Wednesday, September 06, 2023

2023.09.06 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 21

Read Isaiah 21

Questions from the Scripture text: Against whom is the first burden in this chapter (Isaiah 21:1a)? What is coming, in what manner (verse 1b–c)? What sort of vision is it (Isaiah 21:2a)? What are they hoping Elam and Media can accomplish against Assyria (verse 2b–f)? How does Isaiah feel about his vision (Isaiah 21:3-4)? But how do others feel about these military/conspiracy actions (Isaiah 21:5)? From where has Isaiah received a vision of how this will turn out (Isaiah 21:6a)? What does the watchman in the vision see (Isaiah 21:6-9a)? What is the result of these strange visions (Isaiah 21:9b–e)? What is the crushing pressure of Assyria doing to Israel (Isaiah 21:10)? Against what city of Edom is the next burden (Isaiah 21:11a)? What is the result of the interaction between the man of Seir (Edom) and his watchman (Isaiah 21:11-12c)? What does Isaiah 21:12d imply about the timing of Edom’s destruction? Against whom is the next burden (Isaiah 21:13a)? From where are these exiles (verse 13c)? Through where are they going (Isaiah 21:14a)? What will the Temanites do for these exiles (verse 14b–c)? From what have they run (Isaiah 21:15)? What short-term prophecy (Isaiah 21:16-17) confirms this longer term one? Who has spoken both of them?

Why must manmade hopes for deliverance fail? Isaiah 21 looks forward to the first serial reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these seventeen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that manmade hope for deliverance must fail, because even the troubles of this world are part of God’s design to bring forth the lasting fruit of His chosen people. 

The poetry in such passages can be difficult to navigate, but the context of Isaiah so far, and some knowledge of the historical context can help us to understand. Before Babylon became a great empire, they were a thorn in the side of the Assyrian empire. So Babylonian cities like Elam and Media were favorites among those who attempted to conspire against Assyria, as in Isaiah 21:2b–e. They thought these could bring their sad sighs to an end (Isaiah 21:2f). 

But the Lord’s word and hand lay heavy (remember, this is the main root of what is translated “burden” in Isaiah 21:1Isaiah 21:11Isaiah 21:13) against any such hopes. And what Isaiah saw from the Lord in response to this “hope” was so dreadful that it afflicted him even physically (Isaiah 21:3) in addition to psychologically (Isaiah 21:4). There are those in the world who are so arrogant that they treat conspiracies like party games (Isaiah 21:5), but the Lord turns their games (note “watchman” in verse 5, being taken over by the Lord in Isaiah 21:6) into nightmarish horrors (Isaiah 21:6-9).  So the Babylonian hope must perish (Isaiah 21:9c). History records that Sennacherib razed Babylon to the ground in 689BC, and he made a particular point of smashing their idols in front of them (cf. (verse 9d–e). 

Why? Because the Lord intends to use the Assyrian pressure for “threshing” Israel to bring the grain out of the chaff (Isaiah 21:10a). Note the possessives “my” threshing and “grain of my floor.” Israel is precious both to the prophet and to God. And since Israel’s God is YHWH of hosts, literally everything that happens in the world is for their sakes. This continues to be true today. There is an Israel within Israel—an Israel of promise rather than ethnicity. And this Israel of God (cf. Galatians 6:16) is chosen from all the nations, not just one. These are they who are identified not by circumcision but by refusal to hope in anything other than Christ and His cross (cf. Galatians 6:14–16). 

So also, the doom of the Edomites must come. Not now because Israel is turning to them for help, but because they have made themselves enemies and will make themselves worse. Though they are not currently under attack, Isaiah 21:11-12 make it plain that the eye of the Lord is yet upon them, and their day will come. This is important to keep in mind, whenever it seems that the wicked prosper (cf. Psalm 11:2–3). Not only will their day come, but the providence of God is not idle. His eyes are upon all (cf. Psalm 11:4) for the good of His people (cf. Psalm 11:7). 

The Arabians of Dedan, Tema, and Kedar had allied with one another, and with Babylon, in 704BC. But mutual aid for war will turn into mutual aid for refugees (Isaiah 21:14) as their armies are routed (Isaiah 21:15). As before with the Moab prophecy (cf. Psalm 16:13–14), the Lord gives a definite time of one year (Isaiah 21:16) for the short-term fulfillment against Kedar to confirm the rest of what He has prophesied. Note again, all of this prophecy against all these nations, He makes as “YHWH God of Israel” (Isaiah 21:17). It is His covenant commitment to His elect that drives history.

The Lord’s word is faithful. The Lord’s plan is sure. And the Lord’s purpose is to gather to Himself the people that He is saving from among the nations.

What are you tempted to trust in, to feel safe spiritually? What are you tempted to trust in, to feel safe in this life? What is the only true safety for either of these? What will happen to all other hopes?

Sample prayer: Lord, forgive us. We are tempted to hope in those who rise up against present world powers—like Israel was tempted to hope in Babylon against Assyria. And sometimes, we are tempted to think that Your judgment is idle or late against those who harm us as Edom had harmed Your people. But we know that all manmade hopes must fail and that Your judgments are always right on time. So, give us to believe Your Word, and give us to trust in You alone for salvation through Christ alone, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP11 “My Trust Is in the LORD” or TPH11B “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” 

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