Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Burden of Damascus

"The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid. The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts." 
(Isaiah 17:1-3)

The events of this passage likely took place when Tiglathpileser III attacked northern Israel and Syria (II Kings 16:9). If so, this prophecy was placed here not chronologically but topically.

This passage is labeled as the burden of Damascus; however, its content deals more with northern Israel than it does with Syria. This is likely due to the fact that Pekah had allied himself with Rezin against Judah and would therefore feel the sting of God's judgment as both he and his close ally of Syria were attacked and overcome.

Whether or not all of these events came to pass during the conquests of Tiglathpileser or whether they carried over into the reigns of the following Assyrian kings cannot be stated with definite accuracy; however, one thing is for certain, after God's judgment came, the glorious nature of Damascus was gone. Ahaz believed that the false gods of Damascus had overcome him. In light of this, he turned to them in sacrifice (II Chronicles 28:23). God's destruction of Damascus and the deportation of its inhabitants stand as a testimony to the deceptive nature of man's reasoning. Ahaz and his people were not overcome by gods more powerful than the God of Israel, they were overcome by their own rebellion.

Deuteronomy 2:36 places Aroer along the banks of the Arnon River. The name of the city means "ruins." There seems to be somewhat of a play on words as God predicts ruinous heaps for the city and its surrounding villages.

Along with the subjugation of Damascus and Syria, the Lord interjects the fall of Ephraim (northern Israel). The early stages of this subjugation took place when Tiglathpileser made his push westward in 734 BC; however, Ephraim was not completely subjected until 722 BC when Samaria was taken by Sargon.

The comparison of the last verse is amazing when one considers God's promises upon Israel if she would obey Him. God warned Syria that her glory would become as feeble as Israel's. In this sad comparison one finds an underlying principle. The rejection of truth brings weakness, not strength. When Israel should have excelled in glory, she was used as a negative example because of her rebellious choices. Undoubtedly, Israel's alliances seemed rewarding in many ways, but the end result was disastrous. The temporary strength and stability were momentaneous at best.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Moab's Burden (Part X)

"This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning Moab since that time. But now the LORD hath spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble." (Isaiah 16:13-14)

The first of these two verses seems to indicate that a prophecy against Moab had been ongoing. Perhaps an unrecorded prophet had been used of God to speak against Moab's rebellion in days gone by. Whatever the case, Moab's warnings were of old. She had been given ample time to repent.

The last verse presents a contrast. Moab's warnings had been ongoing; however, the consequences had now arrived. The judgment was irreversible. Just as a hired hand is contracted for a specified amount of time and money and will not go beyond his time, even so would God appoint a definite time for the invasion of Moab. The same wording is found in Isaiah 21:16.

History has not disclosed the exact means of Moab's destruction. Most probably, she was destroyed by one of the Assyrian kings such as Shalmaneser or Sargon. There is a small phrase at the end of the last verse which has not been translated (likely for smoothness of reading). A direct translation would read, "...and the remnant (shall be) very small (and) feeble, not great."

When the Lord had finished with Moab, there would be nothing great about her anymore. Like so many men throughout history, Mesha had boasted in his victories and blasphemed the God of Israel when, in reality, he was simply being used by God to punish others. Mesha's failure to recognize this truth cost him an eternity in hell. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Moab's Burden (IX)

"For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah: the lords of the heathen have broken down the principal plants thereof, they are come even unto Jazer, they wandered through the wilderness: her branches are stretched out, they are gone over the sea. Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease." (Isaiah 16:8-10)

All of the cities mentioned seem to have been in close proximity to one another. Heshbon was located due east from the northern tip of the Salt Sea. Apparently, Sibmah was known for its vineyards and consequently its wine. There would be no more harvesting of grapes and production of fine wines. All would be taken away. When man does not glorify God with what is provided to him, he will eventually lose it. God's goodness supplies the needs of mankind (Psalm 104:15), but seldom to people show gratitude and good stewardship with what the Lord gives.

"Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh. And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray; but he shall not prevail." 
(Isaiah 16:11-12)

Throughout Scripture, the bowels often represent one's deep emotions (I Kings 3:26, Philippians 1:8, Colossians 3:12). Here, Isaiah expresses deep compassion for those who would soon find themselves suffering the consequences of their sins. The prophet takes no joy in the enemy's destruction but feels only remorse. Many professing believer's would do well to follow this example. Seeing the downfall of evil does produce a righteous joy in the souls of those who love Christ (Revelation 19:1-6); however, a believer should never rejoice in the demise of souls.

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him (Proverbs 24:17-18).

Moab's high places of worship would prove to be useless in her distress. Tiring herself through vain supplications, she would eventually be forced to flee these places of false worship as the enemy drew nearer. At the last, the people would come into their sanctuary. Undoubtedly, the text is referring to the primary sanctuary of Chemosh.

In his efforts to defeat Israel, Mesha had offered his firstborn son as a sacrifice to Chemosh (II Kings 3:27). In light of Moab's victories over Israel in the following days and years, many would have given Chemosh the credit for their victories. However, God would have the last say. Moab's brief triumph over Israel could only be the result of chastisement upon a nation that had turned from God and not the intervention of any false deity (Psalm 96:5). Eventually, the Moabites would be struck with the reality that their prayers had achieved nothing. Just as the opponents of Elijah on Mount Carmel, the Moabites would torture themselves with endless supplications only to be answered by fearful silence (I Kings 18:26).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Moab's Burden (Part VIII)

"We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud: even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath: but his lies shall not be so. Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab, every one shall howl: for the foundations of Kirhareseth shall ye mourn; surely they are stricken." (Isaiah 16:6-7)

Isaiah now turns his attention to that which would prevent Moab from finding the rest promised in the previous verses - pride. Deliverance would not come for Moab because she was a very proud nation. Even a cursory review of the Moabite Stone would be sufficient to reveal the arrogance of the nation. Concerning his victory over Israel, King Mesha wrote, "...I looked down on him and on his house. And Israel has been defeated forever...."

The text says, "...his lies shall not be so...." Moab's prideful words against God and His chosen people were nothing more than lies, and they would not stand the test of time. Instead every citizen would wail for his defeated and broken country. Kir of Moab (15:1), Kir-hareseth, and Kir-haresh (16:11) are likely all the same city. If so, Kir-hareseth was a fortress city overlooking the Dead Sea. As a highly fortified stronghold, its fall to the enemy would be a lamentable occurrence.

Pride will deprive any individual of God's blessing upon his life just as it prevented the Moabites from finding deliverance.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Moab's Burden (Part VII)

"Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab; be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler: for the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth, the oppressors are consumed out of the land. And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness." (Isaiah 16:4-5)

With this translation, the verse may be understood as an indirect commandment to Moab to hide the outcasts of Judah. It may be that in the middle of the invasions to follow, some of Judah's citizens would find themselves in need of safety just as Moab had found herself. The millennial flare of the last verse may also allow for an apocalyptic fulfillment of this passage. In Israel's flight from the oppressions of the antichrist, God may use Moab in the last days to preserve a remnant of His people (Revelation 12:6).

An alternative translation of verse four would read, "Let my outcasts of Moab dwell with you." This translation is obtained by rendering the Niphal participle behind the word outcasts as a construct of the proper noun Moab. If the verse is understood in this sense, then Judah is once again indirectly ordered to provide shelter for those who would flee to her for safety. The order is phrased as "indirect" because the commandment let...dwell is a third person plural jussive verb, and its subject is outcasts which is also third person plural. With this in mind, the sentence conveys a third person command to the outcasts. This construction reveals a strong desire on behalf of the Lord for the fleeing fugitives to find rest.

At the time of this prophecy, Hezekiah was seated upon the throne of Judah. In stark contrast to his father, he was a righteous king who concerned himself with God's holiness and judgment; however, the application of the last verse does not end with Hezekiah. He merely represented, in a small way, the flawless reign of the righteous Son of David. When Christ's kingdom is firmly established on the earth, the full impact of these verses will be realized.

Mercy and not revenge is the means by which the righteous man's throne is established. Judah's king would not fulfill the heart of God by rejecting Moab's oppressed citizens but rather by sheltering them. This principle of mercy is undying. The believer lives out the loving heart of God when he reaches out to the needy in forgiveness and mercy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Moab's Burden (Part VI)

"For it shall be, that, as a wandering bird cast out of the nest, so the daughters of Moab shall be at the fords of Arnon. Take counsel, execute judgment; make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday; hide the outcasts; bewray not him that wandereth." (Isaiah 16:2-3)

Fleeing the enemy as he marched south through the land, the Moabite women would come to the Arnon River with the intention of passing over into safety.

The Arnon River in Northern Moab

God's people of Judah are commanded to hide the refugees of Moab. In contrast to the wicked who take pleasure in turning over the fugitives to their oppressors (Obadiah 14), the righteous stand as a protective shadow to the ones who find themselves in great distress. Judah would have had sufficient reason to be bitter against Moab's citizens, but God permitted no such heart attitude in this passage. Here, He encourages His people to display the lovingkindness of the Lord.

This same heart of compassion is found in Christ's commandment to the Church.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Moab's Burden (Part V)

"Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion." (Isaiah 16:1)

These next few verses deal with Moab's call to submission. She is encouraged to subjugate herself to the authority of Judah. Northern Israel had been the nation which Moab served; however, with Israel taken captive by the Assyrians, Moab is now commanded to place herself under the authority of the southern kingdom.

Sela means rock or cliff. It is thought to be the same city as Petra. Sela was in the land of Edom which bordered Moab on the south. Because the enemy had invaded the entire land of Moab, the Moabites are encouraged to take their pledge of a lamb and to send it to Jerusalem via the southern route of Edom. The lamb would have been presented as a gift or sacrifice as a token of Moab's pledge to be subservient to Judah.

Even in the midst of Moab's terror, God's grace provided an opportunity for the humble to escape through obedience to His commands.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Burden of Moab (Part IV)

"For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing. Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows." 
(Isaiah 15:6-7)

The country of Moab is a plateau that rises approximately 3,000 feet above sea level. Its terrain is nearly void of any trees, but its hills are fertile and the country produced grain. After the invasion of the enemy, the fields would not be watered, and the fertile crops would vanish. Much of this destruction would likely be caused by the enemy on his march through the land.

In their flight for safety, the Moabite refugees would take what harvest they were able to carry and flee for safety. Being the natural cover found along the streams and wadis, the willows are mentioned as the place where the escapees would find themselves. The picture seems to be one of people fleeing the enemy and coming to the rivers that bordered the land in an attempt to cross over into safety (16:2).

"For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beerelim. For the waters of Dimon shall be full of blood: for I will bring more upon Dimon, lions upon him that escapeth of Moab, and upon the remnant of the land." (Isaiah 15:8-9)

This Eglaim may be the same town mentioned in Ezekiel 47:10. If so, it was situated near the Dead Sea. Beerelim means well of God. It may be the same place where God gave drink to the Israelites in Numbers 21:16. Dimon is probably a poetical form of the name Dibon. This city was situated north of Arnon, and it was the capital in Isaiah's day.

King Mesha's Stele (The Moabite Stone)

From the western border of the Salt Sea to the northern borders of Arnon, the land of Moab would be full of fear and destruction. King Mesha's victory stele (Moabite Stone) was discovered in the city of Dibon. The very town that housed his arrogant records became the town that buried them. If taken literally, God promised to bring lions upon the survivors thus decreasing their already feeble numbers. The Lord had similar dealings with the heathens who were deported to the land of Israel by Assyria (II Kings 17:25). This phrase could also picture what God would do to Moab through the invasions of the Babylonians. As will be seen, this prophecy in Isaiah deals with the coming Assyrians; however, a similar prophecy in Jeremiah (chapter 48) deals with the coming Babylonians. Assyria would reduce the Moabites to a small and feeble remnant (16:14); and afterward, the Babylonians would wipe out what remained of the country (Jeremiah 48:46).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Burden of Moab (Part III)

"And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh: their voice shall be heard even unto Jahaz: therefore the armed soldiers of Moab shall cry out; his life shall be grievous unto him. My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: for by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction." (Isaiah 15:4-5)

When the Israelites entered Canaan, all of these cities were in the Amorites' possession because they had conquered Moab and driven him south across the Arnon River (Numbers 21:26); however, in the years that followed, Moab regained possession of the land. The Lord promised that once again she would lose her land to the enemy - an experience from which she would never fully recover.

Chased and oppressed by the Assyrian army, the Moabite soldier's life would become more of a burden than a blessing. His future promised only death or captivity.

Isaiah's heart was pained for the Moabite people. God does not delight Himself in the death of any soul, yet judgment must come when His warnings and compassions continue to go unheeded.

Situated near the southern end of the Dead Sea plain, Zoar was the city to which Lot began to flee in his escape from Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, it is presented as the city to which the Moabites would flee in their distress. Both the citizens and refugees of Zoar would resemble a frightened and wild heifer that is unaccustomed to the yoke.

Luhith was probably a well-known high place or sanctuary. An alternate translation would read, "For the ascent of Luhith with weeping they shall go up it." Rather than ascend the stairs of their sanctuary with pride, they would ascend in despair and humility. Nothing is known of Horonaim. In his prophecy of Moab's destruction by the coming Babylonians, Jeremiah presents the slope of Horonaim in contrast to the ascent of Luhith (Jeremiah 48:5). Whether the Moabites fled upward to the high place of Luhith or downward to Horonaim, the end result would be the same. When God's judgment falls, it does not miss its mark.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Burden of Moab (Part II)

"He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off. In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly." (Isaiah 15:2-3)

By this time, Dibon was the capital. Both it and Bajith were major centers of worship for the Moabites. High places were elevated areas where people would come and offer sacrifices to their deities. Rather than come and engage in their usual rituals of worship, the Moabites would come to bemoan the destruction of their country by the Assyrian enemy.

Mesha had boasted of recapturing Nebo, and here the Lord predicts its destruction. Because of His displeasure with Israel, the Lord had permitted Moab's successful rebellion, but God would not permit Moab to give Chemosh glory for an indefinite period of time.

This passage predicts great mourning and sadness; however, such things are vain unless they are directed in sincerity toward the one true God. Paul said, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death (II Corinthians 7:10)." Man's sorrow will not profit him unless it is true repentance directed toward the One Who offers forgiveness through faith in the blood of Christ.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Burden of Moab

"The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence;" (Isaiah 15:1)

The country of Moab found its roots in the sin of Lot and his daughters. Lot's eldest daughter, fearful that she would never have a husband after the destruction of her city, made her father drunk and lay with him. From this, she bore a son and called his name Moab (Genesis 19:30-38). Although the exact meaning of the name is uncertain, the most likely rendering would be "of his father." Lot's lack of separation had far-reaching consequences. It cost him his family, and it plagued the nation of Israel for years to come.

Moab's borders varied somewhat throughout its history. Edom formed the southern border while the Dead Sea and southern tip of the Jordan River formed the western. The eastern line was marked by the country of the Ammonites and the Arabian desert. The northern boundary varied the most. When Israel first entered Canaan, Moab's northern border was distinctly marked by the Arnon River (Numbers 21:13); however, as time progressed, that boundary seems to have moved farther north. Many of the cities mentioned in this prophecy are indisputably north of the river Arnon.

By the time of this prophecy, all peaceable relations had ended between Moab and Israel. The last friendly interaction is presented in I Samuel 22:3 where David sought refuge from the king of Moab for his family. After this, Israel's interaction with Moab is violent.

To understand better the heart behind these prophecies, one must consider the fairly recent confrontation between Moab, Israel and Judah. II Kings 3 gives a vivid account of Moab's rebellion against Israel. During Omri's dynasty, the king of Moab paid tribute to Israel; however, when Ahab died and his son Jehoram succeeded him, Moab rebelled.

And Mesha king of Moab was a sheepmaster, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool. But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel (II Kings 3:4-5).

Jehoram allied himself with both Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom. Even though this union was not sanctioned by God, through the prophet Elisha, the Lord saw fit to give Israel the victory over Moab as a testimony to His omnipotence and great mercy. The Bible's description of events ends with the Moabite king, Mesha, offering his eldest son as a sacrifice to the false god Chemosh. The biblical narrative ends there; however, the country of Moab retaliated against Israel and took back much of its land. This information is obtained from the Mesha Stele which is also known as the Moabite Stone. This stone was discovered in the mid 1860s, and it contains the accounts of King Mesha's rebellion against the dynasty of Omri. This information is important because it enables the reader to understand why the Lord condemns the proud heart of Moab - a heart which had lifted itself up on account of temporary victory.

Ar was likely the ancient capital of Moab. It is mentioned as being an important city in the days of the Exodus (Numbers 21:28). Kir was a fortress city located high on a hill above the Dead Sea. The Lord said that both of these cities would be taken in the night at a time when they were most vulnerable. In his inscriptions, Mesha boasts of having taken the town of Nebo back from Israel in the night and having killed seven thousand men. As Moab had done to Israel, so would it be done to her. "...Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7)."