Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part IV)

"Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and 
vanity." (Isaiah 40:12-17)

The Lord begins a series of rhetorical questions designed to point the reader to the incomparable nature of God. The Lord cannot be replaced or represented by any idol, form or figure. There is none like Him. The questions which He asks sound much like those directed to Job when God sought to enlighten Job to the singular greatness of his Creator.

Two thirds of the earth is covered by water. The worlds oceans are unsearchable in their vastness. Below the depths lurk creatures of which the modern scientist knows little or nothing. Mankind is still discovering new species of oceanic life. Undoubtedly, the world's oceans are one of the earth's most intimidating and amazing displays of power; yet, God views them as the small amount of water which might be measured out in the palm of a man's hand.

The size of the Milky Way boggles the mind. Measuring some 100,000 light years in diameter, it dwarfs earth to the point of insignificance; however, the size of the Milky Way is little in comparison to galaxies far beyond it. Of these things, God thinks little. He is not impressed by the immensity of them because He is far greater. To Him, they have been measured out by a span, or a fixed measure. The vastness of space and its galaxies only represents, in a small way, the unsearchable depth of God's wisdom and power.

The world's dust may be thought of as some of creation's smallest objects, and God has placed each spec. Every molecule is accounted for. The power of the nations does not impress the Lord. As the insignificant drop of water is swallowed up in the bucket full of water, the nations are swallowed up in the grandeur of God's creation. They are not even vanity. They are less than vanity. With these vivid illustrations in mind, the Lord asks, Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD? Paul quotes some of these verses in his closing arguments concerning God's work of salvation among both Jews and Gentiles.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

"To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:18-21)

The Lord puts the stupidity and vanity of idolatry on display. God has no comparison. Israel had consistently struggled with idols, and so the Lord illustrates idolatry's uselessness. The workman is the metalworker. He forms an image out of metals from the ground, the same place from which man was made. He then covers it with an outer layer of gold to add beauty and makes silver ornaments to adorn it. To the human eye, it may be attractive and appear valuable; yet, it has been made from things created by God. Its golden layer is deceptive because underneath is its core of simple metal. The vanity progresses as God describes the idol of a man too poor to make such an elaborate image. Poverty does not stop the sin of man's idolatry. He simply chooses a less expensive material. The trunk of a tree is selected and carved out by the woodworker to form a false god whose image, again, represents that found in the creation of the true God. The image may be bare wood on the outside or covered over with precious metal as that described by Jeremiah (10:3-4); however, the end result is the same. These lifeless images bring no deliverance but incur the wrath of the one true God.

The last four questions illustrate the Lord's astonishment at such things. From the very beginning, God made it clear that He is the Creator of all. Have you never read the Scriptures, Oh Israel? Have you not been told, by godly people, of the Lord's creative powers? Since the earth was founded, has no one heard of or witnessed the Lord's authority over all things? The answer to these questions is obvious. Far removed from this time and culture, idolatry seems so silly to many people; but it can be practiced in many ways. Everyone is tempted to love something above God. If such were not so, John would not have said, "...This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (I John 5:20-21)."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part III)

"O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isaiah 40:9-11)

As a herald would seek a high and prominent place from which to project good tidings for the ears of the villagers below, in a figurative sense, God commands the city of Jerusalem, the Zion from which Christ will someday reign, to pronounce the glorious news of His future redemption. One can hear the tenor of these words in the voices of those who worshiped Christ upon His triumphal entry. The work of Calvary completed the task of man's redemption, and now the Savior awaits His return. When He comes back, Judah and her cities will know a joy unlike any other. Israel's self-righteous outlook will be removed. Her unbelieving heart changed, and her lack of godly fear corrected forever.

The Lord knows the work of every man. He sees the righteous works of those who are covered by His blood; and He sees the unregenerate works of those who are outside of it. The Lord Jesus echoed these words in John's Revelation when He said, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12)."

Surrounded by shepherds and their herds, Jerusalem's citizens would have understood well the comparison of God's rule to the tender leading of a shepherd. The foolish sheep cannot help themselves. Left alone, they would perish through predators, starvation, disease and outright stupidity. But under the shepherd's care, they are safe. The Lord Jesus is that Shepherd of the soul ( I Peter 2:25) and the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (Hebrews 13:20). Millions have experienced his gentle shepherding, and Israel will soon experience it herself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability (Part II)

"The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40:6-8)

Isaiah heard God's voice saying, Cry. The prophet replied, What shall I cry? In other words, "What shall I proclaim?" The answer is simple yet profound. Man struggles to build his empires. He strives to find ways in which to add years to his life. He makes this world, its pleasures and its riches his constant occupation. He consistently seeks to push his own righteousness and to insist that he can work his own deliverance; yet, the end result is the same for every man, woman and child. Human flesh is as frail and as temporary as the tender green grass of the field of which Jesus said, " day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven...(Matthew 6:30)." In stark contrast to man's temporary nature stands God's eternal Words. That which He has promised never fails. The promise of salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ will stand for all who are willing to bow the knee in faith. Solomon's temple would be destroyed. The future temple of the tribulation for which the Jews so earnestly seek to this day will be completely done away; but Christ, the great High Priest and the Incarnate Word of God fails not.

In presenting the regenerating power and validity of God's Word, Peter quoted these verses.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you (I Peter 1:24-25).

These few verses stand as a powerful testimony to the preservation of Scripture. To the Jews of Jeremiah's day, these words would have been a great comfort as they watched the beloved city and its temple be destroyed at the hands of the Gentiles. The man who builds his life upon the Word of God will never be disappointed in the end.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-25).

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Lord's Incomparability

"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was one of Judah's most evil kings. Manasseh's idolatry, witchcraft and child sacrifice so angered the Lord that Judah's punishment through Babylon was irreversible. The Bible makes this clear when it speaks of Nebuchadnezzar's invasions during the reign of Jehoiakim.

Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the LORD would not pardon (II Kings 24:3-4).

In view of the fact that Judah's fall could not be altered, the tone of Isaiah's prophecies changes. Israel's future redemption now becomes the primary focus. Throughout the remainder of the book, the Lord lifts the veil on Israel's coming restoration and clearly reveals the Messiah Who would accomplish redemption as well as the kingdom which He will someday establish. In that future kingdom will be found a redeemed Israel. No longer plagued by a spirit of prideful disbelief, the Jewish nation will experience the peace of being covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Through faith in His name, the sins of the Jews will be pardoned. The travesties of the Great Tribulation will be the final chastisement of the Lord designed to bring the nation to its knees in the fear of God.

Luke 3:3-6 declares the ministry of John the Baptist to be a fulfillment of this prophecy.

The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

In the barren desert of man's sin, failure and dry self-righteousness, God would bring forth the living waters of Jesus Christ of Whom John would say, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)." God's salvation places everything on a level plain. It makes the crooked things smooth. The pathway to God is straight, and it is found only through belief in the Son. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6)."

Surely, these verses have a millennial context as well. Not only did human flesh behold the physical presence of God's salvation in Christ's first coming, but it will also behold it at the glorious second advent of the Messiah.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hezekiah's Test (Part II)

"Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days." (Isaiah 39:5-8)

The wealth in which Hezekiah gloried was to be short-lived. Through the various invasions of the Babylonians, Judah's wealth would be stripped from her. Many young princes such as Daniel and his three companions would be deported from their homeland and made eunuchs in the palaces of Babylon. In just a few short years, Hezekiah would lose much of his wealth to Sennacherib in an attempt to send the king of Assyria away.

Merodachbaladan did not reign long after he had sent his ambassadors. In 703, he was defeated by Sennacherib and died in exile sometime near 694 BC. This reality probably lessened the weight of Isaiah's prophecy in the eyes of some since Babylon's power would once again fall to the Assyrians; however, little did anyone know that the lion of Babylon would rise from the dust and birth one of the most capable rulers the world has ever seen - Nebuchadnezzar. Under his hand, Jerusalem would fall in 586 BC.

Hezekiah's answer is sad. He simply rejoices in the fact that he will not experience the full weight of his sin. One can almost sense in his answer a tone of prideful sarcasm. II Chronicles 32:25-26 says,

But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.

Does this passage refer to Hezekiah's answer to Isaiah? Most certainly it does to some degree. Hezekiah was likely humbled by the invasion of Sennacherib which would come in just a few short years. The Lord had graciously extended the life of Hezekiah, but the king failed to conduct himself in a way that exalted the goodness of God in the eyes of others. Should Hezekiah have been content to die at thirty-nine years of age? Perhaps. Yet, the king's true sin is found not in his plea for longer life but in his failure to express true gratitude to God, especially in the eyes of the lost. Somewhere along the way, Hezekiah forgot the importance of the words which he spoke in praise of God's miraculous healing.

The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth (Isaiah 38:19).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Eternal State (Part II)

"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:5-8)

As Daniel saw the Almighty seated upon His throne, even so He appears here. God's will is irreversible. Satan and his world fight tenaciously against God; yet, "vanity of vanities ... all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:8)." The statement, "It is done" contains an overwhelming quality of irreversibility. That which has been decided cannot be reversed, and men will forever feel its impact. God is not intimidated by man's faithless, perverse nature.

The Holy Spirit speaks emphatically when He says in the Greek text, "I, to the one who is thirsting, I will give... ." God Himself through the Person of Jesus the Son satisfies the thirst of the one who willingly comes to the fountain of life. Everyone is thirsty, but not everyone knows it; and neither will everyone come. Yet, to God's glory, there are many who humble themselves and come in the fear of God to drink of Christ's life-giving water. The Lord calls these people overcomers. They are not flawless individuals who have reached some zenith of self-righteousness. They are simply sinners saved by grace whose works reflect a change of authority. They have confessed with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and they have believed in the heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 5:4-5)?

On the King's left hand are seen standing the goats (Matthew 25:33). These are they who have rejected the righteousness of Christ in favor of something else. Some motivated by fear, some persuaded by faithlessness, some corrupted by evil and all blinded by pride, they stand guilty before God. The confessions of their actions disclose the object of their authority. The spotless Lamb was not their hope; therefore, the lake of fire will be their end.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hezekiah's Test

"At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not." (Isaiah 39:1-2)

Merodachbaladan was of Chaldean lineage. During the upheaval which surrounded the establishment of Sargon as king, Merodachbaladan marched into Babylon and seized the throne. He reigned from 721 to 710 BC in the presence of Assyria. Distracted by wars, Assyria did not recover Babylon during that time. In 710, Sargon campaigned against Babylon and Merodachbaladan fled the city. Sargon then established himself as king of Babylonia. After Sargon's death in 705, Merodachbaladan came out of exile and again seized the Babylonian throne, reigning for some nine months in the year 703 BC. It is generally believed that sometime during his second short reign he sent an embassy to Hezekiah.

This would have been prior to Sennacherib's invasion of Judah, and Hezekiah was likely respected as a prime candidate to lead a coalition against Assyria. The letters and presents sent by the king of Babylon were almost certainly given with the intentions of an alliance against Sennacherib.

Likely motivated by pride, Hezekiah foolishly displayed to them his treasures. He not only showed them his wealth, but he also showed them his armor which would indicate that he sought to impress the ambassadors with his military power. In light of the fact that these events occurred prior to Hezekiah giving his wealth to Sennacherib, the display must have been impressive. The Lord had blessed Hezekiah abundantly, but the king did not use discretion in his behavior. His primary motive was not the glory of God but the flaunting of his wealth and position.

"Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed 
them." (Isaiah 39:3-4)

Suspicious of the king's behavior, Isaiah inquired as to the nature of the visit. The prophet had spent much of his life warning the king against pride and alliances with the heathen, and his counsel here would be no different. Obviously Hezekiah's hospitality to the messengers had gone beyond what was appropriate; therefore, Isaiah's spirit was troubled. Hezekiah answered, "They are come from a far country." When Israel was about to conquer the land, the Lord permitted more lenient behavior toward the cities of far off nations. Perhaps Hezekiah was drawing upon this principle in an effort to lessen his offense in the eyes of Isaiah. It may also be that the king was seeking to impress the prophet with the fact that such a distant nation would seek an alliance with the king of Judah.

Regardless, Isaiah's focus remained firm. He inquired as to what the messengers had seen, and Hezekiah's response was one of foolish pride. Rather than make God's glory the center of the visit, the king had made his temporal wealth the focus. II Chronicles 32:31 makes it clear that God had drawn the men through the rumor of His power displayed in Hezekiah's life and that God used this event to test the heart and motives of the king. "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." Some believe that the wonder refers to the miracle of the sun's shadow returning ten degrees. This is very possible. It is also possible that they came to see the deliverance and blessings that God had brought upon the land during the king's reign. Regardless, God's magnificence toward His people had attracted these lost souls, and Hezekiah had a responsibility to lift up God, not himself, before their eyes.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hezekiah's Sickness (Part II)

"The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness: I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world. Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me." (Isaiah 38:9-14)

Simply stated, Hezekiah did not wish to die so young. The king expressed a desire to live and to see God's work in the lives of people. These are common human emotions with which anyone would struggle regardless of how closely he or she walked with God.

Being nomadic, shepherds frequently took down their tents in preparation for moving to new pastureland. Hezekiah compared the brevity of life with the unstable nature of a shepherd's tent. James spoke of human life in a similar fashion. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14)."

A weaver is something like a loom. It is an instrument upon which cloth is manufactured. When finished, the cloth is cut from the source, and Hezekiah likens his life to such. Job used similar language (Job 7:6). It is interesting to note that Hezekiah says, "I have cut off." Perhaps the king saw his premature death as a result of past sin.

The expression from day even to night expresses the thought of quickness. Before the sun could rise and usher in a new day, the king's life would be gone. As the ultimate Reliever of the oppressed, Hezekiah called upon God for healing. "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9)."

"What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live. Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth. The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD." (Isaiah 38:15-20)

Hezekiah's dialogue changes to that of praise. The king's prayer has been answered. God has brought miraculous healing, and Hezekiah is overwhelmed with joy.

It is difficult to say just what the king meant when he said, "I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul." Perhaps Hezekiah determined not to forget this bitter experience but rather use it as a constant reminder of the need for humility.

Hezekiah paints a gloomy picture of death, but this is to be expected. The finished work of Christ had not yet been completed, and the Old Testament saint did not have the luxury of New Testament revelation as does the Christian of the church age. Besides, death is the result of sin, and it is not a pleasant thing but rather an enemy that awaits its final judgment (I Corinthians 15:26). The words for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back indicate further that Hezekiah may have viewed his deadly sickness as judgment of his sin.

Hushed by the grave, the dead cannot openly praise God before others; therefore, Hezekiah rejoiced in the opportunity to live and to praise the Lord. The king emphasized the need for the father to make his son aware of God's truth and mercy. The character of Manasseh would indicate that either the son rejected all that the father tried to teach him or that Hezekiah failed to follow through with his declarations.

The last verse declares that this prayer was put into the form of a song and sung in the temple.

"For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover. Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?" (Isaiah 38:21-22)

A lump or pressed cake of figs was the agent by which God chose to heal Hezekiah. Isaiah ordered his attendants to place, or literally rub, the figs over the boil or eruption on the king's body. Through this, the boil was healed. The word for boil is the same as that used to describe Job's afflictions (Job 2:7). The boil or eruption was likely quite painful which would have made Hezekiah that much more grateful.

As was common, the king asked Isaiah what would be the sign of his healing. Unlike Ahaz who refused to ask a sign, Hezekiah was eager to believe the prophet. The Lord was not angered by the king's request but instead offered either to raise or to lower the sun to a corresponding ten degrees on the sundial of the courtyard. As previously mentioned, Hezekiah chose to see the sun return ten degrees.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Eternal State

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

The teaching of a new heaven and earth is not limited to the book of Revelation. The saints of both the Old and New Testaments were well aware of the fact that this sin-cursed universe is temporary. The Psalmist wrote...

Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed (Psalm 102:25-26).

Isaiah's prophecies provide some of the clearest Old Testament teaching on this concept.

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy ... For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain (Isaiah 65:17-18, 66:22).

Peter would later echo these prophecies when he penned...

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up ... Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (II Peter 3:10, 13).

The unbelieving world is terrified by the fact that the world's resources are running out. They consider the slow deterioration of the worlds and are motivated to find a way to sustain life on a space station or to discover a new world on which man can live. In opposition to this hopeless view point, the Christian looks for the new creation - a world in which there is no sin or sorrow. The sentence there was no more sea is likely referring to the fact that trouble, conflict and uncertainty will not be present in the new creation since the sea is often viewed as symbolic of tribulation and unrest.

The full weight of the believer's hope is not found in the establishment of a millennial, earthly Jerusalem but in a heavenly Jerusalem where the saints of all ages will dwell with Christ. Once having passed from death unto life by belief in Jesus Christ, a man's citizenship changes from that of earth to heaven. Paul spoke of this heavenly city when he wrote...

But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26).

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hezekiah's Sickness

"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, and said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down." (Isaiah 38:1-8)

The events of the next two chapters happened prior to Sennacherib's defeat in 701 BC. Isaiah's prophecy is divided into two major sections. The first section ends with chapter 39. This first part focuses mainly on coming judgment while the second part (40-66) focuses heavily on redemption. As the first division comes to a close, the focus is not so much chronological as it is topical. Judah's destruction at the hands of Babylon would soon be irreversible, and Hezekiah's failure as seen in chapter 39 would play an important role in the sealing of Judah's future.

II Kings 18:1-2 says that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he inherited Judah's throne and that he reigned twenty-nine years. This means that Hezekiah was thirty-nine years old when he received the news from Isaiah that he would die. Naturally, the king was grieved to hear that he would die so young. One must be careful not to judge Hezekiah too harshly. Most people of that age would have a similar response. God does not condemn the king for requesting an extension of his life; therefore, the reader should not.

It is unlikely that Hezekiah was flaunting his righteousness before God. Rather, the language indicates that he was reminding the Lord of how he had sought to cleanse the land of idols and to reestablish the feasts of the Lord (II Kings 18:3-5). The Bible says of Hezekiah, "...He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did." Few kings have received such a commendation. Grieved and confused by the news of Isaiah, the king pleaded his case before the Lord.

Before Isaiah could reach the middle court of the king's house, the Lord returned an answer to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:4). God cares about the feelings and needs of people. Had Hezekiah chosen to accept the news and die in peace, such would have been well and good. God's plans are perfect; yet, there are times when the Lord allows room for a change of direction when His attention is arrested by the prayers of His people.

The Lord is a God Who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and He saw the king's heartache. The Lord mercifully extended Hezekiah's life by fifteen years. This would make Hezekiah fifty-four when he died sometime after Sennacherib's invasion. The Lord's promise to deliver the city out of Assyria's hand supports the conclusion that these things happened prior to 701 BC.

The parallel account found in the Book of the Kings says that Hezekiah was offered a choice by the Lord concerning the sign of the sundial. Isaiah had asked him, "...Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?" Convinced that a reversal of the sun's natural setting would be the greater miracle, Hezekiah answered, "It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hezekiah's Enemy (Part IV)

"And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake." (Isaiah 37:30-35)

The Lord gives His people a sign of His good intentions to deliver them from the Assyrians. Three years after the withdrawal of Assyria, the Israelites would plant their fields and vineyards and live of the fruits. In the aftermath of war, the land would be ravaged and scarred (7:17-25), yet normalcy would return as time progressed. Even though Israel's growth in the years following Assyria's defeat would be brought to an abrupt end by the invasion of the Babylonians; such times of prosperity for the nation serve to remind the reader that God will someday fully and forever restore His people.

Assyria's molestation of Jerusalem would not progress beyond the threats delivered by Rabshakeh. The bows of war would not shoot their arrows at the city. The Assyrian shields would not be viewed from Jerusalem's walls, and neither would God permit the army to dig trenches and form mounds around the city for the purpose of scaling her walls. The king would return to Nineveh as a defeated and humiliated man.

The Lord did not save Jerusalem on account of man's goodness. He saved it for the sake of His righteous character and for the messianic oath made with King David. In the face of human sin and failure, it is good to know that God will always do right simply because He can do no wrong.

"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. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead." (Isaiah 37:36-38)

The Lord's death angel brought Sennacherib's advancement to a sudden halt. Sennacherib's records of this campaign say nothing about this massive slaughter of his army. This is not surprising since ancient monarchs were notorious for leaving off records concerning personal defeat. Yet, his records do not claim any victory over Jerusalem. The king boasts of confining Hezekiah in Jerusalem like "a bird in a cage," but that is all. The absence of a recorded victory on Sennacherib's Prism stands as a memorial to the accuracy of God's words.

When the sun rose the next morning, Sennacherib awoke to 185,000 dead Assyrian soldiers. Such a massacre would have wiped out nearly his entire army. As would be expected, the king returned to his capital city of Nineveh. To this day, historians debate as to whether or not Sennacherib invaded Egypt after leaving Judah. History's silence on the matter is likely due to the fact that the king had no army with which to invade any country!

Sennacherib's departure from Judah and his assassination are separated by approximately twenty years. Esarhaddon was the younger of the three men mentioned here. Adrammelech and Sharezer were outraged at the news that their father had chosen Esarhaddon the son of a concubine. After the murder of their father, a six week civil war ensued. Esarhaddon emerged victorious and the families and followers of the elder brothers were murdered while the brothers themselves escaped into the north country of Armenia. 681 BC was the first year of Esarhaddon's reign.

God's deliverance was much better than anything the Egyptians could have offered. Hezekiah and his people could do nothing to bring about their own salvation. In the end, they were forced to trust God. The text is silent as to Hezekiah's feelings in the aftermath of these things. Surely he felt some regret as to his associations with Egypt. One would hope that the compromise of God's treasures and the selling of his own family brought grief and heartache to the king. Through it all, Hezekiah learned a valuable lesson; and every reader with an open heart can glean from the king's lesson. "...In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength (30:15)."

Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited. And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:8-9).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hezekiah's Enemy (Part III)

"Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: This is the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel. I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places." 
(Isaiah 37:21-25)

Sennacherib's quarrel was not with men but with God Almighty. The virgin daughter is symbolic of Jerusalem which is loved and guarded by the Lord. The city of Christ's future kingdom is under the watchful eye of God. The Lord desires her peace, and He commands His people to pray for her peace. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee (Psalm 122:6)." Lasting peace will come to Jerusalem when her citizens accept the righteousness of the Messiah.

Lebanon's cedars and Carmel's forest represent the strength and beauty of the land. Sennacherib's invasion of these regions prompted him to become arrogant against God. The Lord paints a picture of the Assyrian army digging wells for their water supplies and stopping the watercourses of the cities which they had besieged so as to drive the inhabitants to thirst. All of these actions had moved Sennacherib further down the road of human pride.

"Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up. But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest." (Isaiah 37:26-29)

God displays His omniscience by informing Sennacherib of His guiding hand in the affairs of the Assyrians. The water of the wells which Assyria had dug was placed there by God. All things were created and formed by God. The king's power was great in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of God, Sennacherib was "altogether vanity (Psalm 39:5)."

Assyria was at Jerusalem's doorstep because God had permitted her to be there. The Lord was punishing and purging His people because of their idolatrous ways. Their disregard for His Law and their contempt for the wisdom of Isaiah's ministry could not go unpunished. Man has no strength beyond what God allows. The most sophisticated weaponry and the most skilled allies could not deliver the Lord's people whose power God had crippled.

The Lord informed Sennacherib that He was well acquainted with every move of the king. Nothing is hidden from God's eyes. The consequences of Sennacherib's attitude and actions would find him out. A ring is placed through a bull's nose to make him manageable. Likewise, the bridle is used to control the strength of the horse. As the power of these animals is subjugated by the handler, Sennacherib's might would be harnessed by the hand of God.