Thursday, September 29, 2016

John Meets the Lord Jesus Christ

"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea." (Revelation 1:9-11)

Exiled to the lonely and barren island of Patmos, John was not left without the comfort of God's Spirit. The Lord's Spirit is a very real presence in the believer's soul. Unfortunately, He is often equated with fleshly outbreaks of emotionalism and sensuality. However, a biblical examination of His working reveals that He guides the believer toward holiness, humility, peace and an overall closer walk with Christ. John was not left to his own and neither is the saint of today.

The kingdom of Christ is sure, yet patience is an inescapable part of the believer's journey toward that kingdom. James wrote, "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4)." God has given the Christian over to His work of patience, and He will use it to perfect a man in such a way that simply could not be done otherwise.

The Lord's day may be in reference to the traditional day in which the Christian church met (Sunday), the Old Testament sabbath (Saturday) or simply this miraculous day in which the Lord Jesus chose to give His apocalypse.

The LORD is about to reveal things which concern the end, and yet, He is the beginning and the end. The prophet Isaiah reveals the fact that the LORD is there with the end, and only He has absolute control over all that is to come. "...I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he (Isaiah 41:4)."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Burden of Egypt

"The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." (Isaiah 19:1)

Having just given a rebuke to Ethiopia, the Lord now turns His attention to her Egyptian neighbors. Egypt's history offers no exact fit for the events in this chapter; therefore, a millennial view of the things described is unavoidable. With that said, as with so many Old Testament prophecies, there have been occurrences down through the ages that parallel in some way the things seen in this passage (Ezekiel 29-32). They act, it would seem, as little road-markers which point the traveler to his final destination.

Vexed with Egypt's long history of idolatry, the LORD is seen coming into Egypt for the purpose of judgment. The word for idols literally means worthlessness. Man's gods have no value apart from that which wicked men place upon them in their own minds. This verse brings to mind Paul's words, "...We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one (I Corinthians 8:4)."

Years after giving this prophecy, the Lord foretold of His intentions to use Nebuchadnezzar for the purpose of executing vengeance upon Egypt's idolatry.

And I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them, and carry them away captives: and he shall array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd putteth on his garment; and he shall go forth from thence in peace. He shall break also the images of Bethshemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire (Jeremiah 43:12-13).

Nebuchadnezzar's subjugation of Egypt was likely just a partial fulfillment of what is yet to come.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Burden of Cush (Part V)

"In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion." (Isaiah 18:7)

Deliverance through confederacies with other nations would do nothing to humble God's people nor would it do anything to strengthen their faith. However, deliverance through divine intervention after man's strength had been exhausted would accomplish both. In light of this, God now predicts the response of Judah after having received help from God against her enemies. As with most other prophecies in Isaiah, this passage is mixed with both near and far fulfillment. In the days of Assyria's destruction which stands as a picture of greater deliverance to come, Judah would respond to God's deliverance in humble worship.

Such humble worship would not have been possible had God permitted the heathen nations to deliver His people. God has reasons for delaying help when it seems that help should have arrived. He also has reasons for not permitting His people to find lasting deliverance through any medium apart from faith in His unfailing care.

A Christian can personally apply this passage in at least two ways. First of all, Ethiopia was at fault in offering Judah help apart from obedience to faith in God. She tempted Israel with illegitimate deliverance. It is easy for a Christian to give ungodly counsel to others thereby being guilty of the same sin in principle. A divorced person may long to be married again and instead of encouraging reconciliation with the divorced spouse or remaining unmarried while the spouse lives, a Christian could encourage remarriage. This would be promoting unbiblical deliverance instead of encouraging obedience to God's wishes in the matter. This is just one example of many whereby a believer can offer illegitimate deliverance.

Secondly, had God permitted Ethiopia to deliver Israel, she would not have received the spiritual benefit that she did. God often delays His harvest in order to bring glory to Himself and to aid others in a spiritual manner. A Christian must be willing to wait upon God's harvest time.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Introduction (Part III)

"Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:7-8)

Christ's return is certain. No man will ever be able to predict the hour or the day regardless of how hard he tries (Mark 13:32); nonetheless, He will return. Here, His second coming is presented as a miraculous display that will be seen by all the world. It has been rightfully said that Christ came first as the humble Servant but will return as conquering King.

The word behind wail means to beat (one's breast). In great distress, the world's inhabitants will strike their chests when faced with the reality that the Judge has returned to receive His rightful kingdom. The nation of Israel is here represented as those who have pierced the Savior. Roman soldiers physically crucified the Lord; however, the Jewish nation was ultimately responsible for placing Him there through their rejection of His authority (I Thessalonians 2:15). Undoubtedly, the long-awaited repentance of the surviving Jews is also represented in this wailing of the nations as they behold the supremacy of their Messiah Whom they have long rejected.

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn (Zechariah 12:10).

The first letter of the Greek alphabet is Alpha (A), and the last letter is Omega (W). Since the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, the Lord used the Greek alphabet to make a point concerning His omnipotence. He is the beginning, the ending and everything in between. This concept of God being the first and the last is not peculiar to the New Testament. The Lord presented Himself as the beginning and the ending of all things when He moved Isaiah to write,

I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he ... Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6).

The Almighty is a favorite title for God throughout this book. It is found only once in other New Testament books and nine times here in Revelation. In an environment that is becoming increasingly irreverent, this title is a good reminder for the Christian concerning the supremacy of his Master.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Burden of Cush (Part IV)

"For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches. They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them." (Isaiah 18:5-6)

The Lord now describes Judah's deliverance from the invading Assyrians. Unknown to the Ethiopians and Israelites, God had planned a harvest. Before the wickedness of the Gentile nations could reach its full potential against God's people, the Lord promised to destroy the fruit and the branches together. While Ethiopia and Egypt devised their plans for alliance, and while Judah preoccupied herself with preparations of warfare against Assyria, the Almighty looked on in rebuke of man's faithlessness. God did not need the help of Ethiopia then, and He is not in need of any man's help today.

In the face of adversity, distraction from faith in God is a reality. The world will never fail to be there with offers of alliance for the believer. God's saints must remember that the Lord knows the end from the beginning. When the harvest is ready; He will reap. He will not reap before He is ready, nor will He reap according to man's timetable. He takes no orders from His creation. The Lord reaps when the time is just right - a time when He will receive the most glory and a time when people will receive the most spiritual benefit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Burden of Cush (Part III)

"All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye. For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest." (Isaiah 18:3-4)

The Lord now calls for the attention of the entire earth. These words were given in the days of Isaiah, but they are just as significant today. God wants people, everywhere, to consider the true source of help, deliverance and triumph.

Just as an ensign (standard or signal) and a trumpet are designed to get people's attention, even so would God's deliverance of His people catch the attention of the world. Through such language, Judah is encouraged to hear, not the offers of help from Ethiopia, but the offers of salvation from the Redeemer. Ethiopia and Egypt would fail, but God never fails. The second coming of Christ will also witness a time when God sets up a signal to the earth and calls for the nations to come and worship before Him (Isaiah 11:10).

As the sun is vital for the growth of the plant and as the dew refreshes both the harvest and the harvester, even so would God be the life and refreshment of His people. The Lord promised that He would take His rest in His dwelling place of Zion. Hezekiah found this to be true in his days, but the ultimate fulfillment will be realized during the millennial reign of Christ.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Introduction (Part II)

"John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (Revelation 1:4-6)

John's letter, which is God's letter, was originally written to seven major churches which occupied the area of ancient Asia Minor. These churches were real and not simply allegorical concepts representing different aspects of the Christian experience. Nothing in the text suggests the need to view these seven churches as less than real entities which once occupied a place in Roman society. These churches possessed strengths and weaknesses, purity and passions, Christ-likeness and carnality. Any believer can identify with the victories and struggles of these churches. In light of this, the message which applied to them applies to the Church of today.

The layout of these churches formed somewhat of an oddly-shaped right triangle. At the bottom right-hand corner of the triangle was Laodicea. The churches of Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira and Pergamos lay to the northwest almost in a straight line. Due south and slightly east of Pergamos lay the cities of Smyrna and Ephesus. These seven major Christian churches comprised the original audience of this letter.

The Lord opens His letter with wishes of grace and peace. God's desire for His people is one of unmerited favor and peace - peace in any situation, good or bad. The Lord is not bent on hurting people or holding them back from what is good. He is focused entirely upon their goodwill. The rebellious heart in man prevents him from recognizing this truth about the Lord. Man's sin brings about pain and destruction. Unmerited favor is what makes salvation possible, and it is that which enables consistent Christian service.

The greeting is given from the One Who will always be here, has always been here, and will forever be here. God's presence never fails. This reality rings out a note of comfort before delving into the terrifying things soon to be revealed. It also encourages humility, repentance and trust as one considers that God sees, knows and judges everything.

The greeting is then shared by God's Holy Spirit Who is identified by the number seven. The phrase seven Spirits has been the topic of much debate. Some things in Scripture simply need to be accepted for what they are. They do not need to be examined to the point of confusion and heresy. The number seven often represents the idea of completion, that which lacks nothing. Perhaps this concept is wrapped up in the phrase seven Spirits. Regardless, this flawless and pure Spirit of the living God is the same Spirit which has been fully given to the one who places genuine faith in Christ (Ephesians 1:13). It may be observed that this Spirit is seen before the throne of God. He indwells every Christian, and yet He is simultaneously before the throne of God. The believer has at his disposal the greatest Helper and Comforter for which one could ask. At any point in time, the Christian may "come boldly unto the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)" through prayer and find the help and wisdom so desperately needed. Living inside the soul of the Christian and yet present before the majestic throne of God, the Spirit can intercede as none other.

Making this a greeting from the complete Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ is next given a part in these wishes of grace and peace. Each of the Lord's titles describes a different aspect of His attributes, character and position. The name Jesus finds its roots in the Hebrew language and it means salvation or Jehovah is salvation. The Greek title of Christ is akin to the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed one. As the Anointed One of God, Jesus is the sole Author of salvation. In Him, the JEHOVAH God of the Old Testament became the sin-sacrifice for man. Preeminent from the very beginning, He appears in this passage as the sole means by which man finds redemption.

The Lord is next called the faithful Witness. Unlike men, He will not fail to speak or to do that which is intrinsically good before God the Father. He is consistently trustworthy, and it is this reality which should motivate His children to display the same character.

The First Begotten of the dead is in reference to His supreme victory over the power of death. This same language is seen in Colossians 1:18 which says, "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." Christ died and rose to die no more. No mortal man has ever descended into death and risen to die no more of his own power, yet such is what Christ has done. Acts 2:24 states, "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." Because He has conquered the power of death, all who trust Him will be victorious over death as well. Because He has made the path, men may walk it by faith and find eternal life (John 14:6).

Lastly, the Lord is called the Prince of the kings of the earth. He is greater than any earthly ruler, good or evil. In his arrogance, the Pharaoh of Egypt said, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself (Ezekiel 29:3)" only to find that there was One higher. In defiance of God Sennacherib asked, "Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand (Isaiah 36:20)?" Following this same example of arrogance, Nebuchadnezzar said, "...Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands (Daniel 3:15)?" All of these men and countless others have come to the realization that there is only one Prince, and someday His supremacy will be openly displayed.

God's love for people is immense, and He has openly shown it in the sacrifice of His Son. Nothing can wash away the stain of sin apart from the pure blood of Christ. Any belief system which undermines the importance of Christ's blood is plagued by apostasy. Throughout the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were offered as a picture of that which Christ's blood would someday accomplish - the redemption of mankind.

By the agent of His blood, Jesus Christ has made the believer a priest. A Christian has no need for some priest to intercede for him because he himself has been made a priest by the great high Priest (Hebrew 4:14). The priesthood of the Old Testament simply pictured the need for a sinless high Priest; it did not exalt any man to a position which could be filled only by Christ. The need of the Aaronic priesthood to offer sacrifice for themselves bears out this reality (Hebrews 9:7). As a priest, the believer has liberty to carry out priestly duties in Christ. He can offer sacrifices of praise and worship, intercede for others, teach the difference between the clean and the unclean and be consistently about the work of turning others to the one true God. Every believer has the right to these practices regardless of gender, position, status or ability.

By His blood, the Christian has also been made a king unto God. In Him, the believer possesses all things even though he may have next to nothing in this life. As a king, he will someday reign under the headship of Christ. In light of this, his conduct should be exemplary - always reflecting that which is expected to be seen in the life of a king.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Burden of Cush (Part II)

"That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!" (Isaiah 18:2)

Here, the Lord pictures the movement of Ethiopia's envoys toward Jerusalem. The vessels of bulrushes were reed boats likely constructed from the papyrus plant so common to that region of the world.

The king's commandment is rehearsed as he gives charges to his ambassadors. These messengers are commanded to go to a war-ridden nation, which in context refers to the land of Israel. She is first referred to as scattered and peeled or literally drawn out and polished or made bald. Because of her rebellion, Israel had been scattered and made bald through bloodshed and deportation. The Assyrians had wreaked havoc on the land, and her punishment by God was not hidden from the eyes of the world.

The Israelites are then referred to as a fearful people or a people to be feared. This is the meaning behind terrible. Israel's conception was amazing. Her miraculous deliverance out of Egypt made her a nation to be recognized as frightfully different from all people. When she remained under God's blessing, though small, she was a powerful nation; however, at this point, the title probably has more of a negative connotation. The punishment inflicted due to sin had made her a fearful sight in the eyes of the surrounding nations.

The description of Israel continues. She had been measured out by line and trodden down or subjugated. When Israel was righteous, she measured out her enemies with a line (II Samuel 8:2); but when she turned evil, she herself was measured by God. The enemy's trampling or conquering naturally followed. Ethiopia was aware of the nation's need, and so the king goes on to call Israel the land who has been spoiled by rivers. This term undoubtedly refers to the invading armies of the Assyrians which are referred to as an overflowing river in Isaiah 8:7.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Introduction

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." (Revelation 1:1-2)

The reader is immediately faced with the book's authority. This apocalyptic book has been authored by the King. Commentators are often guilty of using language that would lead people to believe that the Bible is simply another book to be critically examined and dissected. They make such statements as "When he wrote this, he did not understand...." or "This statement cannot be taken literally because the author was unaware of...." The list of faithless comments is endless. God used penmen, but He is the sole Author; and His Word is inerrant. This book is the authoritative work of a faultless Author, and it should be received as such.

Four levels of involvement are seen in the opening. The Father delivers the revelation to the Son. The Son sends and signifies it by His Angel, and man receives it by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Neither God the Son nor God the Spirit are placed on lower levels of divinity by such statements. This passage simply pictures a flow of authority by which the Almighty accomplishes His work. Such a flow is seen in I Corinthians 15:27-28.

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

"Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand." (Revelation 1:3)

A special blessing is promised to the one who both hears and obeys the prophecies of this book. James said,

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:22-25)

The book of Revelation is not to be studied for fantastical reasons. Nor is it to be examined out of a desire to wax eloquent concerning future things. Too many people are attempting to expound this book when, in fact, they should be silent and truly hear its message. Instead, Revelation should be examined with the intention of obeying what is read. It should be studied with a prayerful desire to learn so that its message might be obeyed. The Spirit behind Revelation's written words should be allowed to perform a cleansing work in the heart and life of the Christian as he considers the powerful events and commands of this book, because the time is near! In compliment to the teaching of this passage, John wrote in another book ...

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (I John 3:2-3).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Burden of Cush

"Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:" (Isaiah 18:1)

This prophecy is against the kingdom of Cush (Ethiopia) - a kingdom built around the Upper Nile south of the Egyptian Delta. At this point in history, Tirhakah ruled both Egypt and Ethiopia. The king of Cush and the Pharaoh of Egypt are interchangeable titles which both refer to the same man (II Kings 18:21, 19:9). As a significant source of temptation to Israel, Ethiopia is warned concerning her attempts to ally herself with Judah against Assyria.

The word shadowing refers to a whirring or a buzzing. The term is used of locust in Deuteronomy 28:42. Exactly to what the wings refers is uncertain. Numerous ideas have been presented, yet none of them can be taken with absolute certainty. One possibility would be that God was making reference to the wings of Hemen (Egyptian Horus) which was a false deity worshiped by the Ethiopians. Archaeological excavations have uncovered depictions of Tirhakah worshiping before this "falcon god."

Among her many other obstacles, Judah was faced with the persistent attempts of Ethiopia to offer deliverance from Assyria. The Lord considered this to be a stumblingblock to His people. Israel was to rely upon the Lord, and not the heathen, for her help. God is displeased when His people seek to make alliances with the world in the time of their need; however, He is equally angered by the world's attempts to lead His people into unholy partnerships. Undoubtedly, Ethiopia considered her offers of alliance to be beneficial to both herself and Judah; however, God looked upon these offers as an attempt to draw Judah's eyes away from the Holy One of Israel.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Burden of Damascus (Part V)

"Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us." (Isaiah 17:12-14)

Isaiah's prophecy now turns against the Assyrians. Time would soon prove that the kings of Assyria would continue to move south into Judah - eventually attacking Jerusalem itself. God answers the Assyrian pride with a simple but firm Woe! How dare the heathen nations be arrogant enough to believe that they can do as they please against God and His people! The time was right for northern Israel to be overcome and deported; however, it would be at least another 150 years before God was ready to punish the stout heart of Judah. No man goes beyond what God allows, regardless of what he believes. In light of this, God declares to the armies of Assyria that they will soon be as helpless as the straw that is blown about by fierce winds.

In this passage, the Lord predicts with great accuracy the terror that He would inflict upon Sennacherib's army. He warns of trouble in the evening; and by the morning light, there would be devastation. This coincides perfectly with II Kings 19:35 which describes the fall of Sennacherib's forces in 701 BC.

And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

To the God-fearing, Isaiah closes with this promise, "This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us." The Syrian-Israeli confederacy was destroyed, but God continues to be the Rock of strength for the man, woman, boy or girl who chooses to trust in Him.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Burden of Damascus (Part III)

"Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof, saith the LORD God of Israel. At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images." (Isaiah 17:6-8)

In the middle of judgment, God interjects His mercy. His preservation of Israel is illustrated by the familiar scene of a man harvesting olives from an olive tree. In Deuteronomy 24:20, the Lord forbade the Israelites from going over their olive trees a second time. What could not be struck initially from the branches was to be left for the stranger, orphan and widow. In similar fashion, God promised that He would not go over the "tree" of Israel until she was completely barren of all fruit; but rather, He promised to leave a feeble remnant. The population would be sparse; however, this would be better than complete annihilation. Little did the Israelites of Joshua's day realize that in their obedience to this command of harvesting they were picturing God's merciful dealings with their future descendents.

The Lord predicted some revival among the remnant of Israel's citizens. Spiritually awakened by the destruction of their homeland, the Israelites would turn to the Holy One of Israel (a favorite title for God throughout this book). The Scriptures give some examples of this prophecy's fulfillment. Hezekiah invited the remnant of Israel to join his Passover. After an initial response of rebellion, numerous people from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun joined Judah in this feast (II Chronicles 30:1-12). Not many years later during the reign of Josiah a similar event took place (II Chronicles 35:17-18). In fact, Josiah is seen carrying out his reforms all the way into the district of Naphtali (II Chronicles 34:1-6).

The word behind groves is Asherah. This was a Canaanite goddess whose presence was a constant thorn in Israel's flesh. Throughout the Old Testament, the name of this false deity has been translated as grove or groves. Asherah and Asherim seem to have been wooden images that had something to do with the worship of the false goddess Asherah and her mythical offspring Baal. These groves, or carved wooden images, were often implanted near altars. Gideon is seen destroying one at the commencement of his service for God in Judges 6:25.

One cannot help but consider the millennial flavor of this passage. Just as the eyes of Israel's remnant considered God in the aftermath of the Assyrian invasions, the persecuted and wearied remnant of Israelites will look in faith to their Messiah at His second coming (Zechariah 12:10) - an event which will terminate in the national salvation of Israel.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Burden of Damascus (Part II)

"And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean. And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim." (Isaiah 17:4-5)

Still in reference to northern Israel, the Lord uses the name of Jacob. The name Jacob means supplanter or deceiver. When God appeared to Jacob on his way to Padan-Aram, He found him in a miserable state of affairs. Perhaps the use of this term would have served to spark some thought on the part of the hearer. Were it not for God's grace, Jacob would have perished as a distraught Syrian (Deuteronomy 26:5), and the Israel of Isaiah's day was in a similar circumstance.

The two verbs shall be made thin and shall wax lean are focused upon the action being performed upon the subject. God would personally see to it that Israel's strength and health were brought down to the ground. Israel, as the subject, would not be able to deliver herself from this action. People often forget, or do not realize, that they will not be able to prevent the results of their poor choices.

The exact place of the valley mentioned is not known; although, it is believed to have been somewhere southeast of Jerusalem. Obviously, it was a fertile valley, and Isaiah was apparently familiar with the sight of reapers who would reap the harvest of this fruitful place. The grain is helpless before the reaper. It has no power to prevent the swipe of the sickle. As the helpless grain is inevitably confronted by the harvestman, even so would Israel find herself confronted by the Assyrian forces. Rephaim means dead spirits. The same word appears in 14:9 where it has been translated as the dead. Spiritually, northern Israel was dead; and soon her citizens would be physically dead. The hopeless nature of Israel's rebellious course is emphasized through the use of such language.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Burden of Damascus (Part IV)

"In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow." (Isaiah 17:9-11)

After the invasion of the Assyrian army, Israel's land would resemble a tree with only a few limbs here and there upon it. Only God's mercy toward the Israelites would prevent their complete extermination.

God quickly follows with His reasons for allowing such things to happen. Israel cared nothing for the Lord Who was both her salvation and rock of safety. Hundreds of years before this prophecy was ever written, the Lord warned Israel that she would reject her God. The song of Moses contained in Deuteronomy 32 begins by declaring that the Israelites would go astray.

They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation ... Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee (32:5, 18).

Toward the end of the song, the Lord reminded His people that miraculous victories over the enemy are not possible apart from divine intervention.

O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up? For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges (32:29-31).

Through His title of the Rock, God calls to mind His words of many years prior and summons the listener to consider his ways and to repent. No alliance has ever been an appropriate substitute for faith in the Lord.

Instead of following after the familiar faith of Abraham, Israel chose the pleasant plants of her idolatry which God termed strange twigs, shoots or branches. The Lord would accept neither Israel's idolatry nor her alliances with the wicked. All such things were strange and unappealing to God. The Christian faces the same dilemma when he attempts to walk by sight and not by faith or when he attempts to ally himself with the world's philosophies and supposed securities.

Israel's efforts to be productive and fruitful in both her food supply and military strength would end in a heap of grief. In the day of sorrow, none of these things would prove to be a comfort.