Isaiah 13:1 – 14:2
[Note: I was trying to be less tied to my notes, hence their relative brevity]
The recent horse-meat scandal has prompted food critic Giles Coren to ask:-
“What on earth did you think they put in [value burgers]? Prime cuts of delicious free-range, organic, rare breed, heritage beef, grass-fed, Eton-educated, humanely slaughtered, dry-aged and hand-ground by fairies…?”
This led me to think about the thoughts that get fed to our minds.
Certainly, from glancing at today’s news headlines, it wouldn’t occur to you that God had much to do with anything at all.
What has God got to do with world events?
This is where a prophet can help us. Especially Isaiah.
A change of gear, signalled in Isa 13:1 (mirroring Isa 1:1). A series of oracles concerning the nations: Babyon, Assyria, Philistines, Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, and so on.
1. Who is in control?
Obvious answer: Assyria.
However, it would be Babylon who would conquer Judah and carry its people off into exile. Ch 39.
But what does God say to Babylon?
V3 – “I have commanded… I have summoned… I will punish…I will put an end…I will humble the pride of the ruthless…I will make man scarcer than pure gold…I will make the heavens tremble…I will stir up against them the Medes.”
This isn’t just about Babylon circa 700BC. The language strains towards something global; cosmic even. Isa 13:11, 13. Esp. Isa 14:24ff
So who’s in control? Yesterday, Egypt. Today, Assyria. Tomorrow, Babylon. The day after that, Persia. Then Rome. Even Britain would rule the waves for a moment. Then the United States. Who’s next: China?
Don’t allow God to be air-brushed from your picture of the world. Allow these chapters in Isaiah to act as ‘faithbuilders’. Let them reveal to you the true character of God. Let them show you that he is working in the world. Let them remind you of the folly of opposing his purposes. Fix it in your mind that God reigns and that everything that happens is under his control, ‘orchestrated towards the fulfilment of his eternal plan.’
2. Where is it all heading?
The prophets of doom today are not the theologians, but the scientists. They predict a catastrophic end to life as we know it, brought about by climate change, asteroid impact, or perhaps a runaway pandemic.
Recently, scientists have been probing the properties of the Higgs boson. Using a concept called ‘vacuum instability’ they predict that a completely new universe could open up in the present one and replace it. But don’t lose too much sleep about it: it won’t happen for several billion years.
Isaiah has his sights set on the more immediate future. He speaks, Isa 13:9ff, of ‘the day of the Lord’ which will devastate Babylon. See vv19ff. It’s true: history records what prophecy had predicted: Babylon would vanish from the face of the earth.
But, once again, there is something bigger going on. ‘Babylon’ has a special significance right through Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. The name symbolises human civilisation in rebellion against God.
‘The day of the Lord’ for Babylon is, accordingly, but a preview of a final ‘Day of the Lord’ that will happen at the end of time.
2 Pet 3:10 – ‘The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.’
Looking back, then, we see the historic fall of Babylon. Looking forward, we see the future collapse of all human power that sets itself up in defiance against God.
What does this mean for us, living between these times? We can leave the work of judgement to God, who has ‘set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed’ (Acts 17:31). As Christians we are taught not to judge, condemn, or retaliate, no matter how badly we are treated by the world. We can live with serenity, rather than savagery.
3. What hope is there?
Philosopher Alain de Botton has recently challenged his fellow-atheists to consider what virtues might add up to a ‘good life’. He proposes a list of ten: resilience, empathy, patience, sacrifice, politeness, humour, self-awareness, forgiveness, confidence, and hope.
But merely advising people to be hopeful is like telling depressed people to cheer up, or anxious people to stop worrying.
Without God, what ultimate hope could there possibly be? Eph 2:12 – ‘Without hope, without God.’
As for Isaiah, he knows that God’s people would go through hard times, brought on by their own disobedience and rebellion. But he also holds out a reason for hope, Isa 14:1-2
Notice the basis of this hope. The mention of Jacob and Israel recalls his ancient covenant, forged at Mount Sinai. God has not rejected his people, nor annulled his promise to them.
Notice also the scope of this hope. Is it just for a tiny remnant, for the chosen few? Burns, ‘The Prayer of Holy Willie’:-O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell Who as it pleases best thysel Sends ane to heaven an’ ten to hell A’ for thy glory
Not so: the mention of ‘aliens’ is very telling. It hints at God’s ultimate purpose in defeating and destroying the forces of evil. God’s purpose is to build a people that knows no ethnic, or economic, or cultural bounds. His purpose is to build a world-wide community.
This bud will swell in the later chapters of Isaiah, and will come to full flower in the message and mission of Jesus Christ.
But already, Isaiah has been preparing the way:-
Chapter 7 – ‘Immanuel’
Chapters 11-12 – ‘a shoot from the stump of Jesse.’
And so to Holy Communion. Here we remember our Lord’s death ‘until he comes’, 1 Cor 11:26; until the Day of the Lord, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Cor 1:8. He will come again not this time as a lamb to the slaughter, but as King of kings and Lord of lords, as judge of the living and the dead.
We can look forward to that day trusting that God really is in control of world events; believing that everything is headed towards the fulfilment of God’s ultimate purpose; and ‘always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have.’