"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, May 18, 2007

Isaiah and the Nations

The Tuesday night study group of which I'm a part has been studying Isaiah. We are planning a break for a few weeks from Isaiah and are going to use some Q&A from Redeemer and Tim Keller as a way to talk about a wide variety of subjects (Redeemer's website has been redesigned and if the Q&A audio is still available I cannot locate it).

In wrapping up Isaiah for a few weeks we concluded with Isaiah 21. For the last several chapters, Isaiah has been writing "oracles" (ESV translation) against foreign nations. As part of our (temporary) wrap-up, we discussed why God would have Isaiah deliver all these oracles to all these nations. Three reasons were discussed, each of which are major themes in Isaiah.

Reason one is that God takes all sin seriously. The majority of the oracles are prophecies of coming judgment. How God is going to use, typically, another nation to destroy the nation being prophesied against because of their wickedness. We see similar judgments offered by other prophets (perhaps most famously Jonah against Nineveh). God will judge all sin, whether by those who have His word, or those who don't. In Romans 2, Paul puts it this way:
12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Reason two that Isaiah spends so much time on the nations is to show that God is sovereign. In that time it was supposed that local deities controlled only the affairs of specific areas. One could judge how strong a deity was by how far that deity could extend the control the people that worshiped him (or her or it). Through Isaiah God is declaring that the idols of the nations are nothing. Yahweh is declaring the fall of these other nations not to be the work of the deity of the conquering nation or their god, but His work. The nations should not fear idols, but the true and living God. Regarding the idols of Babylon Isaiah (21:9) writes:

9 And behold, here come riders,

horsemen in pairs!”

And he answered,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;

and all the carved images of her gods

he has shattered to the ground.”

Similarly, Isaiah (19:1) had earlier pronounced judgment on Egypt and her idols:

1 An oracle concerning Egypt.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud

and comes to Egypt;

and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,

and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.

It matters not whether the nations are small like Philistia or Moab, or great and powerful like Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. God is sovereign and will do His will in their midst (Isaiah 14:26-27):

26 This is the purpose that is purposed

concerning the whole earth,

and this is the hand that is stretched out

over all the nations.

27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,

and who will annul it?

His hand is stretched out,

and who will turn it back?

Reason three that Isaiah deals with the nations is God's love for all His creation. In the midst of displaying His judgment, God shows that His sovereignty will reach out to those who are far from Him and bring them near. Of Egypt, who had long been an oppressor of God's people, Isaiah (19:20) writes:
20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.
Eventually, regarding the Suffering Servant, Isaiah (49:6) will write:

6 he says:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to bring back the preserved of Israel;

I will make you as a light for the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

God through Isaiah is telling us that sin is no minor matter and that we cannot escape His judgment unless we can find refuge in His lovingkindness. One day, those who have done so, people from every tribe and tongue and nation, will together worship the Lamb, God's Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) Jesus.

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