Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Division One, Section Two: ORACLES DENOUNCING SINS OF THE NATIONS
I receive occasional emails from people who fear that “the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” As we observe the decisions our national and world leaders are making, there is much to be concerned about and to pray for. However, are we forgetting that God is in control of kings and kingdoms in our day as well as in Bible times? The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar learned that the hard way. His analysis was this: God “does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand…” (Daniel 4:35). Paul proclaimed that God “made every nation of men…and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
We tend to trust what we can see. This week’s study gives a good case for the wisdom of trusting in God rather than in other nations who are going to be judged by Him. It is evidence that God is sovereign over history. If as we see this was true in the past, then because of the eternal, unchanging nature of God, we can be confident it is also true in the present, and will be in the future.
The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand” (Isaiah 14:24).
I. DAY ONE: Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-14:23)
This week’s study will be enhanced if you take the time to locate the countries and any of the cities mentioned which you can find on your map.
A. Isaiah 13:1-22:
- The fact that God gave Isaiah a vision regarding Babylon is evidence of God’s omniscience1 as at that time it was Assyria, not Babylon, who was the enemy of Judah. In some translations this prophecy is called a burden because it was a message which was weighty or heavy and burdensome to deliver.
- Who is putting together this army against Babylon? (Isaiah 13:2-5) Verse 3 calls this army “holy ones” not because they were righteous, but because they were carrying out God’s orders.
- Describe the reaction of people to this “day of the Lord” in verses 6-9. This seems to prefigure the “Day of the Lord” which will occur before the millennial kingdom is established.
- What sin which God especially hates is specifically mentioned in verse 11?
- Assyria scattered conquered people throughout their empire, which included Babylon. What would happen to these people? (vv. 14-16)
- The Medes were a fierce people from the Zagros Mountains in what is today Iran. Verses 17-22 are challenging to interpret: The Assyrians sacked Babylon in 689 BC. It was rebuilt by Esarhaddon (689-681 BC). Babylon became a power in 626 BC. In verse 19 she is called “the jewel of kingdoms.” She had been the cultural center when under Assyrian domination, and during her height had magnificent architecture including one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC, but did not destroy it. However, this was the beginning of the end for the city of Babylon.
B. Isaiah 14:1-23:
- Although there was yet suffering ahead for Judah, Babylon’s demise assured them that God would again have compassion on them, and that in the future Judah and Israel would be united. Rather than being captives, they would be served by other nations. (vv. 1-2)
- Describe the relief of Judah and the surrounding nations at the downfall of Babylon. (vv. 3-8) Even in the realm of the dead, the disdain for Babylon is described in poetic terms. (vv. 9-20) What is the end of this mortal ruler who elevated himself above God? What stands out to you about this scene? In what way is death the “great leveler”?
- Scholars differ on whether verses 12-14 speak not merely of the king of Babylon, but also of the power behind him, Satan himself. Read Ezekiel 28:11-19 which does describe Satan.
- What will be the final result for Babylon in verses 21-23?
II. DAYS TWO and THREE: Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Cush, Egypt (Isaiah 14:24-20:6)
A. Isaiah 14:24-27 (Assyria):
- Assyria went beyond what God deemed just in her treatment of Judah and Israel (Isaiah 10:5-12), so now God would bring His judgment on her.
- What does God proclaim about His sovereignty in these verses?
B. Isaiah 14:28-32 (Philistia):
- This prophecy came in the year King Ahaz died. The date is uncertain, possibly around 716 BC. The meaning is also uncertain, but it may be a warning that although the Philistines felt safe, defeat was coming. In 711 BC, Assyria, under Sargon II, defeated Ashdod, their capital city and made Philistia an Assyrian province.
- Where is true safety found? (v. 32)
C. Isaiah 15:1-16:14 (Moab):
- Moab had been an enemy of Israel for years. (Judges 3:12-14; I Samuel 14:47;II Kings 13:20; et al)
- Isaiah 15:1-4 describes the grief and humiliation of Moab. What was Isaiah’s personal response to the distress of the Moabites? (Isaiah 15:5-9) What should our response be to the suffering of others, even when deserved?
- If the Moabites wanted to be safe, where did they need to go? (Isaiah 16:1-5 compared with Isaiah 10:24-25)
- Eventually the Messiah would rule from Jerusalem. Why could they trust Him? (Isaiah 16:5)
- Because of pride, Moab made the wrong choice. The consequences are described in Isaiah 16:6-14. The date of this prophecy is not given, so the three years warning of verse 14 might have referred to Tiglath-Pileser’s invasion in 732 BC, or perhaps to Sennacherib’s in 701 BC. Because of the specificity of this prophecy, those watching its fulfillment could know with confidence that the prophecy of Isaiah 16:5 would also be fulfilled!
D. Isaiah 17:1-11 (Syria):
- Damascus was the capital city of Aram (Syria). Aroer was on the Arnon River in Moab at the southernmost point of Syrian control. Ephraim represented the northern kingdom of Israel. These two nations (Syria and Israel) who had been causing Judah grief would soon be defeated by Assyria.
- Underline the repeated phrase, “in that day” which refers to a time of judgment2, in this case probably the Assyrian invasion.
- What hope do you see in verses 4-6?
- What desirable result will God’s discipline bring in verses 7-8?
- What reason is given for God’s discipline in verses 9-11?
E. Isaiah 17:12-18:7 (Assyria and Cush):
- Commentators suggest that the “ohs” (which can also be translated, “woes”) of verses 12-14 refer to Assyria and the fact that although verse 12 described Assyria’s strength at that time, God’s judgment would render her powerless.
- Cush included modern-day southern Egypt, Sudan and northern Ethiopia. Their language was not Semitic, so sounded strange to the ears of the Jews.
- Verses 2-6 suggest that Cush wanted to join an alliance against Assyria, but God says, “The time is not yet. Wait until I raise my banner.” Assyria had to first finish their task of taking Israel captive before God would intervene.
- What would be the ultimate state of the people of Cush? (v. 7)
F. Isaiah 19:1-25 (Egypt):
- Describe three or more different ways God would punish Egypt. (Isaiah 19:1-15)
- Underline “in that day” (5 occurrences in vv.16-25). When do you think this “day” will occur?
- Some people thought of Egypt as a safe haven to run to. Why was it not wise to trust in her? (v. 16)
- Verse 18 describes true repentance. From being worshipers of the sun, Egyptians will become worshipers of the Lord Almighty who created the sun.
- What is God’s purpose in verses 21-22?
- God loves all nations and peoples. How is that illustrated in verse 25?
G. Isaiah 20:1-6 (Egypt and Cush):
- In case Judah still preferred to trust an alliance with other nations to protect herself from Assyria, God instructed Isaiah to act out a visual prophecy. What was the interpretation?
III. DAYS FOUR and FIVE: Babylon, Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem, Tyre (Isaiah 21:1-23:18)
A. Isaiah 21:1-10 (Babylon):
- Babylon, near the Persian Gulf, would eventually be turned into a desert by the coming judgment.
- This dramatic description reminds us of the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians in 539 BC, however verses 2-4 describe this attack on Babylon as causing distress, not relief to Isaiah. In 722 BC, when Judah was threatened by Assyria, a Chaldean prince (Merodach-Baladan of Isaiah 39:1) revolted against Assyria with the support of Elam. Judah thought Babylon might break Assyria’s stronghold, but Isaiah is warning Judah not to place their hopes in Babylon. In 702 BC, Assyria conquered Babylon and Elam.
B. Isaiah 21:11-12 (Edom):
- Dumah is a wordplay on Edom which means “silence or stillness.” Assyria was taking tribute from Edom. The watchman looks to see if Edom’s situation will change soon, and the answer is “no”.
C. Isaiah 21:13-17 (Arabia):
- Arabia was also troubled by the Assyrians. Tema and Kedar were well known oases. In 715 BC, Assyria defeated and deported a number of Arabian tribes to Samaria.
- What does the authority and finality of the last sentence in verse 17 indicate about God?
D. Isaiah 22:1-25 (Jerusalem):
- Of particular concern is the way people choose to respond to judgment.
- The event being described here might be Assyria’s 701 BC invasion of Jerusalem under Sennacherib when Hezekiah was king of Judah. Verses 5-11 describe the siege.
- What is Isaiah’s response to this judgment in verses 1-4? Compare that to Judah’s response in verses 8-13. In whom were they trusting? What did God say about their response in verse 14?
- What response was God looking for? (vv.11-12) Could it be that God is looking for this response from our nation as we face political, military and economic challenges? Could this be the response God wants from you and me when we face personal crises?
- Shebna’s pride caused him to look out for “number one” as he tried to leave a legacy for himself while negotiating with Sennacherib (vv. 15-19). Therefore God replaced him with Eliakim. (See II Kings 18:26-19:2.) But the time would come “in that day” (v. 25) when even this honorable man would be removed from office when Judah was taken into captivity.
E. Isaiah 23:1-18 (Tyre):
- Phoenicia depended on trade with other Mediterranean countries through its port cities of Tyre and Sidon. The destruction of Tyre was devastating to the economy. The cities which traded with Tyre were also in despair. Read the description in verses 1-14.
- Who planned the destruction of Tyre? Why? (v. 9)
- Comparing verses 2, 8-9 and 18, do you think it was Tyre’s wealth or the way she used it which was the problem?
- Trade with Tyre was cut off between 700 and 630 BC (vv.15-17). Some think that verse 18 refers to the later use of materials from Tyre in the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile (Ezra 3:7).
- To Judah, these prophecies meant that after first disciplining His own people, God would then turn to the nations. What does it mean to us? We have enjoyed many years of being a strong nation. Should our trust be placed in our nation or should it be placed in God? Could it be that our nation will come under God’s judgment in the near future? If persecution does come to us, what comfort does God’s sovereign justice give to you?
- These are difficult chapters to read, but they contain lessons for us as well as for Judah:
- God is sovereign over nations and over history.
- God hates pride.
- God disciplines nations for the way they treat each other.
- God also will judge those people who reject Him (II Thessalonians 1:8-10). His desire, however, is that we turn to Him for blessing instead (II Peter 3:9). Therefore He has sent His followers into the world as His ambassadors bearing that good news (II Corinthians 5:20).
- God always provides hope for His people.
- Ponder these and other lessons from these chapters and personalize them; journal in your own words one or two which stand out to you.
- Journal what you have learned about God, His sovereignty and/or other attributes which are an anchor for you to hold on to in your times of stress or crisis.
1. That God would identify Isaiah so clearly in 13:1 gives further support to Isaiah also being the author of chapters 40-66 which also predicted events that would occur long after Isaiah’s death.
2. “In that day” refers to the time of God’s wrath on His enemies followed by His blessings showered on His people. In some passages, it has eschatological implications (referring to the Tribulation and the Millennium), but in others it refers only to the current situation.” John F. Walvoord, and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament (USA: Victor Books, 1988), 1064.
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