the most effective antidote to godlessness in the camp. In the book of Numbers, we have recorded the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and God. They were unhappy with their lot in life and were grumbling about their lack of food and water. So, as punishment for their ingratitude and lack of reverence, God sent a plague of poisonous snakes among them. When the people saw that God had sent His judgment on them, they confessed their sin to Moses and begged him to intervene on their behalf. So God told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8 ESV). And when anyone who had been bitten looked on the bronze serpent, they received immediate healing. But their gazing at the serpent on the pole took faith. They had no guarantee that anything would happen, except for the word of God.

The best way to deal with sin in the camp is to look at Christ on the cross. We must focus our gaze on the sole solution to all sin, the Savior who was sacrificed on behalf of sinful mankind and offered Himself as the payment for mankind’s sin debt to God. There will always be false teachers among us. But a spiritual strong congregation who has a healthy love for God and a confident dependence upon the saving work of Jesus Christ will prove to be an unwelcome and unfruitful place for falsehood to gain a foothold.

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

Sinners In Need of a Savior

14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
    nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
    and the breath of life that I made.
17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
    I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
    but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
    I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19     creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    “and I will heal him.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
    for it cannot be quiet,
    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” Isaiah 57:14-21 ESV

Verse 13 ended with the promise:

But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain. –
Isaiah 57:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is chacah, and it means “to flee for protection.” This is an open invitation from God to His people offering them to place their hope and trust in Him. But He knew they had options, so He challenged them to make their decision. The next time they found themselves in trouble, they could cry out to Him, or they could turn to their assortment of false gods and see how well they fared.

But God makes it clear that, when deliverance comes, it will come from one place: From His hand. The day was going to come when the people of Judah would hear the long-awaited words, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity” (Isaiah 57:14 ESV), and they would come from the mouth of God, not some lifeless idol. And Isaiah differentiates God from the so-called competition by describing Him as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). He is the transcendent God who is above all. He is not relegated to earth and subject to the whims of men. He is not the product of man’s minds or hands and does not require their help in moving from one place to another. He is also eternal, without beginning or end. Every idol the people of Judah worshiped came into existence because someone took the time to manufacture it. And it would one day decay and fall apart. But not God.

And He alone is holy, totally pure and free from any and all forms of defilement. John reminds us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God’s very character makes Him unmatched and unparalleled. There is no one besides Him.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

Yet, this transcendent, holy, incomparable God has made Himself known to mere men. But only to those who meet a certain condition or requirement.

“I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. – Isaiah 57:15 NLT

Notice the attributes of those to whom God reveals Himself. They are contrite and humble, crushed in spirit, and marked by repentant hearts. In other words, they are cognizant of their need for God. No pride. No self-righteousness. No arrogant boasting in their own self-earned standing before God. No, the people to whom God reveals Himself are those who are contrite or broken in spirit. They have been crushed by cares of the world and their own efforts at trying to live righteous lives in their own strength. When Jesus delivered His great invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT), He was addressing all those who were worn out and beaten down by trying to earn favor with God through self-effort.

God reveals Himself to the humble, those who recognize their true spiritual condition and their need for someone higher and greater than themselves to save them. And this requirement of humility is found throughout the Scriptures.

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT

One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. – Proverbs 29:23 ESV

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 ESV

The people of Judah had become prideful and arrogant, thinking of themselves as somehow better than everyone else because of their unique standing as God’s chosen people. In one of the many confrontations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leadership of His day, He warned them, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT).  Their status as descendants of Abraham gave them no merit before God. Their Hebrew heritage did not impress God or somehow indebt Him to them.

God was looking for those who would humbly recognize their need for Him. His anger against them was real, and it was perfectly justified. He was just and right to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But He wants them to know that His anger can be abated and assuaged if they will only turn to Him and seek His salvation. That is the essence of the gospel message. Sinful men must reach the point where they are willing to admit their sinfulness and humbly acknowledge their complete inability to earn God’s favor through acts of self-righteousness. They must turn to the sole source of salvation made possible through the grace of God. And the apostle Paul puts it in terms we can understand.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Recognizing God’s holiness and coming to grips with our own inherent sinfulness is the key to experiencing God’s graciousness as revealed through His Son’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus told His disciples, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Lue 5:31-32 NLT).

As long as the people of Judah continued to see themselves as spiritually healthy and in no need of a divine doctor, they would continue to suffer the deadly symptoms of their sin. God reminds the people of Judah about their stubborn refusal to take His punishment of them seriously.

“I was angry,
    so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
    but they kept going on their own stubborn way.” – Isaiah 57:17 NLT

And yet, God delivers the amazing news:

“I have seen what they do,
    but I will heal them anyway!
    I will lead them.” – Isaiah 57:18 NLT

God offers to heal them in spite of them. He promises to lead them even though they had consistently refused to follow Him in the past. But the key to experiencing His healing and help was humility. They were going to have to admit their need for Him. And all that God had been doing to them and around them was so that they might know the reality of their sin and their need for His salvation.

The apostle Peter reminds us of the biblical truth: “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). But he goes on to tell us what to do in response to that truth.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:6 NLT

But what does that humility look like? It is not just a matter of recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It involves a daily dependence upon God and a growing recognition of His love for us and His ability to provide for all our needs, cares, and concerns. Peter goes on to say:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

And God assured the people of Judah, “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (Isaiah 57:18-19 NLT). All they had to do was humble themselves before Him.

But God knew there would be those who refused to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for His salvation. So, He warns them:

“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
    which is never still
    but continually churns up mud and dirt.
There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:20-21 NLT

Like the sea that is never calm, but in a constant state of perpetual upheaval, these unrepentant, prideful, and stubbornly self-righteous individuals would never know the peace that comes through humble contrition and willing submission to “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT). 

Confession of our sin is key to receiving cleansing from our sin. Admission of our guilt is a critical step in experiencing the blessing of God’s grace. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners will never recognize their need for a Savior. Which is why the apostle John so strongly warns us:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 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

Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 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

 

 

God of the Impossible

21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

23 “‘Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
24 By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon,
to cut down its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses,
to come to its remotest height,
    its most fruitful forest.
25 I dug wells
    and drank waters,
to dry up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.

26 “‘Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
    crash into heaps of ruins,
27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

28 “‘I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
29 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.’

30 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

33 “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. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. – Isaiah 37:21-38 ESV

In his moment of greatest need, King Hezekiah had determined to trust God and called out to Him for help. He had appealed to God‘s power, sovereignty, covenant faithfulness, and sole standing as the creator of the universe. Hezekiah to his problem to God Almighty and begged Him to look down from heaven and act on their behalf. And now, Isaiah brings the king a message from God.

First, God had a word for Hezekiah:

“Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.” – Isaiah 37:21 NLT

Hezekiah’s trust in God, as evidenced by his prayer of intercession, was rewarded by God’s explanation of what was going to happen next. He let Hezekiah know exactly what His plans for Sennacherib and the Assyrians were going to be. And He delivered a personal message for King Sennacherib as well.

“…because of your raging against me
    and your arrogance, which I have heard for myself,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – Isaiah 37:29 NLT

It is important to remember just how bad the situation was when Hezekiah prayed his prayer to God. The Assyrian army was camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. A total of 46 cities within Judah had already fallen to the Assyrians, and King Sennacherib had sent word to the people of Jerusalem that they surrender or face certain annihilation. These were dark days for King Hezekiah. The prospects for his capital city and its inhabitants could not have looked bleaker. But he had taken his need to the Lord. It would be easy to conclude that Hezekiah had no other options. He had run out of tricks up his sleeve and was left with no other alternative but to cry out to God. But the important fact is that he did cry out to God. And God heard his cry and responded.

In his humiliated state of despair and need, dressed in sackcloth and completely aware of his own impotence and dependence upon God, Hezekiah had appealed to the Almighty. But King Sennacherib displays a markedly different attitude. In his pride and arrogance, dressed in his royal robes and boasting of his own power, he had mocked the Almighty. And God was not pleased.

“Whom have you been defying and ridiculing?
    Against whom did you raise your voice?
At whom did you look with such haughty eyes?
    It was the Holy One of Israel!” – Isaiah 37:23 NLT

Sennacherib was a walking ego, bragging about his many exploits and describing himself in self-adulating terms that made him sound like a god.

“You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest heights
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot,
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – Isaiah 37:24-25 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from “I” disease, a common malady among world leaders. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had the same problem.

“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Self-made men tend to suffer from self-exaltation. Their success goes to their heads, and they begin to believe that they alone are responsible for their fame and fortune. But God breaks the news to Sennacherib that his rapid rise to world domination had been anything but his own doing.

“But have you not heard?
    I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.” – Isaiah 37:26 NLT

Sennacherib had been little more than an instrument in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe. God had used the Assyrians to accomplish His own divine ends. And as quickly as they had risen to power by the decree of God, they could just as easily be rendered a non-factor on the world stage by His hand. And God let Sennacherib know that his days were numbered. His fifteen minutes of fame was about to come to an abrupt end.

All of this had to have sounded too good to be true to Hezekiah. While he had prayed to God for help, the idea that God would completely eliminate the Assyrian problem was more than he could have dreamed. And God seems to have sensed Hezekiah’s lingering doubt, so He provided the king with proof. He let him know that, within three years time, the people of Judah would be planting and harvesting their crops just like they always had. The land, devastated by the Assyrians, would once again yield its crops and return to its former state of fruitfulness. And this is important to note because of the arrogant boast made by King Sennacherib.

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

The Assyrian king had promised to provide the people of Judah with grain, grapes, wine and bread. He had arrogantly placed himself in the role of God Almighty. But God wanted Hezekiah to know that true fruitfulness came only from His hand. And while it would take some time before the remnants of the Assyrian army were removed from the land, God promised to restore the fortunes and fruitfulness of Judah.

“For a remnant of my people will spread out from Jerusalem,
    a group of survivors from Mount Zion.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!” – Isaiah 37:32 NLT

God was going to save a remnant of His people. He would not allow the Assyrians to destroy Jerusalem. Instead, He would intervene and display His covenant faithfulness to a people who had consistently refused to remain faithful to Him. He would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because He is gracious and a God who keeps His commitments.

And God provided Hezekiah with one more detail regarding His plans for the Assyrians. They would never enter the gates of the city. Their boasting and bragging would turn out to be nothing more than idle threats. Not a single arrow would be fired. No siege walls would be built. The entire army of Assyria would disappear as quickly as it had come. And God had a special surprise for Sennacherib and his invincible army.

That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – Isaiah 37:36-37 NLT

God delivered a miracle. The Lord of Heavens Armies sent a single angel who devastated the vaunted troops of Sennacherib’s army. Overnight, he lost 185,000 of his finest soldiers, and God didn’t even lift a finger. His work was accomplished by one of His angels, a sobering reminder of God’s superior strength and sovereign power. And the once mighty Sennacherib would return home to Assyria, only to face assassination at the hands of his own sons. His plans didn’t turn out as expected. But God’s did. His divine will was accomplished just as He had planned it long before Sennacherib was even born.

While things could not have looked bleaker from Hezekiah’s vantage point, he placed his trust in God. And he was far from disappointed. God accomplished the impossible. He did what Egypt could never have done. He provided a solution that was beyond man’s ability and outside human reasoning. In his wildest dreams, Hezekiah could have never imagined a scenario like this one. But because he trusted God, he was given the privilege of seeing the salvation of God.

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

 

Drunk on Success.

1 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken. – Isaiah 28:1-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to Ephraim, referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph in Egypt. In fact, Ephraim’s mother, Asenath, was an Egyptian. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, adopted his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, intending to treat them as his own.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 ESV

In giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob’s two sons, he intentionally awarded Ephraim the blessing intended for the firstborn. When Joseph tried to correct what he believed was a mistake, Joseph told him: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). The tribe of Ephraim was later awarded land in Canaan, just north of the Dead Sea and would become a leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after God split the nation in two. The city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located within the territory of Ephraim.

Ephraim, representing to ten northern tribes, is called out by God for its pride and arrogance. It was located in a fertile valley at the southern tip of the Jordan River. It benefited from the frequent flooding of the river valley and enjoyed the fruits of its rich and fertile soil. God even refers to them as “the drunkards of Ephraim” – probably a reference to literal drunkenness from the wine they produced and the spiritual drunkenness that resulted from their intoxication with idolatry. The prophet, Amos, had this to say about Ephraim.

You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:6 NLT

In a sense, they were drunk on their own self-importance. Amos warned them, “you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, and people go to you for help. But go over to Calneh and see what happened there” (Amos 6:1-2 NLT). Calneh had been overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854-846 B.C., and God was letting Israel know that the same thing was going to happen to them.

For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground. – Isaiah 28:2 NLT

The Assyrians were poised to bring the same devastation and destruction to the Northern Kingdom that had happened in Calneh. And God doesn’t sugarcoat the news regarding Israel’s fate.

The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
Whoever sees it will snatch it up,
    as an early fig is quickly picked and eaten. – Isaiah 28:3-4 NLT

But God, always rich in mercy, declares that He will spare a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. Yes, He will bring judgment upon Israel in the form of the Assyrian army, but there will be a handful within rebellious Israel who recognize Him as their true source of hope and help.

He will be the pride and joy
    of the remnant of his people.
He will give a longing for justice
    to their judges.
He will give great courage
    to their warriors who stand at the gates. – Isaiah 28:5-6 NLT

But what about Judah, the Southern Kingdom? They are Isaiah’s primary target audience, and his message is intended for them. So, God reveals that He has issues with them as well. They stand guilty of the same sin of pride. They suffer from the same condition of spiritual intoxication.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

God’s indictment against the governmental and religious leaders of Israel has less to do with physical inebriation than spiritual apostasy. They are described as staggering drunks, but their real problem was spiritual confusion resulting from their steady consumption of the lies of false gods. They were incapable of making wise decisions. Their words of advice were no better than vomit from the mouth of a drunk. And they despised everything that Isaiah had to say.

“Who does the Lord think we are?” they ask.
    “Why does he speak to us like this?
Are we little children,
    just recently weaned?
He tells us everything over and over—
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there!” – Isaiah 28:9-10 NLT

Isaiah’s words were simple and easy to understand, but the people of Israel rejected them. His incessant call to repentance was despised by them. His repeated warnings of God’s judgment were obnoxious to them. They were tired of Isaiah’s message. So, Isaiah let them know that the next words they would hear would be in a language they couldn’t understand.

So now God will have to speak to his people
    through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language! – Isaiah 28:

Over the centuries, God had constantly reminded His people that the land of Canaan had been intended to be a place of rest. Their relationship with Him as His chosen people was meant to be marked by peace, blessing and the joy of His presence. But their disobedience had marred their relationship with God, resulting in the split of the kingdom, constant civil unrest, rampant idolatry, and anything but peace and rest. And while God had graciously sent His messengers, the prophets, with a call to repent, the people had refused to listen. So, Isaiah lets them know that their stubborn refusal to hear and obey will result in their fall.

So the Lord will spell out his message for them again,
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there,
so that they will stumble and fall.
    They will be injured, trapped, and captured. – Isaiah 28:13 NLT

And all of this was in keeping with God’s warning, delivered centuries earlier by Moses to the people of Israel. He had called them to live in obedience to God’s commands or face the inevitable consequences.

“The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like a vulture. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-52 NLT

And the fulfillment of God’s warning had come. The people of Israel and Judah, drunk on their own success and self-significance, were about to experience the hangover of a lifetime as the wrath of God fell. Their intoxication with the things of this world and the false gods of the Canaanites were going to leave them staggering and stumbling under God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.

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

God Has Purposed.

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.

Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for Tyre is laid waste, without house or harbor!
From the land of Cyprus
    it is revealed to them.
Be still, O inhabitants of the coast;
    the merchants of Sidon, who cross the sea, have filled you.
And on many waters
your revenue was the grain of Shihor,
    the harvest of the Nile;
    you were the merchant of the nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon, for the sea has spoken,
    the stronghold of the sea, saying:
“I have neither labored nor given birth,
    I have neither reared young men
    nor brought up young women.”
When the report comes to Egypt,
    they will be in anguish over the report about Tyre.
Cross over to Tarshish;
    wail, O inhabitants of the coast!
Is this your exultant city
    whose origin is from days of old,
whose feet carried her
    to settle far away?
Who has purposed this
    against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
    whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
    to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
    to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
10 Cross over your land like the Nile,
    O daughter of Tarshish;
    there is no restraint anymore.
11 He has stretched out his hand over the sea;
    he has shaken the kingdoms;
the Lord has given command concerning Canaan
    to destroy its strongholds.
12 And he said:
“You will no more exult,
    O oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon;
arise, cross over to Cyprus,
    even there you will have no rest.”

13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.

14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for your stronghold is laid waste.

15 In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:

16 “Take a harp;
    go about the city,
    O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
    sing many songs,
    that you may be remembered.”

17 At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. 18 Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:1-18 ESV

cea1c-tyre-1800x1516x300While Babylon and Assyria represent large nations whose powerful military forces allowed them to dominate that region of the world and expand their respective kingdoms through conquest, Tyre represents the much small Phoenician state that had amassed great wealth through commerce. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre was a bustling commercial port whose ships plied the Mediterranean, carrying goods to and from foreign ports, transforming the city and region into a major economic force.

In this oracle, God pronounces a judgment against Tyre, that will impact the entire Phoenician region. Tyre is singled out and made the focal point of God’s pronouncement because it was the most renowned of all the Phoenician cities. What God predicts will happen to it will take place throughout the region.

God describes Tyre as being laid waste, its homes and harbor being completely destroyed. And the news of Tyre’s fall will spread fast, reaching the shores of the island of Cypress, where sailors on large ships hailing from as far away as Tarshish in Spain, will hear the devastating report and mourn the loss of this great seaport. Sidon, located just to the north of Tyre will also mourn the loss of its neighbor. In fact, God gives Sidon and the rest of the coast of Phoenicia two words of warning: damam and buwsh. The first warns that they will be made silent, dumbfounded at the news. The second warns that they will grow pale with astonishment and terror upon hearing what has happened to Tyre.

Even the sea gives voice to its concern over the loss of Tyre. Like a childless woman, unable to give birth, the sea will be unable to replace the loss of its child, Tyre. And while Sidon had enjoyed the same economic success as its sister city, trading with Egypt and other lands, it too would be negatively impacted by Tyre’s loss.

We know that, in 585-572 BC, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre. Then, in 322 TC, Alexander the Great completely destroyed the city. Sidon would later fall to the Persian king Artaxerxes. Everything God predicted in this oracle eventually happened just as He said. And in verse 9, God provides the reason for Tyre’s eventual demise.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has done it
    to destroy your pride
    and bring low all earth’s nobility. – Isaiah 23:9 NLT

Tyre, while not a military power, was an economic power broker, wielding tremendous influence in the world of Isaiah’s day. In a sense, the sea had made Tyre what it had become. Its entire economy was based on its location on the sea. It was known for its ships and had used its vantage point along the coast to amass great wealth and influence over the world. It stands as a symbol of man’s obsession with financial success and the power that comes with it. But Tyre had become proud and puffed up by its seemingly boundless prosperity. The merchants of Tyre lived like princes, and its traders were treated like dignitaries around the world. Yet, God would bring them low.

While Tyre had been the master of the sea, plying its waters and using it as a highway to bring back great wealth to its port, God warns that it is He who rules the waves.

The Lord held out his hand over the sea
    and shook the kingdoms of the earth.
He has spoken out against Phoenicia,
    ordering that her fortresses be destroyed. – Isaiah 23:11 NLT

Once again, God is revealing that He is the one who is in control of all things. He controls that wind, the waves, the armies of the world, and the fates of the nations. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah that no one stood outside of God’s will and immune from His judgment. Tyre was a symbol of mankind’s love affair with material wealth and financial success. They saw themselves as invincible because their resources were seemingly immeasurable. Even with all the instability in the land caused by the actions of Assyria, the Phoenicians probably thought they were safe because they were critical to continued trade with the nations of the world.  But God would prove them wrong.

And when the destruction began, the people of Tyre could attempt to escape, sailing for Cypress or other distant ports, but they would soon discover that God’s judgment is relentless and His reach, limitless.

Yet, in the midst of all the news of doom and gloom, God reveals that Tyre will experience a rebound in their fortunes. After 70 years of suffering, God will allow Tyre to regain some of its former splendor.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

Notice the indictment contained in this snippet of good news. Tyre will be allowed to enjoy some of its former glory, but they will do so using the same strategy they used before. They will prostitute themselves to all the kingdoms of the world, selling their services and their wares for financial gain. But there will be one glaring difference.

Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:18 ESV

This is speaking of a day that has not yet occurred. It is a prophecy concerning the last days when the nations of the earth will join in the worship of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future day and recorded it in his Revelation.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. – Revelation 21:22-26 NLT

And Isaiah will go on to record a similar description of this scene, addressing the joy of Israel over its future restoration by God.

…for merchants from around the world will come to you.
    They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
    the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
    and will come worshiping the Lord.
The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,
    and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.
I will accept their offerings,
    and I will make my Temple glorious.

“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel,
    like doves to their nests?
They are ships from the ends of the earth,
    from lands that trust in me,
    led by the great ships of Tarshish.
They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away,
    carrying their silver and gold.
They will honor the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has filled you with splendor. – Isaiah 60:5-9 NLT

God’s immediate plans for Tyre will involve its destruction. But God’s future plans for Tyre and the nations of the earth will be much different. He is not done. He has plans to redeem and restore His people, Israel, and create a new era on earth when His Son will rule and reign, and the kingdoms of the world will worship God alone.

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

Don’t Celebrate Too Soon.

28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:

29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
    and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
    and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
    melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
    and there is no straggler in his ranks.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion,
    and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” – Isaiah 14:28-32 ESV

The Philistines were another powerful nation that had made its presence known during the days that Isaiah prophesied. They occupied land to the west of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their presence in the Land of Promise, the land promised to Abraham by God and conquered under the leadership of Joshua, was due to the failure of Israel to remain obedient to God. The book of Judges tells us that God left the Philistines in the land as a test.

“Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23 ESV

SouthernTribalAllotments2Earlier, in the book of Judges, we are told that the tribe of Judah had been successful in conquering the cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, located in the Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast. They had also taken possession of the hill country, located to the east, along the Jordan River. But they had failed to take the area in between, known as “the plains.” This was a region occupied by the Philistines.

Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:18-19 ESV

So, as a result of Israel’s failure to obey God and cleanse the land of its immoral and idolatrous occupants, God allowed those pagan nations to remain in the land. With their various false gods, they became a constant source of temptation to the people of Israel, drawing them away from the one true God. They remained a constant thorn in the side of the people of God, conducting raids and plundering their towns and villages. Interestingly enough, the very name, “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word, Philistia. In the Greek, it is rendered palaistinei, from which we get the English word, “Palestine.” Even to this day, those who occupy this land to the west of Jerusalem and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, remain a threat to the people of Israel.

But in this oracle, Isaiah delivers a message from God to the Philistine people. And Isaiah ties the oracle to the year of the death of King Ahaz. The book of 2 Kings provides us with a bit of insight into the life of Ahaz.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV

We’re also told that at one point during his reign, Ahaz made a visit to Damascus in Syria, where he met with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser. Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against Judah, threatening to destroy them. So, Ahaz had made a treaty with Assyria, paying Tiglath,pileser tribute money for his assistance against Syria and Israel.

Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 16:8-9 ESV

While visiting Damascus, he saw the altar that the Syrians used to worship their false god. So, he sent word back to Judah, providing Uriah the priest with detailed instructions to make a replica of the pagan altar in Jerusalem.

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. – 2 Kings 16:11-12 ESV

Ahaz then had the brazen altar removed from the temple and replaced with this new pagan altar, where he offered sacrifices to the false gods of the Syrians. He repurposed the brazen altar, using it for divination.

So, this oracle is tied directly to the death of Ahaz. He died in 715 BC and his death marked a low point in the spiritual condition of the people of Judah. They had wandered from God about as far as they possibly could. Their land was filled with altars and high places to false gods. They were immoral and idolatrous. And yet, God focuses His attention on the Philistines.

God warns the Philistines not to be too quick to celebrate.

Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken! – Isaiah 14:29 NLT

It’s not exactly clear who is being referred to here. The “club” may be a reference to the house of David. All throughout his reign, David had waged war against the Philistines. As a young boy, he had defeated their champion, Goliath, in battle. And the tribe of Judah and the Philistines had remained enemies up until the days of Isaiah.

With the death of Ahaz, the Philistines could have been rejoicing over the loss of yet another king from the dynasty of David. It may be that they knew of Ahaz’ agreement to serve Assyria in return for their aid against Syria and Israel. Ahaz had told Tiglath-pileser, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7 ESV).

The Philistines would have seen this alliance between Assyria and Judah as a good thing, further weakening Juhah’s power in the region. But it seems more likely that the Philistines were rejoicing over the removal of Syria as a threat to the region. These recurrent power struggles were taking place constantly, causing tremendous instability in the region. And the fall of one nation in the area was viewed as good news by all the rest. But God warns the Philistines to tap the break on their enthusiasm. In fact, rather than rejoice, they should weep and mourn.

Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks. – Isaiah 14:31 NLT

While the people of Israel had failed to remove the Philistines from the land, God had plans for them. They could sit back and relish the troubles taking place in Judah, but the fate of the Philistines was sealed by God. There was judgment coming, and they could not escape it. While the nations could rejoice over the struggles of Israel and Judah, the would not escape from God’s wrath. God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

God had vowed to bring His curses upon any and all nations that attempted to treat His people with contempt. And the Philistines were part of a long list of nations that had made a habit of mistreating the people of God. So, Isaiah warned them:

How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the Lord has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her.  – Isaiah 14:32 NLT

We know that, in 712 BC, the Assyrians invaded Philistia. And again, in 701 B.C. they returned under the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, meting out judgment against all those, including the Philistines, who stood opposed to them.

But there is a future judgment reserved for all those nations who have stood opposed to God and His people. There is a day coming when Christ will return, and He will wage war against the nations of this earth – all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have chosen to reject the reign of God Almighty. During the final days of the Tribulation, they will join the Antichrist, choosing to worship him instead of God. They will persecute the people of God, putting many of them to death. But at just the right time, God will send His Son again. And this time, He will come as a conquering King, not a baby in a manger.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

There Is Only One God.

24 The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
    so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
    so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.”

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:24-27 ESV

God makes it perfectly plain: What He has said, He will do. What He has planned, He will accomplish. His words are not idle threats. His prophecies of doom and destruction are not potential possibilities, but certain realities. And God points a divine finger at Assyria, declaring that it will be one of the nations which succumb to His divine wrath.

In the previous verses, God outlined the pride and arrogance of Babylon. While this nation had not yet risen to its full power and prominence in Isaiah’s day, it would eventually become a major player on the scene. And it would be Babylon, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, that would defeat Judah, destroy Jerusalem, demolish the temple, and deport many of the people as slaves. Throughout the Bible, Babylon is used as the personification of man’s pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation. It comes to be the epitome of fallen mankind under the influence of the prince of this world: Satan.

But in these verses, God focuses His attention on Assyria. They were going to be the “Babylon” of Isaiah’s day, representing the most recent manifestation of man’s hubris and arrogant opposition to God. Assyria was the nation that had begun to dominate the landscape of Isaiah’s day, conquering the area that is now made up of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. In 733 BC, the Assyrians, under King Tilgath-pileser, came against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took many of its people captive. Not many years later, they returned under King Shalmaneser and besieged Samaria, the capital city of Israel, finally defeating and destroying it.

And Isaiah had already warned the people of Judah that God would use the Assyrians to punish them as well.

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria! – Isaiah 7:17 ESV

In Isaiah 10, God refers to Assyria as “the rod of my anger.” He will use them to bring judgment against the people of Israel and, eventually, the nation of Judah. It was in 701 BC that the Assyrians captured 46 of Judah’s fortified cities and laid siege to the capital city of Jerusalem. During that siege, King Sennacherib sent an emissary to the king of Judah, with a word of warning.

“Tell Hezekiah: ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What is your source of confidence? Your claim to have a strategy and military strength is just empty talk. In whom are you trusting, that you would dare to rebel against me? Look, you must be trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed staff. If someone leans on it for support, it punctures his hand and wounds him. That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt does to all who trust in him! Perhaps you will tell me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God.’ But Hezekiah is the one who eliminated his high places and altars and then told the people of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship at this altar.’ Now make a deal with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, provided you can find enough riders for them. Certainly you will not refuse one of my master’s minor officials and trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen. Furthermore it was by the command of the Lord that I marched up against this land to destroy it. The Lord told me, ‘March up against this land and destroy it!’”’” – Isaiah 36:4-10 NLT

Sennacherib, the pagan king of the Assyrians, ridiculed the people of Judah, claiming that their king had eliminated the sacred high places and altars of their God, forcing them to worship at one location. But the trust was that Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms, in an attempt to rid Judah of its many idols and return the people to the worship of Yahweh alone. But Sennacherib mocked them, claiming to have been sent by God to destroy their land. You can sense his arrogance and pride throughout this passage.

But while Sennacherib saw himself as the conqueror and the ultimate victor in this lopsided circumstance, he had no idea who he was fighting. He saw a demoralized and defeated enemy in the people of Judah. But he failed to see God Almighty standing alongside them, ready to protect and preserve them. God would use Assyria to punish Hise people but on His terms. They could only do what He allowed them to do, and no more. Sennacherib was an instrument in the hands of God, the rod of His anger. And when God had accomplished His divine purpose through Assyria, He would deal with them appropriately.

“I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.” – Isaiah 14:25 ESV

The kings of Assyria, like the kings of Babylon who would follow them, saw themselves as gods, limitless in their power and unstoppable in their quest to dominate the world. But like Satan, their power was limited by God. They existed only by the will of God.

Yet, man has always seen himself as the master of his fate and the sole arbiter of his future. From his vantage point here on earth, man sees things through the cloudy lens of his limited perspective, failing to take into account the sovereign will of God in the affairs of the world. But God makes it clear that He is the one who is in control.

“This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.” – Isaiah 14:26 ESV

God is the one who mocks at the futile and flawed aspirations of mere men. He looks down on their vain attempts to usurp His authority and mimic His divine power and laughs.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. – Psalm 46:67 ESV

Man, in all his misplaced arrogance and pride, has attempted to make himself like God. But the Almighty wants us to know that there is no one else like Him. The kings of the earth can plot and plan, dreaming of world domination and a global kingdom of their own making. But they will fail. And the day is coming when God will defeat all the kings and nations of the earth, bringing to a final and abrupt end their attempt to replace Him as the sovereign ruler of the universe. And in Revelation 11, John hears the voices of the 24 elders as they bow before God, seated on His throne in heaven, and sing:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
    the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
    but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
    and reward your servants the prophets,
    as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
    from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
    all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:16-17 NLT

God eventually dealt with the Assyrians. And when the Babylonians showed up on the scene, He handled them as well. All the great nations of the earth have come and gone. Every single king, dictator, president, ruler and human authority has eventually fallen from power and, in time, died. And most of their kingdoms have come to untimely ends.

The absurdity is that others have followed them, thinking that they will be the ones to establish their own dominions and rule the world according to their own sovereign will. But they fail to recognize one very important thing: God. He is in charge. The world and all that exists within it and on it belongs to Him. His purpose is supreme. His will is certain. His power is unmatched. And His plan will be accomplished.

For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:27 ESV

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