Daily Reflections June 14, 2017
Historically speaking, there are three significant empires that play prominent roles in the book of Isaiah. Understanding the way in which these nations exist in relation to one another and in relation to Israel helps us to understand this book and its imagery.
Assyria is the first of the three. She is a mighty, terrorizing force who destroys the Northern Kingdom of Israel and comes all the way to the walls of Jerusalem in the South. Hezekiah, King of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, pleaded with the Lord for mercy. God sent an angel in the night and destroyed the Assyrian threat (Isaiah 37). Isaiah’s ministry takes place during the reign and demise of Assyria, but he prophesies about two mighty nations who will rise to power.
The second empire is Babylon. They entered the narrative in chapter 39. Envoys arrived in Jerusalem and were given a tour by King Hezekiah wherein he paraded before them the wealth of his kingdom. Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah that Babylon would return to carry away Israel’s treasures and that they would destroy all but a remnant of God’s people. A generation later, the prophecy would be fulfilled as Babylon would go on to sack Jerusalem and bring the Israelites home to serve as slaves.
Finally, Persia comes to power and, under the leadership of King Cyrus, destroys the Babylonian forces 70 years after Israel’s exile to Babylon. King Cyrus issues a decree that allows God’s people to return home and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
In Isaiah 46, all three of these nations can be seen either in the text or just beneath the surface. God’s people are disheartened. They have received deliverance from Assyria but what good is that deliverance if they will subsequently be taken away by the Babylonians? God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to remind his people that the nations are not ultimately in control. They never were! God does as He pleases and He is not thwarted by human empires, no matter how impressive they may appear to the human eye.
In verses 1-2 and 6-7, God mocks the idols of Babylon. The Babylonians grew weary of carrying the “gods” that they built with their own hands. In contrast to the nations who exhaust themselves hauling around their powerless idols, God reminds the Israelites that it is they who are carried by Him (v4). The True God is not carried in a cart.
The Persians come into the narrative in verse 11. They are pictured as a bird of prey coming in from the East as a tool for God’s deliverance. King Cyrus, a man who had not yet been born and who would not be known to history for another 150 years, is already set aside in God’s plan to destroy the Babylonians and to send the Israelites home.
There is much to be said from this text about the folly of idolatry. How many people are laboring every day, striving to build up the idol of financial freedom? The god that they are pouring out their life for is unable to save them, and they are working their fingers to the bone to prop him up. If only they would listen to the saving God who says:
“even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:4 ESV)
The heart of this text is the all-encompassing sovereignty of God. The Israelites were afraid of the Babylonians, and by all human accounts they were right to fear. But God stands above our human renderings. He removes kings and sets up kings (Daniel 2:21). Before Babylon established her power, God had already set in motion their demise. The Israelites had a lofty view of their opponents. What they needed was a lofty view of their God. As do we.
Pastor Levi denBok
Chapter 16 describes the outpouring of the seven bowls of wrath upon the earth. A careful study reveals the parallels between the trumpets and bowls of Revelation and the plagues of the Exodus. These bowl judgments follow the Exodus plagues quite closely.
Here is an overview of the seven bowls of the targeted wrath of God:
- The first bowl brings ugly, festering sores on those who have the mark of the beast
- The second bowl turns the sea into blood and every living creature in it dies
- The third turns the fresh water into blood
- The fourth causes the sun to scorch the people of the earth
- The fifth plunges the throne of the beast and his kingdom into darkness
- The sixth dries up the waters of the Euphrates river, allowing the kings from the east to gather for battle
- The seventh brings a worldwide cataclysmic earthquake, massive geographical upheaval and the destructive power of giant hailstones
What does this chapter teach us?
1. God is holy and he is the judge. The One who was and is, judges the earth and those who have shed the blood of his saints.
Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. (Revelation 16:5 ESV)
2. In spite of the terror of God, people refuse to repent. Rather than giving God glory, they blaspheme him even though they’ve heard the gospel.
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7 ESV)
3. He is a God over all creation. He rules over all the elements. He uses nature as a weapon of his wrath. Things never seen before in the history of the earth come as plagues from the hand of God.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31 ESV)
4. The final battle with the unholy trinity, the dragon, beast, false prophet, and the nations of the earth will occur on God’s day and in the place of his choosing. This is the great day of Almighty God Almighty. Motivated and empowered by demonic spirits, the kings of the earth will gather for war. However, it is the day of God’s decisive victory. In chapters 17 and 19 we are given further insight into God’s victory. He will unleash his full fury against his enemies. We are assured, “It is done.”
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” (Revelation 16:17 ESV)
5. Church, this chapter contains a warning for us. The first time since chapter 3, Jesus speaks. This is very reminiscent of Revelation 3:2-4, 18. Jesus is coming! However there is still time to strengthen what remains. In light of what is coming, stay awake! Be clothed in God’s righteousness in Christ. Stay faithful! God’s mercy is still to be found. Live today for Jesus Christ and share the hope of the Gospel with those around you!
Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed! (Revelation 16:15 ESV)
Associate Pastor Jody Cross