Enemies destroy Babylon
v1 A special message about Babylon that God gave to Isaiah in a *vision. The message struck Isaiah like a storm of sand that a fierce wind blows from the Negeb. Terrible trouble is coming. v2 In the *vision Isaiah seemed to see a cruel sight. Those who attacked other people are now themselves suffering. And those who robbed other people are now themselves suffering. Now enemies are attacking and robbing them! Those who ruined other people are now themselves suffering. Now enemies are destroying and are ruining them! Army of Elam, attack the cities! Army of Media, surround the cities! The *Lord is ending all the miserable pain and death that the army of Babylon has caused. v3 I see in my mind what is happening. Fierce pains grip me like the pains of a woman who is having a baby. I feel awful. I do not want to listen! I do not want to look! v4 My mind is spinning. I am trembling greatly. I am desperate for the cool and calm evening to come. But when it does come, I continue to tremble.
v5 A splendid meal is ready. Carpets are on the floor. Happy people are eating and drinking. Suddenly there is a command, ‘Officers, get up at once! Prepare your arms!’
v6 Then the *Lord spoke to me. ‘Go! Order a *look-out to report what he sees. v7 The *look-out may see horsemen in pairs. Or he may see riders on horses or riders on camels. The *look-out must give very careful attention to what he sees.
v8 (The *look-out declares that he has been loyal. He has been on duty all day and all night.) v9 See, here come riders, horsemen in pairs! Here comes a man who is bringing an important message. He shouts the good news. “The city has fallen! It has fallen! It is the city called Babylon! All the images of Babylon’s gods lie in pieces on the ground!”
v10 People in Judah, you have suffered so much. But now I can declare good news to you. The *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) alone is the all-powerful God of Israel.’
Babylon was a city on the river Euphrates (see Genesis 10:10), 50 miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq.
- The Negeb (or Negev) is still today the name for the region that is south of Judah.
Elam and Media were two nations in the area of modern Iran.
Isaiah’s fierce pain was like the pain of a woman who is giving birth to her baby. This is a word in pictures that the Bible sometimes uses to describe great emotion (see Isaiah 26:17; see also Jeremiah 13:21 and Hosea 13:13).
In a *vision Isaiah sees the military leaders and the political leaders of Babylon. They are enjoying a special meal together. But bad news that they did not expect suddenly interrupts their cheerful party.
Now the *Lord speaks. He tells Isaiah to appoint a *look-out to watch for somebody who is bringing news to Judah. It will be news about one of Judah’s neighbours.
‘Horsemen in pairs’ describes Arabs who were preparing to go into battle. The horsemen each rode an animal (camel or horse). But they each also led another animal (camel or horse). That is, each horseman took two animals. The second animal was to use for a quick escape, if the enemy won the battle. The *look-out needed to work out, even from a distance, who had won the battle. This is why the *look-out had to look so carefully.
The *look-out emphasises that he is loyally doing his duty.
The broken images are evidence that the gods of Babylon were unable to protect their own city. So those gods cannot help the people in Judah or anybody else.
Only the *Lord is the true God of Israel. He can deal with every situation.
A long wait
v11 (A special message that God gave to Isaiah about Dumah.) Someone calls from the region called Seir. ‘*Look-out, how soon will the night be over? Tell me how soon the night will end.’v12 The *look-out replies that morning is coming. But so too is another night after that. ‘If you want to ask anything more, do ask. Come again to hear if there is any news to report.’
A very short message about Dumah, a small place in the desert, 300 miles south-east of *Jerusalem. Dumah was at an important cross-roads where routes from Babylon and Edom and Syria met. Merchants could exchange news about political events that could affect their trade.
- A caller (whom Isaiah does not name) in the region of Seir (a place in Edom) asks a question from a *look-out. The *look-out answers. ‘Morning’ and ‘night’ probably refer to ‘a time of peace’ and ‘a time of war’. The answer therefore warns that after a short break, war will begin again.
A message for Arabs
v13 (A special message that God gave Isaiah for Arabs who live in the region called Dedan.) Order your caravans to bring water to people who urgently need it. v14 You people in Tema, bring food to those who are hungry. v15 They are very tired because enemies have been chasing them with swords and arrows.
v16 (The *Lord gave me another special message.) In exactly one year from now, the power of the army of Kedar will definitely end. It will end on time, just as certainly as a worker’s contract ends, after exactly one year. v17 Few soldiers in Kedar’s army will remain. The *Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.
Tema was 200 miles south of Dumah. The last king of Babylon lived there. Dedan is 90 miles south of Tema. Both are in the desert between Babylon and Judah. The inhabitants of Dedan and Tema must provide help for people who are escaping south from the terrors of war.
Further south still, Kedar too, with its great army, will suffer a heavy defeat. And this defeat will happen in less than a year’s time.
God warns *Jerusalem
v1 (A special message that God gave to Isaiah about *Jerusalem’s future.) You people should not be standing on the flat roof of your houses. v2 You ought not to be making such a cheerful noise. You have not won a war. The soldiers who died did not die in battle. That supposes that your soldiers were brave. But they were afraid. They did not fight. They ran away from the enemy. But in vain. The enemy seized them. v3 And all your rulers are cowards. They too will try to run away. But the enemy will seize them without the necessity to fire one arrow.
v4 Therefore, says Isaiah, I want you people to leave me alone to weep bitterly. I know what will soon happen. All those people of mine will die! Do not try to comfort me. v5 This will be such a terrible time of noise. And a time of defeat. And a time of confusion. Enemies will completely knock down *Jerusalem’s walls. There will be noisy shouts. Your desperate cries for help will be so loud that they will reach the mountains. v6 Soldiers are arriving from the country called Elam. Horsemen are driving *chariots. They have prepared their bows and arrows. Soldiers from the country called Kir have their arms ready. v7 Your beautiful valleys are full of the enemy’s *chariots. Horsemen are taking up their positions near the gates of the city.
v8 But the *Lord has removed his protection from *Jerusalem. At that time, you will run to get military arms from the store called ‘House of the Forest’. v9 You saw that there were gaps in the walls of *Jerusalem, the City of David. You stored the water of the Lower Pool. v10 You surveyed the houses in *Jerusalem. Then you broke up some of the houses and you used the stones to make the city walls stronger. v11 You made a large ditch between the two walls of the city to hold water from the Old Pool. You did all these things. But you did not think to ask the *Lord for his help. He was the one who arranged these events long ago. And now he is causing them to happen.
The order of events is not clear to us today. But many people’s joy about the defeat of Babylon would not last long. The army that overcame Babylon will next head south. Then that army will attack Judah and *Jerusalem.
- The flat roof of houses was the usual place where people talked to neighbours and friends.
Isaiah is surprised that the happy people do not realise the real situation. An enemy is preparing to attack and Judah is without any proper defence.
Elam and Kir were probably nations in part of what is today Iran.
Enemy forces are surrounding *Jerusalem to prepare for the final attack.
‘The House of the Forest’ was the royal store for weapons (military arms) in the palace (see 1 Kings 7:2-5 and 10:17). The room was called by this name because its beautiful wood came from the famous forests in Lebanon.
- Because so many soldiers had run away, the citizens stole arms from the royal store to protect themselves.
The inhabitants of *Jerusalem needed to store water in case an enemy surrounded the city. Only a small supply of water was otherwise available.
It was the *Lord who gave *Jerusalem to David to be his capital (see 2 Samuel 5:6-10). And it was the *Lord who gave the entire country to his people (see Joshua 1:2). The people could not have obtained either the city or the country by their own efforts. So there was no possibility that they could keep them by their own strength.
A time for tears
v12 On that day my master, the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies), commanded the people to weep and to be sad. They were to shave their heads and to put on *sackcloth. v13 But instead, people were laughing. They were enjoying themselves. They arranged splendid great meals. They had plenty of meat to eat and plenty of *wine to drink. Because people said, ‘Let us have a great party. We could all be dead tomorrow!’ v14 The *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) himself whispered to me. ‘I shall never forgive such evil behaviour. No, not for as long as they live. I, the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies), have spoken.’
The people were behaving in a very different manner from how the *Lord intended them to behave.
The people only cared about their own pleasures. They did not bother themselves about God’s instructions. They had not obeyed him. And their actions showed that they were not sorry about their evil behaviour.
- The people did not really expect to ‘die tomorrow’. It was merely a way to say that only today’s pleasure interested them.
The *Lord knew the future. These people would never change their behaviour. So they would never qualify for him to forgive them.
God warns Shebna
v15 The *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) told me to go to this man called Shebna. He was manager of the palace staff. The *Lord said, ‘Give him this message from me: v16 You have no right to be acting like this. You have no authority to cut a grave for yourself, high on the rock. And in the Kidron Valley, of all places. This is where they bury kings! v17 The *Lord will shake you and he will fold you, just like a dress. v18 Then he will roll you into the shape of a ball. He will throw you into a vast foreign country. There your life will end. And so will your splendid *chariots. Your master’s officials will laugh at you. v19 You will have no more employment in the royal service. I shall remove you from your important job.
v20 When that happens, I shall send for my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah to replace you. v21 I shall cause Eliakim to wear your uniform. He will take your rank and authority. And he will be like a father to the people in *Jerusalem and in all Judah. v22 I shall place the keys of David’s palace upon his shoulders. So if he opens a door, nobody will be able to shut it. If he shuts a door, nobody will be able to open it. v23 I shall fix him firmly in place like a nail in the wall. Through him all the family of his father Hilkiah will obtain great honour. v24 The whole weight of Eliakim’s family will depend on him. All his relatives will be like a collection of little containers (objects that people use to store things) of all sorts, from cups to jars.’ v25 ‘One day’, declares the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies), ‘the nail in the wall will break. That nail will pull out and fall. And that will be the end of all that was hanging on it. The *Lord has spoken.’
People must choose between trust in God and trust in human effort. In fact, whole nations must choose between trust in God and trust in human effort. These verses show this principle.
Shebna was the king’s chief minister. He expressed his feelings of importance by his proud actions. He tried to use his job to make himself even more important and powerful.
Shebna’s proud actions made God very angry. God’s judgement would soon follow. Shebna would lose everything.
Only important people owned a key, which was long and heavy. In ancient times a key was a long piece of wood. It had wooden *pegs at one end. The *pegs fitted small holes in a wooden bar on the inside of the door.
- Only the owner of a key could use it to open or to close a door. So a key was also a sign of authority. The size and weight of a key meant that the owner carried it on his shoulder (see Revelation 3:7-8).
Should people choose to depend only on Eliakim, and not on God, they too would completely fail.
All the verses in this chapter refer to both Tyre and Sidon. This is so even if only one or other of these names appears. The two ports were only 25 miles apart and they worked closely together.
The fate of Tyre and Sidon
v1 (God gave to Isaiah this special message about Tyre.) It is very sad for you sailors, as you return from Tarshish. An enemy has ruined the cities at Tyre. No houses remain. Nor does the harbour remain. The sailors heard the news when they reached Cyprus on their way home. v2 The shock of the news has made the merchants from Sidon dumb. Those merchants crossed the seas to provide the city called Tyre with goods to sell.
v3 The harvest of grain in the Nile valley meant profit for the people in Tyre. In fact, Tyre had become an international market. v4 Be in despair, you citizens of Sidon. It is as if even the sea has forgotten you. You will be like a married woman who has never had any children. v5 When the news about Tyre reaches the people in Egypt, they also will receive a severe shock. v6Cry bitterly, you people who live on the coast. Get away to distant Tarshish. v7 Sidon is the same ancient city whose happy inhabitants have been there for centuries. Its people have spread to distant countries. v8 Tyre’s merchants were as powerful as princes. People all over the world gave the merchants great honour. So who arranged to destroy Tyre? v9 It was the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) who arranged to destroy Tyre. It was his plan to end the extreme pride of the merchants. They were much too proud of themselves. v10 Now they will have to become farmers. So, people in Tyre, cultivate your land like the Egyptians have to cultivate their land. Tyre’s harbour no longer exists. So your rich trade has ended.
Tyre and Sidon were two busy ports. They were north of Israel in what is today part of Lebanon. When David and Solomon ruled Israel, they both enjoyed good relations with the people in Tyre (see 1 Kings 5:1-12). Then Solomon began to marry many foreign wives. And they introduced Solomon and his people to the *worship of *idols (see 1 Kings 11:1-8).
- God sent a series of *prophets to warn his special people against their wicked behaviour. But it was in vain. The people would not change their behaviour. Now severe punishment would follow. It would begin with Tyre and Sidon. This was because their people had some responsibility for Israel’s failure to obey the *Lord.
- Tarshish was a major port on the north coast of Spain. It was famous for its huge ships that carried heavy loads of goods for long distances across the seas.
The sea was the means by which ships carried huge quantities of goods. The trade gave the merchants of Tyre and Sidon their great wealth. It was as if the sea was now acting like a person to refuse to help any more.
- Society was cruel to a married woman who had no children. Such a woman felt great shame.
The people in Egypt could not sell their crops when the merchants from Tyre and Sidon were unable to trade.
Everywhere people gave great honour to the merchants from Tyre and Sidon because they were so successful.
But their success had not impressed God. Such people felt that they had no need of God.
Farmers soon learn to depend on God. He provides in nature (in weather and in soil) the means to produce crops.
The *Lord’s power over nature and over nations
v11 The *Lord has shown his power over the sea. His action made nations to tremble. The *Lord caused the merchants in Tyre’s markets to stop their trade. v12 Inhabitants of Sidon, your happiness is over. You will no longer have any cause for joy. And even if you travel to Cyprus, you will not find any relief. There is no place where you can hide yourselves. v13 But the real enemy was not Assyria but Babylon. It was Babylon’s king who plotted to ruin Tyre. The *Babylonian army built structures to help the soldiers to attack the city. They destroyed Tyre’s great houses. They ruined Tyre. v14 Weep bitterly, you sailors who are returning from Tarshish. Enemies have destroyed your harbour.
People in Tyre depended on the sea for their trade. God’s ‘power over the sea’ means that God also controls the use of the sea by Tyre’s merchants.
It is hopeless for people who live in Tyre to sail away to Cyprus to avoid the enemy’s attack. Wherever they go, they cannot avoid God’s judgement.
Although the words refer to the fate of Tyre, the warning about Babylon is for the people of God. They will suffer a similar fate unless they turn back to their *Lord.
- We must remember that God’s messages are usually for his own people. We would not expect foreign nations even to hear about such messages. Except, that is, for a special reason (see Jonah 1:2). But even in Jonah’s case, the lesson is really for him!
New life for Tyre
v15 Everyone will forget Tyre for 70 years. At the end of 70 years the situation will change for the people in Tyre. Then, it will be as in the popular song about a bad woman. v16 ‘Now, you bad woman, take your musical instrument. Walk about the city. Play your instrument well. Sing many songs. Remind people about yourself.’
After 70 years, nobody of the earlier times would still be alive. But in every century, women who live in the ports have offered sex for money to sailors. It will be easy to bring back this bad tradition when people are able to live in Tyre again.
v17 At the end of 70 years, the *Lord will deal favourably with Tyre. Once again all of the world will be Tyre’s customers. v18 But now all of Tyre’s profits will go to the *Lord. All of the money that the merchants earn from their commerce will go to the *Lord’s service. The money will supply food and clothes for the *Lord’s workers.
God is not against commercial activity. But he does direct his judgement against human pride and self-interest. And against behaviour that does not include the desire to trust God.
- When Solomon was king, Tyre assisted with the construction of the *Temple in *Jerusalem. But this was merely a commercial arrangement (see 1 Kings 5:1-8).
- A poor widow who lived in Zarephath had provided for God’s servant Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:8-16). (Zarephath was on the coast between Tyre and Sidon.)
These personal examples of provision for other people will now become the general practice of the people in Tyre and Sidon.
- The permanent lesson of Tyre’s experience is that God’s people should not collect money just to become wealthy (see 1 Timothy 6:7-10). Money is for us to spend as the *Lord directs.
Chapters 24 –27
These chapters form a new section of the Book of Isaiah. But they do not include any references to actual events about particular nations.
- Chapter 24 repeats the general message about God’s plan to destroy all the nations on the earth. This chapter describes events that are still in the future. It describes God’s judgement against people who have not obeyed his laws. And the result is great trouble across the whole world.
- Chapters 25 to 27 describe events after God achieves his purpose.
God will destroy the earth
v1 Listen carefully! The *Lord intends to empty the land. He will cause the surface of the land to break up. He will scatter the land’s inhabitants. v2 Every class will suffer: people and priests; slaves and masters; maids and women with authority; buyers and sellers; lenders and people in debt; rich people and poor people. v3 The land will be bare and completely empty. This is what the *Lord has decided.
The words describe how the *Lord will ruin the whole earth.
Every part of human society suffers – in religion, in domestic life, in business.
The effect of God’s judgement is total. And it will all happen because God has said so.
The terrible state of the earth
v4 The land has become very dry. Nothing will grow. The strong leaders of the people have become weak. v5 These things have happened because people have not obeyed God’s laws. They have broken the ancient agreement between God and his people. That agreement was to last for always. v6 Therefore God has *cursed the land. Its inhabitants are guilty and so they are suffering. Therefore the inhabitants of the land are becoming fewer because of their evil behaviour. v7 The *vines have no water. So there is not enough *wine for people to enjoy. v8The sound of cheerful music has stopped. Nobody now hears the noise of merry voices. v9 People no longer drink *wine to the sound of happy songs. Beer tastes bitter to people who drink it. v10 Everything in the city is in confusion. People lock the doors of their homes for safety. v11 People shout in the streets because there is no more *wine. Nobody is happy. There is now nothing to cause any joy. v12 Nothing remains of the city’s buildings. The gates of the city are broken into pieces. v13 This is what will happen all over the world. And among all the nations. It will be like the end of harvest. All the fruit has gone. The trees are bare.
God’s *covenant with his people promised them great blessings (good things), both for their lives and for their land (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But if the people would not obey God’s laws, that same *covenant operated God’s *curse. And that *curse affected both people and land (see Deuteronomy 28:15-44).
The people in Israel knew that wicked behaviour could affect the land itself (see Deuteronomy 21:1-9).
This does not mean just one particular city. It means wherever people live. Fear and unhappiness will be everybody’s constant experience.
But perhaps the choice of the word ‘harvest’ could show some possible hope for the future. Even when a harvest is over, a very small amount of fruit does in fact remain (see Ruth 2:7).
It is too soon to be cheerful
v14 But there are some people who raise their voices in songs of joy. Those in the west shout aloud about the *Lord’s greatness. v15 Because of the *Lord’s greatness, those in the east give honour to the *Lord. People in the islands of the sea give honour to the *Lord, the God of Israel. v16 From all over the earth we hear people who are singing songs to praise the *Lord for his goodness.
But Isaiah cries, ‘I grow weak, I grow weak! *Woe is me! v17 Terror and traps and large holes in the ground are waiting for everyone. v18 If you run because of your terror, you will fall into a hole. If you climb out of the hole, you will fall into a trap. Then extraordinary floods of rain pour down from the sky. The base of the earth shakes strongly. v19 The earth is completely broken. It splits apart. It shakes powerfully. v20 The earth swings like a drunk. It shakes like a hut in a strong wind. The guilty character of the earth’s inhabitants is like a very heavy weight. The earth cannot carry such a load. The earth falls in pieces. It can never be firm again. It can never recover.’
In fact, some people will remain alive. In all directions happy people will be praising God. They think that the punishment is over. But Isaiah knows that this is not so.
The similar use of ‘hole’ and ‘trap’ in Jeremiah 48:43-44 shows that this was a well-known picture in words. Someone escapes from one danger only to fall into another danger (see Amos 5:19). This would be a very terrible event.
- Then huge quantities of water pour down from the sky. And the flood makes the situation even worse (see Genesis 7:11).
The moral failure of the world’s inhabitants does not only affect people. It affects all that God has created.
God’s final success
v21 When that day comes, the *Lord will declare judgement on the powers in the heavens. And on the rulers of the earth. v22 God will gather them together like prisoners in a great hole. They will remain in prison for a long time. Then God will punish them. v23 The white light of the moon and the heat of the sun will seem to become less. This is because the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) will be shining so brightly as king on *Mount Zion in *Jerusalem. And *Jerusalem’s leaders will be witnesses of the *Lord’s *glory.
People in the ancient world considered that the ‘powers in the heavens’ (sun, moon, stars) were gods. But it was God himself who created them in the first place! (see Genesis 1:14-19). They are still under his control. If he chooses, he can reduce their light. Or, he can turn off their heat.
- The sun, moon and stars are just objects that God created. But the devil and his armies are real. So there are mysterious forces that oppose God. But, on ‘that day’, the day that God chooses, he will punish them.
- When God made the original *covenant with the nation called Israel, he allowed their leaders to see something of his *glory (see Exodus 24:9-11). Now, when ‘that day’ comes, the day of God’s choice, the leaders of Israel will again see God’s *glory.
A song to praise God
v1 *Lord, you are my God. I will always give you great honour. I will continue to praise your name because you have done wonderful things. You have carried out the firm plans that you made long ago. v2 You have made cities into a heap of stones. You have ruined cities that had strong walls. The strong castles of foreigners are not castles now. Nobody will ever build them again. v3 Therefore the people from powerful nations will respect you, *Lord. The inhabitants of the cities of cruel nations will be afraid of you.
In the Bible some ‘wonderful’ action always means something that God alone has done. It never refers to human activity (see Isaiah 9:6).
These impressive events will make foreign nations realise that the *Lord’s power is immense. (Isaiah does not name the nations.)
God has saved us
v4 *Lord, you have protected poor people. You have been like a safe harbour for weak people who are worried. You have been like a shelter from storms and like a shade from the heat of the sun. Because an attack by a cruel enemy is like a fierce storm that is hitting a wall. v5 Or like a very hot wind in the desert. You, *Lord, reduce the noise of the foreigners. As a cloud reduces the heat, so you make our cruel enemies silent. And they cannot sing their songs of success.
The *Lord has also shown his great power when he provided shelter for poor people. They seemed to be without any defence. But the *Lord protected them as a harbour protects boats.
As a cloud reduces heat, so the *Lord reduces every fear about the enemy.
God prepares a splendid meal
v6 Here on *Mount Zion, the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) will prepare a huge meal for all the nations. The rich food will include the very best meat and the finest mature wine. v7On *Mount Zion the *Lord will suddenly remove the trouble that is like a cloud over all sad people. He will destroy the *shroud that covers all nations. v8 The *Lord God will destroy death for always. He will wipe tears from all faces. He will remove the shame that his people have suffered in all the world. This is what the *Lord has promised. v9 On that day, everyone will say, ‘This is our God! We have been waiting for him to save us. We put our trust in him because he is the *Lord. Now we can be full of joy because he has saved us.’
Isaiah 2:2-3 painted a picture in words. One day all nations will flow to *Jerusalem to praise the *Lord. Now Isaiah refers to that event again. This universal party is still in the future (see Matthew 22:2-10). The wonderful meal of the very best food and wine is for everybody in the world. (This is simply a very splendid picture in words. No city in the present world could possibly entertain everybody!)
- The New Testament refers to this event as the wedding supper of the Lamb of God. (Jesus is called the Lamb of God. A lamb is a young sheep. When the *Temple existed, people would offer lambs as sacrifices (gifts) to God. In the same manner, Jesus died as a sacrifice because of our evil deeds). This event will be in New *Jerusalem (see Revelation 21:2), and not in the present city of that name.
- God’s special people enjoyed a party because of God’s original *covenant (see Exodus 24:11). Now Isaiah looks forward to another party. This will be to show the time when God’s *covenant is for all nations.
This enormous party is because of the *Lord’s gift. He has been very kind to everybody in the world. There will be no more death. That was everybody’s fate, until Jesus overcame death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26). There will be no more pain. And people will not suffer again (see Revelation 21:4).
People have a strong desire for a quiet heart that is free from guilty feelings. Only the *Lord can provide such a quiet heart.
God will punish Moab
v10 The hand of the *Lord that protected his people will remain here on this mountain. But he will walk heavily upon the people from Moab, as if they were so much rubbish. v11 The people from Moab will spread their hands like someone who is trying to swim. But God will make sure that the people from Moab fail. Their hands will sink. v12 The *Lord will completely destroy the high walls of the cities in Moab. He will reduce the walls to the level of the dust on the ground.
The ‘hand of the *Lord’ is a picture in words for strong action that the *Lord takes.
- Moab was east of the river Jordan, opposite Jericho. Isaiah has not mentioned Moab since chapters 15 to 16. It is a surprise that Isaiah suddenly mentions Moab again. But the reason becomes clear in the next verse.
- To ‘walk heavily upon’ means to ‘punish severely’. This may be either by the *Lord’s direct action or, more usually, by his use of an agent.
A swimmer who is using his hands is another picture in words. It cleverly describes the proud action to save oneself by self-effort (see Isaiah 16:6). Such action will completely fail.
Moab’s powerful defences are completely hopeless.
A song to praise God
v1 At that time all the people in Judah will sing this song: Our city is strong. God has established its inner walls and its outer walls. But the *Lord himself is our real protection. v2 Open wide the gates of the city to let in the nation that deals fairly. Let in the honourable nation that remains loyal to God. v3 *Lord, you maintain (keep) a quiet heart in those whose purpose is firm. Their confidence is in you. v4 My people, always maintain your firm confidence in the *Lord. The *Lord is like a permanent rock.
v5 The *Lord brought low the proud people who occupied high places. He completely destroyed the strong city where they lived. He turned the city walls into dust. v6 Poor people had suffered from the actions of proud people. Now the feet of the poor people can freely step heavily upon what remains of the city.
‘At that time’ refers to the last section of chapter 25 about the *Lord’s action against Moab (25:10-12). Isaiah compares the fate of Moab with the *Lord’s personal protection of *Jerusalem (‘our city’).
Closed gates show that the citizens are afraid of attacks. Open gates show the opposite. The inhabitants of *Jerusalem are confident that they will be safe. This is not because of strong walls. It is because the *Lord himself is their personal protection.
- ‘Open wide the gates’ is an invitation to other nations to enter *Jerusalem. But those nations must do two things. Such nations must do what is right by God’s opinions. And they must trust the *Lord as their God.
Firm trust in God is the essential rule that directs the believer’s life. It is not a declaration of trust in God on just one occasion. It is the constant practice of trust in him all through life.
- The title ‘Rock’ shows that God is a firm defence for his people. But also, unlike natural rock, God as Rock is very active (see Exodus 17:6).
It is the action of the *Lord alone that has completely changed the situation. Poor and weak people had nothing that they could do to save themselves. But they can take advantage of what the *Lord has done.
We can trust God
v7 *Lord, you make life to be like a smooth path for people who live in the right manner. v8 You are the one whom we trust to bring about fair judgements. Above all, we greatly desire every nation to respect the *Lord.
v9 Please comfort me in the night. My spirit seriously wants you all the time. If the inhabitants of the world would obey your instructions, all peoples would learn to live fairly. v10 *Lord, even if you deal gently with wicked people, they will not act fairly. In a land where many people are honest, wicked people continue their evil behaviour. And they fail to recognise your greatness.v11 *Lord, you have raised your hand to punish. But wicked people do not see it. I pray that they will realise about your great love for your special people. I pray that this knowledge will make wicked people ashamed. If they do not change their behaviour, let wicked people suffer great punishment.
v12 *Lord, you have brought us peace in times of trouble. Anything that we have achieved is the result of your action. v13 *Lord our God, many foreign masters have ruled us. But you alone are our real God. You are the only God whom we call by name. v14 Those foreign rulers are all dead. They will not live again. Their spirits will not rise. When you punished wicked people, the punishment was total. You removed every memory of them.
v15 But, *Lord, you made your special people to increase greatly in number. Your nation grew. And this brought you great honour. You extended the boundaries of your people’s land on every side.
v16 *Lord, when your people were in great trouble, they appealed to you for help. They prayed desperately when you punished them. v17 Like a woman about to give birth to a child, you made us cry aloud in pain. v18 We were suffering great pain. But all that we produced was wind. We won no battles for our land. We achieved nothing by our own efforts.
v19 But your dead people will live. Their bodies will rise. You who are lying in the ground, wake up! Shout for joy! *Lord, be like the *dew that shines. Be like *dew on the ground where dead people are lying.
v20 My people, go home and shut the door behind you. Hide yourselves for a little time until the *Lord’s anger has completed its work. v21 The *Lord is coming from his place in heaven. He will punish the inhabitants of the earth for their wicked deeds. The ground will show the murders that happened in secret. Earth will not still cover the blood of those people who suffered.
In the night, it is quiet. There is nothing to interrupt my inner thoughts about God.
‘Even if you deal gently with them’, that is, even if you do not punish them immediately.
In this verse, ‘ashamed’ means more than to feel shame. It means to make people think more deeply. The *Lord wants to attract wicked people’s attention. He wants them to realise that there is something special about God’s people (see Deuteronomy 4:5-9). If wicked people still refuse to obey God, then God’s judgement will follow.
Over the centuries, God’s people have suffered many foreign masters. The Book of Judges contains many examples.
For example, nobody now knows the name of the king of Egypt when God rescued his people (see Exodus 1:8).
*Dew was sufficient in the dry summer to water the crops (see Genesis 27:28). The absence of *dew would be terrible. The crops would die. There would be no harvest (see 1 Kings 17:1).
- Isaiah uses *dew as a description of God’s gift of new life (see Hosea 14:5-6).
- Other people may not know about secret murders. But God knows (see Genesis 4:10).
God’s judgement against Leviathan
v1 On that day, the *Lord will seize his powerful sword. The sword is extremely sharp. The *Lord will attack Leviathan, the giant animal in the sea. The *Lord will kill Leviathan, even if it turns in all directions to escape.
‘That day’ is the day of punishment (see the final verse of chapter 26).
- Forty (40) years after God’s people escaped from Egypt, they entered the country called Canaan (see Joshua 1:11). There they heard about Leviathan. In ancient stories, Leviathan was a very ugly and cruel monster (huge animal). It was the fierce enemy of the gods from Canaan.
- Isaiah may use the word Leviathan to refer to God’s principal enemy, the devil. But Isaiah also uses the word to refer to Egypt, which was the enemy of God’s people in ancient times.
The song about the *vineyard
v2 When that day comes, sing a song about the fruitful *vineyard! v3 I, the *Lord, am looking after it. I water it constantly. I am guarding it night and day to prevent any damage to it. v4 I am not angry with the *vineyard. But if any *thorn-bushes or weeds appear, I will burn them. v5 If the enemies of my people want my protection, let them make peace with me. Yes, let them make peace with me. v6 Some day the people in Israel (that is, the family of Jacob) will be like a delightful tree that flowers. And the fruit that follows will fill the whole world.
These verses return to the story about the *vineyard (see 5:1-7).
As in chapter 5, the ‘*vineyard’ means God’s special people (see 5:7). The *vineyard receives the *Lord’s constant care (see 5:2).
Unlike in 5:5-6, the *Lord is not angry at the *vineyard. But he will destroy any ‘*thorn-bushes or weeds’, that is, the enemies of his people. Although God will forgive even those enemies, if they sincerely turn to him.
v7 The *Lord did not strike the people from Israel as severely as he struck their enemies. He did not kill the people from Israel as much as he killed their enemies. v8 No, the *Lord’s punishment for his people was not so severe. Instead he sent them away from their own land. He forced them to leave their country. It was as if the fierce hot wind from the east forced them to go. v9 The *Lord will completely forgive the wicked deeds of the people from Israel. But only when the people completely destroy the stones of *altars that give honour to false gods. Then those stones will become mere dust.
God explains why he holds back complete punishment of his people. He will completely forgive them. But only when they remove all evidence of false *worship from their land.
Life without purpose
v10 Strong cities are standing alone. Their inhabitants have gone. They have left the cities empty. The cities are like deserts. Only animals are wandering there. They find bushes and leaves of trees to eat. v11 When any broken branches are dry, women collect them to make fires. Truly these people understand nothing about the ways of God their Maker. Therefore the *Lord will not show them kindness. He who created them will not pity them.
No names appear. We have here a general description of society without God. If people leave out God from their lives, they merely exist. Life has no purpose.
God’s great purpose
v12 On that day the *Lord will gather his people one by one. He will gather them all the way from the river called Euphrates to the border of Egypt. He will act like the farmer at harvest, as he separates the good grain from the stems of corn. v13 On that day a very loud instrument will sound to call God’s people home from Egypt and from Assyria. They will return to *Jerusalem to praise God in his holy *Temple.
‘On that day’, that is, on the day when the *Lord chooses to act.
- ‘One by one’, God gathers every believer. Each one is important to him.
- The river called Euphrates and the border of Egypt were the boundaries of the united country called Israel. That country was the land that God promised to his special people (see Joshua 1:4).
- ‘Harvest’ often provides a word-picture of God’s final plan (see Deuteronomy 16:13-15 and Matthew 13:30). The farmer picks only the good grain (see Matthew 13:24-29; 13:36-43).
The *Lord calls his people to their home in heaven (see Matthew 24:31; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
- Egypt and Assyria are examples of foreign countries where God’s people spent years as prisoners.
- In the Bible, the city called *Jerusalem has two different meanings. There is the city called *Jerusalem in this world. But there is also the final, perfect home that God is preparing for his people (see Revelation chapter 21).
The next section of the Book of Isaiah is from Chapter 28 to Chapter 33. These chapters deal mainly with the relations between Judah and the *Assyrians. And these chapters also explain how the *Lord protected the people in Judah.
Chapter 28 describes the situation just before the *Assyrians overcame the city called Samaria in 721 *BC.
- ‘Samaria’ was the capital of the country (north of Judah) that was called by the same name (see my note at the beginning of Chapter 7).
God warns Samaria
v1 *Woe to Samaria! That city was like a royal crown on a hill above a rich valley. The city brought pride and delight to the drunks in Samaria. But now the city’s beauty is like flowers that have lost their colour. It is as if the flowers are dying. This is because the city’s leaders are all drunks. v2 Look out! The *Lord has someone extremely strong who is ready to attack. An enemy will suddenly arrive like a wild storm that nobody is expecting. The rain will pour down. It will cause a huge flood that throws everyone to the ground. v3 The enemy’s feet will walk heavily all over Samaria. The enemy will ruin the city that those proud drunks considered as their crown. v4 On its hill above a rich valley, Samaria will suddenly lose its beauty, which seemed like a proud crown. It will be as if some hungry person has seen the first ripe fruit of harvest. Such a person will seize and swallow the fruit immediately.
A century before Isaiah’s time, Omri king of Israel bought a beautiful hill. Omri had selected this hill for the construction of his splendid new capital. He called the city Samaria. ‘Samaria’ sounds like Shemer, which was the name of the previous owner of the hill (see 1 Kings 16:23-24).
- Much *wine has made Samaria’s leaders into drunks. They have forgotten completely their responsibility to look after the city and its inhabitants. As a result, everybody will suffer when an enemy attacks.
The ‘enemy’ refers to the *Assyrians.
People wait eagerly for the first ripe fruit of summer. They seize the fruit and swallow it immediately. The picture in words shows the speed of the enemy’s attack and success.
Hope for the future
v5 At that time the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) will himself be like a most beautiful crown of flowers for his people who remain. v6 The *Lord will help those who are judges to make fair decisions. And he will give courage to those who defend cities from attacks by enemies.
These two verses refer to some time in the future. Their purpose is to give hope to God’s true people during difficult periods. Although he is out of their sight, the *Lord himself is in command.
God’s judgement against the leaders of Samaria (Israel)
v7 Even priests and *prophets are drunks. They continue to swallow so much strong drink (alcohol) that they cannot walk properly. Their legs are out of control. So *prophets fail to understand any messages from God. And priests give stupid judgements. v8 Vomit (nasty liquid from the mouth) covers the tables where they sit. Not a clean spot remains. v9 The drunks say about Isaiah, ‘Whom is he trying to teach? Nobody can understand what he says. His words are suitable only for babies. v10 What he says is complete nonsense.’
v11 But the *Lord will in fact use other sounds that the drunks cannot understand. He will use a foreign language to speak to these people. And it will be the language of enemies who will attack them. v12 Earlier the *Lord had told these drunks where to rest. ‘Tired people can find rest here. This is where to enjoy true rest.’ But they were not willing to listen to the *Lord. v13That is why he will teach you letter by letter. And line by line. And lesson by lesson. But you will trip with every step that you take. Enemies will hurt you. They will catch you in a trap. You will become their prisoner.
At a time of great danger, the nation needed wise leaders. But the leaders’ love of wine has made them completely foolish.
Even the plain words that Isaiah used to warn the leaders sounded like nonsense to them. They complain that his words are just strange sounds.
The leaders have not been responsible. They have disappointed their nation. And the result will be that they hear even more strange sounds. An enemy that speaks a strange language will carry off many people from Samaria into a foreign country.
Isaiah now turns to the leaders of Judah
v14 Therefore (says Isaiah), you who laugh at my words, listen. You leaders that have authority over the citizens of *Jerusalem, listen to the words of the *Lord. v15 You leaders are proud of your military agreement with Egypt. But in fact it is an agreement with Death. It is an agreement with *Sheol (the place where dead people go). That is what such an agreement will mean for you. It will mean the death (the end) of your nation. But you are so sure that any attack in the area will not affect you. You think that your lies will defend you. And you think that false promises (promises that have no value) will be your protection.
The fate of Samaria (Israel) should have warned the leaders of Judah not to make the same mistake. False security is no security.
v16 Now listen to what the *Lord God says. ‘See, I am laying a cornerstone in *Zion as a foundation (base). This cornerstone is a special stone that I have tested. It is a stone that is firm and solid.’ In other words, nobody who trusts God all the time will ever fall down (be ashamed). v17 God says ‘I shall make fair judgement to be the standard. And I shall make right behaviour to be the *measure.’
God says, ‘You are trusting lies and promises to protect you. But these lies and promises have no value whatever. A powerful storm will destroy your protection (that means the lies). A huge flood will carry off your shelter (that means the promises). v18 What happens will cancel your agreement with Death. It will cancel your agreement with *Sheol. A terrible flood will drown you. v19 Whenever that flood pours through the land, it will carry you off. Truly, it could pour through on any day and at any time of the day or of the night. If you really believed this warning, it would fill you with absolute terror. v20 You know what people say: “If the bed is too short, you will not fit on it. If the blanket is too narrow, you cannot wrap yourself in it.” v21 The *Lord will act as he did on the mountain called Perazim. He will fight as he did in the valley called Gibeon. His purpose is to carry out his deed, strange as the deed may seem. And to perform his work, strange as his activity may seem.’
v22 Then Isaiah spoke plainly to the leaders in *Jerusalem. ‘Do not laugh at this serious matter. If you continue to do so, your life as slaves will be even more severe. Because I have heard what my Master the *Lord has told me. He declares that his judgement is against the whole country.’
A cornerstone is a very important stone that firmly unites two walls of a building. The cornerstone stands at the corner of the building, especially the corner of the foundation (base).
- The *New Testament develops this meaning in two ways:
(1) ‘cornerstone’ refers to the *Messiah, that is, Christ (see Ephesians 2:20 and Psalm 118:22). Many *Jews would not believe that Jesus was the *Messiah (see Matthew 21:42 and Isaiah 8:14).
(2) Christians are called ‘stones that are living’. It is as if Christians form a ‘house’ for the *worship of God (see 1 Peter 2:4-8).
- The foundation (base) for a building is under the ground. It is out of sight. But the builder knows that it is there. In like manner, God knows when someone truly trusts him. That trust is like a firm foundation. God uses it like a base as he builds (works in) that person’s life.
An architect has used a *plumb-line and a *measure to make sure that his cornerstone is accurate. He must be able to trust the cornerstone when he erects his building. Similarly, God has taken great care about his special cornerstone. He will use it to build up the life of each believer.
- Believers must develop an attitude of trust towards God. And they must develop an attitude of fair behaviour towards other people.
The force of the *Assyrian attack will be immense. It will be as if the vast waters of the Euphrates (an *Assyrian river) suddenly flooded the whole country called Judah.
The *Assyrian attack will happen as a complete surprise.
God uses some popular phrases from Isaiah’s time. The agreement that Judah has made with Egypt (verse 15) is hopeless. It cannot protect the nation.
For the event at the mountain called Perazim, see 2 Samuel 5:17-21.
For the event at the valley called Gibeon, see Joshua 10:1-11.
The ‘whole country’ means not only Israel (Samaria) to the north (verses 1-13). It also includes Judah (verses 14-22).
Wisdom comes from God
v23 Listen carefully to what I am saying. Give attention to my every word. v24 No farmer continues to plough the same field again and again to make it ready for the seed. He does not keep on digging the same ground. v25 As soon as the farmer has prepared the soil, he makes the surface smooth. Then he plants his seed. Wheat may go into one field. Some other grain may go into another field. v26 God has taught him the best way to do it. God trained him well.
v27 The farmer gathers the various crops at the time of harvest. Then he has to beat the grain from the stem. He will use a light stick or a heavy stick. He knows which weight of stick is best for each sort of crop. v28 The farmer would ruin the grain if he continued to beat it again and again. His experience tells him when to stop. The farmer will drive his cart and horses over the grain. But only as long as he knows that it is necessary. He does not want to reduce the grain to dust. v29 Such knowledge is a gift from God. His advice is wonderful. His wisdom is great.
Isaiah will now use two little parables (stories with a double meaning).
The first parable is about the way that the farmer prepares the soil to receive seed. Once he has ploughed the field, he does not need to repeat the action.
- To plough the field may seem to be a painful way to act towards the soil. But the action achieves its purpose. It prepares the soil for the seed to grow and to produce a harvest.
- God acts in a similar way. After he has punished his people for their evil behaviour, he does not repeat the painful action. God is aiming to achieve his real purpose for his people’s lives.
The second parable is about the way that the farmer harvests. God has taught him what to do with each of the various crops.
- In a similar way, God teaches his people the best way to carry out their work for him. There are many different kinds of work for God. But God knows about each task.
It is God who teaches the farmer how to obtain each crop. So, how much more capable is God to achieve his own purposes in the lives of his people!
The fate of *Jerusalem
v1 *Woe to *Jerusalem, the city of David! It will not matter how often you repeat your series of special services in the *Temple. v2 I am bringing great trouble upon the people in *Jerusalem. They will cry loudly with pain. The city itself will become like one great *altar on which gifts to God are burning. v3 I, the *Lord, will send a powerful enemy to surround *Jerusalem. I shall order them to erect high structures (temporary buildings) against *Jerusalem’s walls. Then I shall order the enemy to attack *Jerusalem. v4 Then fear of the enemy will knock you to the ground. Your voice will be weak, as if your words come through the dust on the ground. Your voice will be a mere whisper.
v5 But listen, people in *Jerusalem. Your attackers will become like dust. The cruel enemy made you very afraid. But their soldiers will become like dry grass that the wind carries away. And it will all happen in a moment. Suddenly! v6 The *Lord is coming to *Jerusalem’s rescue. He will send fierce storms of wind and storms of fire. The earth will shake powerfully. v7 All the foreign armies that frighten the inhabitants of *Jerusalem will vanish like a bad dream in the night. v8 The enemy will be like a hungry person who dreams of food. But he wakes to find that he is still hungry. Or like someone who does not have enough to drink, but he dreams of water. So he wakes to find that his mouth is still dry. Such will be the experience of the nations that attack *Mount Zion.
The ‘powerful enemy’ is the *Assyrians. Their huge army surrounded *Jerusalem in 701 *BC.
But the *Assyrians did not defeat *Jerusalem. In fact, they suddenly gave up. Vast numbers of their soldiers mysteriously died during the night (see Isaiah chapter 37).
The *Lord’s appearance will be like that in Elijah’s experience (see 1 Kings 19:11-12).
Attackers were eagerly expecting to seize huge quantities of silver and gold when they captured *Jerusalem and its wonderful *Temple. But reality disappointed the attackers. They could not even enter the city. They too had been merely dreaming.
God’s people cannot see what God is doing
v9 Be as stupid as you like! Be as blind as you like! You are acting like drunks. But it is not because of *wine. You cannot walk properly. But it is not because of beer. v10 All this is because the *Lord has made you very confused. He has shut the eyes of those who should see (know) the future. He has covered the faces of those who should be declaring God’s words.
v11 All Isaiah’s words are like a closed book that you are not able to open. So you cannot read it. v12 So your situation is as bad as someone who is unable to read.
v13 The *Lord speaks: ‘These people come to the *Temple in order to praise me. But they do not mean the words that they say. Their attention is not on me. Their words are merely what they can repeat from memory. v14 In the past I have pleased my people with extraordinary deeds. But this time my actions will give the people a series of unpleasant shocks. Wise people will become fools. Clever people will suddenly become stupid.’
Isaiah only pretends to speak seriously. He does not actually want the people to be stupid. He wants them to realise the effects of their stupid behaviour.
As frequently elsewhere in the *Old Testament, it only seems that the *Lord is the direct cause of events.
- In reality, it is the inhabitants of *Jerusalem themselves who are responsible for their troubles. They themselves are responsible for the result of their own actions. They have chosen not to obey God’s laws. The direct result is that they suffer. That was inevitable (it must follow), because God’s laws do not change. It only seems that God himself has unusually decided to interrupt the normal course of events.
‘Books’ in the ancient world were often pieces of skin (like leather) that a person would sew together to make a single long *document. After use, the writer rolled his *document. He then closed it in a special way. Nobody else could now open the *document to read it, without the writer’s authority.
God had appointed Isaiah to speak for him. But at the same time, God warned Isaiah that people would not listen (see Isaiah 6:9-10).
The people’s religion has become a mere performance. It has lost all real meaning.
Hope for the future
v15 *Woe to those who try to hide from the *Lord the advice that they give. *Woe to those who form evil schemes in secret. *Woe to those who think that nobody can see their actions. They believe that nobody will be aware of their deeds. v16 These people turn everything over! But the potter (someone who makes pots) is not like the material that he uses. The pot cannot deny that its maker did the work. Neither can the pot pretend that its maker understands nothing.
v17 But very soon it will be the *Lord who turns everything over! He will turn the thick forest in Lebanon into one great garden of fruit. v18 At that time deaf people will be able to hear someone who is reading aloud from a book. And blind people will be able to see. They will no longer live in darkness. v19 The *Lord will give happiness again to those people who belong to the lowest rank in society. And the Holy God of Israel will give poor people every reason to be cheerful. v20 That is because cruel people will have lost all their power. Those who have been laughing at God will vanish. And the *Lord will destroy all those who plot evil schemes. v21 For example, people who give false evidence in court to pretend that someone is guilty. People who use lies to prevent a fair judgement in court for an innocent person.
v22 Therefore the *Lord, who rescued Abraham from trouble, says this about the people from Israel: ‘Israel’s people will not continue to feel shame. They will not still be ashamed. v23 They will appreciate my actions on their behalf. They will deeply respect the Holy God of Israel. They will give me great honour. v24 Then those whose minds are confused will gain knowledge. And those who complain without reason will quietly accept instruction.’
Nobody can hide anything from God. Jesus also warned people about this (see Luke 12:2-3).
Of course the potter (the person who makes pots) is more important than the pot itself. And of course God is more important than the people whom he created. But these people were acting as if the opposite was true.
But a pot is itself the evidence that someone made it. And the pot is the proof of its maker’s skill.
‘Very soon’, that is, as God measures time. God’s sense of time is very different from ours (see 2 Peter 3:8).
Jesus the Christ (*Messiah) will cure vast numbers of sick people (see Matthew 11:3-5).
Even when Abraham’s trouble was his own fault, the *Lord still rescued him (see Genesis 12:10-20).
Egypt cannot help
v1 *Woe to people who will not obey me, says the *Lord. They make plans that are not my plans. They make military agreements with other nations that I do not desire. So the people in Judah offend me more and more. v2 *Woe to all who want to go to Egypt! They do not ask for my advice. You hope that the king of Egypt will protect you. v3 But the king of Egypt will be unable to help you. His protection will bring about your shame. v4 The king of Judah’s officials are already at Zoan and *messengers have reached the town called Hanes. v5 The people in Judah will be sorry that they ever expected to receive help from Egypt. They will get no benefit. They will get only shame.
v6 Judah’s officials and *messengers are carrying rich gifts on *asses and camels to pay for Egypt’s help. They have to travel to the south through the difficult and dangerous desert. There are lions and poisonous snakes there. v7 But Egypt will give you nothing in return. Any offer to help would be a hopeless offer. That is why I call Egypt: ‘Rahab-who-does-nothing’. It is like a huge animal that just sits there.
Egypt had a strong king at this time. He had united his country. So it seemed to the people in Judah that Egypt would support them against the *Assyrians. Judah stands between Egypt and Assyria. So the people in Judah hoped that Egypt’s powerful army would defend Judah.
This king of Judah was Hezekiah (see 2 Kings chapters 18 to 20).
- The towns called Zoan and Hanes were both in the northern part of Egypt, near the border with Judah. This is the only time that Hanes appears in the Bible.
- Zoan was the capital of Egypt (see Psalm 78:12).
The travellers will bravely meet many dangers and difficulties. But all their great efforts will be in vain.
Rahab is another name for Leviathan (see my note on Isaiah 27:1).
God’s people refuse to listen
v8 Then the *Lord told Isaiah to cut all the letters of this message on a flat stone. And he was to write the words in a book. Together, the stone and the book will be a permanent record of how wicked the people have been. v9 The people never obey God. They are always lying. They refuse to listen to the *Lord’s instructions. v10 The people tell the *prophets to keep quiet. They are not to declare what God has shown them about the future. The people say, ‘Tell us only those things that we like to hear. Do not upset us with bad news. v11 Give up what you are doing for God. Leave the way that you are going. Do not tell us anything else about the demands of the Holy God of Israel.’
God has plainly warned the people about Egypt. Now he tells Isaiah to make a permanent record of what he has said. The people will not be able to pretend that they did not know.
The people do not want to hear unpleasant truths about their behaviour. In fact they are trying to persuade God’s loyal *messengers (the *prophets) to leave God’s service.
God will punish the people from Judah
v12 Therefore this is what the Holy God of Israel says: ‘You refuse to accept what I am telling you. Instead, you depend on force to achieve your purposes. You prefer to cheat people. v13Therefore, your wicked behaviour will act like a crack in a high wall. The wall will suddenly crash, when you least expect it. v14 It will be like a pot that you break into many pieces. And you cannot find one piece that is large enough to pick hot coals out of the fire. Nor can you find a piece with which to collect some water.’
God warns the people that their evil behaviour is ruining their own lives. They will suffer terrible troubles. And those troubles will happen as suddenly as a wall crashes to the ground.
The result will be terribly total.
v15 Therefore, this is what God the *Lord, the Holy God of Israel, says: ‘If you quietly turn to me, you will know rescue. If you quietly put your trust in me, you will be strong. v16 But you refuse. You say that you will ride away on horses at great speed. Therefore, those enemies who chase you will also ride at great speed. You say that you will ride very fast. But those who pursue you will ride even faster. v17 A thousand of you will run away, if no more than five men just shout at you. And so few of you will escape from the enemy, that they will seem like a single pole on the top of a mountain. Or like a lonely flag on a hill.’
The people proudly declare that they can escape the enemy by their own efforts. But the enemy has fast horses too.
The bold words of the people in Judah will be worth nothing, when the powerful *Assyrian army actually arrives.
God will be kind to his people
v18 But the *Lord wants to show you kindness. He greatly desires you to know that he pities you. The *Lord is the God who makes everything right again. So those people who trust him are truly happy. v19 You inhabitants of *Jerusalem are God’s people. Do not weep any more. The *Lord will pity you when he hears your cry for help. And when he hears, he will answer. He will come to your aid. v20 You have suffered much in the past. But the *Lord is your Teacher. He will not still hide himself from you. You will see with your own eyes what he will do to save you.v21 And the *Lord is like your guide. You might begin to wander off the road to the one side or to the other side. But then you will hear his voice close behind you: ‘Here is the right road. Follow it.’ v22 You previously covered your images with silver and gold. But now you will throw them away as so much dirty rubbish. You will order them to go away, because you have no more use for them.
v23 The *Lord will also send rain for the seed that you plant in the soil. The crops that the earth produces will be rich and plentiful. At that time your animals will feed in large fields. v24 The animals that pull the plough in your fields will enjoy the very best food. That will be a reward for their hard work. v25 The day will come when the castles of your enemies fall. Their people will die. At that time permanent streams of pure water will flow from every mountain and from every hill. v26 The moon will be as bright as the sun. And the sun will shine seven times more brightly than usual. It will be like the light of seven days in one day. All this will happen when the *Lord uses bandages on the injuries of his people. He will cure them of the injuries that his punishment caused them to suffer.
God offers his people words to encourage them. And to give them hope for the future.
As their personal Teacher, the *Lord himself will give instruction to his people on the right way to live.
This verse is referring to the images of *idols (that is, false gods). To order the images to go away does not mean that they are alive! The words are simply a forceful way to say that the people have now rejected (turned against) the images. The people will not continue to give honour to the images.
When the *Lord’s people change their minds, he can again be favourable to them.
- Rain is the first gift that the *Lord will provide. In such a dry land, rain would be clear evidence of God’s new care for his people.
The new situation will affect even nature itself.
- God punishes. But he also cures (see Job 5:18; Hosea 6:1).
God will punish Assyria
v27 The *Lord himself is approaching from a distance. His anger is as powerful as a fire that burns. Thick smoke is rising. His words are very angry. His speech is like a fire that destroys all in its path. v28 He sends a powerful wind in front of him. It will act like a flood of water that carries off everything. He drags nations away from their own land.
v29 But you, God’s own people, will sing with joy, as on the nights of your great sacred ceremonies. You will be very happy as you play musical instruments on the way to the *Lord’s mountain. The *Lord is Israel’s defender. v30 And the *Lord will cause his people to hear his powerful voice. They will hear the heavy blows as his arm crashes down on Israel’s enemies. The *Lord will express his great anger by a great fire that burns everything. And by a huge flood of water. And by a fierce wind. And by a fierce storm. v31 The voice of the *Lord will fill the *Assyrian soldiers with terror. They will feel the great force of his punishment. v32 Every blow by the *Lord’s heavy stick (that is, the punishment) will beat upon them as if in time to drums and music. v33 In fact, long ago the *Lord prepared *Tophet for the king of Assyria. The hole for the fires is deep and wide. There is a fire and plenty of wood to burn. The *Lord’s breath will burst into flame and set (put) it on fire.
God has used the *Assyrians to punish his people. But now his people have returned to him. God has therefore achieved his purpose. Now God can punish the *Assyrians for their proud attitudes and for their cruelty.
To describe God as one who has ‘anger’ is to use a human word of emotion (see Deuteronomy 29:20). God is not angry in the same manner as a person would be. But this word helps us to understand the reason for God’s severe actions.
- God is perfect. And he is completely holy. Therefore he cannot *tolerate anything that is evil.
Smoke and fire often show God’s terrible arrival to carry out his fierce judgement (see 2 Samuel 22:8-16; Isaiah 66:15-16).
- God’s word brings life and health to those who accept it. But his word brings a sudden and terrible death to those who refuse it.
Those who hurt God’s people, even as tools in God’s hand, are still responsible for their own behaviour. An earlier passage (see Isaiah 10:12) had described God’s choice of Assyria to punish Israel. But that passage also said that afterwards God would arrange for Assyria’s punishment.
For the sudden and extraordinary end of the huge *Assyrian army, see Isaiah 37:33-36.
altar ~ special table where priests burned animals as gifts to God.
ass ~ A kind of animal that people ride, which is similar to a horse.
Assyrian ~ A person from the country called Assyria or anything that has a relationship with the country called Assyria.
Babylonian ~ a person from the land called Babylon; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
BC ~ ‘Before Christ’ (for dates before the birth of Jesus Christ).
chariot ~ box (on wheels) that horses pull to carry soldiers into battle.
covenant ~ special agreement that God made with Israel (see Exodus chapter 24).
curse ~ when God declares that terrible things will happen to people because of their evil deeds.
dew ~ tears of water that appear on the ground by night.
document ~ piece of material on which to write.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s most holy character.
grape ~ small sweet fruit of the *vine; its juice makes *wine.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, the capital of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the capital of the country called Judah. But the ‘New Jerusalem’ is God’s future, perfect home for his people.
Jews ~ people who belong to the countries called Judah and Israel; people who belong to the 12 tribes (large families) of Israel.
look-out ~ a person whose job is to watch for anything that may cause trouble; or a special building for use by that person.
Lord ~ God’s name in the Bible. In the original language, it means ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
measure ~ stick (or tape) with marks on it to show the size of something.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
messenger ~ someone who delivers a message.
Mount Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
New Testament ~ the second part of the Bible. It contains 27 books, all from the time when Jesus was born.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains 39 books, all from the time before Jesus was born.
peg ~ small round piece of wood.
plumb-line ~ a heavy weight that hangs on a string to show an accurate up-and-down line.
prophet ~ a person who speaks on behalf of God.
sackcloth ~ dress of rough material that people wore to show that they were very sad.
Sheol ~ the place where many *Jews thought that dead people went.
shroud ~ a cloth to wrap a dead body.
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where *Jews praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
thorn-bush ~ bush with sharp points.
tolerate ~ accept as a reasonable opinion.
Tophet ~ a place near *Jerusalem where people burnt the city’s rubbish.
vine ~ plant whose fruit makes *wine.
vineyard ~ field where *vines grow.
vision ~ a mental picture from God to show something from God that only you can see.
wine ~ a drink which people make from the juice of *grapes.
woe ~ a very sad cry because there is much pain to come.
worship ~ to praise God and to pray to him.
Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
© 2007, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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