BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE
A 21ST CENTURY COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH CHAPTERS 13 TO 23
REVEALING THE SECRETS OF ANCIENT PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE LANDS OF THE MIDDLE EAST
By Thomas Williamson, Th. M., Ph. D.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This book is not copyrighted and it may be reproduced in any manner in whole or in part, as long as credit is given for authorship. Publication date is 2005. Comments on this book may be addressed to Thomas Williamson, 3131 S. Archer Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60608. All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
ISAIAH 13 - DONíT MESS WITH MESOPOTAMIA
Chapter 13 is a prophecy of the conquest and overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians in the year 538 BC. Isaiah wrote this prophecy in the 8th Century before Christ, and the prophecy was fulfilled approximately 175 years later, when the Medes and Persians defeated King Belshazzar of Babylon. The fulfillment of the prediction can be found in detail in Daniel 5:24-31.
Most commentators are in agreement on this point, that Isaiah 13 and 14 were fulfilled when Darius the Mede and Cyrus King of Persia conquered Babylon in 538 BC. These fulfilled prophecies in the Bible are a great and convincing proof of the inspiration of the Bible, providing evidence for us that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. For those who lived in ancient times, these fulfilled predictions by the prophets were evidences which authenticated the divinely inspired nature of the Old Testament books that have been passed down to us today. Sometimes God gave his prophets predictions of events which were to occur very soon (Isaiah 16:14, for instance, which was fulfilled in 3 years) in order that there might be a rapid confirmation of the inspired status of that prophet, for the benefit of people in his own generation. Other prophecies, like Isaiah 13, were for a more distant time.
The Old Testament prophets wrote their prophecies for the people of their own times, for their edification, in a manner that could be understood as referring to actual, known nations of those days. Just imagine the rejoicing and the encouragement among the Jews at the time of the fall of Babylon in 538 BC, when they saw in their Bibles that this great event had been predicted by Isaiah almost 2 centuries previously.
Unfortunately, the significance of Isaiahís fulfilled prophecy in Isaiah 13 has been obscured by some modern speculative prophecy teachers who insist that this prophecy was not fulfilled when the Persians overthrew Babylon in the 6th Century BC, and that it has still not been fulfilled. For instance, C.I. Scofield, in his notes on Isaiah 13:1 in the Old Scofield Reference Bible, says, "The city, Babylon, is not in view here . . . It is important to note the significance of the name when used symbolically." In other words, Scofield says that Isaiah is not referring to the actual and literal Babylon that existed in his time, which was known to his hearers, but rather to some other "Babylon" which is non-literal, figurative and symbolical, a "Babylon" totally unknown to his hearers, a mysterious entity that would not come along for almost 3000 years in the future. This notion would have Isaiah deceiving his hearers by allowing them to think that he was talking about the actual nation of Babylon that they knew of and were familiar with, when actually he was talking about something else entirely.
The Scofield dispensationalist system of Bible interpretation is defended mainly on the basis that it is the only system that interprets the Bible literally while all others interpret the Bible in a non-literal manner. But, as we see in Isaiah 13, Scofield rejects the obvious literal interpretation of this passage because such a literal interpretation does not fit his preconceived theological system. He puts "Babylon" in quotes so that his followers will understand that he is not talking about the literal Babylon of Isaiahís time, and he comes up with double fulfillments and "near and far fulfillments" so that he can wrench ancient prophecies, such as this one, out of their historical context and apply them to future events manufactured by his fertile imagination.
(Many other examples can be given of Scofieldís non-literal system of interpretation. For instance, in his notes on Genesis 1, he teaches that the days of creation may not have been literal 24-hour days, but rather periods of time marked off by a beginning and an ending. Nowadays, most fundamentalist Christian scholarly interpreters and many trained, qualified Christian men of science accept the days of creation as literal 24-hour days, but Scofield somehow felt it necessary to transmute them into non-literal creative ages).
Scofieldís comments on Isaiah 13 and 14 are an incomprehensible jumble of literal and non-literal, symbolical-political and symbolical-religious, city and world-system, near and far, political and ecclesiastical, actual and mystical. He jumps backwards and forwards like a time-traveler out of control, finding 13:12-16 to be a reference to Jews in a future tribulation period, then in the middle of chapter 14 leaping back to before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
The only way to make Isaiah 13:12-16 refer to an end-times tribulation period for the "Jewish remnant" is to abandon any semblance of literal interpretation of this passage. We are told in v. 15 that the soldiers in this battle are fighting with swords, and that they use bows in v. 18. In v. 19, and also in Isaiah 21:2 and Jeremiah 51:11, 28, we are told that the Medes (a people who no longer exist in any identifiable form) will be stirred up against "them" which is a clear reference to "Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeesí excellency," v. 19. The Chaldeans, like the Medes, are a people who no longer exist. Babylon was overthrown in ancient times, by armies using ancient weapons that no modern armies use today, and eventually the site of Babylon was abandoned, verses 20-22. How is it possible to have a future fulfillment of this overthrow of Babylon?
Speculative prophecy teachers solve this problem by saying that Babylon will simply have to be rebuilt so that it can be overthrown again, in order to fulfill their own prophetic speculations. Those who insist on the future literal rise and re-destruction of Babylon cannot agree among themselves as to the nature or location of this end-times "Babylon." Many have identified the future Babylon as the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. Others have identified it with modern-day Iraq, an interpretation which became instantly popular after the Gulf War of 1990-1991, as "prophecy teachers" reinterpreted and twisted ancient Biblical texts to fit the latest events in their daily newspapers. Others have said that the end-times Babylon will be the United States, with some pinpointing it to the city of New York (the "proof" being that there is a suburb on Long Island, New York called Babylon).
Once we put "Babylon" in quotes and make it non-literal, as Scofield does, we can make Babylon mean anything we want it to mean, and the followers of his theological system have done just that, proposing all sorts of contradictory theories as to where Babylon is to be found in the end-times. Scofield himself adds to the hodge-podge, or shall we say, the "Babel" of confusion on this issue, by finding not one but 2 distinct end-times Babylons, an ecclesiastical Babylon in Revelation 17 and a political/commercial Babylon in Revelation 18. Dispensationalists disagree as to whether or not the literal Babylon must be rebuilt on its original site in order to fulfill their competing versions of the end-times Babylon. Scofield himself, in his note on Revelation 18:2, says, "The notion of a literal Babylon to be rebuilt on the site of ancient Babylon is in conflict with Isaiah 13:19-22." But the sensationalist fiction writers Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the "Left Behind" books, insist that Babylon, with all its ancient political power, must be literally rebuilt in Iraq. As we see, the dispensationalist rejection of the proper literal interpretation of Isaiah 13 has plunged modern evangelicalism into a hopelessly confused mish-mash of speculative opinions and guesswork as to the true meaning of Babylon.
The way to cut through the confusion as to the meaning of Isaiahís prophecy is to return to a proper, literal understanding of Isaiah 13 in its historical context, and to set aside all the speculative, non-literal hypotheses that have been built up over the years.
While not fully agreeing with Scofieldís treatment of the Babylon question, we can agree that Scofield stumbled onto a profound truth when he said that "The notion of a literal Babylon to be rebuilt on the site of ancient Babylon is in conflict with Isaiah 13:19-22." A few old buildings from Babylon may be restored as a tourist attraction, but the empire, the world-system, the world-dominating superpower of Babylon was literally overthrown 2500 years ago and will never be revived. The basic theme of the best-selling pop prophecy books, that proclaim the literal resurrection of Babylon in modern Iraq, is totally mistaken. Those who will not hear and heed the word of Isaiah on this matter are invited to hear the word of Scofield: IT SHALL NEVER BE REBUILT!
IRAQ OF AGES - WAS BABYLON LITERALLY DESTROYED AS PROMISED?The sensationalist prophecy teachers insist that Babylon was not literally destroyed in ancient times, as described and prophesied in Isaiah 13:19-22; therefore, the prophecy must be for a future time. If so, then Isaiah was mistaken in 13:6 when he said the destruction of Babylon was "at hand." If it was more than 2700 years in the future, then it certainly was not "at hand."
However, the history of Babylon shows that Babylon was indeed destroyed as Isaiah said it would be. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, published by Moody Press, says, "In these verses the Lord very definitely predicts for historical Babylon eventual extinction of a most permanent sort. Later history saw the literal fulfillment of this prophecy, for Babylon was completely deserted by the 7th Century AD."
According to C. Marvin Pate and J. Daniel Hays, in "Iraq - Babylon of the End Times?," "When German archaeologists began excavations of Babylon in 1899, the entire site was desolate and unoccupied. . . . Except for a brief period of renewal under Antiochus IV (173 BC), Babylon for all practical purposes ceased to exist. At the time of the Parthian takeover of Mesopotamia, Mithridates II (122 BC) apparently found Babylon in ruin. Strabo, the historian and geographer, said as much in 24 BC. By his time, Babylon had for the most part been abandoned, and only its walls remained. In AD 116, the Roman emperor Trajan wintered in Babylon, finding nothing except ruins. Babylonís desolation, like that of Nineveh before it, by now was proverbial. A 2nd Century AD piece written by Lucian said that Nineveh had vanished without a trace and that soon men would search in vain for Babylon."
The prophecy buffs insist that the destruction of Babylon in ancient times was not literal enough to suit their fancy, so we have to go through the whole shebang once more. It is true that Babylon was not immediately destroyed and abandoned at the time of the Persian conquest in 538 BC, but Isaiah never said that the abandonment of Babylon would take place immediately after its fall to the Persians. He did not set any time limit on the fulfillment of Babylonís abandonment, but clearly it did take place eventually. Isaiah states that God would stir up the Medes against Babylon to carry out the prophesied overthrow of Babylon. Where are the Medes today? Clearly this prophecy was fulfilled in ancient times - there is no need for a double fulfillment or "near and far fulfillment." In Isaiah 13:22, the prophet says of Babylon, "Her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged." Those who try to prolong the final fulfillment of the prophecy against Babylon and to stretch it out more than 2700 years into the future from Isaiahís time, are going against the Word of God.
The "Day of the Lord" mentioned in Isaiah 13:9 is not a reference to the Second Coming of Christ. His coming is not mentioned at all in conjunction with the prophecies against Babylon. Gary DeMar, in "Last Days Madness," says, "The Ďday of the LORDí often refers to a time of judgment without referring to the final judgment. Itís the Ďday of the LORDí any time God acts. . . . The Bible gives us a number of occasions when the Ďday of the LORDí was Ďnear" (Obadiah 15, Isaiah 34:5, 8, Ezekiel 30:2-11, Zephaniah 1:4, 7, 14). There is no reason to assume that these Bible references indicate a distant time and a people unfamiliar to the audience of the prophets."
In Isaiah 21:9, we see the fall of Babylon announced by a messenger riding a horse-drawn chariot: "And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen." News is not nowadays carried by men riding horse-drawn chariots. Clearly, this is a prophecy of Babylonís fall in ancient times.
Jeremiah states repeatedly (Jeremiah 50:11-17, 28-29, 33-34, 51:10-11, 24, 35-36, 49, 56) that the reason for Godís judgment on Babylon was to punish that nation for their brutal conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Why would God wait 2700 years to carry out that punishment, and then do so against the modern inhabitants of Iraq who have no connection with the Babylonians and who had nothing to do with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC?
In Isaiah 44:28, the prophet tells us that the Persian king Cyrus would perform all of Godís pleasure with regard to the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple. In the next verse, Isaiah 45:1, we are told that Cyrusí mission included the subduing of nations, specifically Babylon (see also 47:1). Finally, we are told in Isaiah 48:14-15, with regard to Cyrus, "The LORD hath loved him; he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous." God specifically stated that Cyrus, who died 2500 years ago, would perform all of Godís pleasure in judging Babylon. Therefore, the prophecy has been completely, totally fulfilled - there is no double fulfillment, no "near and far fulfillment," no need for Babylon to be reconstructed and then destroyed again in order to fulfill the prophecy. In fact, Isaiah has specifically ruled out any possibility of any of the prophecy against Babylon being left undone by Cyrus. As Pate and Hays say, "It is important to underscore that every significant scholarly commentator on Isaiah, conservative and nonconservative alike, past and present, believes that Isaiah 48:14-15 refers to Cyrus. Cyrus fulfilled Isaiahís prophecies about the destruction of Babylon. Babylon was conquered by Cyrus and shortly thereafter fell into ruin and disuse. There is no reason to assume that Babylon must be rebuilt in order for these prophecies to be fulfilled. These verses are a serious rebuttal of the view of Dyer, Chambers, and LaHaye, who have popularized the view that the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Babylon were not fulfilled by Cyrus and thus must take place in the future." Further, they observe that "the vast majority of scholars in the field of Old Testament studies maintains that the prophesied judgment on Babylon has already taken place."
BABYLON OR BUST - IRAQ IN THE BIBLE
Nowadays, the nation of Iraq is a center of attention for all of us, and since ancient Babylon was located in what is now modern-day Iraq, this raises the question as to whether the current military actions in Iraq (Second Gulf War, begun in 2003) are a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
The key Old Testament prophecy of the destruction of Babylon is found in Isaiah 13. At this time (713 BC) Babylon was beginning its rise to imperial domination, but Isaiah predicted that Babylon would be overthrown by the Medes. The prophecy was fulfilled in 538 BC (Daniel 5).
It should be clear that this overthrow of Babylon took place in ancient times, since the conquerors are described as using swords, v. 15, and bows, v. 18. The Medes (v. 17) are a nation that no longer exists in any identifiable fashion today.
Some have objected that Isaiah 13 must refer to the destruction of a future Babylon to be rebuilt by Saddam Hussein or by the Antichrist. They point to Isaiah 13:20 which says that Babylon will never be inhabited after its overthrow. It is a known fact that Babylon continued to be inhabited for many centuries after its conquest by Darius the Mede in 538 BC. However, eventually the site was abandoned and became ruins, thus fulfilling Isaiahís prophecy. There is no need to have Babylon rebuilt so that the prophecy can be fulfilled yet again.
Some have assumed that Isaiahís reference to the "Day of the Lord" has to do with end-times judgment associated with Christís Second Coming. This is not correct. There are many "Days of the Lord" in the Bible. In Isaiah 34:8 and Obadiah 15 it refers to a judgment on ancient Edom. In Joel 1:15 and Amos 5:18 it refers to judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel, which was overthrown by the Assyrians in 722 BC. In Zephaniah 1:7 it refers to the destruction of Judah in 586 BC.
The "Day of the Lordí is whatever day in which God brings judgment on a nation that has rebelled against Him. For Babylon, that judgment fell in the year 538 BC.
Others insist that this destruction of Babylon must be future, because the constellations, sun and moon were not literally darkened when Babylon fell in 538 BC (Isaiah 13:10). However, no one would seriously believe that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the "Coalition of the Willing" are capable of fulfilling this prophecy by literally extinguishing the sun, moon and stars as part of the campaign against Iraq.
We must realize that this apocalyptic language signifies the fall of earthly powers such as the rulers of Babylon, and is not meant to be taken literally. Such "lights out" descriptions are common in the Old Testament, referring to the overthrow of Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-8), Edom (Isaiah 34:4-5), the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 8:9) and the Jewish rulers of Judah in the 2nd Century BC (Daniel 8:10).
Since no one seriously expects to see the total dissolution of the sun, moon and stars as a result of the current military action against Saddam Husseinís Iraq, or at any time before the end of the Millennium, it makes no sense to maintain that Isaiahís "lights out" prophecy against Babylon was not fulfilled in ancient times.
(Note for those who reject the non-literal interpretation of the darkening of the sun, moon and stars in Isaiah 13 - this could have been fulfilled literally if there had been clouds and "foul weather" on the night of the fall of Babylon in 538 BC, which is how Matthew Henryís commentary interprets the passage. We simply do not know enough to say that this part of the prophecy was not fulfilled in 538 BC).
How about Jeremiahís prophecy against Babylon in Jeremiah chapters 50-51 - could that refer to modern Iraq? The answer is no - these chapters are full of details that point to the fall of ancient Babylon. Jeremiah 50:2, 38, 51:17 mention Babylonian idols, which are no longer objects of worship in modern Iraq. Verses 50:14, 16, 29, 35-37, 42, 51:3, 11, 20, 56 mention ancient obsolete weapons that are no longer used in battle today. 50:42 says all the invaders will ride upon horses. The Medes and other ancient peoples, that no longer exist today, are mentioned in 51:27-28. The Israelite captives are released as a result of the fall of ancient Babylon, 50:19, 33-34. This was fulfilled in 538 BC (see Ezra 1:3) and would not apply to modern Iraq, which is not holding any Jews captive.
Some will say, "What about the Babylon denounced in Revelation 17-18 - could that be modern Iraq?" There are a multitude of interpretations concerning the identity of the Babylon of Revelation. Some say it is ancient Rome, others that it is modern Rome. Some say it is ancient Jerusalem, or modern Jerusalem. Some say it is a future One World government, or a One World Church, and many over the centuries have said it is the Roman Catholic Church. Some say it is the United States, and some say it is New York City (the "proof" is the existence of a suburb on Long Island called Babylon).
C. I. Scofield, with his usual talent for hairsplitting and "wrongly dividing the word of truth," manages to come up with 2 entirely distinct Babylons in Revelation, one of them political and the other ecclesiastical.
Yes, there are those who believe that Revelation 17-18 refers to a literal Babylon to be rebuilt in Iraq so it can be destroyed again. Babylon was already destroyed after the Persian conquest in the 6th Century BC, so there really is no need for "deja vu all over again" and to have Babylon literally rebuilt and destroyed again. Isaiah prophesied the overthrow of Babylon as a massive political world-system and superpower - he was not talking about Saddamís rebuilt tourist attraction which is probably less substantial than your local Six Flags amusement park.
All too many of our prophetical speculations are based on the mistaken notion that past prophecies of mayhem and destruction were not fulfilled literally enough, so we have to go through those devastations again and again, until enough blood and guts have been made to flow through the deserts of the Middle East to satisfy the most enthusiastic prophecy buffs.
Some will ask, "Could this current invasion of Iraq be the Battle of Armageddon?" Aside from the fact that the literal valley of Megiddo is hundreds of miles from Iraq, we need to consider the fact that nowhere does the Bible say specifically that there is going to be a battle at Armageddon in the end times.
Here is the sum total of what the Bible says about Armageddon, in Revelation 16:16: "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." Thatís it. Based on this slender reference, an elaborate mythology has been constructed about the battle of Armageddon, spawning a multi-million dollar industry of gruesome, terrifying doomsday videos. The Revelation reference may indicate that Armageddon is a staging ground for the armies of the kings of the earth, but it does not state that any literal battle will be fought there.
When the previous Gulf War with Iraq was fought in 1991, a lot of folks got all excited and thought that this was a sign of the end. Since we are all still here and the Rapture has not taken place yet, this shows that the 1991 war was not a sign of the end, and therefore there is no reason to assume that the second war with Iraq, which began in 2003, will be a sign of the end neither.
Another very good reason for caution in predicting the Rapture based on ongoing commotions in Iraq, is that the Bible does not state nor hint that such activity in Iraq, or in the land of ancient Babylon, is a sign of the Rapture.
The Old Testament predictions of doom against Babylon were fulfilled in ancient times. As for the predictions against Babylon in the Book of Revelation, we need to admit that there is wide diversity and uncertainty of interpretations of some of the symbols of that book. To apply these predictions against modern Iraq is pure speculation, nothing more.
Also, the book of Revelation was never intended to give us a detailed rundown of future events in whatever decade we happen to be living in, after the style of Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon and Mother Shipton. Letís leave that stuff for the supermarket tabloids, and recognize that the Bible does not give us any inside information on, or countdown to, the date of Christís Second Coming. "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Matthew 24:36.
WHY THE BABYLON OF REVELATION 17-18 IS NOT IRAQ
Those who teach that the prophecies of Revelation 17-18 must be fulfilled in modern day Iraq, which is the site of the ancient Babylon, say that we must interpret the reference to Babylon literally: "Babylon is Babylon, period, end of discussion." (But these are the same people who follow the teaching of Scofield, who insisted that the Babylon of Isaiah 13 is figurative and non-literal).
Whereas Isaiah was preaching about literal nations of his own time, in a manner that was intended literally, the book of Revelation is a book of symbols, that are not meant to be taken literally. No one insists that Christ is a literal lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes, Revelation 5:6. No one says that there ever has been or will be a woman literally standing on the moon and wearing the sun, Revelation 12:1. No one insists that there will be an Antichrist with 7 heads, 10 horns, feet like a bear and a lionís mouth, Revelation13:1-2. No one insists that the Sodom or Egypt of Revelation 11:8 are literally Sodom and Egypt, or that the "Jezebel" of Revelation 2:20 is the literal resurrected Jezebel from the 9th Century BC.
John tells us at the beginning of the book that the things in these book are "signified" or "sign-ified," Revelation 1:1. To signify means to represent by the use of signs. David Chilton, in "Days of Vengeance," says, "The use of this word tells us that the prophecy is not simply to be taken as Ďhistory written in advance.í It is a book of signs, symbolic representations of the approaching events. The symbols are not to be understood in a literal manner. We can see this by St. Johnís use of the same term in his Gospel (12:33; 18:32; 21:19). In each case, it is used of Christ Ďsignifyingí a future event by a more or less symbolic indication, rather than by a prosaic, literal description. And this is generally the form of the prophecies in the Revelation. It is a book of symbols from beginning to end. . . . This does not mean the symbols are unintelligible; the interpretation is not what any individual chooses to make of it. . . . The only way to understand St. Johnís system of symbolism is to become familiar with the Bible itself."
Merrill Tenney, in "Interpreting Revelation," says, "This term evidently meant a kind of communication that is neither plain statement nor an attempt at concealment. It is figurative, symbolic, or imaginative, and is intended to convey truth by picture rather than by definition." Ralph Bass, in "Back to the Future - A Study in the Book of Revelation," says, "In properly understanding this word, Ďsignified,í you have in your hand a major key to understanding the Book of Revelation. A sign is not the real thing; the thing pointed to be the sign is the real thing, and this is the distinction that is often missed, resulting in serious errors of interpretation when the sign is seen as the real thing." There are those who object to this non-literal interpretation of Revelation, yet they do not take the "stars," "angels" or "candlesticks" of Revelation 1:20 literally, nor do they believe that Christians will literally be made into pillars in some future temple (Revelation 3:12), nor do they take the stars of heaven of Revelation 6:13 literally, calling them meteors, nor do they take the locusts of Revelation 9:3 literally, instead transmuting them into Cobra helicopters. Nor do they insist that the Beast will literally walk out of the ocean (Revelation 13:1) in the manner of the Van Heusen shirt man from the television commercials of the late 1960's.
The first big mistake of those who seek a literal re-building and re-destruction of Babylon in the modern land of Iraq is to insist that Babylon be taken literally, while rejecting the obvious literal fulfillment of the destruction of ancient Babylon in the 6th Century BC, as predicted by Isaiah in Chapters 13 and 14.
Clearly, there is no need for a literal Babylon to be rebuilt and then destroyed in modern day Iraq in order to fulfill Revelation 17-18. There are good reasons for believing that the Babylon of Revelation has nothing to do with modern Iraq.
1. In Revelation 17:3 "Babylon" is represented as riding on the Beast with 7 heads and 10 horns, which Beast we saw back in Revelation 13:1. It is generally agreed that this Beast represents Rome. Modern Iraq has no connection with Rome, whether you understand the Beast as being a symbol of ancient Rome, modern Italy, the European Community or the Roman Catholic Church.
2. Revelation 17:9 describes the woman (Babylon) as sitting on 7 mountains. There are no mountains in or near the literal city of Babylon, which was located on a flat plain along the Euphrates River.
3. The woman is depicted in Revelation 17:6 as being drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus. The modern government of Iraq has not been known as a persecutor of Christians in recent years - there are hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iraq who experienced a measure of religious freedom and protection under Saddam Hussein, and presumably will continue to do so under American domination.
4. Peter, in 1 Peter 5:13, states that he and Mark are in "Babylon," which is evidently a code word for another location, regarded by most commentators as either Jerusalem or Rome. Nowhere in the Bible or in early Christian tradition are either Peter nor Mark ever associated with the literal Babylon on the Euphrates, nor is there any evidence that there was a Christian church there in apostolic times.
5. Revelation 17:18 describes the woman as "that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." In no way could this apply to the modern archaeological site of Babylon, nor to Baghdad or any other site in Iraq. Iraq does not rule over any other kings or nations, and there are no prospects of that nation doing so in the foreseeable future.
As Pate and Hays say in their book in Iraq in prophecy, "If this argument for a literal, future, resurrected city of Babylon is so strong, why does a majority of New Testament scholars reject it? This view persists only in popular literature; it is practically absent from scholarly literature on the Book of Revelation. . . . In popular literature, views can be stated without having to withstand serious, biblically based, scholarly scrutiny; therefore, the Ďresurrected modern city of Babyloní view goes largely unchallenged. In scholarly literature, however, this view has been rigorously challenged on biblical grounds and has been found wanting."
It is beyond the scope of this book to try to establish the correct primary interpretation of the Babylon of Revelation 17-18, but interested enquirers are urged to interpret the symbolic language of Revelation in the light of the context of the Word of God and of the time period in which (and for which) the Apostle John wrote this book. Johnís readers in the First Century AD were supposed to be able to understand what John was talking about (Revelation 1:3, 13:18), and they knew nothing of Saddam Hussein or modern Iraq, nor would they have understood Johnís prophecy as a reference to Saddam or Iraq.
Is it really that important to avoid misunderstanding and mis-application of Bible prophecy? Yes, if those false conceptions of Bible prophecy are used to promote and justify disastrous and costly wars in the Middle East. "Left Behind" author Tim LaHaye, in a press release he issued late in the year 2003, stated: "The present-day tension in the Middle East is falling in line with biblical [sic] prophecy . . . Iraq will play a prominent role in upcoming events leading to Christís return. . . . The author and theologian says the war to liberate Iraq will pave the way for that nation eventually to emerge as a world power . . . Scripture suggests that Iraq is going to rise to prominence." Notice that the rise of Iraq is only "suggested" in the Bible, according to LaHaye, yet he bases foreign policy and an entire series of "prophecy" books on this speculation. The Bible certainly does not teach anything about the prominence of Iraq in the last days, nor does the Bible teach that the United Nations headquarters are to be moved to Babylon, as taught in the "Left Behind" fictional prophecy novels, which are accepted as gospel truth by many readers.
Pate and Hays, in "Iraq - Babylon of the End Times?," say, "There is absolutely no biblical evidence to support the theory that Babylon will be resurrected to play a role in the end-times. The problem with the view of LaHaye, Dyer and others is that it might very well have a damaging effect on American foreign policy. It is extremely dangerous for Americans to think that large-scale war in the Middle East is an imminent prophetic certainty. And how disastrously foolish Americans are to hold this view when the biblical evidence in fact argues against it! The Bible does not forecast end-time prominence for Iraq, and it is important for interpreters of the Bible to realize this, for only then can they avoid the possible devastating results of misinterpreting Scripture. . . . Even scarier is the global threat that could result from the wedding of contemporary misinformed biblical prophecy and American foreign policy in the Middle East."
ISAIAH 14 - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACKIn the first 3 verses of Isaiah 14, we see a description of the restoration of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, in their own land. We see that the Jews have been relieved of the hard bondage they were under, and that they are now ruling over those who previously oppressed them. This prophecy is a continuation of chapter 13 which predicts the overthrow of Babylon, which was fulfilled in 538 BC. Clearly in Isaiah 14 we are still in that ancient time period, since 14:4 refers to the overthrow of the king of Babylon. It was immediately after his overthrow by the Medes and Persians that the Jews returned from their captivity. Jeremiah prophesied that the Jews would be captives in Babylon for 70 years and then return to their homeland. (Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10, 14, Daniel 9:2). To apply this prophecy to the restoration of Israel in 1948 AD would be a non-literal spiritualizing of a text that clearly describes events at the time of the literal fall of the literal king of Babylon 2500 years ago.
The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other Old Testament prophets concerning the restoration of Israel were fulfilled in the 6th century BC when the Jews returned to their land after being released from their Babylonian captivity. It is that great event, that fulfillment of prophecy, that we are reading about here in Isaiah 14, not some later restoration in modern times which has nothing to do with the Old Testament prophecy of the restoration of the Jews 70 years after being taken captive by Babylon in 586 BC. (Shortly after the founding of modern Israel in 1948, Baptist Evangelist John R. Rice stated that "There is no prophetic significance in the present partial worldly establishment of a Jewish state in Israel." He stated that the founding of Israel in 1948 was not a sign that the Rapture would come soon. Some Christians were taken in by the sensationalistic teaching of Hal Lindsey who taught in his book "The Late Great Planet Earth" that the Rapture would come within one generation of the founding of Israel, or by 1988. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the restoration of the nation of Israel would be a sign of the Rapture - it was a traditional belief, but time has shown that belief to be wrong).
In 14:1, Isaiah says that strangers of the Gentiles will join with the Jews as they return to Israel. We find another reference to that in Zechariah 8:23, a prophecy given during that time period of the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." Matthew Poole says, "ĎThe strangers shall be joined with them:í so they did in part at their coming from Babylon, being thereunto moved either by the favor which the Jews had in the Persian court, or by the consideration of their wonderful deliverance, and that exactly in the time designed by their holy prophets." See also Esther 8:17: "And many of the people of the land became Jews: for the fear of the Jews fell upon them." All this was just a foretaste of the expansion of the gospel among the Gentiles during the Church Age. In Esther chapter 9, we see the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah 14:2 that the Jews would rule over their oppressors.
In Isaiah 14:4 the newly freed Jews take up a proverb or a taunt against the defeated king of Babylon. (Note: the mention of the king of Babylon should be sufficient to prevent us from wrenching this passage out of its historical context and applying it to "end times)." The last king of Babylon was Belshazzar, who saw the handwriting on the wall and sent for Daniel to decipher it for him, but this passage does not necessarily refer to Belshazzar alone, but to all the kings of Babylon. They were known for their oppression, v. 4, and for their cruelty, v. 6. They cut down the nations like a lumberjack cuts down trees - the word "feller" in v. 8 means lumberjack or woodsman. The kings of Babylon were pompous, proud, haughty, v. 11. They treated their captives severely, v. 17. There is general rejoicing at the news of the fall of Babylon, not just among the Jews, but among people of all nations.
Starting in v. 9, we have a description of the taunting that the King of Babylon is subjected to as he descends into hell. This is an interesting passage because it shows that the Jews in Old Testament times definitely believed in some form of life after death, even though they did not have all the teaching from the New Testament that we have today. In v. 10 we see the kings of the nations mocking the King of Babylon who has now been brought down to the level of his victims. The King who once lived in royal luxury is now bedded down with the worms, v. 11. In v. 12 the King of Babylon is referred to as Lucifer, or day-star or Light Bearer, a reference to his pride and arrogance. There are those who believe that at this point, the narrative switches over to a description of the fall of Satan back when the world was created. In their interpretation of Isaiah 13-14, they jump around the centuries, assigning chapter 13 to events yet to come in our future, then in chapter 14 jumping all the way back to the creation. This is not a wise method of Biblical interpretation - we must recognize the context of these prophecies, and seek to understand and apply them consistently with events in ancient times that were predicted by Isaiah, rather than erratically hopping around back and forth through time, thousands of years this way and that.
The word Lucifer here does not necessarily refer to the Devil, because in ancient times Lucifer simply meant morning star or day-star, and had no diabolical connotation. (In the 4th Century AD there was a Christian bishop named Lucifer, of Calaris in Sardinia, who for a while was associated with the Novatian sect, and who died in 371 AD). Besides, the original word for Lucifer in the Hebrew is heylel, which means brightness, morning star, shining star, shining one, star of the morning, day-star or shining gleam. It is a reference to the pride of the King of Babylon. Not until 405 AD did Jerome translate this word as "Lucifer" in the Latin Vulgate, from which we get the idea that it is talking about the Devil, an idea later popularized in the 17th Century by John Milton in his "Paradise Lost." But in 14:16 we see that the personage described here is a man, not an angelic being. The location of the prophecy is Babylon, not some place before the world was created. He weakened the nations, v. 12, and shook kingdoms, which could not apply to the fall of Satan which took place before there were any nations or kingdoms on earth. He is described in verses 19 and 20 as not having an honorable burial but rather being cast out of his grave. Clearly we are talking about an ordinary man with an ordinary body here, not the Devil who is a spirit being. We are talking about the shame and disgrace of the fall of the King of Babylon here. In v. 16 we are told that everyone looks narrowly on him, considering him in amazement, saying, "Who could have thought he should ever come to this?" His dynasty and his posterity are completely destroyed, verses 20-22. The land of Babylon is turned into pools, v. 23, as a result of the Persian King Cyrus flooding the land by opening the gates of the Euphrates River.
In verses 24 through 27 we have a different prophecy. Isaiah is no longer talking about Babylon; now he is prophesying the defeat of Assyria, which came to pass when the army of Sennacherib was destroyed while besieging Jerusalem during the reign of good King Hezekiah. Isaiah has dealt at length with this judgment on Assyria in Chapter 10. He throws it in again in chapter 14, so that the Jewish people, almost 200 years after Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Babylon, will be able to look back on the fulfillment of Isaiahís prophecy of the destruction of Assyria, which took place much earlier. As they reflect on the fulfillment of Isaiahís prophecy against Assyria, they will take comfort and realize that the prophecy of destruction against Babylon will also certainly be fulfilled.
In verses 28-32 we close the chapter with a prophecy against Palestina, or Philistia. This is a prophecy of judgment against the Philistines who were living in Isaiahís time, in the days of King Ahaz. Some have misunderstood this prophecy, applying it against the Palestinian Arabs of our day, and stating that this means that all of the Palestinians are soon going to be expelled from Palestine so that the Jews can take it all over. Letís take a look at this passage in its historical context, to see what it is really talking about.
First of all, we see in 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 that Uzziah, grandfather of King Ahaz, was victorious in war against the Philistines. "And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines. And God helped him against the Philistines . . . " Later on, during the reign of King Ahaz, the Philistines retook some of their lost territory and were victorious against the Jews, 2 Chronicles 28:18-19: "The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the low country, and of the south of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, and Ajalon, and Gederoth, and Shocho with the villages thereof, and Timnah with the villages thereof, Gimzo also and the villages thereof: and they dwelt there. For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel..."
It is shortly after this event, at the time of the death of Ahaz, that Isaiah prophesies against the Philistines, telling them that they are going to get clobbered. We find the fulfillment of this prophecy under the reign of King Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, in 2 Kings 18:8: "He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city." This took place about the year 700 BC. Isaiah predicted judgment against the Philistines, and the judgment came. It has nothing to do with the Palestinians of today. There is no scholarly basis for identifying the modern Palestinian Arabs with the ancient Philistines, who originally came from Greece and who died out as a people long before the time of Christ. The people to whom Isaiah delivered this prophecy would have understood it (correctly so) as a prediction of events in their own time, not 2700 years later.
We find the lesson and the application of this prophecy in v. 32. When God does great things for his people, messengers come to ask about it and find out what is going on. The answer is that God is working through history to found Zion, and to advance the interests of His kingdom, which in ancient times was represented by Israel, and now is represented by the institution of the Lordís Church and the true spiritual Israel of God which is composed of all born-again Christians everywhere (Romans 2:28-28, Galatians 3:7, 29, 6:16).
God has planted us on a firm foundation of gold, silver and precious stones that cannot be overthrown. In all the revolutions of states and kingdoms, this is a foundation on which the poor and humble of His people may trust.
ISAIAH 15 - ITíS MOURNING IN MOABIsaiah 15 and 16 contain the prophecy of Isaiah against Moab. He is talking about a nation which existed in his own time - his prophecy is directed against the then-existing nation of Moab. It has nothing to do with the modern nation of Jordan which is located where Moab used to be, to the east of the Dead Sea, nor with the modern Arabs who now occupy that territory. If there is any doubt on this point, we can refer to Isaiah 16:14 which states that the prophecy of judgment would be fulfilled against Moab within 3 years - this would refer to the Assyrian invasion of Moab which took place in about 721 BC.
The Moabites were distant cousins of the Israelites. In Genesis 19:35-37 we find that the Moabites were the descendants of Lot, nephew of Abraham. Numbers 22-24 describes the unsuccessful attempt by Balak, King of Moab, to place a curse on the people of Israel. Failing in that, Balak and his hireling prophet Balaam were successful in teaching the children of Israel to commit whoredom or fornication with the daughters of Moab, Numbers 25:1. In Judges 3 we find that Eglon King of Moab oppressed the Israelites for 18 years. On the bright side, Ruth the Moabitess was converted to the worship of Jehovah, married Boaz, and became the great-grandmother of King David. David subdued Moab and made it part of his kingdom, 2 Samuel 8:2. (But the Jews never occupied the land nor was it a part of the land promised to them, Deuteronomy 2:9). The Moabites continued to pay tribute to the Israelites as far as the time of King Ahab, but as soon as Ahab died, they stopped paying taxes and rebelled against Israel, 2 Kings 1:1, resulting in a punitive expedition against them by Israel, Judah and Edom, accompanied by the prophet Elisha. The success of that campaign against Moab is described in 2 Kings 3.
It was at that time that the Moabite King Mesha, who is mentioned in 2 Kings 3:4, erected a monument known to archaeologists as the Moabite Stone, which reads, "I Mesha, am son of Chemosh-God, King of Moab, the Dibonite. My father reigned over Moab 30 years, and I reigned after my father. And I raised this stone to Chemosh, at Korcha, as a monument of deliverance. For he delivered me from all invaders, and let me see my desire upon all my enemies."
King Meshaís boast of deliverance through the false god Chemosh turned out to be in vain, because he was defeated in battle by the Hebrews and Edomites in the time of Elisha, and then less than 2 centuries later the Moabites were defeated again by the Assyrians which is the event predicted by Isaiah.
Chapter 15 is a heart-rending description of the destruction of Moab. The principal cities of Moab are overwhelmed by a surprise attack at night, v. 1. The men express their grief by shaving their heads and beards, v. 2, and by dressing in sackcloth, v. 3. The courage of their warriors will fail, v. 4. Isaiah will express his sorrow and sympathy for the fleeing refugees of Moab, v. 5. Though they have been enemies of Israel, yet they are fellow human beings and it is believed that Moab had been allied with Israel at this time, in resisting the Assyrians. The complete desolation of the country is described in verses 6-9, and after the Moabites have suffered from the Assyrians, we find the survivors being attacked by lions, v. 9.
ISAIAH 16 - CANíT WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
In chapter 16 Isaiah urges the Moabites to renew their prior allegiance to the House of David, and to take in the refugees of Judah and give them assistance, v. 1-5. It appears that in these first 5 verses, Isaiah is telling the Moabites how they can repent and avoid the impending judgment predicted against them. He wants them to develop a closer alliance with Godís covenant people, the Jews, so that Jews and Moabites together may enjoy the protection of the king who sits on the throne of David, King Hezekiah, referred to in v. 5. (This is not an alliance based on compromise with the Devil - the Hebrew King Hezekiah is to be firmly in charge). In v. 1 Isaiah urges the Moabites throughout their land to resume sending their taxes, in the form of lambs, to the ruler of the land on the mount of the daughter of Zion, which is Jerusalem. In previous years, that was how Moab had paid their tribute (2 Kings 3:4). He implores the Moabites to hide the outcasts, v. 3, and to not betray the wandering fugitives to the Assyrians who were hunting them down. This appears to be a request for Moab to give shelter to the fugitives from Israel, although some understand it the other way around, that the fugitives are Moabites and that they are being asked to submit to the authority of the throne of David and then enjoy a place of refuge in Judah, until such time as the Assyrian spoilers and oppressors are departed from the land, which will happen shortly, v. 4.
Regardless of the identity of the refugees who are being sheltered, the message of Isaiah is clear - Jews and Moabites should get together, work together, and cooperate with each other in the face of the fearsome threat posed by the Assyrian invasion of Palestine, but they should do so under the authority of the tabernacle of David, v. 5, the throne of David, a reference to King Hezekiah. The Moabites are being urged here to pledge their allegiance to Hezekiah, the rightful occupant of the Davidís throne, and to Hezekiahís God, the one true God, Jehovah. This is not an ecumenical movement where everybody believes what they want to believe and the Moabites get to keep on worshiping their false god Chemosh. The Moabites are being asked in v. 5 to submit themselves to the righteousness and judgment of Godís law as revealed in the 10 Commandments and as enforced by the throne of David, upon which King Hezekiah was sitting and executing judgment. Some have thought that v. 5 is a reference to the future setting up of a temple in Jerusalem, but it is not talking about future events at all- we see here in the context that Isaiah is offering to the Moabite people of his own time an opportunity to escape the judgment of God, by uniting with the Jewish people under principles of righteousness, and of obedience to the rule of Jehovah through King Hezekiah.
And we see the answer of the Moabites to this offer of a unity coalition in time of peril in v. 6. Their answer was, in a word, "No." Their problem was pride. They were too proud, and too wise in their own conceits, to take good counsel from Isaiah or to be willing to follow the righteous leadership of Hezekiah. They also were guilty of wrath - wrath against the people of God. They used lies to promote their pride and anger, but the prophet say, "His lies shall not be so." They will not achieve the goals they think to achieve by their lies. They would rather persecute Godís people than to protect them, be protected by them, and unite against the true enemies of God, the Assyrians. How tragic it is that Godís people, who should be cooperating together against the world, the flesh and the devil, will instead remain aloof and refuse to help each other, and sometimes even fight each other. In Judges 5 the prophetess Deborah gives the honorable roll call of the tribes who joined together in the battle against King Jabin the oppressor, but in Judges 5:23 she says, "Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty."
May we never be under the curse like that of Meroz, the village that refused to take part in the battle against Godís enemies - when the powerful enemy approaches, may we always be found in the battle alongside the rest of Godís people, and may we never be found AWOL (absent without leave). May we always be found battling in the cause of the true Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, who now sits on the throne of David and whose ongoing reign of judgment and righteousness was foreshadowed by that of Hezekiah, v. 5.
The Moabites, in their pride and self-sufficiency, and their rejection of Godís established authority, rejected Isaiahís plea for a closer alliance with Judah, and from v. 7 onward we see the consequences: Therefore, everyone will howl in distress, v. 7. Rejection of Godís will always brings bad consequences and judgment. Verses 8-10 describe the destruction of the vineyards of Moab by the lords of the heathen, or Assyrians. The Moabites made raisin-cakes to offer to their false god but they would no longer be able to do that. Isaiahís bowels or innermost emotions of compassion would sympathize with Moab, v. 11, but to no avail. In v. 12 we find that Moab will weary himself in the worship of his false god Chemosh, but also to no avail. Our help is only in the Lord, not in the false gods created by men.
The last 2 verses are a postscript - apparently, after the main prophecy against Moab was revealed, God spoke to Isaiah later and gave a definite time schedule for the fulfillment of the prophecy - it would be within 3 years, as the years of a hireling, which is another way of saying 3 years exactly. Just as a workman is hired for a period of 3 years, not a day more or less, God set a definite date for the fulfillment of this prophecy so that all men could see that Isaiah was a true prophet inspired by God, not a false prophet, and so that all of Isaiahís words would be confirmed. We cannot give such definite prophecies today, for the simple reason that God is no longer giving out new revelations nor inspiring books of the Bible today, as He did in former times. The Bible is now complete, and God used fulfilled prophecies such as this one to authenticate His Word at the time that it was first written. All that is left for us is to believe it, preach it and live by it. Let us not be prideful rebels against Godís authority like the Moabites were. Let us bow before Him whose throne is established in mercy, as foreshadowed by Hezekiah in v. 5 - let us be obedient under the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits upon the throne of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.
ISAIAH 17 - DOOM OF DAMASCUSIsaiah 17 is a prophecy of doom and destruction against Damascus, which in ancient times was the capital of Syria, and still is today. We are told in v. 1 that Damascus will be taken away from being a city, and will become a ruinous heap, or a heap of ruins. On the basis of this verse, some are predicting that there will soon be a war between Israel and Syria, and that Israel will defeat Syria by dropping a nuclear bomb on Damascus that will destroy that city. The assumption here is that Isaiah was not talking about events in his own time, but rather about events to come at least 2700 years later. Unfortunately, there is a tendency, when reading these Old Testament prophetic scriptures, to assume that the events described are going to happen in our own time, and yet they never seem to come to pass as predicted.
What we need to do is look carefully at this passage for clues that will show us whether Isaiah was talking about a destruction of Damascus in that generation he was preaching to, or to a generation many centuries in the future, perhaps even our own generation as is so glibly assumed by some. Our first clue is in v. 8, where we are told that the judgment on Damascus and Syria will cause men to forsake their idolatry. That would apply very well to conditions in Isaiahís own day, at which time the Syrians and the Hebrews in the northern kingdom of Israel were given over to idolatry. It would not apply very well to our day, because the modern Syrians do not practice literal idolatry - their Muslim religion strictly forbids it. The Jews in Israel today also do not practice any literal idolatry, since their religion also forbids it.
We get another clue in v. 3-4 where we find that the judgment or calamity which brings destruction upon Damascus will simultaneously bring the same destruction on Ephraim, or the northern kingdom of Israel. We are told that at the same time that Syria is destroyed, the fortress will cease from Ephraim, v. 3, and that the glory of Jacob will be made thin, v. 4. Clearly, this passage and prophecy does not have to do with a military victory by Israel over Syria in the early 21st Century AD. Whatever judgment it is that falls upon Syria also falls upon the children of Israel at the same time.
The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when we realize that at the time that Isaiah was prophesying, Syria and Israel (the northern kingdom also known as Ephraim) were in an alliance together against the southern kingdom of Judah, and that Isaiah was the court prophet of the kingdom of Judah. Basically, what Isaiah is saying here to the King and people of Judah is, "Donít worry about the alliance of Damascus and Israel - God is going to wipe out both of them."
Letís refresh our memory about this alliance of Syria and Israel against Judah. In Isaiah 7:1-9 it is described as a confederacy between Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel. In Isaiah 7:17 we find out who is going to be Godís agent of destruction against Israel and Syria - it will be the king of Assyria. In Isaiah 8:12-13 the prophet counsels the people not to be afraid of the confederacy of Syria and Israel against Judah.
By now it should be evident that Isaiah is prophesying judgment against the Damascus of his own generation, not against modern Damascus 2700 years later. History records that about the year 722 BC, the Assyrian kings Sargon and Shalmanezer invaded and overthrew the kingdoms of Israel and Syria. Naturally, this would have raised, in the minds of Isaiahís hearers, the question: "If the Assyrians are going to conquer and destroy Syria and Israel, then what about us down here in Judah - are they going to wipe us out, too?" Isaiah gives the answer to that in v. 14: The answer is "No" - 185,000 Assyrian troops under King Sennacherib were destroyed by the angel of the Lord, and when they woke up in the morning, the remnants of the army found that their fellow troops were all dead, and they had to end their siege of Jerusalem and beat a hasty retreat back to Assyria, where Sennacherib was later assassinated by his own sons. That familiar story is told in 2 Kings 18-19 and in Isaiah 37. It is this miraculous defeat of the Assyrian invader, during the reign of King Hezekiah, that is the subject of Isaiahís prophecy in the last several verses of Isaiah 17 and also the 18th chapter of Isaiah, which is sometimes mistakenly identified as the United States of America in prophecy, although actually it has absolutely nothing to do with the United States, as we shall see later.
Now that we understand the historical context of Isaiahís prophecy against Damascus, letís take a closer look at Isaiah 17 to see what it is talking about and how it applies to us as Christian believers in this day and age. We are told in v. 1 that the city of Damascus is to be destroyed by the invader. The houses, walls, gates and fortifications are to be laid waste and the people carried away captive. The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in 2 Kings 16:9: "And the king of Assyria hearkened unto [Ahaz]: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin." Ahaz, the king of the southern kingdom of Judah, was in fear of the northern confederacy of Syria and Israel, but as a result of the Assyrian military campaign, first against Damascus and later against Israel, the confederacy was smashed, fulfilling Isaiahís prophecy. Clearly this is not a prophecy of a 21st Century AD military attack and victory by Israel over Syria, because as Matthew Henry says, "The burden of Damascus, which was the head city of Syria, reads the doom of Israel too."
The cities of the Syrian province of Aroer, v. 2, were also destroyed, being converted into sheep pastures. As a result of Syriaís fall, the fortresses of Ephraim or the northern kingdom of Israel were soon to be destroyed also, v. 3. The remnant of Syria would be in the same weak and pitiful situation as the remnant of Israel. Few Israelites would be left, v. 4. The victorious Assyrian army would carry away the people and the spoil, v. 5, doing so in a thorough manner, leaving nothing behind, like the harvestman who carefully collects every last ear of corn, leaving nothing to go to waste. In v. 6 we are told that a remnant of Israel should escape the disaster. Some members of the 10 northern tribes of Israel remained in the land, and we find mention of them in 2 Chronicles 30, where we see members of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, Asher, Issachar and Zebulon coming down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in the reign of good King Hezekiah. In verses 7 and 8 we find that this remnant will be a sanctified remnant - as a result of the judgments they have suffered, they will repent of their sins, look up to their Creator, acknowledge His hand in all the events concerning them, and shall submit to His hand. They shall turn away from their idols, their altars, the work of their own hands, and worship the true God only.
What a wonderful application and exhortation this provides for us. Suppose that we should suffer as the Israelites did in the time of the Assyrian invasion - our homes burned down by a foreign invader, our friends and relatives carried off into exile, our livelihoods disrupted. Would it turn our hearts against God, or would it turn us back to God? According to Isaiah, the Assyrian conquest of Israel resulted in some of the children of Israel getting saved and turning back to God. Oh, that in the day of calamity, we might look to our Maker, and to the Holy One of Israel.
In v. 9 Isaiah returns to his description of the destruction to be wrought by Assyria. The strong cities will be cut down like a forsaken bough or a dead branch on a tree. The reason is given in v. 10 - it is because they forgot God. They trusted in themselves for salvation and security, and did not rely upon God to protect and save them from their enemies. All their careful cultivation of the land, described in the second half of v. 10, will come to nothing, because in v. 11 we see the enemy come in and ruin the harvest.
Verse 12 is a description of the Assyrian invader - he is noisy, and he rushes forward across the land as an irresistible multitude. In v. 13 we see that God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off. At morning they are not, v. 14. The fulfillment of this is found in Isaiah 37:36:"Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." God allowed the Assyrian armies to destroy Syria and Israel in judgment, but in His mercy He spared the southern kingdom of Judah from destruction by Assyria. Judah continued in existence 125 years longer until it was overthrown by Babylon in 586 BC.
The application of this message is clear - if we want to enjoy Godís protection and salvation, in this life and for all eternity, then we must rely on Him, and be mindful of the rock of our strength and the God of our salvation. We must not forget God. We must not turn to idols as the Syrians and Israelites did. And we must rely on God for our salvation, not on our own good works. The Israelites relied on their own altars, the work of their hands, their groves and their images, and as a result they were overthrown. We must depend on God alone for our salvation, recognizing that there is nothing worthy in us and that we have no power to save ourselves.
ISAIAH 18 - BEYOND THE RIVERS OF ETHIOPIA
Isaiah 18 is a prophecy concerning the nation of Ethiopia, as we are informed in v. 1. The land is referred to as being "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" because Ethiopia stretched far to the south, beyond the regions watered by the Nile and its tributaries, some of which flowed out of Ethiopia. The reference in v. 1 to the land shadowing with wings means that Ethiopia spreads out its noisy armies as rustling wings. In v. 2 we see that Ethiopia sends its ambassadors out by sea, perhaps first down the Nile and then across the Mediterranean, to a nation scattered and pealed (which may be a reference to the nation of Judah, or to their own nation of Ethiopia to which the messengers return). The reason for the consultation of the Ethiopian ambassadors with the nation of Judah was because of the fear and concern over the Assyrian invasion of Syria, Israel and Judah.
We saw in Isaiah 17 a promise by the prophet Isaiah that although Syria and Israel would be overthrown by the Assyrians, Judah would not be, because the Assyrian army was to be destroyed outside of Jerusalem. This prophecy against the Assyrian army is referred to again in Isaiah 18:5-6 where we are told that God will cut off the army of Assyria, v. 5, and that the dead bodies of its soldiers will be left as food for the fowls of the mountains and the beasts of the earth, v. 6. This means that the Ethiopians will not have to worry about being invaded by Assyria - the Assyrians will never be able to get that far south, because they will be stopped at Jerusalem. This is good news for the Ethiopians, and as a result, they send presents and offerings of thanksgiving to the Lord of Hosts, v. 7.
This prophetic event, of the defeat of the Assyrian armies under King Sennacherib, and the deliverance of the Kingdom of Judah under good King Hezekiah, is one of the most significant historical events of Old Testament times, and it was meant as a testimony of Godís great power, a testimony directed not only to the Ethiopian people, but to all peoples of the ancient world, and for this reason, Isaiah calls the attention of all the inhabitants of the world, v. 3, and all dwellers on the earth, to the fact that God is going to raise an ensign for His people and stop the Assyrian invader, an event which took place as prophesied in approximately the year 710 BC.
Clearly, Isaiah is speaking to his own generation here, and for this reason we cannot accept the fanciful, non-literal interpretation that has been given by some modern sensationalistic "prophecy teachers" who have taught that Isaiah 18 is a reference to the United States in prophecy. They completely ignore all literal interpretation of this prophecy, by moving the location away from Ethiopia and the Upper Nile Valley, to apply it instead to the United States, and they also wrench the prophecy out of its historical context in the late 8th Century BC in a manner that makes no sense.
Certainly, the United States is not now, nor ever was, in danger of invasion from Assyria. They imagine that the reference to shadowing with wings is a reference to the American eagle, when in fact the eagle is not mentioned in that passage at all, and besides, there have been many other nations that use the eagle as a national symbol. They say that it must be America because America sends out ambassadors, but almost every other nation in the world also sends ambassadors. American ambassadors travel by air, not by sea and definitely not in vessels made of bulrushes, v. 2.
They imagine that the reference to the rivers spoiling the land in v. 2 refers to pollution in the Mississippi and other great rivers, but most countries in the world have rivers, and the reference here is to the yearly rising of the Nile and the deposits of mud left by those yearly floods. If we are going to follow a literal approach to the Word of God whenever possible, and understand this passage in its proper historical context, then we must apply it to the ancient land of Ethiopia, which was in alliance with Judah against the Assyrians, rather than trying to apply it to the United States as some teachers have done. Isaiah, like all the other Old Testament prophets, prophesied concerning actual nations that were in existence back then, referring to them in terms that his hearers could understand.
The specific purpose of this prophecy was to encourage the Ethiopians to believe in the true God, and apparently it worked. In Psalm 68:31 David prophesied that Ethiopia would soon stretch out her hands unto God. In 2 Chronicles 32:22-23, we see that many nations, not just Ethiopia, were mightily impressed by Godís deliverance of Judah, and as a result, they brought gifts unto the Lord: "Thus the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side. And many brought gifts unto the LORD to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from henceforth."
When the Lord preserves His people, and delivers them in a spectacular way, this is a good testimony before the unbelievers and it helps to draw them to the Lord. It was certainly because of this testimony of Godís power to deliver His people, that the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts chapter 8 traveled to Judea in search of the truth, where he was converted and baptized by Philip, resulting in the planting of a Christian church in Ethiopia which has continued from ancient times to the present.
ISAIAH 19 - WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIANThis chapter is the burden of Egypt, a prophecy of judgment against Egypt. The prophecy concerning Ethiopia in chapter 18 is not called a burden because it is actually a prophecy of deliverance and good news for Ethiopia. But the prophecies against Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Damascus and Egypt are all called burdens because they are prophecies of judgment. Isaiah 19 is a longer chapter, and it has some very mysterious and dramatic references in it, which we must attempt to unlock and understand.
The first thing we must understand is that this is a prophecy against ancient Egypt, not against modern 21st Century Egypt. All of the other prophecies here refer to events and nations in ancient times, such as the defeat of King Sennacheribís armies at Jerusalem, and the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. For us to start grabbing some of these passages and prophecies and applying them to modern times simply will not work at all, nor make any sense. Isaiah is prophesying at the time of Sennacheribís invasion, which was a threat not only to Judah but also to Egypt. The events described in the context, including references to the Assyrian invasions in Chapter 20, the Syrian-Israel alliance of Chapter 17, and the references to Pharaoh and to the idolatry of the Egyptians in Chapter 19, all indicate that Isaiah is talking about events in ancient times - therefore, we cannot legitimately predict events to take place in modern Egypt based on the prophecies of this chapter.
The first 17 verses of this chapter are a prediction of judgment against Egypt, the purpose of which was to convince the people of Judah that they, like their King Hezekiah, should trust in the Lord for deliverance from the Assyrians, and not in Egypt. The lesson for us today is that Godís people should trust in God to make us successful and prosperous, and to help our churches to grow - we do not need to trust in fleshly appeals or worldly methods. We donít need the help of the world (of which Egypt is a symbol) in order to do our Great Commission work. In order that Godís people may be warned not to put their trust in Egypt, the first part of Chapter 19 presents Godís judgments against Egypt, but then the second part, from verses 18 to 25, presents Godís blessings upon Egypt in the latter days, a prophecy of the conversion of the Egyptians in the Christian age as a result of the preaching of the gospel.
In v. 1 we see the Lord riding on a swift cloud, to judge Egypt and her idols. This is figurative language - God did not literally ride on a cloud in order to travel to Egypt. The purpose of the cloud imagery is to let us know that God was coming in judgment, and once we understand this, it will help us to understand other passages where the cloud symbolism is used. For example, in Matthew 24:30, where we are told that "they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory," it means that when Christ comes, He comes in judgment, to punish evildoers. When the Apostle John tells us in Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him," he is not saying that it will be a cloudy day when Christ returns, but rather that Christ, when He returns, will pour out judgment upon the unbelievers who have rejected Him.
The reason for this prophecy of Isaiah was that many of the people of Judah were looking to Egypt to deliver them from the invading Assyrians, when they should have been looking to God. Isaiah had done everything possible to encourage the people to place their trust in God, who had specifically promised that the southern kingdom of Judah would be spared from the Assyrian invaders. But instead, many of the people were looking to Egypt to help them, since they didnít have faith that God could take care of it. So God told the people through the prophet Isaiah that their trust in Egypt would be in vain, because Egypt was about to be defeated by the Assyrians.
We are told in v. 2 that there would be civil war and strife within Egypt, that the Egyptians would start fighting each other. Often in the Old Testament we see examples of heathen armies being defeated because the soldiers of those armies started fighting and wiping each other out before they had a chance to attack Godís people. One such example of that is in 2 Chronicles 20, where the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites together tried to attack Judah, but before the battle against Judah began, these various heathen nations started fighting and killing each other. When the army of Judah came along, they found their enemies all dead, and it took them 3 days to gather up and cart away the spoil.
With regard to Egyptís descent into civil war in Isaiahís time, history records that about this time, Psammetichus, governor of one of the 12 provinces of Egypt, plunged those provinces into civil war, and it is believed that he is the "cruel lord" of v. 4. Or perhaps the King of Assyria is the cruel lord.
It is important for every army and every kingdom to be united, and for this reason, Christ said in Matthew 12:25, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." It is important for the Lordís church to be united. If the Devil can set the Lordís people and church members to fighting each other, and get church splits going, and get good fundamental preachers spending all their time fighting each other, instead of standing together to fight the world, the flesh and the Devil, then our cause is lost and we have defeated ourselves. If we, like the Egyptians of Isaiah 19:2, spend all our time fighting every one against our brother and our neighbor, then we will be of no use to anyone in the Lordís work, just as Egypt was of no use or assistance to help protect Judah against the Assyrians.
The crisis in Egypt during their civil war was so great that the various idols, wizards and soothsayers of Egypt were confounded and unable to provide any helpful advice, v. 3. Verses 5 through 10 describe the failure of the waters of the Nile. If the Nile did not rise high enough to overflow its banks every year, thus irrigating the surrounding fields, then there would be famine in the land, with agriculture and fisheries disrupted. In v. 11 we see the loss of prestige on the part of Pharaoh and his counselors, the ruling classes of Egypt. The wise men of Egypt are exposed as phonies, v. 12. They have no ability to predict the future, in contrast to Isaiah, the prophet of the true God who has that God-given ability to foretell future events. The ruling classes of Egypt are leading the country in the wrong direction and dragging Egypt to destruction, v. 13-14. There is nothing which Egypt can do to extricate itself from its difficulty, v. 15. In v. 16 the Egyptians are compared to women in their helplessness and timidity. The news of the depredations of the Assyrian army in the land of Judah shall be a source of fear and terror in Egypt, v. 17. While the foolish Jewish people were hoping that Egypt would come galloping to their rescue, the Egyptians would be immobilized and quaking with fear, afraid that their own country would be the next victim of Assyrian invasion. As it turned out, Judah didnít need any help from Egypt after all. All they needed was the Lord. The Lord in one night struck and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers with pestilence as they camped outside of Jerusalem, and Sennacherib beat a hasty retreat with his few remaining forces.
In v. 18 begins the message of Godís mercy to Egypt. This is an amazing, visionary message. There is no evidence of any mass conversion of Egyptians to the worship of the true God in Isaiahís day, or in the centuries to follow, so the fulfillment of this prophecy must be assigned to the gospel dispensation, during which time the word of God was preached in Egypt, beginning with St. Mark the Evangelist (according to tradition) in the First Century AD. The references in v. 18 are very difficult to understand and interpret with any certainty. It is thought that the 5 cities referred to here are cities called Heliopolis, Leontopolis, Migdol, Daphne and Memphis which had a large population of Jews who emigrated there during Persian rule. The City of Destruction would refer to Leontopolis, where in the 2nd Century BC a Jew named Onias erected an altar in a conscious effort to fulfill the prophecy of v. 19 that an altar to Jehovah would be set up in Egypt (See Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews," Book 13, Chapter 3). Others have suggested that the meaning of v. 18 is that Godís mercy to Egypt will be so great that 5 cities out of 6, on the average, will repent and come to the Lord, leaving one city out of 6 rejecting God and suffering spiritual destruction as a result.
The reference to an altar in v. 19 was not meant by God to be taken literally, since the Law of Moses allowed only one altar, and that was at Jerusalem. The intent here was not that a literal second altar should be built in Egypt. Rather, Isaiah is saying here that the Egyptians will worship the same God as the Jews do, in a manner acceptable to God, thus referring to the conversion of Egypt in the early centuries of the Christian era. A pillar was to be raised at the border of Egypt and Judah, symbolizing their common faith and their alliance in serving the true God.
In v. 20 we see the Egyptians no longer praying to their false idols, but now they are crying out to the Lord, to the true God Jehovah, for deliverance from their oppression, and as a result, God sends them a great savior to deliver them. Some have regarded this savior as Alexander the Great, who delivered the Egyptians from Persian rule and founded the city of Alexandria, but many commentators have found it more natural to regard this savior as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of all men, including Egyptians.
In v. 21 we are told that the Egyptians shall know the Lord. In Isaiahís time, there was no true knowledge of the Lord in Egypt. Several hundred years before Christ, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, under the patronage of Ptolemy ruler of Egypt. This translation, known as the Septuagint, was prepared in Alexandria, Egypt, and it opened up Godís Word for the Egyptian people, many of whom at that time could read Greek. A much fuller fulfillment of Isaiahís prophecy came in the First Century AD as St. Mark planted churches in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt. From the 4th to the 7th Centuries, Christianity was the predominant religion of Egypt. To this day, about 10% of the population of Egypt is still nominally Christian, in spite of 13 centuries of Muslim dominance, and we may yet see great conversions of Egyptians to Christ in the future.
In v. 22 we see a familiar theme from the Word of God - before God can give the blessing, He must bring judgment, because that judgment and chastening leads us to repentance so that we can be right with God. The Lord smote Egypt with judgments, so that He might then heal Egypt. As a result of Godís judgments, the people of Egypt returned to the Lord, they entreated Him, they were healed, and they ended up better off than if they had not been judged and smitten.
Verse 23 prophesies of a time when the bitter feuds and hatreds between Egypt and Assyria would be completely forgotten. There would be a highway between Egypt and Assyria, symbolizing free communication based on the common bond of Christian faith on the part of converted Egyptians and Assyrians. Egyptians and Assyrians were to be joined to the Lord, to the communion of saints, and to each other.
In verses 24 and 25 we get to the most amazing part of the prophecy. Not only will Egyptians and Assyrians bury the hatchet, forget their ancient enmities and be as one, but the Jews also will be one with the Gentiles, one with Egypt and Assyria. All the converted Gentile nations and converted Jews were to be as one, united with each other in the gospel fold under the Christ the Great Shepherd. All would be Godís people, not just the Jews - the Egyptians will also be Godís people and the Assyrians would be the work of His hands. The 3 shall be joined as one nation. (This may not conform to the popular notion of Jews as a superior race, intended to dominate the inferior races of Arabs in the Middle East. But it does conform with Paulís teaching in Romans 10:12 that "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek)."
Isaiahís Jewish hearers must have shaken their heads in disbelief when they heard him say that some day the Jews, Godís chosen people, would be as one with the Egyptians and even with the Assyrians. The Assyrians were the bad guys of the ancient world - they struck terror into peopleís hearts as did than the Nazis and the Communists of more recent times. When they captured a city, they would execute the inhabitants by impaling them alive on pointed wooden stakes. They were not the kind of people you would want to invite to church - when the Assyrians showed up, people would say, "There goes the neighborhood!"
But here Isaiah says that the day is coming when the Jews will be one with the Gentiles, as represented by the Egyptians and Assyrians, and that they would all have the same equal position of privilege before God - all of them, Jews, Egyptians and Assyrians would be Godís people, the work of His hands, His inheritance. The New Testament records the fulfillment of this promise.
In Ephesians 2:11-14, Paul tells us that the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down (past tense, it is a done deal) so that Gentiles have the same place of privilege as the Jews before God. In Ephesians 3:4-6 Paul tells us that Gentiles are fellowheirs of the promises made to the Jews. Paul teaches that all of us who are saved are now Jews, part of the true spiritual Israel (Galatians 3:7, 26-29, 6:16). Being a Jew is no longer a matter of ancestry, but it is a matter of what is in your heart, if you are saved and love the Lord, Romans 2:28-29.
Isaiah foresaw a time when everyone, Egyptian, Assyrian, Jew, could have equal standing and privilege before the Lord, and could have free and full fellowship as brethren, united in the Lordís service in one of the Lordís churches. We live in that time today, and that should give us reason to rejoice!
ISAIAH 20 - THE NAKED TRUTH
In Isaiah 20 we have the prediction that the alliance of Ethiopia and Egypt against Assyria would be defeated - the Assyrians under King Sargon and General Tartan would be victorious. To emphasize the point, Isaiah dramatized the shame that would be experienced by the defeated Egyptian and Ethiopian captives, by appearing in public on various occasions without his customary robe of sackcloth. He was wearing only his underwear, or his BVDs. It is generally thought that Isaiah was not completely unclothed, but that on certain occasions over a period of 3 years he appeared in public in a partial state of undress that would have been sufficiently unusual so as to capture the attention of his hearers and reinforce the message he was preaching, that Judahís military allies, in which they trusted, were about to be dealt a humiliating defeat by the Assyrians. (Note: this Assyrian defeat of Ethiopia took place about 10 years earlier than the threatened Assyrian invasion of Ethiopia in Chapter 18, which explains why Ethiopia was spared in Chapter 18 but defeated in Chapter 20).
This story of the prophet stripped to his underwear should be a warning to us, in 21st Century America, that we must put our trust in God, not in political action or military might. This point is emphasized in v. 6. The people of Judah had fled for help to the Egyptians and Ethiopians for help against the invading Assyrian horde, and that alliance had fallen through. Now they were in a state of panic, saying, "How shall we escape?" If they had put their trust in God all along, then they would not have ended up in such a state of panic. Let us, as American Christians, not make the same mistake - let us not feel secure because of our military might or our political strength, and thus end up leaving God out of the picture. At this time we are the worldís only superpower, but at one time that was true of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, all of which eventually fell, as did the modern superpowers such as Napoleonís Empire, the British Empire, Hitlerís Third Reich and the Soviet Union, all of which, in Godís providence, were cut down to a much smaller size.
This does not mean that America ought not to have a strong military or that Christians should not support a strong military. We ought to have a strong military for defensive purposes, but if we over-spend on military might, or over-extend our troops in places overseas where we really do not need to be, we may end up weaker as a nation overall. We need to exercise discernment with regard to all proposed military adventures in far distant places, and to place our ultimate trust in God who is the only One who can really keep us safe from the terrorists.
. Nor should Christians withdraw from political involvement. We should vote for the best available candidates, and be involved in promoting righteousness in government and so ciety. The extent of each individualís involvement should be determined by the principle of Christian liberty which gives each believer the right to decide how deeply he should be involved in politics, and in what manner. Christians ought not to withdraw from society and allow the Devilís people a monopoly on the direction of public policy. Isaiah himself, as court prophet in Judah, involved himself deeply in public policy and guidance of Judahís politicians (see chapters 7, 37, 39 and elsewhere). Isaiah was involved in the political process, but he did so at all times in an attitude of trust in God, not in Judahís military might or the power of his favorite political leaders.
ISAIAH 21 - WATCHMAN, WHAT OF THE NIGHT?
This chapter is a prophecy of the fall of Babylon (see v. 9) which is referred to in v. 1 as the desert of the sea. The vision of destruction that Isaiah sees is a dreadful one, as whirlwinds in the south. The attackers are identified as Elam and Media, v. 2. Elam was a district of Persia, and we know from the book of Daniel and from secular history books that Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and the Persians, but Isaiah refers to the Persians as Elamites, for one simple reason - he was writing in the 8th Century BC, and the word Persia was not invented until the 6th Century BC. So when we see the word Elam (or Elamite) in the prophecies of Isaiah and the other older prophets, we can understand that it is talking about Persia. There are a lot of references to Persians in the book of Isaiah, but the word itself does not appear.
Verse 5 is a reference to Belshazzarís feast, at which time the handwriting on the wall appeared to Belshazzar, causing him great fear, verses 3 and 4. The prophet Daniel was summoned to interpret the handwriting on the wall, and he informed Belshazzar that his kingdom was to fall that very evening, as a judgment of God against him. Meanwhile, outside the walls of Babylon, the Persian king Cyrus was plotting his entrance into the city, with the aid of Babylonian traitors who are mentioned in v. 2. The Persian army used camels to get at Babylon from across the desert, which are mentioned in v. 7. A watchman, crying with a voice like a lion and describing his faithfulness as a sentinel, proclaims the astounding news of the fall of Babylon in verses 8 and 9. The graven images are all smashed by the Persian invaders - the Persians did not use or worship idols or images, and thus had no use for the Babylonianís idols.
In v. 10 the prophet addresses the Jewish captives in Babylon, calling them the threshing and the corn of his floor - the precious remnant grain that has been separated and liberated from the ungodly heathen chaff and worthless straw. This prophecy is a repeat of Isaiahís prophecy against Babylon in chapters 13 and 14, all of them describing the same event, the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians in 538 BC.
In verses 11 and 12 we have a very short and mysterious prophecy or burden of Dumah, referring to Edom, which was later known as Idumea, and also known as Mount Seir. This time of wars between Egypt and Assyria was a dark and gloomy time for all neighboring nations, including Edom, and so a voice is heard out of Edom, asking Isaiah, "Watchman, what of the night?" How much longer will this nightmare of calamity go on? Is it almost morning? Is there any hope of our coming out of this time of disaster soon? Isaiahís answer is that it is almost morning for Godís people, the Jews, but not for the Edomites - unless they repent, they are going to be plunged into darkness again. Joseph Pitts Wiles, in "Half Hours With Isaiah," gives this interpretation for this passage: "The night of trouble cometh upon Mount Seir, and the men of Edom cry to me saying, Prophet of Judah, how long shall this night of our trouble last? Watchman, what is the hour of the night? My answer is this: The morning breaketh, but to you it will be a midnight morning. The darkness of your trouble will deepen into destruction. Nevertheless, if ye will learn of me, learn of me. Repent, and seek mercy."
Matthew Henryís commentary says, "ĎThere comes first a morning of light and peace and opportunity; you will enjoy one day of comfort more; but afterwards comes a night of trouble and calamity.í Improve the present morning in preparation for the night that is coming after it. Enquire, return, come. Be inquisitive, be penitent, and obedient."
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown interpret it this way: "The morning (prosperity) comes, but soon after follows the night (adversity). Though you Edomites may have a gleam of prosperity, it will soon be followed by adversity again. If you choose to consult me again, do so, return, come - Be converted to God, and then come; you will then receive a more favorable answer."
Unsaved people may cry out to us from the depths of their despair and despondency, and ask us, "Is it ever going to get better for me? - Watchman, what of the night - is there any hope for the future - will the light ever dawn in my life?" A good answer to give them is "Yes, the morning comes, there is always hope of better times, but when that morning comes, you better use that opportunity to repent and to be saved - return, come to the Lord. And if you donít, then that morning will be followed by another night, the night of eternal blackness of darkness in hell. If you think the night is bad now, it will eventually become a whole lot worse, unless you enquire, return and come to the Lord."
Let the darkness of the night be a lesson to us and a powerful encouragement to enquire, return and come back to God. If we do enquire, return and come, then the morning will come. If we will not repent, enquire, return and come, then there is always another night coming, worse than the night before.
The last 5 verses of Isaiah 21 are a prophecy of doom against Arabia, as a result of the Assyrian invasion. Obviously it is not talking about modern-day Saudi Arabia, since in v. 16 the prophet says that the prophecy will be fulfilled within one year. He is talking about events in his own day and age, but the application is for all of us as individuals today and for all nations. If we turn back to the Lord, then the morning will come and Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, will dawn in our hearts. If we do not repent and turn back to God, then the nightmare of Godís judgment awaits us.
ISAIAH 22 - DONíT GET NAILED
Isaiah 22 is a prophecy or burden of the valley of vision. The valley of vision is none other than Jerusalem, the mother of prophets and the very home of prophecy, where the seers saw their visions. At the time of this prophecy, the alliance of Judah with Egypt has fallen through - the Jews were depending on Egypt, not on God, to protect them from the marauding Assyrian hordes, but Egypt is not able to come to their aid, and the Jewish people are now in a state of panic, scrambling to try to protect their capital city of Jerusalem from being overthrown by the Assyrian enemy who has already occupied all the other cities of Judah (Isaiah 36:1) and who is now encamped just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Even in this extremity of danger, the people refuse to look to their Maker, v. 11, and to have respect to their God who planned all these circumstances long ago and who promised to deliver His people in the time of crisis.
That is the background for this particular prophecy - let us now look a little closer at Isaiahís message. In v. 1 we see the people of Jerusalem in a state of fright and panic. The people have gone up to the housetops to watch for the Assyrian enemy and to prepare to fight him there if necessary. Jerusalem was formerly a joyous city, full of the tumult and shouting of a happy people, v. 2, but now her people are dying, not by the sword, but by famine and pestilence. In v. 3 we see that the rulers and princes from the outlying areas of Judah have ingloriously fled from their cities, to hide from the enemy behind the walls of Jerusalem. In verses 4 and 5 Isaiah expresses his own deep personal grief at the distress of his beloved city of Jerusalem, as the walls are battered by the enemy, and the cries of the terrified citizens echo among the mountains.
Verse 6 describes the activities of the Persian soldiers from Elam, which at that time was a province of Assyria, and the soldiers from Kir or Media. The once-fruitful valleys and pastures of Judah are now trampled by hostile chariots and squadrons of cavalry, v. 7. Judah is put to shame, v. 8, as the military weakness of Judah is exposed before the relentless enemy. In v. 9 the people are examining the breaches or holes in the walls of defense in Jerusalem, and they are gathering together their water supplies, in an attempt to make sure they will have plenty of water during the siege but that Sennacheribís armies will not have any. This process of securing the water supplies and beefing up the defenses is described in 2 Chronicles 32:2-5.
In v. 10 the houses of Jerusalem are numbered, probably for purposes of taxing or levying the people to provide for the war effort. Some of the houses will have to be torn down, in order to fortify the walls. In v. 11 there is another reference to the elaborate plans made to move water from one reservoir, that would be accessible to the enemy, to another reservoir that the enemy could not get to, which only the Jewish defenders would have access to. All of this was very clever and ingenious, but the prophet says that it was not enough - they failed to give respect to the Maker of those pools of water, to the Creator of all things. Godís purpose in allowing this invasion, a circumstance fashioned by Him long ago, was that the people should turn back to God and enjoy revival, v. 12. He wanted the people to weep, mourn and to show evidence of repentance and lamentation for their sins, which in those days was evidenced by making the head bald and by wearing sackcloth.
The purpose of these national trials and sufferings was to bring the people back to God, but we find in v. 13 that the people had not responded to Godís call. Even in the midst of this national calamity, the people were partying, in an effort to forget the stress and strain they were under. They were reveling, eating, drinking, banqueting and getting drunk. The real possibility of Godís judgment hanging over them was just a joke - they would raise another goblet of wine and shout, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," and everyone at the table would let loose with a loud belch and a belly laugh.
In v. 14 we see the prophetís response to the derision of the sinners - if they continue this way, they will die. We know from reading Isaiah 37 that God in His mercy spared the nation of Judah at this time from being conquered by Assyria, and the nation continued for another 125 years before the Chaldeans destroyed it. God withheld His judgment from the nation, but He did not withhold His judgment from impenitent sinners - eventually they all died of various causes, and those who died unrepentant, with their sins unforgiven, went to a sinnerís hell.
Today in 21st Century America, we are a nation involved in a war on terrorism. Some of these terrorists have gotten into our nation and have caused tremendous damage and loss of life, and they may perhaps do so again. How are we as a nation to react to this threat? There is the verse 12 alternative - weeping, mourning, repentance, evidence of repentance, getting right with God. Then there is the verse 13 alternative - drinking, partying, reveling, entertainment, anything to forget the physical and spiritual danger we are in. Those who take the worldly approach and reject God will probably survive this current time of crisis, but if they do not repent and if their iniquity is not purged from them, eternal doom awaits them in hell, a doom far worse than anything that happened to the victims of the World Trade Center attack in New York.
The last part of Chapter 22 is a denunciation of the treasurer Shebna, a prominent officer at the court of Judah. He was a leader of the pro-Egyptian party in Judah, who put his trust in Egypt and not in God, and an opponent of Isaiah. He appears to have been a big spender and a proud, ostentatious man, for in v. 16 we find him constructing a grandiose tomb for himself. Isaiah tells him that he is not going to get to use that tomb, because he will be carried away to exile, v. 17, and will die a shameful death in a foreign land, v. 18. Shebna is to be removed from his exalted position in the government, v. 19, and replaced with a more faithful and honorable man, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, v. 20.
Eliakim will be granted the symbols of government, and exercise his authority in a righteous manner, as a father and wise counselor to the people, v. 21. Eliakim will carry the keys to the government, the keys being a symbol of authority. Eliakim appears here as a type of Christ, because the same language with which Eliakim is described in v. 22 is also used to describe Christ in Revelation 3:7: "These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." In v. 23 another figure of speech is used - Eliakim is described as a nail that one can depend on - you can hang everything you have on this nail and it will hold up, v. 24. In contrast, Shebna is like a nail that is easily pulled out of the wall by the slightest weight, v. 25 - you cannot depend on him when you need him.
Christ, like Eliakim, is a person on whom we can hang all our hopes for this world and the next. Christ is absolutely dependable - He will hold you up, and He wonít let you down. No matter how heavy the burden of sin, you can place it on Christ, who faithfully bore the burden of the sins of the entire world when He died on the Cross for us, 1 John 2:2. Those who trust fully in Christ, and hang their hopes completely on Him, will find Him to be fastened as a nail in a sure place. He will open the gates of heaven for us, and none shall shut them.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are hanging their hopes on the wrong nail - the nail of good works, the nail of self-righteousness, the nail of so-called "baptismal regeneration," the nail of priestcraft, the nail of occultism and New Age religion. All of these nails are going to pull out of the wall some day, plunging those who depend on them into the pits of hell. There is only one Nail that will never pull out of the wall, that will never even get bent out of shape, and that Nail is Christ, the Son of David who has the key of the house of David. If you are hanging on any other nail, put your trust in Christ before you find yourself left hanging and then get nailed by the judgment of God.
ISAIAH 23 - WORLD TRADE CENTER OF ANCIENT TIMES
Tyre was one of the great seaports of the ancient world, located just north of Israel in what is now southern Lebanon. Tyre was known as a wealthy commercial nation and a great military stronghold. Their ships traveled all over the Mediterranean, as far west as Tarshish in southern Spain, and from there out into the Atlantic Ocean, along the coasts of Europe and Africa, and across the ocean to the distant, mysterious lands we know now as North and South America.
The Tyrians were consummate merchants and businessmen - they knew how and where to obtain the kind of merchandise that people wanted to buy, at a price customers were willing to pay, and they had the seafaring and navigational ability to ship those goods throughout the civilized world. As a result of all that trading activity, they became rich, and then they became proud. Because of their pride, we see in v. 9 that the Lord of Hosts purposed to stain the pride of their glory, and to bring them into contempt. When a nation becomes proud, and the people believe that nothing can touch or harm them, watch out for God to take them down a notch or two, or even wipe out that proud nation. I hope that America is not in that position - that of a proud and wealthy nation that is in need of being chastened by Godís judgment.
Like Tyre of ancient times, America is an incredibly wealthy nation and a superpower. It is unimaginable to us that America could ever lose its superpower status or perhaps even cease to exist - but that is what they said about Tyre. No one would have thought that Tyre would disappear from the map completely, but it did for a period of 70 years, under the rule of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who captured and destroyed the city of Tyre after a 13-year siege. For 70 years, as we see in v. 15, Tyre was abandoned and uninhabited, and then finally when the Babylonian Empire fell and the Persians took over, the Persians, who allowed and encouraged the rebuilding of Jerusalem, also allowed Tyre to be rebuilt. (A few centuries later, Tyre was destroyed again by Alexander the Great, and it is this later destruction of Tyre that is predicted in Ezekiel 26).
I hope that America does not have to go the judgments that Tyre endured. The recent disasters we have suffered as a nation, when the World Trade Center was destroyed and the Pentagon attacked, should cause us to set aside our pride, and our conceited presumption that we can beat any nation and that no nation can beat us. America, like Tyre, is one of the great commercial and seafaring nations on earth, and a storehouse of tremendous wealth. Sometimes, however, wealth attracts enemies, who are too strong and too numerous to be bought off or defended against, even with all the wealth we have. It was that way with ancient Tyre.
In v. 1 we see the mourning of the mariners arriving from the port of Tarshish in Spain (or possibly Tarsus in Asia Minor). When they stop in at Chittim or Cyprus, they learn the disastrous news that Tyre, their home port, has been destroyed. There is nothing left of the ancient equivalent of New Yorkís World Trade Center, nothing but a smoking ruin. Verse 2 describes the mourning of those who live in or near the actual city of Tyre, part of which was situated on an offshore island. Where there was once the loud bustle of commerce, now there is nothing but stillness. Verse 3 refers to her prior great revenues earned from ships traveling out of Egypt on the Sihor, another name for the Nile River. Zidon, the mother city which founded Tyre centuries earlier, is depicted in v. 4 as in sorrow for the destruction of her daughter city Tyre. Zidon is here described as the strength of the sea or stronghold of the sea, deriving its security from the ocean, and in mourning over the fact that its daughter colony of Tyre was no longer a fruitful and prosperous place. The people of Egypt also mourn at the sad tidings concerning Tyre, v. 5. They know that Nebuchadnezzar is coming to conquer them, too. The destruction is so great that the survivors are advised to flee to Tarshish at the other end of the Mediterranean, because there is no place of refuge for them in Tyre, v. 6. In v. 7 we see that Tyre, which bragged of how old her city was, is no longer joyous but desolate, and that her citizens must now go forth into captivity on foot.
In v. 8, the question is asked, just whose idea was it to overthrow such a great and noble city, and to pour dishonor on her honorable princes, merchants and seafaring traders? One might think it was the idea of King Nebuchadnezzar and his Chaldean counselors, but in v. 9 we see the ultimate source of the decree against Tyre. The Lord of hosts purposed this, in order to bring down the pride of Tyre, and to convince men of the vanity and uncertainty of all earthly glory, wealth, pomp and power. It was the Lordís doing, not just something that happened by chance to the nation of Tyre. This is something that ought to concern America as a nation, because what happened to our nation on September 11, 2001, when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were bombed, was not just a chance incident - it was a wake-up call from God, telling us that our nation is unrighteous and that we need to repent, that we need to do something about our rampant immorality, the selfish use of wealth, and our unjust treatment of other nations. If we harden ourselves in our pride, and trust in our economic and military strength, then God may have to bring us all the way down, as He did with Tyre.
In v. 10 the daughters of Tarshish, or inhabitants of Tyre, are advised that they will be scattered as refugees - they will no longer have any strength as a nation. Once again we see in v. 11 that it was the Lord who gave the commandment that the city of Tyre should be removed from the face of the earth. The refugees are advised in v. 12 to flee to Cyprus, but even there they shall have no rest. The "Chaldeans" in v. 13 are the Babylonians, who were originally founded by the Assyrians. Now it was the Chaldeans who were coming against Tyre with their siege towers, in order to make Tyre a ruin. In v. 14 the ships recently arrived in the vicinity of Tyre from Tarshish raise their lament. They have no place to land and unload their cargoes, because their home port has been destroyed.
In v. 15 we are told that Tyre will lay wasted and deserted for 70 years. This is the same 70 year period of Babylonian domination that Jeremiah prophesied of, saying that the people of Judah would be captives of Babylon for 70 years, and then return to their homeland. These 70 years are according to the days of the dynasty of one king, King Nebuchadnezzar. His dynasty died out when his grandson Belshazzar was overthrown and assassinated by the Persians, at which time the people of Tyre were allowed to rebuild and to restore her trading relations with other countries, a process described here as like the singing of a harlot, as Tyre calls out and invites people to come and purchase her merchandise. In v. 16 this process of making deals, procuring the best choice of goods, and satisfying the contented customer, is compared to the wiles of a harlot playing on a harp and singing many songs, only in this case the purpose of the music-making is to entice people to buy merchandise and spend money, just as department stores today play music in their establishments in order to put shoppers in the right mood to part with their money.
As a result, in v. 17 we see that Tyre, with the Lordís blessing upon her commercial enterprises, having been visited by the Lord in mercy, is now carrying on dealings in trade with all the kingdoms of the earth, which is described under the figure of committing fornication. But somehow Tyreís commercial activity is not like it was before. Previously, the wealth and prestige earned by Tyreís trading had caused her to fall into pride and incur Godís judgment. But now, amazingly enough, in v. 18, we find that all this activity is being carried on in a more God-honoring spirit, so that her merchandise and her hire are considered holiness to the Lord, something pleasing in Godís sight. As a result of Tyreís commerce, Godís people are provided with abundant food and with durable clothing.
We see here that the Word of God is totally in disagreement with the Marxist or Communist viewpoint that says that capitalism and free enterprise are wrong, and that it is evil to have your own property and your own business, and to buy and sell at a profit. The Bible is in favor of business, free enterprise and profit-making activity, as long as it is conducted honestly, with good motives, and for a purpose of providing basic consumer goods that people need and want, such as good, nutritious food and clothing that lasts a long time and does not fall apart the first time it is worn. The profits from such activity should also be shared with others in a generous manner, since we see in v. 18 that the Tyrians are no longer hoarding, treasuring or laying up their profits - they are using them in a manner that helps and supports those who dwell before the Lord, the Lordís servants.
Can we put our finger on any specific fulfillment of this prophecy? In Ezra 3:7 we read of the Jews trading with Tyre, specifically for the purpose of purchasing lumber from them. The Jews were rebuilding their nation at the same time that Tyre was being rebuilt, and as customers and neighbors of Tyre, the Jews benefitted from Tyreís commercial activity. The lumber from Tyre was to be used to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. To the unregenerate merchants of Tyre, this sale of lumber was just another profitable business transaction, but in the providence of God, their money-making enterprise had become "Holiness to the Lord."
More than 500 years later, the Apostle Paul was a beneficiary of the hospitality of the Christian converts in Tyre: "Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way: and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city, and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship, and they returned home again." - Acts 21:3-6. There were Christians in Tyre, and they brought Paul and his companions on their way, which speaks of hospitality and financial support (3 John 5-8). The hire and the merchandise of the people of Tyre had become holiness unto the Lord.
Meanwhile, the church historian Eusebius, writing in the early 4th Century AD, said concerning the prophecy of Isaiah 23: "This prophecy is fulfilled in our times. For now that the Church of God is established at Tyre, as in other nations, a large portion of her merchandise is consecrated to the Lord and to His Church, according to the precept of the Lord, that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
As a result of judgment, blessing can come, as it did eventually in Tyre. Out of profit-oriented commercial activity can come a material and spiritual blessing on behalf of Godís people, Godís ministers, and the poor and needy. It is not necessary to be a full-time minister or Christian worker in order to have a legacy that can be consecrated to the Lord and be considered holiness to the Lord. A man or a woman in business full time, or working for wages for a businessman, can take that money and share it with Godís people, with those who dwell before the Lord, and it will be holiness to the Lord. May we as individuals, and as a nation, dedicate ourselves to putting away pride of the type that brought judgment on Tyre, and to dedicating our hire and our merchandise to the service of the Lord and to those who dwell before the Lord, wherever they may be.
While the phrase "them that dwell before the Lord" in v. 18 may perhaps refer to all believers, whether Jews of the Old Testament age or all Christians today, it is legitimate to apply this passage especially to those who are in full time Christian service for the Lord, those who are dependent on the rest of Godís people for their support. Those of us who make money in secular employment must not treasure or lay up what we have earned in a selfish way, but we must share it with those who in a special way dwell before the Lord, so that those in full time Christian work may be provided for, to eat sufficiently and have durable clothing.
Some sanctimonious folks have questioned the very concept of "full time Christian service," suggesting that all pastors and Christian workers should have to work for a living and should not expect support from the churches or other Christians. They say that our preachers ought to work for a living just like the Apostle Paul did. It is true that the Apostle Paul did work for a living, making tents, but he was in a pioneer church planting situation. There were not a whole lot of churches back then to provide funding for missionaries, and some of the churches that did exist, like the one in Corinth, were too immature to realize their obligation to support Christian workers. To follow the example of the church of Corinth in this matter of non-support of Godís preachers is hardly a commendation of our own level of maturity and spirituality.
Even in this pioneer age, Paul did not let the churches off the hook - he expected them to be providing support for their pastors and missionaries, full time support if possible. He wrote to the Corinthians and put them to shame for their failure to support him properly. In 2 Corinthians 9:1-4 he compared them unfavorably with the Macedonians, who were willing to take offerings and thus minister to the saints whereas the Corinthians were not. In 1 Corinthians 9:14 Paul made the statement that was later quoted by Eusebius: "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
The ideal, that we should keep in mind and be striving for, is that we should support our pastors and teachers in such a manner that they will not have to work for a living on the side. Sometimes that is not possible, just as it was not always possible for Paul, but this is something that congregations ought to do for their pastors if they can afford it. Churches that choose not to provide for their pastors may find it very hard to get the services of a pastor (see Nehemiah 13:10 - the people were not bringing in the tithes, the Levites had no support from the people, so they had to go out to their fields and spend their time farming in order to support themselves. As a result, the order of worship in the Temple was not being maintained, and the people could not get the services of their spiritual leaders when they needed them. The remedy for that was for the people to bring in their tithes for the support of the Levites, Nehemiah 13:12, so they would not have to spend all their time working in the fields for a living).
It is not necessary for us to be in full time Christian work in order for our labors, whether in the office, factory, retail store, hospital, or any other kind of secular work, to be considered holiness to the Lord. Everyone does not have to be a full time Christian worker in order to honor God with his or her life and service. But those of us who do have good-paying jobs out in the secular world should remember the ultimate purpose of our labor. It is so that we can share what we earn with those who dwell before the Lord. We dare not, must not, treasure it up or lay it up or keep it all for ourselves. We must share what we have with those who dwell before the Lord. We ought to be willing to do what the Apostle John exhorted us to do in 3 John 6, to help bring forward those who serve the Lord on their journey, after a godly sort.