We continue spending time in the prophets this week. They’re inviting the people to remain faithful to the covenant, yet announcing judgment for their continuing disobedience. Isaiah’s first 39 chapters are mostly bad news – though there are a few glimpses of hope. Hosea is given the task of being a living parable of Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel when the Lord tells him to take a prostitute as a wife and pursue her amid all her unfaithfulness to him. Truly the Lord is gracious and merciful and slow to anger.
In these chapters, Isaiah’s attention turns toward the enemies of God’s people – Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, and Damascus. Judgment might have begun at the house of the Lord, but it didn’t end there. It does extend to the godless nations who persecute and destroy Judah. In chapter 13, it becomes clear the though Babylon may take Judah into exile, Babylon will ultimately be crushed. In chapter 14, the LORD says he will restore Jacob and again choose Israel – this time, though, sojourners (foreigners, non-ethnic Israel) will join God’s people and taunt their former oppressor, Babylon. Likewise, the Assyrians and Philistines will be crushed. The Moabites will be undone because they sought the wrong gods and the wrong king. Don’t skip over the quick glimpse of the coming King we get in 16:4-5. Again, in chapter 17, Damascus will be judged.
We continue with oracles about the nations surrounding Judah. We begin with Cush (likely Ethiopia in today’s world), but their oracle is odd. It’s definitely judgment because their nearly-ripe grapes are cut off from trees and left to the animals. But, they will bring tribute to the Lord…which I take to be a prophetic glimpse of the interaction between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Oracles continue in chapter 19 with Egypt, which will be conquered by a strong and harsh king. But we ought not skip past Egypt too quickly because an odd thing happens at the end of chapter 20. Egypt and Assyria are both united to Israel…and Egypt is called “my people”, Assyria named “the work of my hands”, and Israel “my inheritance.” This is a huge hint that the worship of Yahweh was always intended to go global and was never intended to remain within ethnic Israel. In chapter 21, Babylon’s fall is predicted. In chapter 22, the oracle of judgment finally comes to Jerusalem. When the Lord brought destruction on Jerusalem, the people did not look to the Lord. They partied until their death, instead. But the Lord has a plan for his house and his people. He will fling them into exile, but afterwards he will set over them a faithful priest (Eliakim – see Matthew 1:13) who will hold the key to the kingdom of David.
Judgment continues (I told you the first 39 chapters were mostly bad news). This time, Tyre and Sidon come under the gun – but their destruction is only for 70 years – because the Lord has purposed that her merchandise and wages will one day be “holy to the Lord” for supplying food and clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. In chapter 24, the whole earth is under judgment, yet there are people from all four corners of the earth who are singing and giving glory to the Lord. After the whole earth is judged, the Lord will swallow up death, keep his people in perfect peace, and redeem Israel. If that’s pattern doesn’t sound familiar, I’d invite you to consider these chapter 25-26 in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’d also invite you to consider Isaiah 27 in light of John 15.
Hezekiah and Eliakim help the people remain momentarily faithful to the Lord – and the Lord honors it by preserving Jerusalem from the Assyrians. 2 Chronicles gives us a bit more detail about the extent of Hezekiah’s repentance – even celebrating the Passover and declaring the Lord’s grace and mercy. “Since the time of Solomon there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” – that’s how bad it had been. In the midst of revival, you can imagine the people singing Psalm 48, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised….We have thought on your steadfast love…”
Remember, the prophets are concerned with covenant faithfulness. Hosea is a living parable of Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant partner, Yahweh. Instead of worshipping him according to their agreement, they have worshipped other gods. They have been adulterous. And yet, the Lord allures them into the wilderness. Exile is the Lord’s way of drawing Israel back to himself, of stripping Israel of the wealth and prosperity and comfort they’ve grown accustomed to. The love of God’s people is like the morning dew which fades quickly.
The sacrifices, the rituals, the prophets, the priests have all played the whore. They have all turned away from the Lord and led the people astray. Israel’s love for the Lord has been fickle from the first. Even when Israel was blessed, their blessing multiplied their pride and idolatry (10:1-2). The more the Lord revealed his steadfast love, the harder Israel’s heart became (11:2). You can hear the Lord’s heart for Israel growing and throbbing with love – even as he disciplines. His very heart bursts forth in Hosea 14 as he pleads for them to return. Pay attention in 14:4-7 to the pronouns “he” and “they”. I believe it’s a hint that there is one who will truly represent Israel and truly be faithful to the covenant and through “him” will “they” find shelter and flourishing.
More judgment interspersed with glimpses of hope today. In chapter 28, judgment is simultaneously an oracle of deliverance and judgment. Hope for those who believe, disaster for those who do not walk in the Lord’s ways. So, let’s set our feet on that cornerstone, that sure foundation so that we need not live our lives in haste. There comes a point in our persistent disobedience when the words of the Lord are foreign to our ears and sealed to our understanding (in Romans, Paul says God ‘gave us up to debased minds that suppress the truth’). The people of Israel drew near to the Lord with their mouths while their hearts were far from him. That’s the most unsettling line in today’s reading for me because I see the seeds of that in my own life – as someone always near to the things of the Lord – and I see it in our cultural Christianity as well. When our hearts are far from the Lord, we begin to look elsewhere for hope and protection, which is exactly what the Lord warns his people of in Isaiah 30 – don’t go looking to Egypt for political protection or help. There is a better source of help. You have a God who waits to be gracious and merciful to you. He shall draw near to you and be your Teacher. He will show you the ways to walk and the paths to follow.