January 30, 2015.
A note on the sections of Isaiah (and probably later prophecy), I would be lying if I said that prophecy in the middle of Isaiah is simple or that I have all the answers and can tell you exactly what is going on (there is much argument even amongst scholars as to what is being referenced). What I can tell you is that the prophecy did indeed have a meaning (sometimes it there was a double fulfillment) defined by God and it is not up to private interpretation (see II Peter 1:21). Now, whether or not we are correct about our interpretations is a different story. Since I do not have the time needed to dedicate to deep study about what the prophecy means as to its fulfillment (trust me, I would absolutely love to have the time and opportunity to do so… prophecy is one of my favorite parts of Scripture), I will do my best to give background and fulfillment only when necessary (and when easier to see) and for the rest of it simply pull out some concepts of the prophecy that can show us some characteristics of God or lessons that are applicable to our lives today. These posts will be more lesson based than commentary based (as with most posts). Let’s begin.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 18-22.
Background: Isaiah 12-17.
Concepts and Connections.
In the end, the Lord will be worshipped: Though it is debated where the “land of whirring wings” is in reference to, it would seem that one of the simplest explications would be a land called Cush (or Nubia) just to the south of Egypt, a land divided by rivers. (As an interesting side note on the disagreement over to whom this oracle is directed, some would go as far to say that this is a prophecy about America and it’s impending destruction.) Regardless of who it is actually directed towards, there is a clear message: no matter how strong a land is, God will prevail. The land of whirring wings was a nation tall and smooth, feared near and far. They were a mighty nation, a warring nation. They intimidated people all around due to their conquering nature. But when the time would come for their judgment, the Lord would judge and they would fall. The oracle seems to emphasize how little effort that it would take for the Lord to overthrow the land of whirring wings, as He looks quietly from His dwelling place as the land of whirring wings is destroyed by His will. In the end, they would see that the Lord is God and they would bring a tribute to Him. In the end, the Lord would be worshipped by the nation tall and smooth, feared near and far, mighty and conquering.
1. Egypt: Egypt plays a very interesting role in its interaction with the children of Israel throughout the course of history. There were times that Egypt was a captor to the children of Israel, and other times where Egypt was an ally (see II Kings 18:19-24). Egypt was always a land that had many gods and was never righteous in the sight of God. The oracle hits on this in the opening against Egypt, citing the idols of the land and its sorcerers, predicting the coming destruction on the land by the hand of God. Many nations who acted wickedly in the sight of the Lord would receive some kind of an oracle of destruction that would predict their coming judgement because of their iniquity. The Lord is a righteous judge, and in the end His will and judgment will stand, regardless of a nations material or political success. Righteousness lifts a nation us, but sin sends reproach to any people (ref. Proverbs 14:34).
2. God’s universal mercy for the repentant: The majority of this oracle outlines the doom of Egypt, but in the end there is an interesting concept that is portrayed that seems to always hold true in Scripture. One great thing about biblical prophecy is that it can reveal characteristics of God that we may not fully understand without this revelation. Notice how this oracle ends. There is hope for Egypt, for when the Lord strikes them, they will know God and they will repent. They would appeal to Him for mercy and He would hear and heal them. They would return to the Lord and they would be blessed because of it. God’s mercy is extended to all who repent, even to the nations who were not God’s chosen people. A great example of this is found in the story of Jonah, as Jonah was sent to Nineveh to give them an oracle of destruction, and when they repented, God relented from His wrath and extended mercy (see Jonah 3). Nineveh was a wicked nation that did horrible things to the Israelites. But when they repented, God showed them mercy. This is a characteristic of God that is unchanging. Isaiah 55:7 gives the promise that if the wicked forsake their ways and return to the Lord, He will have compassion on them and pardon them. We serve a loving and merciful God, who will pardon all who repent and call on His name (see Psalm 86:5).
God’s explicit sign to the people: God told Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot for three years in order to give a sign to the people. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, a woman who would not completely love him, to give an analogy of the relationship of the children of Israel and the Lord their God (see Hosea 1:2). Jeremiah was told by God to go buy a loincloth and hide it in a rock so he could retrieve it after many days after it was spoiled (see Jeremiah 13:1-11). When it came to His prophets, there were many times that God told them to do some pretty explicit things to show a sign to His people. One might even venture to say that God gave some edgy and radical signs to the people. This is a characteristic of God that is not always focused on in Christianly today, probably due to the uncomfortable nature of it. If a person were to go around naked today as a sign from the Lord, we would label him as crazy and tell him that he shouldn’t do that. Would we do the same if we lived during the time of Isaiah? When God wants to make a point to His people, He sometimes uses elaborate measures to get His point across. When God makes a point, we should listen.
The watchman and the word of the Lord: In Ezekiel 3 and 33, the Lord sets forth a concept of Ezekiel as a watchman for the children of Israel, a voice to the people for divine warning. This concept of a watchmen also appears in Habakkuk 2. Here the concept is very similar, as a watchman has been set up to wait in anticipation for the sign of the Lord. The people were to be on lookout for the power of God and the sign He would give at His coming judgment. When the sign came to the watchman (specifically horsemen in pairs in this case), then the Lord put forth His judgement. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon!” This phrase is cited in Revelation 14:8 and 18:2 metaphorically speaking of the fall of Rome that was to come. Here the oracle is more literal, prophesying the fall of Babylon that was to come. All three oracles here are contingent on one thing: the awaiting and listening to the word of the Lord. The purpose of the watchman was to watch for the sign and then relay the word that would come to him from God. Once the word of God was spoken, it was final and would come to pass. The will of the Lord will prevail, regardless of what we have to say about it.
Jerusalem’s judgement: Though there have been many wicked nations that have been given oracles of destruction to this point, God’s wrath was not limited to the nations outside of Israel who had committed iniquity, but it also fell on His own people as they had been led astray to other gods through the influence of the peoples around them. Due to their disobedience, the Lord would send punishment on His people just as is outlined in Deuteronomy 28. The children of Israel were not excluded from the expectations of God, nor were they excluded from His judgement. We too, though we are sons of God, should take note of this fact and see that we are not excluded from the judgment of God (see II Corinthians 5:10). Fortunately, we have been washed in the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin, so long as we are walking in the light (see I John 1:7).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 8-10.
The Lord will judge.