They Have Sinned Against the Lord

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
    so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.Zephaniah 1:14-18 ESV

Zephaniah is warning of two judgments to come. One will involve the people of Judah. The other will include the rest of humanity, as well as all beasts, birds, and fish. What makes reading these prophetic passages so difficult is that the timeline regarding these future judgments is unclear. The prophet seems to combine portions pertaining to each judgment into one message, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between the two. He uses a single phrase to reference both judgments: The great day of the Lord.

This speaks of a day, an actual point in time when God will display His wrath against sinful mankind. But it is important to recognize that Zephaniah is foretelling the coming judgment of Judah, the people of God, and the far-more-distant judgment of mankind. These are two separate events that will both be seen as “great days” because they will each involve the inescapable wrath of God against the sins of men.

And Zephaniah makes it quite clear that the coming judgments of God will be due to sin. God is not capricious or cavalier. He does not have an anger-management problem. The book of Ezekiel describes God as persistently patient and kind, having displayed amazing self-control, even in the face of mankind’s ongoing refusal to honor Him as their Creator and God. But God will not put up with humanity’s rejection of Him forever. As a holy God, He cannot allow sin to remain unpunished. The guilty must be condemned and face the righteous consequences for their acts.

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. – Ezekial 36:23 ESV

And Zephaniah states that the great day of the Lord is coming on sinful mankind “because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:17 ESV). King Solomon added his assessment of the problem: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And centuries later, the apostle Paul would provide his own Spirit-inspired take on the problem: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

In verses 14-16, Zephaniah describes the day of the Lord as being near. It is barreling down the track like an out-of-control freight train, with no means of stopping its devastating arrival.

It will be…

…a day of wrath
a day of distress and anguish
… day of ruin and devastation
a day of darkness and gloom
…a day of clouds and thick darkness
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry

It will be marked by bitterness and distress. It will involve great suffering and, ultimately, death. And there will be no escape.

These descriptors were meant to apply to the coming judgment of Judah, which would take place with the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. But they also describe the final day of the Lord, which will occur at the end of the seven-year period of time called the Great Tribulation – an end-times event that will precede the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

Both of these events, the defeat of Judah by the Babylonians, and the final judgment of all mankind at the hand of Christ are examples of the “day of the Lord.”

“As employed by the prophets, the Day of the Lord is that time when for His glory and in accordance with His purposes God intervenes in human affairs in judgment against sin or for the deliverance of His own.” – Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

When Zephaniah described the day of the Lord as being near, he was not exaggerating. He was not using hyperbole. We know from the opening lines of the book that Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC). We also know that the first deportation of Jews to Babylon took place in 605 BC. Josiah died in 609 BC, and his son, Jehoahaz, replaced him on the throne. But his reign would last just three months, and he would be succeeded by his brother, Jehoiakim. At this point, the Babylonians had already begun their conquest of the region, demanding tribute payments from the occupants of the land. Jehoiakim joined the other nations in the area by sending exorbitant sums of money to Nebuchadnezzar in an effort to stave off further destruction. In spite of these ransom payments, Nebuchadnezzar began deporting the people of Judah in 609 BC.

When Zephaniah delivered this prophetic word concerning the coming day of the Lord, the end was nearer than anyone could have imagined. No more than five years remained until the pending judgment would begin. The deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon would ultimately be accompanied by the destruction of Jerusalem. And before the city fell, there would be a prolonged siege followed by intense fighting and the total annihilation of the city.

The people of Judah would no longer be able to buy their way out of trouble.

Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the Lord. – Zephaniah 1:18 ESV

Once God made His decision to bring judgment against His people, there would be nothing they could do to prevent it. The opportunity to repent would no longer exist. The hope of buying more time by bribing the Babylonians would end. God’s patience with His people will have run its course, and the promise of His judgment will find its fulfillment.

But notice how this chapter ends.

In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. – Zephaniah 1:18 ESV

This is one of those instances where the two different judgments being predicted by Zephaniah seem to overlap, creating a somewhat confusing and difficult to comprehend scenario. In the same verse, he warns that the people of Judah would be unable to buy their way out of God’s judgment, but he also warns that God’s judgment will result in the complete destruction of all the inhabitants of the earth.

The question that must be asked is whether this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. And the answer is obviously, “No.” The inhabitants of the earth still exist. The earth itself has not yet been consumed. So, it would make sense that there are two judgments involved. One, in the not-so-distant future that will involve the nation of Judah. The other, in the as-yet-to-be-revealed future that will involve all the nations of the earth.

It is clear, from the historical record, that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. It is also clear that after 70 years in captivity in Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return to the land of Canaan. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, a remnant of the people were given permission by King Cyrus to return to the land, rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore its walls, and renovate the long-abandoned temple. The sacrificial system would be reinstituted, and the celebration of Passover reinstated to the annual calendar.  In keeping with His covenant promise, God would restore the Israelites to the land He had given them. And they remain in that land to this day.

And their restoration to the land was in order that God might one day send His Son in human flesh, born as a descendant of King David, into the tribe of Judah. But as the apostle John points out, Jesus would come to His own, but they would refuse to receive Him (John 1:11). And John adds that Jesus came into the world He created, “yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10 ESV).

The first advent of Jesus into the world was marked by rejection. The vast majority of the world, including His own people, the Jews, would refuse to accept Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And their rejection of Him would take the form of their demand for His crucifixion. The prophet Isaiah predicted that when Jesus came, He would be “despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT).  Rather than accept Him, the people would turn their backs on him and look the other way. He would be despised, and no one would care.

But there is a day when Jesus will come again. He will have a second advent or arrival on earth, but this time He will come to bring judgment. It will be the great day of the Lord when, as Robert Patterson put it, “God intervenes in human affairs in judgment against sin or for the deliverance of His own.”

God’s plan for mankind extends well beyond the people of Judah and the time period in which Zephaniah prophesied. He is providing through His prophet a glimpse into His full redemptive plan, which will find its final fulfillment in the Second Coming of Christ and the pouring out of His judgment upon unrepentant humanity. But all those who have placed their faith in God’s Son will find forgiveness for their sins, restoration to a right relationship with Him, and the joy of unbroken, undiminished fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Sin will be punished. Faith will be rewarded. The earth will be made new. The saints of God will receive their resurrected bodies. And the joy of the eternal state will begin and never end.

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 Return of the King!

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.– Matthew 24:15-31 ESV

Francesco_Hayez_017.jpg

In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, we have Jesus giving His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end of the age. As His upcoming death and eventual departure drew nearer, He prepared His followers to set their hopes on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has still not happened. 

Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the Old Testament book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all his fellow Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land of Canaan after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching, and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.

Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:

“Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.” – Daniel 9:25 ESV

Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, a remnant of the Israelites would return to Judah at the end of the 70 years of exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This was a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This was a reference to Jesus’ eventual death.

But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.

26 “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Discourse. He too mentioned a time yet to come. The prophetic words of Jesus describe a series of future events, and they are complex, confusing, and controversial. Jesus told the disciples that there would be difficult days. When these future events occur, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs. 16). They should not bother packing (vs. 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs. 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs. 19). Those who are alive at that time should pray that nothing hinders their departure, including bad weather or the Sabbath itself (vs. 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs. 21). Then Jesus stated that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs. 22). And while all these things will leave the impression that Jesus’ return is near, no one knows the actual day (vs. 23-28).

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 NASB

Here, Jesus describes what is known as the Great Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. But before this all takes place, the Church will be removed or raptured. Jesus will return to the earth in order to gather all the believers who remain. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers will result in the removal of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained and unadulterated evil on the earth. This period of tribulation will be accompanied by the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of intense persecution of the people of Israel, greater than anything they have ever experienced. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.

The Return of the King!

These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ.  The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT

The disciples would not live to see this day. Neither will we. And Jesus informs us that no one knows when this day will happen.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch those who are living at the time unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But during the period of tribulation, there will be those who, by the grace of God, come to faith in Jesus Christ. There will be 144,000 whom God will save and appoint as His missionaries to the nations. They will lead countless people to Christ from every tribe, nation, and tongue. Then Jesus will return.

“And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” – Matthew 24:31 NLT

Jesus says that there will be two men working in a field. One will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect will be taken. This clearly indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. And His second coming will include a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.

Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they were to live in readiness. And, as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. We are not to allow ourselves to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency. Jesus warns:

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, and then leave them. And they would be responsible for carrying out His commission to share the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result, and many of them would die martyr’s deaths. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return.

And, as modern-day believers, we need to share the same long-term perspective, focusing our attention on the end that God has in store. Jesus has promised a future day that will feature “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 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.

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

The Morning Light From Heaven

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:12-17 ESV

Once again, it seems that Matthew fast-forwards his account of the life of Jesus, skipping over about a years worth of ministry. A comparison with John’s Gospel reveals that not long after His baptism and temptation, Jesus had made His way to Galilee (John 1:19-2:12), where He began His public ministry. But then He returned to Judea in order to attend the Passover in Jerusalem (John 2:13-3:21). John reveals that sometime after Passover, Jesus made His way into the Judean wilderness, where He performed baptisms, just as John had been doing.

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). – John 3:22-24 ESV

After this brief time in the Judean wilderness, Jesus and His disciples made their way through the region of Samaria, where Jesus encountered the woman at the well (John 3:22-4:42). It was after this that they returned to Galilee, and this is the point at which Matthew picks up the story.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. – Matthew 4:12 ESV

It seems rather significant that Matthew would choose to begin His recounting of Jesus’ earthly ministry with the arrest of John the Baptist. The arrest and imprisonment of this well-known cult figure would have been the talk of all Judea. If you recall, John had amassed quite a following.

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:5-6 ESV

Even the religious leaders of the Jews had been showing up in the Judean wilderness, seeking to be baptized by John. So, his arrest would have caused quite a stir, especially when you consider the reasons behind it.

…it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. – Mark 6:17-20 ESV

This has all the trappings of a modern soap opera script. Herod had married his brother’s wife, and John had called him out on it in public. And while Herod had a healthy fear of John, Herodias wanted him silenced. So, Herod had him imprisoned. And this is the point at which Matthew picks up the story. But why?

The apostle John provides us with at least a partial answer, and he does so by relaying the words of John the Baptist himself.

At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism. (This was before John was thrown into prison.) A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew over ceremonial cleansing. So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:23-30 NLT

It’s unlikely that  John the Baptist knew the prophetic nature of his words. He fully understood that Jesus was the Messiah and that his own role was subordinate and subservient. He knew his job had been to prepare the way for the anointed one. Yet, when John the Baptist found himself in jail and heard all that Jesus was doing, he seemed to have second thoughts or at least some doubts about Jesus’ actions.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” – Matthew 11:2-3 NLT

Perhaps John was a bit surprised and disappointed that Jesus was not displaying the characteristics of a Messiah. Like the rest of the Jews of his day, John may have been expecting a slightly more regal demeanor from the long-anticipated Messiah. But Jesus seemed to be doing the very same things John had done before His arrest. He was even preaching the very same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

But the arrest of John the Baptist provided an immediate end to his ministry. He was removed from the scene, and his followers would now be forced to choose between following him or Jesus. John had performed his role faithfully and well. He had done what he had been sent to do. Now, the focus was shifting from the preparatory work of John the Baptist, who heralded the coming King, to the King Himself. The Messiah had come.

And Matthew records that this inaugural phase of Jesus’ ministry was accompanied by a change in ministry headquarters.

And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali… – Matthew 4:12 ESV

Once again, Matthew wastes no time in linking the details of Jesus’ life with the Old Testament prophecies that told of a miraculous future for the nation of Israel. He picks up a key passage found in the writings of Isaiah and associates it with Jesus’ decision to relocate His ministry headquarters to Capernaum.

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:1-2 NLT

And the apostle John would recognize and relate this prophetic link between Jesus and the light.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. – John 1:9 NLT

And Jesus would pick up this theme, describing Himself in terms that reflect His understanding of His prophetic mission.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” – John 8:12 NLT

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” – John 12:46 NLT

But Jesus provides a sobering assessment of the world’s response to His arrival.

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:19 NLT

The Light of the world had come, but the residents of the world preferred the darkness over the Light. And Jesus makes it clear that there will be those who will run from the Light out of fear of having their sins exposed. But there will be others who will find life in the Light invigorating and liberating.

All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:20 NLT

In a sense, John the Baptist’s light was fading. His job was complete, and now it was time for Jesus to shine. Even Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had been given a Spirit-inspired insight into his son’s future role. At the news of his son’s birth, Zechariah had prophesied:

“And you, my little son,
    will be called the prophet of the Most High,
    because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
    through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 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

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B.

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 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

Cast Out of Eden

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations.

3 Fire devours before them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
    but behind them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.
Joel 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Judah was still reeling from the devastating impact of a locust plague. Their crops and vineyards had been destroyed, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Even the herds and flocks in the fields had been left wandering in search of food. And the priests found themselves with no grain or wine to use as offerings to God in the temple. As a result, Joel had called the people to assemble for a national day of mourning and fasting, and had warned them, “cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:14-15 ESV).

Joel was demanding that the people repent of their sins and warning them failure to do so would result in further judgment from God. If they thought the locusts were bad, they were in for a very unpleasant surprise. In these verses Joel describes a second of judgment that was headed their way, and he refers to it as “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is found throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament and is typically used to refer to the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for the world. The day of the Lord will entail the final judgments of God against all mankind, but also the fulfillment of His promises to Israel. It will include the period known as the Great Tribulation, when God will pour out a series of devastating judgments on the world and its inhabitants, but also the second coming of Christ, when He will defeat the enemies of God and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has a day of reckoning.
He will punish the proud and mighty
    and bring down everything that is exalted. – Isaiah 2:12 NLT

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT

The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15

As was often the case with these proclamations of pending doom, the prophets were communicating a two-phase judgment. The first phase would take place in the not-so-distant future. It would come in the form of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies, and end in the defeat and subjugation of the people of God. But these prophecies had a second and much more distant aspect to their meaning. They were speaking of events that still wait to be fulfilled. And this is true of Joel’s words as well.

Joel warns the people of Judah to sound an alarm. They were to blow the shofar or ram’s horm as a warning signal to the nation, declaring the arrival of an enemy army. Joel wants the people to feel a sense of urgency. This was not to be viewed as a remote possibility, but as a divine reality. He warns them that “the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1 ESV). He is trying to convey as sense of imminence and immediacy. They can’t afford to ignore his warning or to assume the sound of the shofar is a false alarm.

Joel breaks the news that “a great and powerful people” were headed their way. And their numbers would be so great that they would shroud the land like a blackness. In fact, he states that “their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations” (Joel 2:2 ESV). This was not a case of prophetic hyperbole. Joel isn’t crying wolf or trying to elicit a response by exaggerating the circumstances. He is a prophet of God proclaiming the word of God. 

What makes the writings of men like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah so fascinating is that they provide us with proof of God’s Word. He speaks and things happen. He provides His prophets with insights into future events and those things take place, just as He predicted. God never issues idle threats concerning coming judgment. He doesn’t bluff about His hatred for sin and His determination to punish His people for their rebellion. The day of the Lord is coming. God will repay all men for the evil deeds and will fulfill every promise He has made concerning His blessings and curses.

In the following verses, Joel will describe the arrival of a mighty army, using words and phrases meant to remind the people of Judah of the most recent insect invasion they had experienced. But this time, it would be armies made up of men, not arthropods. Rather than facing crop-consuming locusts, the people of Judah would become the victims of human enemies who destroy all who stand in their way. Where the insect hordes had devastated the land of God, the human army will destroy the people of God.

It is interesting to note that Joel describes the land as being like the garden of Eden prior to the coming judgment. But when it is all over, the land will be a desolate wilderness. This description is intended to reflect a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The garden of Eden was a beautiful, God-created place of perfect peace, where Adam and Eve enjoy unbroken fellowship with their Maker. But when sin entered into the scene, the guilty pair were cast out of the garden and denied access to God’s presence. They lost their right to enjoy God’s provision and presence. And instead of being blessed by God, they found themselves under His curse.

That is point Joel seems to be making. The land had already been devastated by the locusts. The fields were empty of produce and the trees and vines had been stripped bare of fruit. But it was still Edenic, because God was there. They still enjoyed the presence of God. Yet, Joel warns, the day was coming when the garden-like nature of Judah would be turned into a wilderness, devoid of the fruit of God’s power and presence. God would even resort to their removal from His land of promise, sending them into captivity in Babylon.

God is serious about sin, and He holds His people responsible for their actions. Adam and Eve had known the rules, but they had chosen to disobey them. And they suffered the consequences. The people of Judah knew what God expected of them, but they had chosen to reject His will for their own. And now, they too would suffer the consequences. The day of the Lord was coming. Judgment was inevitable and inescapable. But as we will see, God’s warning of pending judgment is always accompanied by a call to repentance.  He longs to see His people turn away from their sin and rebellion and return to Him in humility and contrition.

All the way back at the dedication of the temple constructed by Solomon, God had promised the people of Israel:

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

That is always the heart of God. He longs to hear from His people and it is His heart’s desire to provide healing for them. But the peace of Eden will not abide the presence of sin. God requires holiness from His creation. And yet, He is going to offer the people of Judah an opportunity to return to Him in humble contrition, acknowledging their sin and their need for forgiveness and restoration.

“…return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.” – Joel 2:12-13 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

 

A Message from the Lord

1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:

2 Hear this, you elders;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
    and their children to another generation.

What the cutting locust left,
    the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
    the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
    the destroying locust has eaten. – Joel 1:1-4 ESV

As the name of the book implies, its author was an individual known as Joel. His name means “Yahweh is God,” so it would be easy to assume that his parents were faithful Israelites who raised their young son to worship the deity who had chosen the descendants of Abraham to be His prized possession. We know little about Joel, except for the name of his father, Pethuel. Joel did not come from a well-known or influential family. He had no apparent pedigree or status as a religious leader among his people. He simply introduces himself as “Joel, the son of Pethuel.”

The significant thing about Joel is not his name or his background, but the message he delivered. Even more importantly, it is the one who gave Joel the message that provides this book any weight and makes Joel someone worth giving the time of day.  He claims to be delivering “the word of the Lord.”

The Hebrew word translated as “Lord” is actually the tetragrammaton YHWH. The ancient Hebrew language in which the book of Joel was written used only consonants and no vowels. So, the name of God was written with the four letters: YHWH. When translating the Hebrew text to English, the name of God has been translated as Jehovah, Yahweh, or as it is here, Lord. The ancient Hebrews held God’s name in such high regard that they refused to speak it out loud, even when reading the Scriptures. So, when they came to a passage where the tetragrammaton YHWH was found, they would substitute the word Adonai (“Lord”).

Joel is establishing from the outset that his message has been given to him by Yahweh, the God of the Jews. And it would appear from the context of the book’s content that God’s message is directed primarily at the southern kingdom of Judah. Determining a date for when Joel penned this message is difficult and has been hotly debated over the centuries. The disagreements all revolve around the period known as the exile – referring to the time when the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by Babylonians, and the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the city destroyed. The city and its beautiful temple, built by King Solomon were ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 B.C. And it is around this year that the debate regarding the dating of the book of Joel swirls.

Basing their discussions around the exile or the time in which the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon, some argue for an early pre-exilic dating, while others defend a mid-pre-exilic timeline. Still others promote a late pre-exilic date. But the one thing they all share in common is the pre-exilic designation. In other words, they all believe that Joel wrote his book before the nation of Judah fell, and its people were taken captive to Babylon. But there is a fifth opinion out there that puts the date of the writing of Joel after the exile, designating it as being post-exilic in terms of its timing.

It seems that many who hold to the post-exilic view do so because they reject the prophetic nature of the book. In other words, because Joel’s message contains what appear to be predictions of Judah’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, he must have written it after the fact. Therefore, it is not really a book of prophecy, but a book of reflection, written in retrospect. Yet, one of the main themes in the book is the sovereignty of God. It is not meant to be a looking back at what God has done, but a revelation of what God is going to do. God is delivering through Joel a message of judgment against the nation of Judah for their unfaithfulness. They had repeatedly broken their covenant with Him, and now He was warning them what was going to happen as a result. If you adopt the post-exilic dating, the calls to repentance found in the book seem out of place and even unjust on God’s part, because if the people have already been taken captive and restored to the land, there is no opportunity or need for their repentance.

So, it would make much more sense to see this book as having been written before the fall of Jerusalem. It is prophetic in nature, containing God’s message for the people of Judah, warning of His coming judgment, calling them to repentance, and assuring them of His mercy should they do so.

But Joel opens his book with a stern message directed at the leaders, but intended for the ears of each and every citizen of Judah.

Hear this, you elders;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation. – Joel 1:2-3 ESV

The land of Judah had suffered from a devastating wave of successive locust infestations. Joel describes what appear to be four different kinds of locusts: cutting locusts, swarming locusts, hopping locusts, and destroying locusts. But it is likely that he is only trying to illustrate that the destruction took place over time, with the locusts doing increasing degrees of damage with each successive infestation.

And Joel poses the question, “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers?” This is a rhetorical question requiring no response. The answer is obviously, “No.” This was devastation on never-before-seen scale and Joel wants his readers to not miss the significance of what they have just experienced. They were to spread the word and retell the story for generations to come. And this command from Joel reflects the words of Psalm 78.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders. – Psalm 78:1-4 NLT

They were not to hide the glorious deeds of the Lord from their children. And in this case, Joel commands them to tell their children about the judgments of God as well. And the Psalmist goes on to provide the rationalization behind this disclosure of God’s power and mighty wonders.

   …teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God. – Psalm 78:5-8 NLT

God’s people are to paint a clear and comprehensive picture of Him. He is not one-dimensional and is not to be presented in a lopsided or incomplete manner. God is love, but His wrath cannot be overlooked or ignored. He is holy and righteous and stands in opposition to all that is unholy and unrighteous. God blesses, but He also curses. His rewards can come in both positive and negative forms, depending upon the actions of the one He is rewarding. Sin brings His condemnation and judgment. Obedience brings blessing.

Joel is issuing a stern wake-up call, demanding that the people of Judah assess their circumstances and recognize that hand of Almighty God. They could allow the devastating judgment they had just endured to draw them back to God, or they could grow “stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.”

The choice was theirs. But Joel will spend the next three chapters calling on the people of Judah to wake up and smell the coffee. He will plead with them to repent and return. He will warn of future judgment to come should they refuse. The message he was delivering was from the Lord, and it would be best if they listened.

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 Is Not Done.

17 Is it not yet a very little while
    until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
18 In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing
    and the scoffer cease,
    and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off,
21 who by a word make a man out to be an offender,
    and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,
    and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.

22 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
23 For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:17-24 ESV

The people of Judah were under the delusion that they could somehow fool God into believing that they were faithfully keeping His commands. They were observing all the annual rituals and celebrating each of the prescribed festivals on schedule, just as God had commanded. But they were just going through the motions. And, all the while, they were worshiping false gods and failing to pursue justice and righteousness. So, God described their so-called worship of Him as nothing more than lip-service. It was all an act designed to trick God into believing they were faithful and true. And, in their arrogance, they dared to say, “The Lord can’t see us. He doesn’t know what’s going on!” (Isaiah 29:15 NLT). But they were wrong.

God was the potter, and they were the clay. He knew exactly what was happening. He could even see into the deep recesses of their hearts, where the root of their problem was contained. And, while God was going to bring judgment against His people for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, Isaiah reveals that God had other plans for them as well. Their immediate fortunes would involve defeat at the hands of their enemies, the destruction of their city and the desecration of the temple. But God had more in store. He had plans for them of which they were totally unaware.

In just a very short time Lebanon will turn into an orchard, and the orchard will be considered a forest. – Isaiah 29:17 NET

This verse, while difficult for us to understand, would have been quite clear to Isaiah’s original audience. It speaks of a reversal of fortunes, a radical change in the status quo. In Isaiah’s day, Lebanon was renowned for its forests, but the day was coming when the trees once used for building ships, palaces, and siege engines would be replaced with fruit trees. The fame of Lebanon would no longer be its vast forests filled with stately cedar trees, but its orchards. A day was coming when things would be radically different.

Isaiah describes a day when the blind will see, and the deaf will hear. But there appears to be more to this than the restoration of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Notice that Isaiah states, “the deaf will hear words read from a book” (Isaiah 29:18 NLT). Just a few verses earlier, God had mentioned a sealed book that contained insights into future events.

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

The people of Judah had been unable to see what God had in store for them. And, it was because God had blinded their eyes to the truth. Even their prophets and seers were incapable of seeing the future plans of God.

Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

But Isaiah informed them that a day was coming when God would open their eyes to see and their ears to hear. The unforeseen future would become a present reality. And the ones who will benefit from God’s goodness and graciousness on that day will be the lowly and humble.

The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:19 NLT

God has a particular disdain for the prideful and arrogant. There is no place in God’s kingdom for the self-made man, the individual who sees themselves as the master of their own fate. And the Scriptures are replete with God’s outlook on the proud.

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

Toward the scorners he is scornful,
    but to the humble he gives favor. – Proverbs 3:34 ESV

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12 NLT

The day is coming when there will be no place in God’s Kingdom for those whose lives are marked by scoffing, mocking, pride, and self-sufficiency. Like the cedars of Lebanon, they will be replaced with trees that produce fruit in keeping with God’s will. And when Isaiah shared this news, everyone in his audience knew the ones at whom his words were aimed.

The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent. – Isaiah 29:20-21 NLT

God was going to hold the leaders of Judah responsible. They had misled the people and caused them to stray away from Him. As Isaiah stated in the last chapter, these men were like drunks, intoxicated by their own self-worth, and staggering around under the influence of false gods and faulty counsel.

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

But, in spite of their lousy leadership, God was going to do something remarkable for His people.

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:22-24 NLT

In that future day, when God restores the fortunes of His people, they will see, they will recognize, the will stand in awe, they will gain understanding, and they will accept instruction. Things will be radically different. Not because they will have changed their minds, but because God will have changed their hearts. And the prophet Ezekiel records the words of God explaining just how He will accomplish this amazing transformation.

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

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine that this day has not yet arrived. The people of Judah and Israel have not yet experienced this amazing transformation. And while there are those who teach that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus appeared the first time and the gospel was taken to the nations, it is hard to ignore that this promise was delivered to the people of Israel. Yes, those of us who have experienced the life-transformative power of the Gospel message are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot assume that God’s promises, made to the people of Judah and Israel have been transferred, wholesale, to the church.

Paul reminds us that we were grafted into the tree of Abraham.

So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. – Romans 11:17 NLT

But we don’t replace the nation of Israel. We are simply grafted into the tree and are allowed to share in the promises God has made to them. And Paul goes on to explain that God has a future plan for His chosen people, Israel.

And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:23-24 NLT

Yes, there have been many Jews who have come to faith in Christ over the centuries. But that does not appear to be what Paul is talking about. Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, he seems to be referring to a future time when God will do something entirely new and unique for His chosen people. Why? Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping 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

That Day.

1 In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

In that day,
“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
    I, the Lord, am its keeper;
    every moment I water it.
    Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
    I have no wrath.
Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
    I would march against them,
    I would burn them up together.
Or let them lay hold of my protection,
    let them make peace with me,
    let them make peace with me.”

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
    Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
    and fill the whole world with fruit.

Has he struck them as he struck those who struck them?
    Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain?
Measure by measure, by exile you contended with them;
    he removed them with his fierce breath in the day of the east wind.
Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for,
    and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin:
when he makes all the stones of the altars
    like chalkstones crushed to pieces,
    no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing.
10 For the fortified city is solitary,
    a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness;
there the calf grazes;
    there it lies down and strips its branches.
11 When its boughs are dry, they are broken;
    women come and make a fire of them.
For this is a people without discernment;
    therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them;
    he who formed them will show them no favor.

12 In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the Lord will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. – Isaiah 27:1-13 ESV

Four times in this chapter, Isaiah uses the term, “in that day,” clearly referring to a future period of time when God will bring His eschatological calendar to a close. Isaiah is informing the people of Judah that there is a day coming when God will bring about a series of unprecedented events that will coincide with the parousia or Second Coming of Christ.

First, Isaiah describes the destruction of Leviathan. There has been much debate over the centuries as to the identity of Leviathan. Described as a swift-moving coiling serpent and a dragon, this creature figured prominently in Canaanite mythology. References to Leviathan are found in the book of Job and in several of the Psalms. In this context, Isaiah seems to be using this mythological sea creature to describe the enemies of Israel and Judah. It is interesting to note that Satan took the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve. In the book of Revelation, the terms, serpent, and dragon, are used to describe Satan.

This great dragon – the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world – was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. – Revelation 12:9 NLT

Later on, John describes that defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ at His Second Coming.

He seized the dragon–that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan–and bound him in chains for a thousand years.Revelation 20:2 NLT

But in the context of Isaiah 28, the use of the term, “Leviathan” seems to be intended to refer to all those earthly powers that stand opposed to God and His people. During the end times, these nations will be under the direct influence of Satan himself, worshiping his human representative, Antichrist, and waging war against the people of God. During the days of the Tribulation, tens of thousands of Jews and Gentiles will be persecuted and martyred because of their faith in Christ. But Isaiah assures his readers that the day is coming when God will destroy the enemies of God and the very one who motivates their actions: Satan himself.

And Isaiah pictures Israel and Judah as a vineyard with God as its caretaker and keeper. This was a common Old Testament image for Israel. In fact, Isaiah used it back in chapter five.

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
    The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
    but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
    but instead he heard cries of violence. – Isaiah 5:7 NLT

But while Israel and Judah had failed to live up to God’s expectations, Isaiah describes a day when God will restore His vineyard to full fruitfulness. In spite of all the judgments brought against Israel and Judah, God has continued to protect and care for His people. And, one day, He will restore His people. They will become fruitful again, both physically and spiritually. With the return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth in the city of Jerusalem, the redeemed remnant of God’s people will once again enjoy unbroken fellowship with their God.

This future period of time, called the Millennial Kingdom, will last for 1,000 years and be marked by righteousness and peace. And the nations will be encouraged to make peace with God. The prophet, Zechariah, describes this future golden era on earth.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:20-23 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, describes it this way:

“In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the LORD.’ All nations will come there to honor the LORD. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 3:17 NLT

And, not to be left out, the prophet Micah adds his own take on that future time.

People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. – Micah 4:2 NLT

Isaiah makes it clear that this future day will be one in which Israel and Judah will be reunited and restored, and they will enjoy unprecedented blessings at the hand of God.

The time is coming when Jacob’s descendants will take root.
    Israel will bud and blossom
    and fill the whole earth with fruit!  – Isaiah 27:6 NLT

While there is little doubt that the church, the body of Christ, is the spiritual fulfillment of this prophecy, there is a literal aspect of this vision that must be fulfilled. Every believer in Christ has been grafted into the olive tree of Israel. Paul made this point clear to the Gentile believers living in Rome.

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

“Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.” Yes, but remember—those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t spare you either.

Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off. And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:17-24 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying here. While Gentiles have been grafted into Abraham’s tree, the root of the tree remains. And God reserves the right to graft back in any of those branches He has removed. If a wild olive branch (Gentiles) can be successfully grafted into the tree, how much more so the original, natural branches.

During the period in which we live, which is commonly referred to as the church age, we are witnessing what Paul referred to as “the mystery.” God had a plan, hidden in times past, that He revealed with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 3:6 NLT

And while Jews and Gentiles enjoy the same blessings of God, this does not nullify or negate the many promises of God that speak of a future restoration of His people, Israel. While God had been forced to punish His chosen people for their sin and rebellion, He never turned His back on them. In fact, Isaiah describes God’s wrath against the nations that persecuted and attempted to destroy Israel. They will be destroyed, but Israel will be restored.

Yet the time will come when the Lord will gather them together like handpicked grain. One by one he will gather them—from the Euphrates River in the east to the Brook of Egypt in the west. In that day the great trumpet will sound. Many who were dying in exile in Assyria and Egypt will return to Jerusalem to worship the Lord on his holy mountain. – Isaiah 27:12-13 NLT

In that day, God will do great and mighty things. He will show favor on His people once again. He will redeem and restore them. He will pour out His blessings on them. And while Gentile believers will enjoy the marvelous benefits of being grafted into the tree of Abraham, God will graciously and mercifully restore a remnant of His chosen people to the tree as well. And they will experience the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise to restore to the throne of David, a descendant who will rule in righteousness.

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

Living With the End in Mind.

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased,
    the insolent fury ceased!
The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
    the scepter of rulers,
that struck the peoples in wrath
    with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
    with unrelenting persecution.
The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
    they break forth into singing.
The cypresses rejoice at you,
    the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
    no woodcutter comes up against us.’
Sheol beneath is stirred up
    to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
    all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
    all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
    and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
    You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
    the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
    and worms are your covers.”  – Isaiah 14:3-11 ESV

As the opening verses of this chapter suggest, God is a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. And all that He promised to Abraham will come to pass. And much had already taken place by the time Isaiah was writing the book that bears his name. God had made of Abraham a great nation. The people of Israel were living in the land of Canaan, just as God had promised they would be. But they were a divided nation. Due to their unfaithfulness to God and, particularly, the unfaithfulness of Solomon, God had split their nation in two, leaving them with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both nations had experienced a succession of kings who had each proven to be far-from-godly in terms of their leadership. They had promoted idolatry and modeled unfaithfulness to their people. So, while God had kept His part of the covenant, the people had failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Because there was a second covenant made between God and His people, and we find it recorded in the book of Exodus.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

Unlike the covenant made with Abraham, this covenant was conditional. Notice the word, “if.” They were going to be required to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant. And part of that covenant would include the Ten Commandments, which were given by God a short time later. The whole purpose behind this covenant was to set apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. They were to be distinctive and different. Their lives were to be ruled by a different set of standards, provided to them by God. And by living according to this divine standards, they would be separated or sanctified from the pagan nations surrounding them. And through their willful obedience to God’s law, the people would be assured of God’s blessings.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But if they failed to keep their end of the covenant agreement, they would experience the curses that come from disobedience to His law.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The lists of blessings and curses are lengthy and quite specific. And sadly, by the time Isaiah had begun to prophesy, the people of Judah and Israel had begun to experience more curses than blessings. They were reaping the rewards of their unfaithfulness to God.

But what makes this section of Isaiah so remarkable is that God is reminding His people that He will continue to be faithful to them in the midst of their unfaithfulness. They may have failed in their obligation to keep the law of God, but He would not fail to keep His promises to Abraham. It’s interesting to note that, when Moses had delivered the covenant requirements to the people of Israel in the Sinai wilderness, they had eagerly and enthusiasticaly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). But little did they know that their promise would fall far short of reality.

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because in these verses we find God committing Himself once again to save His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. He predicts a day when the people of Israel will taunt the king of Babylon, casting dispersions against the one who had destroyed their once-great city and taken them captive. Keep in mind, all of this was being disclosed to the people of Judah long before the events themselves had taken place. God is providing them with a glimpse into their future – a future that will include devastating judgment, but also merciful and undeserved restoration. They will experience the curses of God because of their disobedience, but also the blessings of God because of His covenant faithfulness.

In spite of all that was going to happen to them, they would one day find themselves in a position to flaunt their newfound freedom in the face of their former oppressors.

And, as we have seen before, this prophecy must be examined closely in order to determine if it has fully taken place. Has it been fulfilled some time in the past? Or is there some aspect of what God is promising that is “not yet”?

First of all, God promises a future time marked by “rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3 ESV). While the people of Judah would return from Babylon after 70 years in captivity, their tenure in the land from that point forward would be far from restful and free from pain and suffering. Yes, they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore the temple and repopulate the land, but they would have no king and find themselves the 80-pound weakling on a block full of much bigger and more powerful bullies.

And yet, God speaks of a day when “the oppressor has ceased” and He has broken the staff of the wicked. He describes a whole earth that is “at rest and quiet.” Verse eight seems to describe a time of peace, because the trees rejoice in the fact that they will not be chopped down to make weapons of warfare. The forests will stand intact, no longer falling to the axes of the enemies who use their wood to build seige engines and fuel their fires.

Everything about these verses seems to speak of a time that has not yet come. While there are aspects of this prophecy that have been fulfilled in part, God is describing a time far into the future that remains as yet unfulfilled. His timeline if far lengthier than ours. His prophetic calendar goes well beyond centuries or millenniums of time. While we focus on the here-and-now, God has His sights set on the hereafter. He knows how the story ends. His plans for Israel and Judah extend far beyond the days of Abraham, Moses, David, or Elijah.

One of the amazing things about the Word of God is the way it paints a comprehensive and cohesive picture of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible is one book containing a single story of God’s plan for the world He has created. It provides us with a complete overview of His entire strategy, from start to finish. And, in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into “that day” when much of what we read in Isaiah 14 will actually be fulfilled. John writes:

After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor. He gave a mighty shout:

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:1-3 NLT

While we view Babylon as little more than a once-great city whose fame is little more than ancient history, God knows that it will play a significant part in the future. It is far than just a city, it represents all that is opposed to God in this world. It is the poster-boy for pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, immorality, idolatry, materialism and human achievement. This former icon of man’s power and prestige will show up again in the end times, reviving the same attitude that marked the people of Babel when they tried to build a tower to the heavens. Rather than multiply and fill the land according to God’s command, they had determined to build a city and a reputation for greatness.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Some things never change, like the pride and arrogance of man. But God reveals that a day is coming when His people will rejoice over the demise of Babylon. And He is speaking of far more than an ancient civilization that has been long-gone. He is letting us know that there is a day coming when another Babylon, a far greater and more powerful nation, will also suffer defeat at His hands.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

And just as He told the people of Judah they would one day rejoice over the fall of ancient Babylon, they will also rejoice over the fall of the Babylon that is to come.

Rejoice over her fate, O heaven
    and people of God and apostles and prophets!
For at last God has judged her
    for your sakes. – Revelation 18:20 NLT

God always has the end in mind. And the thing we have to constantly remember is that the end God has in store will fulfill each and every promise He has ever made.

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

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

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

A Full End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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