February 6, 2015.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 23-28.
Background: Isaiah 18-22.
Concepts and Connections.
Destruction of the proud: The city of Tyre has a somewhat interesting history in relation to the children of Israel. The first time the city is mentioned in the bible (besides as a reference point when Joshua was portioning out the inheritance of the promised land to the tribes of Israel) is in II Samuel 5 where Hiram, king of Tyre, sends carpenters, masons and cedar trees to build the house of David (also see II Chronicles 14). Later, Solomon works out a deal with this same king to send supplies and builders to build the temple of the Lord (see II Chronicles). Tyre was a port city (along with Sidon) that apparently was rich in cedar and cyprus, and would eventually grow very wealthy due to the commerce that would happen in the city. Unfortunately, the city would also grow arrogant and corrupt. After the positive relationship that Tyre has with Israel through David and Solomon, prophecy would turn against them because of what they had become. Their wealth had made them proud, and it was this pride that would lead to their destruction from the Lord by the hand of the Babylonians. This would be fulfilled from 586 until 573 B.C. when the city was laid siege by the king of Babylon, and would probably have a double fulfillment as Alexander the great would completely destroy the city in 539 B.C. It is interesting to note here that the prophecy against Tyre and Sidon here doesn’t only announce judgement, but it also ends with a bit of hope, with the city making somewhat of a rebound after a generation or two. The lesson that we should take from this oracle of destruction is the Lord’s hatred of pride and the consequences that it can bring upon us. Tyre had become a very prideful and corrupt city due to the material blessings that it had been afforded. If we are not careful, our material blessings can do the same to us, making us proud and causing us to forget about God.
Judgement on the whole earth: It is somewhat difficult to say with certainly to whom this oracle is given to, as the word for the “earth” could mean the “land,” in which case the prophet would likely be talking to the land of Judah due the context that follows, specifically in verse five where it speaks of the Law, referring to the Law of Moses, and the covenant. However, it is not outside the realm of possibilities that the captivity/destruction of Judah was the immediate (relatively speaking) fulfillment of this prophecy, where as the second coming of Christ and the judgement of the world will be the ultimate fulfillment, as the next two chapters deal more with the coming salvation of the Lord when He will establish His salvation to those who are called by His name. Regardless, this chapter reveals to us the ultimate power and glory of the Lord, and what He is capable of doing. Whenever we read and learn about the characteristics of God, we need not leave out any aspects of His persona. As Christians, it is sometimes difficult for us to examine the bible as a whole to get the full picture of God rather than just looking at the New Testament and the life of Christ (though the aspects of God seen here are also apparent in the New Testament when a thorough reading is pursued).
The Lord does not take lightly the iniquity and transgression of unrepentant mankind. As the oracle suggests, things may seem fine right now through the long-suffering of the Lord (see II Peter 3:8-16), when He returns and finds men living in sin, He will execute His judgment that will stand forever. In that day there will be no pleading, as the Lord will punish the hosts of heaven and the kings of earth for their transgressions. In the end, the glory of the Lord will be shown to all the nations, and everyone will know that the Lord is God. We need to be mindful of this, in so much as we see the day approaching, and rejoice at the coming of our Lord to reconcile the earth and the redeemed. That day will be terrible for those who have not known Him and those who have not obeyed the gospel, yet it will be a day of glory for the saints, just as Paul reminds the Thessalonians (see II Thessalonians 1:5-12). The glory of the Lord will be revealed in that day, but on that day it will be too late to change allegiance. Fortunately, He has made His word, the good news of salvation, open and available to the sons of men. What are we doing to spread this good news, so that we can save souls from the destruction that is prophesied here? The day of the Lord is real, and it is impending; what are we doing to prepare for it?
1. The glory of the Lord shown: When we think about the glory of the Lord, it is not uncommon for our minds to go to the depths of the sea, to the starry skies to the wondrous power of thunder as a storm makes it way past our perception. Though these are indeed magnificent wonders of God, they will not compare to the power displayed in the ultimate judgement that God will pour out on this world when all is done. The cities of the wicked He will reduce to but rubble and the place of the proud will be brought low. On that great and terrible day, all nations will know that the Lord is God, and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord (see Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11). The oracle here makes clear that no matter how terrible or ruthless the nation, all will declare the glory of God in the end; but in the end it will be too late to change allegiance. The judgment of the Lord will overthrow the wicked and cruse those who work iniquity. Then, the salvation of the Lord will be established for His people.
2. The coming glory for the saved: The western view of heaven, a place of white clouds and floating spirits, does not have all that much root in scripture, especially when it comes to prophecy in the Old Testament. Here we see the oracle’s proclamation of the coming salvation of the Lord, depicted as a feast of rich food and well-aged wine for all the peoples of the earth who have been called by His name. It is important to note here the full inclusiveness of all nations in this passage, showing that it had always been God’s plan to reconcile the Gentiles along with the Jews into His kingdom. There, as the feast is set on His holy mountain, the Lord our God shall wipe away all tears and He shall swallow up death so that it is no more. Death will no longer loom over the sons of man, for all things have been set back to as they were in the beginning, before death and sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. John echoes this concept in Revelation 21, specifically verse 4, and he speaks of death and hell being thrown into the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:14). Hosea also uses this motif, personifying death and asking him where went his sting (see Hosea 13:14). Paul combines the concept put forth in this chapter (death being swallowed up) and the questions in Hosea to teach about the coming glory of the saints in the age to come, when we shall dwell in the kingdom of God (see I Corinthians 15:50-58). This idea of heaven, more adequately based in scripture, provides a much richer idea of our experience there, to live with out God forever. Now we wait for the Lord, as the oracle says, to see His return.
1. The Judgement of the Lord: “For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” The judgments of the Lord make straight the paths of men. His judgements lead us into righteousness, holiness and purity. This is why they are necessary and helpful. This is why the psalmist could write Psalm 119 about the love of the law and the commandments. His judgments are not necessarily made to destroy the wicked (though this will indeed occur from them), but to teach the sons of men righteousness. The righteous wait on the judgment of the Lord, for though Him will they be vindicated, while the wicked will be crushed. In that day, all things will be laid out bare and He will make the ultimate righteous judgment for each soul (see II Corinthians 5:10 and Hebrews 4:11-13). For some it will be a glorious day, and for others it will be a terrible day. Are we prepared for that day?
2. Salvation and reconciliation: The beginning of this chapter may well be a continuation from the last, of the great feast of the Lord for all those who are righteous through God. Again, it is important to note that the righteous nations that keep the faith were welcomed in along with the house of Israel. On that day all mankind who wear the name of the King will enter into His rest and dwell with the Lord forever. Now we wait on the Lord, and hide ourselves for a little while until His fury passes by, when He shall punish the iniquity of the peoples of the earth. We are ever looking to that day, the day of ultimate salvation, established on the holy mountain of the Lord.
Redemption: This oracle, like others surrounding it, points to the coming day of the redemption of Israel. Things were going to be bad for a while, but there was coming a day that the remnant would be saved and allowed to enter into His kingdom. The troubles they were going through now were but temporary, that He might contend with them, not utterly cutting them off, but sending punishment so that the remnant might be reconciled in the end, much like a parent would discipline their child. The children of Israel were the wandering children of God, following after other gods and ideas and falling away from the holy One of Israel. The judgement of the Lord would come upon them, and the houses of Israel would be taken into captivity and the children of Israel would be scattered throughout the lands. But the Lord would bring the remnant back. He would establish the Christ as the King, High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (see Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:1-17). In that day, their sins would be atoned for and no longer would they serve the gods of the peoples around them. This fulfillment was in Christ, when He established His church, reconciling both the remnant of Israel and the rest of the nations under one Head, and that of Jesus.
1. Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little: This is a very interesting phrase that is used by Isaiah here. The prophet starts out with the drunken stupor of Ephraim, signifying that this was an oracle to God’s people, specifically Jerusalem/Judah, pointing out their folly and their pride. Their riches and the peoples around them had led them astray, even down to the priest and prophet that were spewing out lies to the people, giving them a false sense of hope. When the words of Isaiah reached them, however, they took offense. “Who is he teaching? Who is he talking to? Mere children? For his words are ‘precept upon precept, line upon line.'” This phrase indicates that the priest and prophets thought Isaiah’s teaching was too simplistic for them. They thought they were above the teaching. After all, they were trained in righteousness. But the oracle makes it clear that this will be their destruction, for the word of the Lord would be upon them as precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little, so that they would stumble and fall because they would not listen. We can take lesson from this to not become prideful of our ‘knowledge’ of scripture and godly concepts so as to not consider the fundamentals or study the fundamentals once again. If the Jewish leaders, who truly should have been experts in the law, could have missed the point, then so to could we have. Let us study and learn, being receptive to the word, precept upon precept, line upon line.
2. The Cornerstone: This Messianic passage is often quoted by New Testament writers, point to Christ as the Messiah, the stone that the Jewish leaders had rejected and sent to the cross to die. Luke, Paul and Peter all reference this passage as a central part of the gospel of Christ (see Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33 and I Peter 2:6). The Messiah would come to bring life, that whoever should believe in Him would not be put to shame. He would live to die and raise again, offering a sacrifice for our sins and defeating the power of death. It is in this hope, the confidence that if Christ died and was raised then we too shall be raised in a body like his, that we are saved (see Romans 6:1-5). He will set justice as the line and righteousness as the plumb line to establish His righteousness forever. We live by Him and by His example. He is our plumb line, that we might walk in His steps and with the spirit. The cornerstone that the builders rejected, this same cornerstone has been set as both Lord and Christ, so that we might have salvation and redemption through His name. All glory to Him forevermore.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 11-13.
Precept upon precept, line upon line.