9/13/2015

Am I Relying on God as my Savior and Rock? (Isaiah 17-18)

Would you trust God in a crisis? The attack of Israel and Aram on Judah (Isa 7:1) precipitated a crisis of faith and trust (Isa 2:22; 7:4a, 9b). Judah [Ahaz], instead of turning to God, turned to the nations of the world [Assyria] for its help at the critical moment of difficulty (2 Ki 16:7). Thus, in Isaiah 17, Isaiah used this good opportunity (the mention of Aram and Damascus) to declare the larger truth in these chapters (13-23) that all nations of the world are subject to Yahweh (Isa 17:12-14; 18:1-7). So it would be foolish for Judah to either fear the nations or trust the nations (Isa 7:2, 4a, 9b).

Ruin. 17:1-3 speaks of the fall of Aram (Syria), represented by its capital city, Damascus (Isa 17:1a). Her cities will be reduced to ruins (1b) and left to flocks (Isa 17:2). 17:3-4 changes the subject to Israel/Ephraim. Aram's glory will be as fading as that of Israel (Isa 17:3).

Fading glory (17:4-6). The main topic in the rest of this section (17:4-11) is the fading glory of the Israelies (Isa 17:3-4). It begins with an extended comparison of Israel's fate to that of a harvested field or orchard (17:4-6). Just as only a few stalks are left in a grain field or a few unripe fruits are left on the trees, so there will only be a remnant left of all that Israel once boasted of. As Isaiah son's name Shear-Jashub suggests about a remnant returning (Isa 7:3), hardly anything of the nation of Israel will remain, though there will be something left.

Idolatry is a reversal of reality (17:7-8). God is the ultimate reality. Idols are counterfeit realities. 17:7-8 speak of that future day when the Israelites will be purified by judgment and will turn their backs on their idols. [Asherah poles refer to groves of poplar trees that were dedicated to the worship of the Canaanite fertility goddess.] The key emphasis is on worshiping their Maker (Isa 17:7), instead of what their hands have made (Isa 17:8). Would you worship God or your family, or children, or career, or church, or ministry.

Why judgment comes (17:9-10). The cities of Israel, like the cities of Aram, will be abandoned and desolate (Isa 17:9, 2). Why? Because God's people have "forgotten God," who is the only hope for deliverance and refuge (Isa 17:10). Instead of trusting the one who delivered them from Egypt and gave them the good land in which they live, they trust in their own strength and cunning.

The inadequacy of human strength (17:10b-11). Like 5:1-7, 7:10b-11 is familiar to these largely agricultural people. They have done everything that their human strength can do. They have purchased the finest "imported vines" (Isa 17:10b), perhaps an allusion to alliances with foreign nations. Even if they were skillful enough to cause the plants to bud and bear fruit in a single day (which they obviously cannot do), yet their harvest would be worthless (Isa 17:11). The coming judgment cannot be averted by human skill. The best of human effort is not enough to solve the human problem. Someday the remnant will learn this fact.

God, not the powerful nations, is the ultimate reality (17:12-14). According to 17:12-14, it is unnecessary to become afraid because of the nations which are like a raging sea (Psalm 46), for they will be gone. The waves crash and roar with frightening power. It seems as though they are the ultimate reality with which we must come to terms. But in fact it is not the case. It is the One who sits in the heavens who is the ultimate reality (Psalm 2). They have their day. But the nations are no more substantial than bits of chaff or like rolling tumbleweed (Isa 17:13). Suddenly night falls and in the morning nothing is left of what seemed so enduring (Isa 17:14).

No one controls their own destiny. Isaiah is attempting to get his people to focus beyond the apparent realities onto the One who is reality in himself. The nations have their own plans and purposes. But they do not control their own destinies (Isa 14:24-27).

18:1-3 says that instead of envoys coming from the Ethiopian king of Egypt to invite Judah to join a coalition against Assyria, envoys should go to the Ethiopians to tell them what God says.

18:4-7 is a direct message from God. While the nations are in turmoil like the waves of the sea, God quietly waits and will take action at just the right moment, cutting off the oppressing nations and leaving their corpses on the mountains.

In the midst of earth's struggles, it is often hard to believe that God is really on the throne. Suppose a modern-day Isaiah announced in 1942 that Germany and Japan (who ruled fully half the world between them) would be completely powerless in just a little over three years, he would have been laughed at and scorned. Despite the military power of those two great nations, they were swept away. God is the one reality who does not change or fade away. God is the One with whom we must come to terms.

What and whom are we relying on, putting our trust in, linking our lives, welfare and futures with? Ephraim chose Damascus, and sank along with its chosen associate. The powers of the world offered no security, rather the reverse.

Are we careful and discriminating enough when it comes to forming relationships, taking on business partners, falling in love? Is our confidence in well-founded insurance and assurance policies, sound investments, sufficient goods stored up? Or are we as firmly wedded to the God of our salvation ad the Rock of our stronghold (Isa 17:10)? What do our neighbors see? Much more, what does the Watcher of Isa 18:4 see?

Questions:

Although Damascus has never been totally abandoned as Babylon was, it did suffer terrible devastation at the hands of the Assyrians in 732 BC (17:1–2).
  1. Who is addressed in this judgment oracle (17:1–3)? Why do you think the two nations are being addressed together? (Think about chapter 7 and which nations were threatening Judah there.) How does the issue of God’s people not trusting human nations come into play here?
  2. What nation has the focus shifted completely to (17:4-8)? Why do you think this is? Notice again the issue of “glory” (17:3, 4). Why is it counterproductive to seek our own glory? What is the proper motive for achievement (Phil 3:8)?
  3. Notice that 17:7–8 are in prose. This suggests that Isaiah has joined them to the previous poem for some reason. How do they complete the thought of 17:4–6? What is the intended outcome of the judgment recorded? Has anything like this ever happened to you? [“The Valley of Rephaim” (17:5) was a fertile valley leading up to Jerusalem from the southeast. It was one of the few places were grain could be grown in Judah. The Philistines often used it for access up into the Judean highlands (2 Sam 5:18).]
  4. What titles are given to Yahweh in 17:7? What is the contrast with 17:8? How does this relate to us?
  5. [Possibly “deserted because of the children of Israel” (17:9) is recalling the cities that the Canaanites deserted when Israel conquered Canaan.] Again we begin with a prose verse (17:9). What is the relationship between this and 17:10–11? Why will what we have planted not grow? Is this an arbitrary punishment from God? Why not?
  6. What is the contrast between 17:12–13a and 17:13b–14? How is this conveyed in the images used? What should this say to us in times of political uncertainty?
  7. [Cush is the name for Ethiopia which was considered to be the southern extreme of the world.] Compare 18:1 to 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1; 22:1; 23:1. What is missing from 18:1? Now compare the content of 18:3–6 with that of 17:12–14. What do you observe? (Remember that the chapter divisions were put in sometime after the 5th century AD).
  8. Now compare 18:2 with 18:7. Compared with what is said about (and to) other nations in this series, with what is not said about (or to) Cush?
  9. What is the message of 17:12–18:7 about Yahweh and the nations of humanity?