Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 9 -10

The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the Lord of hosts. So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day— the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up. Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

For wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another. They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm, Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh; together they are against Judah. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. (Is. 9: 8-21)

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help,and where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. (Is. 10:1-4)

The LORD speaks forth prophetic judgments against Ephraim, the northern Kingdom of Israel. After previously prophesying with regards to the hope of the people of God which is the coming Messiah, and consoling the remnant that their hope is in fearing God and obeying Him, Isaiah spoke forth the terrifying prophecy against the northern Kingdom of Israel, for being so wicked as to ally with a pagan nation (Syria) against their Jewish brothers. Their wicked action in rising against their brothers will be severely punished by God, as this passage shows.

Verse 8 starts the prophecy of Isaiah against the northern kingdom, and the judgment of God will be such that the people will know God is against them (v.9a). In their pride and arrogance of heart (v. 9b), they not only rely on their strength, but they boast of even greater strength after being punished previously for their many errors. "No bricks? Use stronger and more expensive dressed stones. The symacores have been cut down? We would plant stronger cedar trees in their place", thought the Israelites (v. 10). But God in His wrath would not allow that to happen. He would stir up the enemies of Israel (the adversaries of Israel's then king Rezin) (v. 11), leading the Syrians on the East and Philistines on the West to attack them and conquer and devastate their land (v. 12).

We can here notice that Syria who will attack Israel had previously allied themselves with them, all of which probably happened just before the march of the Assyrians. What irony! Those who attack the people of God will be paid back in full, even more when it is Covenant breakers who commit such treachery. Since Israel wanted to be like the nations, she will suffer like them also.

Verse 13 shows the hardened state of the Israelites in the northern kingdom, that they would not seek God when disaster strikes. And therefore the LORD would cut off the rulers of society: the elder and honored being the head, and the [false] prophet who teaches lies being the tail (v. 14-15). The leaders are the ones who lead the people astray to their ruin (swallowed up) (v. 16), such that apostasy is endemic to the entire nation, manifesting in that 'everyone is godless and evildoer and every mouth speaks folly' (v. 17b) and therefore God will have no joy or compassion over all of them, whether young or old, not even the poor, the fatherless and the widow because they too are wicked (v. 17a). [Btw, those who are poor and helpless, and at the bottom of society can be wicked as well, contra Liberation "Theology"]

The pervasive and awful wickedness of the Israelites here is portrayed as like a fire (v.18) which destroys things around it and throwing up smoke that is offensive to God (as opposed to the sweet smell of incense offered by a clean heart). The wrath of the LORD of host will thus cleanse the land by scorching it in His wrath and spending them on the Israelites who will be as fuel for the fire of God's wrath (v. 19). An appalling vision is described, as the Israelites are driven to treachery against each other and cannibalism in their desperation, eating of others (on their right and left) and even themselves in their impoverishment (v. 20). And yet, though they attack and devour each other, they remain steadfast in their hatred of Judah (v. 21), thus showing forth their depravity in which even the severe judgments of God did not bring them to repentance.

Is. 10 starts off with pronouncing judgment against those who are the people causing the most injustice and calamity in society by their godlessness. Those who twist the law of the land as putty to legally approve sin are detestable to God and woe is pronounced on them (v. 1). The same is pronounced on all who oppress the powerless people of society in order to gain advantage at their expense (v. 2), most definitely whether it is legally correct or not. God calls upon them to consider as all their petty benefits they have gain through all of this would not help them one bit when judgment comes through the destruction of their nation (v. 3), with the only two options given to them is either to be a prisoner or to die (v. 4a), of which all that they have materially etc will not be able to avail them in the day of judgment against Israel.

"For all this His anger has not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still". This phrase occurs in Is. 9:12b, 17c, 21b and 10:4; a total of 4 times. We can see here the wrath of God against unrepentant Israel who steadfastly refuses to repent of their gross wickedness. God has continued to pour out His wrath upon them, and yet even after all these horrid calamities, God's justice and wrath is not yet satisfied — so great is their wickedness. In the end, Israel as a nation would be destroyed and people deported among pagan nations, as Israel drank the judgment of God down to its very dregs.

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