Isaiah 16-19

Isaiah 16-19…Egypt

Egypt was one of Israel’s most significant enemies during the lifetime of Moses, but there are clues in the five books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy) that this enemy status would not last forever. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God revealed to Moses that the third-generation children of the Egyptians who lived at the time of the exodus would be permitted to join the congregation of His people (Deut. 23:7–8). That generation, presumably, would be far enough removed from the hatred Egypt revealed during the exodus and willing to become servants of the true God — Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts.

Later on, during Isaiah’s lifetime, the Almighty revealed more clearly that Egypt would no longer be Israel’s enemy. Today’s passage anticipates a day when the Egyptians will join God’s people as worshipers of Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel. We see this taught in Isaiah 19:18, which says five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan — Hebrew, the tongue of the Israelites who took possession of that land. This is a metaphor explaining how Egypt will become an ally of Israel and adopt Israel’s faith, which was rooted in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah goes on in verses 19–22 to teach that Egypt will know God not as judge but as redeemer in the last day. Gone will be the pagan altars and false gods, for the Egyptians will be idolaters no longer. During the exodus, the Lord’s glory was manifested when he crushed the Egyptian army in the sea (Ex. 14:17–18). In the eschatological (final or last days) age, His glory will be made known through crushing the hard hearts of Egypt and replacing them with pliable hearts intent on serving Him.

Remarkably, the notoriously cruel empire of Assyria will find peace with Egypt and worship Yahweh as well in that final day (Isa. 19:23–25). Traditionally, Egypt and Assyria were mortal enemies, but the construction of a highway between the two countries signifies a day when they will be friends (v. 23), a day when communication between them will be free and unhindered. Moreover, Assyria will also join with Egypt and the Israelites as a part of the Lord’s holy people (vv. 24–25). This prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel goes forth and a church of “neither Jew nor Greek” is built into a temple of the living God (Gal. 3:28; 1 Peter 2:4–6).

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Isaiah 13-15

Isaiah 13-15…The day of the Lord.

Isaiah first preached the oracles recorded in chapters 7–12 of his book in the context of the threat of Syria and Israel against Judah, and King Ahaz’s need to choose whether to hope in God or the Assyrian Empire for salvation (7:1–9). Ahaz chose Assyria, and Isaiah warned that Assyria would change from Judah’s savior into Judah’s oppressor, the pagan empire becoming the Lord’s means of destroying Israel and Syria, and disciplining Judah (7:10–8:10; 9:8–10:4). Yet Isaiah never saw Assyria as Judah’s ultimate threat. Assyria would invade Judah up to its neck, but it would not cut off the head, namely, the city of Jerusalem (8:8). In fact, God would crush Assyria, which did not acknowledge that it was the rod in the Lord’s hand (10:5–19). Moreover, on the other side of the Assyrian invasion, a new king would arise—the Son of David would rule in righteousness and exalt the holy remnant of God’s people (9:1–7; 10:20–34; 11).

Yet exaltation on the other side of the Assyrian invasion was not the entire story. Isaiah also foresaw that Judah would face a far greater enemy in the form of the Babylonian Empire. As we make our way through Isaiah’s book, this will become clearer, but for now we must note that the prophet predicted that the coming of Israel’s true king and the exaltation of Judah would occur only after the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian exile (39:1–40:5). In today’s passage, the prophet mentions Babylon for the first time.

Interestingly, Isaiah 13 does not foresee the destruction of Judah but rather the end of Babylon. We can only speculate as to why Isaiah put this oracle in his book before a prophecy of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem, but it seems likely that he did so to give his original audience hope that even the enemy that was soon to come in Isaiah’s day would not oppress them forever. In any case, Isaiah’s description of Babylon uses cosmic language and refers to the day of the Lord (vv. 6, 9). Other biblical writers would later adapt this language to describe the final day of judgment, so the utter defeat of Babylon anticipates what God will do at history’s end (Mal. 4:1–5; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 3:10).

For instance, Isaiah 13:10 talks about the stars, the sun, and the moon no longer giving their light. This may be imagery we should take literally, but since ancient Near Eastern peoples often worshiped these heavenly bodies, Isaiah could also be talking about the fall of Babylonian deities. Babylon’s fall would also be the fall of its gods.

Isaiah 10-12

Isaiah 10-12…The Stump of Jesse.

Continuing his look at the restoration of God’s people that would come after the destruction Assyria would visit upon Israel and Judah (as well as after the Babylonian exile), Isaiah in today’s passage records another well-known prophecy. This is the famous text that foresees a shoot coming forth from “the stump of Jesse,” a shoot whose reign would destroy all evil and bring peace to the earth (Isa. 11:1–11).

Let us not miss the significance of all the prophet is saying. First, Isaiah speaks of “the stump of Jesse” (v. 1). The image here is of a tree that has been so devastated that only a stump remains. Jesse, of course, was the father of King David (1 Sam. 16:1–13), so Isaiah is speaking of the Davidic line of kings. The prophet saw that things were going to get very bad for the people of God. David’s line would decline to such a degree that it would be essentially left for dead. History tells us this is exactly what happened, with David’s royal dynasty all but dying out as a result of God’s judgment of His people through Assyria and Babylon. Nevertheless, Isaiah also saw that while the Davidic line would seem to be dead, life would remain within the stump. A shoot—life barely detectable at first—would emerge. But once this shoot went forth, it would become a mighty tree. A king of humble origins would be a signal for the nations after the exile (Isa. 11:2–10).

All of this is brought out in Isaiah’s reference to the shoot “from Jesse,” not “from David” (v. 1). John Calvin comments that Isaiah “does not call him David, but Jesse; because the rank of that family had sunk so low, that it appeared to be not a royal family, but that of a mean peasant, such as the family of Jesse was, when David was unexpectedly called to the government of the kingdom.” However, that is not the only significance in Isaiah’s reference to the coming Messiah being the shoot of Jesse. Commentators point out that the only king in the Old Testament who was called the son of Jesse was David. All of the rest of the kings were called sons “of David.” In applying the parentage of Jesse specifically to the coming Messiah, Isaiah is doing more than revealing the family from whom the Messiah will come. He is revealing that the Messiah will be at least as important in the history of redemption as David was. In fact, as later revelation tells us, the Messiah is even greater than David, being David’s Lord as well as David’s son (Ps. 110:1; Mark 12:35–37).

Isaiah 7-9

Isaiah 7-9…Old Testament typology.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is “unchangeable in his being” (Mal. 3:6), and one consequence of the Lord’s immutable character is that His ways are consistent throughout history. For example, God’s use of Moses to rescue His people from Egypt is not the only exodus Scripture records (Ex. 3). The prophets also describe Israel’s restoration after the exile as a new exodus (Isa. 11:16; Ezek. 20:33–38). Furthermore, the New Testament sees Jesus’ ministry as the final exodus (Matt. 2:13–15; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Knowing that God works in similar ways in every generation helps us interpret Old Testament prophecy. The historical context of Isaiah 7 tells us the sign of Immanuel had meaning for eighth-century BC Judah. This sign had a fulfillment then in the birth of Isaiah’s son because Israel’s and Syria’s threat had to end within that generation, as it was tied to Assyria’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC during King Hezekiah’s reign (Isa. 7:10–17; 8:3–4; 36–37). In fact, Israel and Syria no longer threatened Judah after 732 BC.

Thus, Matthew’s citation of Isaiah 7:14–17 does not necessarily mean the Apostle thought it was a direct vision of Jesus’ birth (Matt. 1:18–25). Instead, it seems that Matthew saw similarities between the first century AD and Ahaz’s era that told him God was acting in a manner analogous to but greater than what He did in Isaiah’s day. A foreign enemy (Rome) threatened Judah in the first century, just as foreign enemies (Syria and Israel) had threatened Judah centuries earlier. Mary conceived a son just as Isaiah’s wife did in the eighth century BC (Isa. 8:3–4), only the virginal conception of Jesus was a greater miracle (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38). Moreover, Ahaz’s rejection of the sign in Isaiah 7 led to Judah’s later devastation, just as Jerusalem fell to Rome in AD 70 after the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus (Matt. 24:15–31; 26:56–68).

Matthew’s discovery of these analogical connections is known as typology, which was the Apostles’ favorite way to read the Old Testament. They did not read secret meanings into the prophets (allegory); rather, they saw how God was fulfilling His covenant promises during the first century in a manner that had precedent. God’s earlier dealings with Israel hinted that there was more to come. Since Assyria devastated Judah for its sin during the eighth century BC (Isa. 8), a better Immanuel was needed— God with us to such a degree so as to destroy evil once and for all (1 John 3:8).

Isaiah 4-6

Isaiah 4-6…The vineyard.

Isaiah chapter 5 begins with a song of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). The vineyard is one of God’s favorite word pictures for Israel. He clearly states this in Isaiah 5:7,

“The vineyard of the LORD almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight…”

God established this vineyard for Himself (Isaiah 5:1-4, 7). We are going to look at it more closely in a moment. But, God also talks about the systematic dismantling of this vineyard as well, due to their disobedience (Isaiah 5:5-6, 8-30). God is both One before whom we should be in awe for His goodness and also One to be feared.

In establishing His vineyard God says He: owned it (Is 5:1), placed it on a fertile hillside (Is 5:1), dug it up (Is 5:2), cleared it (Is 5:2), planted choicest vines (Is 5:2), built a watchtower (Is 5:2), and then looked for fruitfulness (Is 5:2). Nothing more could have been done (Is 5:4).

Clearly these verses are directed at Israel, His people. Nevertheless, in application, is it going too far to say that God owns me, made me a soil that would respond, took the time to make my soul ripe to respond, planted the seed of His Word, has been watching over me so Satan wouldn’t claim me, and now wants my obedience?

These things are certainly taught in the New Testament. It may be a bit too much to read all of this back into God’s previous covenant of relating to His people. But, it seems apparent that this work of God in our lives is at least consistent with His character and is either a foreshadowing of His new covenant or a direct reflection of how God has always viewed the relationship with His people.

No wonder Isaiah says He loves God.

Isaiah 1-3

Isaiah 1-3…Return to the Lord.

Isaiah, a contemporary of Hosea, ministered from the death of Uzziah in 739 BC through the reign of Hezekiah. If he prophesied until Hezekiah’s death in 686 BC, this represents a ministry of more than fifty years. During this period, Judah watched as Assyria was on the prowl, and was no doubt devastated when its brother Israel fell. Judah had to decide whether it would submit to Assyria as a vassal state or resist the empire. Moreover, once it decided to resist Assyria, Judah had to choose whether it would do so in its own strength, relying on alliances with other earthly powers, or whether it would trust wholly in the Lord. Isaiah, of course, called Judah to the latter option, rebuking the people for their sin and calling for their repentance (1:18–20; 7–8). In so doing, he also prophesied about what would happen to Judah hundreds of years later, after the people had been exiled to Babylon (586 BC; see Isa. 40–66).

Isaiah opens his book not with his call to ministry but with a picture of Judah in his day, a grim picture full of rebellion and idolatry. At the same time, there was still hope, for God was willing to forgive His people if they were to return to Him (Isa. 1).

Song of Solomon 5-8

Song of Solomon 5-8…The love of Christ.

Yesterday, we looked at the reality that Song of Solomon is not exclusively about Christ and His church. Today, we’ll consider how this book does point us to Jesus, and that love outside of the context of our relationship with Christ will always be distorted.

First, we need to dispel the myth that emphasizing what a text says about humanity is a man-centered approach. If we rightly understand what the Bible says about mankind and the actions demanded of us, we are being Christ-centered even if Jesus is not mentioned explicitly. Our Lord and Savior said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), and His commandments are found throughout Scripture because Jesus is divine and the Bible is God’s inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When we base our thoughts and actions on God’s holy Word, we are obeying Jesus and are therefore centered on Him.

That being said, there are two other ways the Song of Solomon points us to Jesus. First, it helps us understand the strength of His love for us. The climax of the Song of Solomon, found in today’s section of scripture, tells us that love is like “the very flame of the Lord” in its intensity (Song of Solomon 8:6). Given the strength of the love of a bride for her groom and vice versa, it is no surprise that Scripture compares the relationship of God and His people to marriage (Isa. 62:5; Rev. 19:6–10). If the love between man and woman is as intense as the Lord’s fire, imagine how great the Almighty’s love for His people must be. Though we are undeserving, He is passionate for His own (Zeph. 3:17).

Secondly, the Song of Solomon encourages us to long for Christ. As noted, the Song depicts love and marriage in an idealized form. Yet every married couple knows that no matter how strong their relationship is, it still cannot fulfill their every need, much less always reach the heights depicted by Solomon. Even the best marriages have their bad days. This imperfection makes us long for a love that satisfies us wholly. Such love is found only in Christ (Rom. 8:38–39).

Song of Solomon 1-4

Song of Solomon 1-4…The gift of marriage.

The Song of Songs, also called “Canticles” or the “Song of Solomon,” has a history of controversy. It is clearly a song about love between a man and a woman, including the physical dimension. Indeed, it celebrates the joys of the marital relationship. Some have questioned whether it belongs in the Bible. It does not seem to be spiritual enough to be included in the canon of Scripture; indeed, some of its intimate language seems downright embarrassing. Early Jewish expositors decided that the Song was really applying romantic love to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. According to them, the marriage of the Lord and his people was set forth in the book as an allegory. Early Christian expositors continued to look at the book allegorically, seeing in it a symbolic description of Christ’s love for his church, and hers for him. But, while certainly the Song can be applied in a general way to the relationship of Christ to his bride, there is no reason to believe that such a symbolic application is the book’s primary focus.

One of the worst influences of pagan philosophy on the early church was the idea that sexual love is always tainted with evil. Perpetual virginity came to be prized more than marriage. This departs from the Bible, where virginity is a gift to be given to the beloved on the wedding night. Many in the church came to believe that sexual expression, even in marriage, is sinful and should be endured only for the sake of having children. Naturally, the Song of Songs, which celebrates the joy of physical love, had to be reinterpreted by those whose view of sexuality was so narrow. According to the Bible, however, the marital relationship in all of its aspects, including the physical, is a great gift of God. It is not to be despised, but enjoyed. Genesis 2 explicitly says that it was “not good” for the man to be without a wife. From the biblical perspective, marriage is good, including sexual union within marriage. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find a book in the Bible that celebrates this benefit of God’s grace to his children.

Ecclesiastes 7-12

Ecclesiastes 7-12…A short life.

Death is certain for all. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The living know that they will die.” For some of us that day is closer than we think. The sensible person faces up to the fact of death and makes provision for this final episode of his earthly life.

There’s only one way to prepare for eternity — trusting Christ as Savior. Those who come to God through Him will enter heaven when they have drawn their last breath. But for unbelievers, that fateful moment will seal their never-ending doom.

Are you ready for the inevitable? Jesus said, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (Jn. 5:24). Live today with an eternal perspective, and store up treasures in heaven. The earthly things that occupy our affections are fool’s gold, but God is our lasting treasure, and loving Him is so much more satisfying.

Ecclesiastes 4-6

Ecclesiastes 4-6…The emptiness of worldly success.

In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon exposes the emptiness of many who make it to the top. This is not a plea for mediocrity. The problem with the people he’s talking about soon becomes clear; they have no fear of the Lord. For people like this, tyranny can become a calling card. Since they view people as pawns, it’s easy for the powerful to become abusive. Sadly, those whom they oppress often have no one to help or comfort them (v.1). Their lot is so painful Solomon concludes that the dead or unborn are better off than the oppressed. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because these verses capture much of the history of the human race. That’s why those who strive for success must also strive for compassion.

Another reason many successful people feel empty is that they see others as competitors to be beaten rather than as companions to be embraced. It isn’t easy to make friends under those conditions. That’s why those who strive for success must also strive for companionship.

The overachiever can also feel empty because success may bring with it a pack of problems he hadn’t expected. For these people, Solomon’s advice in verse 6 is worth heeding. That’s why those who strive for success must also strive for contentment.

Solomon’s final picture (vv. 7-8) is a sad one: a successful person alone with his money. Yet his loneliness and frustration drive him even harder. A person like that needs help! That’s why those who strive for success must also strive for cessation—knowing when enough is enough.