Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 14 (1)

For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. The cypresses rejoice at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no woodcutter comes up against us.’ Sheol beneath is stirred upto meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.

(Is. 14:1-11)

Following the prophesying of the destruction of Babylon, Isaiah moves on to the restoration of Israel the people of God in verses 1 and 2. After destroying their oppressors, God will once again have mercy upon Israel and bring them back to their own land (v. 1). And whereas previously, they were oppressed by foreigners, the Lord will now give the foreigners to them as their slaves, in a mighty reversal of roles. Those who oppress the people of God are now in turn subjugated to them (v. 2).

This restoration was fulfilled in part in history when the Jews returned back to Jerusalem during the time of the Persian Empire. And verse 2 did in fact occur in some small measure for example in periods like the time of Esther and Mordecai. Yet, such fulfilment is fleeting and temporal, as the Israelites were once again subjugated first by Greek and then Roman rule, before finally the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 under Titus brought an end to the Jewish Kingdom until the modern era.

The passage therefore point towards the true fulfilment of the restoration of the people of God in the future for us. God who is gracious will one day restore His persecuted people by destroying the persecutors and their false religion (representing Babylon), and thus gathering us unto Him. Those who oppress the Church will pay on that day for their crimes against Him who is on the throne, and the roles will be reversed figuratively speaking (cf v. 2). Now, these oppressors will be subjugated to the people of God and to God Himself, as He punishes the oppressors with His wrath and judgment.

Verse 3 starts with a taunt that the people of God are to take up against Babylon, which represents the oppressors of the people of God and the ensnarement of all false religion, and who oppress the people of God with "pain and turmoil and hard service". The insolence of the oppressor has ceased (v. 4) and the power of the oppressor which was used to oppress and persecute the people of God (v. 6) has been destroyed by God Himself (v. 5). The people of God rejoiced at this event, and this good thing so joyous that it is stated as being celebrated by the earth itself (v. 7-8). Sheol or Hell/Hades is figuratively stated as coming forward to meet Babylon as represented by the King of Babylon as Babylon is destroyed. Proud Babylon, the oppressor of God's people and the center of all idolatry, has fallen (Rev. 18:2)! She who considers herself strong and mighty will be dragged down to the grave, to the mockery of all those defeated kings before her (v. 9-10). The strength and might and status of Babylon would not help her at all, but will follow her to the grave in destruction (v. 11).

So therefore, in this time of on-going persecution and oppression of God's people, let us look ahead to Christ's second coming. For at that time, God's people will emerge triumphant as Babylon tumbles and falls, and we will finally be at peace as our oppressors come crashing down. This is our hope and our joy; so may we look earnestly to that day of our Lord. Amen!

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