Isaiah 15:1-23:18

It is clear that, when God acts in judgment, He begins at the innermost circle. It was so in the days of Jerusalem, as we see in Ezekiel 9: 6 and the same principle holds good in New Testament times, as stated in 1 Peter 4: 17. In Isaiah we have seen the predictions of judgment first uttered against Israel, though with promises of restoration and glory in their Messiah. After this follows the judgment of the nations surrounding Israel.

We have seen Babylon head the list, to which judgment is prophetically meted out without any promise of restoration. Now in Isaiah 15 and 16, Moab comes into view, a people that in its origin stood in a distant relationship with Israel. Against them too judgment is pronounced but with a note of sympathy (see, Isa. 15: 5) which is altogether absent in the case of Babylon. The Moabites were a pastoral people but dwelling on high ground east of the Dead Sea and strongly fortified. In verse 1, Ar is the city and Kir the fortress. All should be laid waste.

The prophecy refers to judgment which would speedily fall on Moab in view of their haughty pride, as the last verse of Isaiah 16 shows. The opening verse of that chapter also refers to the tribute that Moab used to pay, as we see in 2 Kings 3: 4. Yet in part the prophecy also refers to the last days, for verse 5 looks on to a King "in the tabernacle of David," whose throne will be established, and who will be "hasting righteousness" Before that hour strikes God will have a people whom He calls His, though they are "outcasts" in the earth, and Moab will do well to give them shelter. That Moab will exist in the last days is made clear in Daniel 11: 41 as we saw also in our prophet, when considering Isaiah 11: 14.

In the days of Isaiah, Damascus had been allied with the ten tribes. Its "burden" fills the three verses that open Isaiah 17. The prophetic strain however quickly passes from Damascus to the children of Israel for disaster was to come on both, since both had united in alliance against Judah. The figure is used of harvest, whether of corn or of grapes, which would leave them poor and thin, yet a remnant would be left, like a gleaning of grapes or a few berries on an olive tree, and that remnant will turn their eyes to "the Holy One of Israel," and away from the idolatrous things that formerly held them.

All this found a fulfilment in days immediately ahead, yet will have an ampler fulfilment in the last days yet to come. The prediction about the "pleasant plants," or "plantations," and the "strange slips " is often referred to in connection with the recent doings of Jewish immigrants in Palestine. They have indeed been busy with plantations in their agricultural colonies and have imported vast quantities of vine cuttings from other lands in order to re-establish vineyards.

But look at verse 11, which predicts that, though this work will have a promising beginning, it will suffer a crushing blow. And, how? By a great and antagonistic uprising among the nations, of which the rest of the chapter speaks. Here doubtless we have a brief yet comprehensive sight of the final convulsions among the nations, when God will make Jerusalem "a cup of trembling" and a "burdensome stone" to all the peoples round about, and "gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle" (Zech. 12: 2, 3; Zech. 14: 2). Jerusalem and the Jews will indeed be heavily chastised, but the proud nations themselves will meet ultimately the fury of God and be scattered before Him, like chaff or thistle-down is blown away by a whirlwind. As we view present doings in Palestine let us not forget this solemn prediction.

Isaiah 18 opens with a call to a distant land that is to serve God's purpose in the last days, helping to re-gather Israel. Verses 4-6, appear to be parenthetical, so that verse 7 is connected with verse 3. Both verses 2 and 7 speak of a people "scattered and peeled [or ravaged]," who without a question are those we now know as Jews. Our chapter indicates that, when in the last days God gives the signal for their re-gathering, there will be a distant people with ships who will do what they can to help them. But the parenthetical verses show that, though God overrules this, He is not directly acting in it. He retires, as it were, saying, "I will take My rest," observing what is taking place, but ultimately bringing disaster upon it all, as we saw in the previous chapter.

And yet, in spite of all this, the scattered and ravaged people will be recovered and brought as a present unto the Lord. Verse 7 does not tell us how this is to be accomplished after the failure of the earlier attempt. When we read Matthew 24: 31, we find the Lord shedding light on this matter. The people who will be brought thus as a present to the Lord, will be "His elect," and not just an assortment of patriots and fugitives, as we see at present. And they will be brought "to the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts, the mount Zion." Alas! Jerusalem as it is at present cannot be designated thus. It is the place where Jews are reassembling, hoping to display the greatness of their own name, while still rejecting their Messiah.

The Jew has yet to discover the meaning of "the mount Zion;" namely, grace flowing out from God, rather than merit through law-keeping, achieved by themselves. The Apostle Paul realized this, as we see at the end of Romans 11. They have been shut up in unbelief, "that He might have mercy upon all." The contemplation of this over-abounding mercy to Israel moved Paul to the doxology, concerning God's wisdom and ways, with which that chapter closes.

We resume the "burdens" on the surrounding nations, as we read Isaiah 19. Egypt, that had so much to do with Israel and its history, now comes before us. Again we notice the feature so common in these prophecies: the predictions soon pass from more immediate judgments to those that will mature at the end of the age. History tells us that soon after Isaiah's day Egypt did fall from her former high estate, and things recounted in verses 1-10, came upon them. The princes of Zoan did become fools, though in the days of Moses long before "the wisdom of Egypt" was highly regarded.

Yet in the latter part of this chapter the terms of the prophecy go beyond anything that has transpired in the past, and so look on to the end of the age. This is corroborated if we turn to the closing part of Daniel 11, where "the king of the south" represents Egypt, and we are told how Egypt will yet be overrun and plundered by "the king of the north" in the last days. In those days "the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt," and this certainly has not taken place yet, though it may do very soon.

Out of all this discipline, which yet is to fall on the land of Egypt, some spiritual good will come. Egypt has been in the past well filled with altars to their false gods and with pillars erected in honour of their despotic kings. It is going to have an altar to the Lord in its midst and a pillar to the Lord on its border. Not many of either, you notice, but one only, for by then they will acknowledge the one true God. Though He smites them for their sins, He will heal them and send them a deliverer, At the last Egypt will know and do homage to Jehovah.

The three closing verses of this chapter are a remarkable prophecy, for Assyria - the king of the north, of Daniel 11 - was the great oppressor of Israel in the days of their kingdom, just as Egypt was the oppressor in the days of their early servitude. In the last days all the enmity will be banished. An highway with free communication will extend between them, and Israel will be in the centre. Egypt will be blessed as "My people:" Assyria as "the work of My hands;" Israel acknowledged as "My inheritance." To be Jehovah's inheritance is something greater than to be His people or His handiwork, yet all here is connected with God's purpose for earthly blessing. What is stated does not rise to the height of Ephesians 1: 18, or Colossians 1: 12, yet it does enhance our sense of the mercy of God as we note that finally He will act in blessing to both peoples, who have been in the past, and will yet be, Israel's inveterate enemies.

The short Isaiah 20 brings us back to events that were to happen, shortly after Isaiah was bidden to enforce his prophecy by a peculiar action. He foretold the coming overthrow of Egypt by his walking naked and barefoot. Other prophets, such as Hosea, were instructed to support their words by actions. The object in view was to bring home to the inhabitants of this "isle," or "coast," that is, Palestine, that it was folly to put their trust in Egypt for deliverance from Assyria. It will doubtless be the same in the last days, as we see in Daniel 11: 36-45, where "the king" of verse 36, who will evidently be in Jerusalem, will find no help in "the king of the south  against the assault of "the king of the north."

In Isaiah 21 we return to the doom of Babylon. It is to be "the desert of the sea." In Jeremiah's prophecy against the city he says, "The sea is come up upon Babylon" (Jer. 51: 42), which helps to explain the expression. Babylon would be swamped by the sea of nations and become a desert. In verse 2 the call comes to Elam and Media to go up and besiege, helped to the spoil by treachery. Verses 3-5, prophetically describe in the most graphic language the scenes of revelry, turning into confusion and terror, which are described for us in Daniel 5. Then the prophet foresees a watchman, who from an oncoming chariot gets the tidings of the fall of Babylon, and announces it with a voice like the roar of a lion.

The burden of Dumah is compressed into very few words. He was, as Genesis 25: 14 shows, of the stock of Ishmael, and Seir was a dwelling-place of the sons of Esau. These "burdens" on the various peoples were bringing upon them a "night" of Divine displeasure. What was the prospect that lay before them? The answer was indeed prophetic. A morning was surely coming, but a night was coming also. The morning will be for those who fear God and are subject to Him: the night for those who are His foes.

In other scriptures very strong judgment is pronounced against Seir, but verse 12 here indicates that a door of mercy will open to them. If any have a desire to enquire of God they may do so. And if, as the result of enquiry, any desire to return, they may do so. They are even invited to "come." In these words we discern an indication and forecast of that grace, which comes to light so fully in the New Testament Gospel.

At the close of the chapter Arabia comes under judgment. Disaster should overtake them too, but not in such overwhelming "fashion as in the case of Babylon. Their mighty men should be "diminished," and there should be a "residue," and not a complete destruction. It is striking that of all these burdens the one upon Babylon is the most complete without any hope of recovery. So also in Revelation 17 and 18, the "Mystery" Babylon is going to be completely destroyed and not a trace left.

But Jerusalem too must come under judgment, as we see in Isaiah 22; and here again, as is so often the case, and particularly when Israel is in view, we find a double fulfilment contemplated. The prophet sees the city, once full of joy, now full of misery and sorrow. It was "the valley of vision," but now the vision had perished, and the valley was full of besieging chariots. And in this dire emergency instead of turning to God in repentance and seeking His mercy, they busied themselves in taking all the measures of defence that they knew, and then settled down to enjoy themselves, even if death came on the morrow.

"Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die" is the reckless cry of men who know there is danger ahead, but are determined to have their fling before it arrives. The Apostle Paul quoted these words in 1 Corinthians 15: 32, showing that if this transient life were all, and there were no resurrection of the dead, such a reckless attitude might be justified. We have come to an age in the world's history when men are aware of awful dangers ahead, and with no real faith in the resurrection world, this ancient saying is in control of their lives. With no fear of God before their eyes, millions are determined to get all the pleasure possible out of life with the hope that death ends all. We are to be marked by a spirit which is exactly the opposite of this, and to be always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that there is the resurrection world, and that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Let us also remember that in an emergency it would be quite natural for us to do in principle what Israel was doing, as the enemy threatened them. They adopted what looked like wise military strategy instead of turning to God, which would have involved weeping, sackcloth and repentance, such as marked Nineveh in Jonah's day. The flesh in us would prefer policy, that appears so wise, rather than penitence, that costs so much to our pride.

This thought is emphasised by the episode regarding Shebna and Eliakim, recorded at the end of the chapter. Shebna was a man with much riches passing through his hand for he was the treasurer. Thus he had distinction in this life and building for himself "a sepulchre on high," he desired to perpetuate his memory when his life was over. Self-exaltation was evidently his aim. He was rejected, and God would dispossess him so effectively that the chariots of his glory would turn out to be the shame of his lord's house, as we see at the end of verse 18.

Shebna then was rejected and Eliakim, whose name appears to mean, "God is setting up," was to take his place. This transfer actually took place during the reign of Hezekiah, according to the word of the prophet, but we see in it a parable of what will take place at the end of the age, when the self-exalting "man of sin" will be violently turned and tossed to destruction, and the once rejected Christ shall be exalted and established. Of Him Eliakim, in this incident, was a faint type.

This is evident when we read Revelation 3: 7, and note how our Lord claims for Himself the very things that are said of Eliakim in verse 22 of our chapter. He it is who is worthy to have the government laid upon His shoulder not only of Jerusalem and Israel but of the whole universe. He it is who will hold the key of David and will unlock and bring to light and establish "the sure mercies of David," of which we read in Isaiah 55. Eliakim doubtless had a place of much authority under Hezekiah, but the graphic and conclusive figures, we find here, go far beyond him.

Notice three things. First, the key and the opening or shutting of the door, which no man can reverse. No such door has ever yet been found under the control of mere man. The authority and power indicated is Divine.

Second, "the nail in a sure place." What place on earth is sure? Where has such a nail been found? The nail moreover is to be "for a glorious throne to his father's house," and to have "all the glory of his father's house" hung upon him. Great statements these! They only find proper fulfilment in our Lord Jesus Christ, for indeed, not only the glory off the house of David hangs upon Him, but also the glory of God that is found in redemption.

But now, third, there comes the paradox. The nail that is fastened in the sure place is to "be removed, and be cut down and fall." Here surely we have one of those partly hidden references to the rejection and death of the Messiah, which the Old Testament furnishes. In the light of the New Testament all becomes clear. He will be manifested as the Master of every situation, and as the One upon whom everything hangs in the coming age, just because,

"By weakness and defeat

He won the meed and crown."

So in the end of our chapter we have a reference prophetically to the removal of the man of sin and the establishment of God's Man - the Son of Man - in His excellence, maintaining the glory of God and the blessing of men.

The series of burdens ends in Isaiah 23 with "The burden of Tyre." In those days this very ancient city was the great centre of trade and commerce. This is quite evident in verse 8 of our chapter. In the days of David and Solomon its kings had been very favourably disposed and helpful, but its great wealth and prosperity had wrought corruption, as seems always to be the case in this fallen world. In this chapter Isaiah predicts a period of disaster and eclipse that should come upon the city, but with some respite at the end of seventy years.

The great Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre and this is referred to in Ezekiel 29: 18, which speaks of his having "no wages" for the long years he spent over it, for the Tyrians had time to remove all their treasure. Still judgment from God did come on the proud and rich and joyous city, and her glory departed.

The comparative mildness of the burden on Tyre is accounted for, we believe, by the fact that it was not an oppressor of Israel. It presents to us a picture, not of the world as oppressing and enslaving the people of God, but as the scene of man's successful and opulent activities in forgetfulness and independence of God.

Thus, in the chapters we have been considering, we have seen the world in all its aspects, both secular and religious, brought under the judgment of God. Yet in the midst of the judgments are a few bright flashes of light, which direct our thoughts to the One in whom is found the centre of all blessing-CHRIST.