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  1. 1. Isaiah, FNG, Mar 7, 2014 Scripture Reading: Genesis 12:1-3 This month we once again get to shift gears in our journey through the Bible. We have dealt with the mostly chronological portion of the Old Testament that outlines the history from the beginning of the world to the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity. You may remember we had a historical timeline printed out for that period, and you may still have that with you. If you don’t let me know after the program, I’ve got more here. We will still be referencing this timeline as we continue through the Old Testament, because the prophets whose writings we will be studying all lived and ministered within that period, and so we will be placing them within the historical context of the time period we have already covered in the books of Kings, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Jewish tradition divides the Old Testament a little differently. They divide it into The Law - which is the first five books, written by Moses; The Writings, which is the portion that we have been looking at most recently: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and a few others. The final section is The Prophets, which is the bulk of the Old Testament and we are now going to stay there for most of the remainder of the Old Testament. These terms might sound familiar to you because Jesus and the Pharisees often referred to the Law and the Prophets in their discussions. In doing so, they were referring to their Bible, since at that time the Old Testament was all they had. Isaiah was certainly prominent among the prophets. Aside from having the longest book of them all, based on Isaiah 1:1, his ministry spanned some 60 years and 4 kings. Based on this, we can put the dates of his ministry from approximately 754 to approximately 686 BC. If you are curious enough to go back, the period of Isaiah’s ministry was covered in 2 Kings 15-21 and 2 Chronicles 26-33. Pretty much in the middle of his ministry, around 723-722 BC, the kingdom of Israel (or Samaria, as it is often referred to) was conquered and carried off by the Assyrians. The Assyrians then carried on to the south and attacked Judah and besieged Jerusalem, which is where Isaiah lived and ministered, and you may have noticed mention of these events as you went through the book. It is believed that Isaiah finally met his end when king Manasseh put him in a hollow log and sawed him in half. Unlike the previous few books, with Isaiah the material was so plentiful, it was difficult to pick in which direction to go. There is reference to historical events happening at that time, there are prophesies of doom and hardship for Judah, calls for change, beautiful images of restoration of Judah and Israel, prophesies about the coming Messiah many of which you may have recognized as they are later quoted in the gospels. Isaiah at times even directs our thoughts towards heaven with images of the New Earth. He also includes a little insight into the rebellion of an angel serving in the presence of God. That angel is here identified
  2. 2. by the name Lucifer. If you like trivia, Isaiah is also home to the longest name in the Bible. You will find it in chapter 8: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. You don’t wanna know how long it took me to be able to pronounce that!  The topic I finally settled on is one that threads through the entire book, and one that will also allow us to take stock of what God was trying to accomplish through Israel. In order to do this we first need to understand the mindset of the people of that time. It is a very different mindset from today, and sometimes this throws us for a loop when we try to come to terms with the things God does in the Old Testament. Probably the clearest illustration of this mindset is Sennacherib’s speech to the people of Jerusalem. Having surrounded Jerusalem this is what Assyrian king Sennacherib said to the people of Jerusalem: “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The LORD will deliver us.’ Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (Isaiah 36:18-20) In those days, it was all about power. There were many ‘gods’ and one determined the power and veracity of a god by how well the nation that worshipped him was doing. If the nation was prosperous and victorious on the battlefield, their god was powerful and therefore worthy of worship. Inversely, if a nation was defeated, their god was not much use, and obviously not as powerful as the god of the conquering nation. So when nations went to war it really was for god and country. This is obviously the mindset Sennacherib is coming from when he addressed the citizens of Jerusalem. He pretty much carries the same point in his letter to king Hezekiah. “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?” (Isaiah 37:10-13) Hezekiah fully understood this economy when he received this letter, but he was at least smart enough to know something else. “Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian
  3. 3. kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God.” (Isaiah 37:14-20). Hezekiah didn’t have to wait long to receive his answer: “Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city,” declares the LORD. “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (Isaiah 37:33-37) We read the words on the page and we rejoice. Wohoo! The good guys won. But some look at this and are horrified – 185,000 dead people! By the hand of God, no less! How can a God of love do something like that?! Just as a comparison, during the entire Iraqi war from 2003 to 2012, a total of 4,486 US military personnel were killed. In Vietnam America lost just over 58,000 soldiers. It took roughly a decade for the US to lose so many soldiers in each case. But in the case of Assyria, God wiped out 185,000 in a single night! Would you believe if I told you that this was a missionary effort? But that is exactly what it was. Sennacherib issued a direct challenge, not just to the people of Judah, but also to the God of Judah. He had credentials and reasons for his confidence. After all, he did conquer all those other nations. Even Samaria, the 10 Israelite tribes to the north, got wiped out, despite their alliance with Egypt who were supposed to be one of the big powers of the day. But Judah at this point had a king who believed in God and turned to Him in this hour of crisis. This was obviously known to Sennacherib, because he specifically mocks this belief. And so God says: “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” (Isaiah 37:35) Can you imagine the kind of shockwaves this produced in the then known world? Here is Assyria, an unstoppable juggernaut conquering nation after nation finally stopped by the God of Judah. And stopped in such a way that there was no doubt that it was the work of God. There was no battle, no clash of the troops, yet 185,000 Assyrians were wiped out in a single night. It would make you sit up and pay attention, would it not? It would make you want to inquire about this God. In that mindset it would make you believe in that God, as one obviously powerful, and worthy of worship and attention.
  4. 4. This is not the first time we encountered something like this. We looked at something similar when we covered the book of Joshua, and looked back at the exodus from Egypt. Egypt was then the superpower of the day. First the ten plagues decimated the country, plagues that were specifically designed to expose those things which Egyptians believed to be gods, to be completely impotent against the God of the Hebrew slaves. For God to pick up a nation of slaves and bring them out of Egypt was an event of huge ramifications in the eyes of all the nations that observed it. Trouble in Ukraine would be small potatoes compared to what the exodus meant to the world at that time. And then to part the Red Sea so that the Israelites could escape the Egyptian army which was drowned when the waters returned, quite literally put the fear of God into surrounding nations. 40 years later as Israel was finally poised to enter the Promised Land, Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho tells Israeli spies that they have heard the reports and that on the basis of those reports she knew that their God was the true God of heaven and earth. It’s all there in Joshua chapter 2, if you want to refresh your memory. In a world where the legitimacy of a God was established through pure power, I’m afraid gentle Jesus meek and mild would have been rather ineffectual. Instead God worked to make Himself known to the people of that age in a language that they understood. He chose a man willing to follow Him and from Abraham created a nation that would ideally recognize Him as their God and follow His commands. This would make them a beacon in a dark world that would bless all nations. In a world where the credentials of a god were established by the prosperity and power of the nation that worshipped this god, Israel and their God were to be the place where security was found. Their dramatic exodus from Egypt was to gain the attention of the whole world and keep it as they continued to grow and prosper. God gave them laws that would enable them to do so. When Moses passed on the laws that God gave them this is what he said : “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut. 4:5-8) The problem with the plan was that Israelites themselves were not so cooperative. 40 years after the exodus Rahab still remembered what God did to the Egyptians and respected Him for it. The Israelites, on the other hand, were barely 40 days out of Egypt when they made the golden calf and called it the gods who brought them out of Egypt. This would continue to be a perpetual issue between God and the Israelites. The whole idea was for their partnership to be something that stood out among all the nations. But the Israelites kept running after other
  5. 5. gods. There was little point in God protecting and blessing them if they were merely going to turn around and credit a chunk of wood or stone or metal for their protection and blessings. Besides, the laws God gave them had intrinsic benefits to them, but they ignored them, therefore it would be unnatural for them to prosper while doing stupid things. That is why God spent an inordinate amount of time first dealing with the Israelites, trying to convince them that He was the only true God. If Hezekiah had not put his trust in God and relied on Him for salvation instead of an alliance with Egypt, like Israel did, God could not have rescued Jerusalem and Judah in the dramatic fashion that He did. This explains much of what we read in Isaiah and will read in the coming prophets. The whole idea of the partnership between Israel and God is to introduce the rest of the world to the one true God. By sticking with God and following His laws the Israelites would grow and prosper, and by working through the Israelites God had a vehicle to reach other nations. It’s a win-win situation. But if the Israelites ignored God and His laws the whole thing breaks down, and everybody loses. By going after idols of other nations Israel made it impossible for God to work through them. For one they ignored Him and would not do what He said, for two, if He did do something unilaterally that would benefit them, they would turn around and credit their idols with providing the blessing. And so God through Isaiah lays it all out, and calls His people to come and reason together. Because they had ignored God and His laws their society was already breaking down. Because they had put their trust in chunks of wood instead of the living God they were being cut down and harassed by other nations. If they continued in that direction it would all end in tears. If they came back to God things would get better for them. God even gives them glimpses of what could be if they would only partner with Him. “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:2-5) Through Israel God wanted to reach all the nations of the world. People say that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different than the God of the New Testament. No He’s not. God may use different methods to reach people at different points in history based on the prevailing world view of the time, but He Himself still has one goal. Because the God who in the New Testament said: “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” (2 Peter 3:9) is the same God who said in the Old Testament:
  6. 6. “Foreigners will follow me. They will love me and worship in my name; they will respect the Sabbath and keep our agreement. I will bring them to my holy mountain, where they will celebrate in my house of worship. Their sacrifices and offerings will always be welcome on my altar. Then my house will be known as a house of worship for all nations. I, the LORD, promise to bring together my people who were taken away, and let them join the others.” (Isaiah 56:6-8) God is the same yesterday, today and forever and He has always wanted his children, ALL His children of every nation to be with Him. Not everyone will respond to Him, but all are invited.
  7. 7. “Foreigners will follow me. They will love me and worship in my name; they will respect the Sabbath and keep our agreement. I will bring them to my holy mountain, where they will celebrate in my house of worship. Their sacrifices and offerings will always be welcome on my altar. Then my house will be known as a house of worship for all nations. I, the LORD, promise to bring together my people who were taken away, and let them join the others.” (Isaiah 56:6-8) God is the same yesterday, today and forever and He has always wanted his children, ALL His children of every nation to be with Him. Not everyone will respond to Him, but all are invited.