Thoughts on Isaiah 13-18

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In the preceding chapters we have the relationship of God with His people closed by the manifestation of Christ in glory. Here begins a new prophecy, which presents to us the relationship of Israel with the nations. This series of the prophecy goes from chapter 13 to the end of chapter 17, terminating with songs of joy and deliverance, as in the first section.
Chapter 13
The first of these predictions begins with what is in contrast with Zion-begins with Babylon, and the answer to the messengers of the nations, which is in chapter 14, that Jehovah hath founded Zion, and the poor of His people shall betake themselves to it, when Babylon is destroyed.
Babylon is not only the capital of Nebuchadnezzar and of the habitable world. It is Babel, signifying confusion. It is there men are united to exalt themselves and make themselves a name and a reputation in the world. At the end all the world sets itself to get exaltation for which commerce furnishes the means; and everything there, men's bodies and souls, will be for sale, as we see in Rev. 18. The Spirit of God taking the city of the Chaldees as an occasion gives the mind of God on the city of idolatrous corruption and pride up to the end, and even brings in here future circumstances of which history presents no accomplishment, and whose order is the contrary of that which is already arrived. Thus the Assyrian, if we follow the history, was destroyed before the grandeur of Babylon; whilst the Spirit speaking of what will happen in the last days tells us that the Assyrian is to be destroyed after Babylon. In the time of the prophet Babylon had not yet any pretension to be the capital of an empire, but a provincial city or at most a secondary power, seeking independence of Assyria, and at times gaining it, till it at last became not only aggressive but supreme.
In verse 5 the fall of Babylon is announced as the day of Jehovah. That which will happen in that day is indicated in verses 6-12. There is all that the world has to look for.
One sees in the world either the arrogance of him who has the upper hand, or the envy of him who is below. God will cause to cease the pride of man in both ways; He will punish as here, not the dead only, but the living, the habitable earth, all that from which the world draws its glory. Its great chiefs, its victories, its wealth, ease, luxury, splendor, what is it but arrogance and self-exaltation? That day will be blessed for those who are poor in spirit, because they will enjoy peace; but the destruction will be so great that a man will be more prized than the gold of Ophir.
“Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove,” &c. (Vers. 13-22.) All this is “a promise” to the Christian. (See Heb. 12:25, 2625See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: 26Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. (Hebrews 12:25‑26).) If he is in his place, he is separate from all the interests of the world, he belongs to heaven, to Jesus, which cannot be shaken. The world passes away, and God will make it cease, and this will give rest. It is for us a “promise,” as we have seen. Jesus speaks to us from heaven and makes us this promise of shaking once more not the earth only, but also heaven; because all that which surrounds us is an obstacle which hinders us from enjoying what Jesus has promised us. Christians hasten this time by their faith. God would have us wait for it because His patience is great, and the work of saving souls still goes on here below. (2 Peter 3) If the destruction of all the world-system is not a promise to us, it must be that we are attached to what is on the earth. There is a kingdom which cannot be moved and which will move all others: and it is for this that Christian simplicity waits. Can we truly desire as the accomplishment of a promise that God should shake the heavens and the earth? Are our hearts attached to not one thing which shall be the object of that destruction? May God make us see the end of it, that our hearts may be separated from all that is going to be destroyed!
Chapter 14.
When God acts in judgment, there is always care taken of His people. “For Jehovah will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of Jehovah for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were: and they shall rule over their oppressors.” (Vers. 1, 2.) When the devastation of the habitable world takes place, there will be the deliverance of the people of God, Israel, who will take possession of the earth.
From verse 3 to the 23rd there is a beautiful picture of the fall of Babylon's king in its last representative—the beast of the close. The prophet takes occasion from events at hand in that day; but no prophecy of scripture is made to be of its own interpretation, none has been fully or entirely accomplished. And the reason is that the Holy Spirit has always Jesus and His kingdom in view. God has always the Second man in His mind. Even the first prophecy, that the woman's Seed should crush the serpent's head, is not yet fulfilled. All that there is in God's word points onward to the glory of Christ.
There is a crowd of prophetic examples in the word of God, where but half is accomplished. Thus Psa. 8 is not yet accomplished in verses 6-9. We do not yet see all things put under His feet. (Heb. 2) Again Psa. 68 is not yet accomplished fully; hence the apostle omits “for the rebellious also” in Eph. 4, because it will apply to the Jews in the latter day. It would be to lose the purpose of God to believe the prophecies accomplished on this side of Christ's glory; for it would give to prophecy a particular interpretation.
In verses 12-15 we see that, as long as “the beast” is on the earth, he passes himself off for God. Nevertheless he is doomed to destruction. (Ver. 19.) God has but to give the signal, and he who broke kings like reeds is himself a broken reed.
To the Christian Christ is the true Morning Star; but “the beast” claims to be so. He attributes to himself all the glory of Christ. All these details here vaunted in verses 12-15 are true of the Lord Jesus; but the last holder of the power, given first to Babylon's head, would also ascend into heaven, and sit too on the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north, taking possession of Christ's kingdom in Zion. Compare for part of the language Psa. 48:22Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. (Psalm 48:2): there was the city of the great king. The beast would also possess himself of Christ's heavenly glory, and be like the Most High; but He who is Son of God and Son of man will overthrow the man of the earth, who shall cause no more fright after that. (Psa. 10:1818To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress. (Psalm 10:18))
The beast and the false prophet being destroyed, Christ is King in Zion. In due time comes the destruction of the Assyrian, as we see here in verses 2427. “Jehovah of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass: and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then snail his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For Jehovah of hosts hath purposed, and, who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” The Assyrian is no less senseless in rising up against Christ associated with Israel, the Prince of princes. The indignation is accomplished then, and Israel long chastised is owned of God. When Christ reigns in Zion, Israel is owned, but all the enemies are not yet destroyed. That which follows the destruction of Babylon and the beast is the destruction of the Assyrian, or king of the north. It is a mistake to confound the little horn of Dan. 7 with the little horn of Dan. 8, which last elevates himself not against the God of gods, but against the Lord of lords. For the indignation to cease completely the Assyrian must be destroyed. (Mic. 5) He will trample down the Assyrian in His land, because He owns Israel for His people. God will assert in the person of Christ all His rights over the earth.
In verses 28-32 is the judgment of the. Philistines, the remains of the Canaanites. Hezekiah labored for their submission. The Lord Jesus will finish it by a destruction more terrible when He stablishes His throne in Zion. When Babylon, the Assyrian, and the Philistines are put down finally, the poor and needy remnant shall lie down in safety, and Zion shall be their bulwark. (See Psa. 132) Never in God's word does that mountain mean anything but itself, being wholly inapplicable to the church.
Chapters 15, 16.
From chapter 13 we have begun to see Israel the center of all the providence of God in the world in contrast to all the other nations. Deut. 32 shows Israel as the center of God's ways in the world. In antiquity there is no profane history of any importance which is not in connection with the Jewish people. God has a people in the midst of whom He governs and manifests His ways and the consequences of His character. This is true of Israel and the church. All that happens to them is the manifestation of the principles of God's government. God abode visibly in Israel, His throne was there. He abides by the Spirit in the church. He acts always in government in the midst of His people; it is there He would manifest Himself and not abide only in heaven.
From the moment God is in Israel He identified Himself with His people. In consequence of this the nations are treated according as they treated Israel. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” says the King. The moment they, touch Israel, they touch the apple of His eye. In all these chapters we see the relations of Israel with the nations, and the nations judged of God because they trod down His people, though He used them also to punish His people. But the world enters not into God's mind and assails His people, because they are not unfaithful to Him but hateful to them, as they would swallow up all they have. When His people are unfaithful, God sends a testimony to them, as Jeremiah, but they accuse him of conspiring against them, of weakening them, &c., because he tells them that in consequence of their departure from God He will give them over to the Chaldeans.
Here we have Moab wasted and cut off with bitter sorrow, the more humiliating after all their pride. And the very burden which proclaims Moab reduced hopelessly declares that David's throne shall be prepared in mercy with One sitting on it in truth, judging and seeking judgment and hasting righteousness.
Chapter 17.
Next comes the burden of Damascus and the degradation from a city to a ruinous heap. In verses 4-6 we see the judgment of Israel, but gleaning grapes are left there. God chastises His people till they cease to rest on their own strength, instead of relying on God alone. Yet when dwindled down to a remnant of two or three here and four or five there, they shall look to Himself, the only source of strength, the Holy One of Israel. For their idolatry they had been desolated. But in the hour of their desperate grief, when nations seem once more ready to engulf and overwhelm them, rebuke comes, and the rushing multitudes are as chaff before the wind. ( Vers. 12-14.)
When God's people are faithless, they are able to act even after the prudence and wisdom of the natural man. When they do not rest on God, they are feebler than the world; and when they are given over to a chastening, they are immediately broken to pieces.
The prophet Habakkuk demands the judgment of God, because he is broken-hearted at seeing iniquity in the dwelling of righteousness. When God says He will punish and shows the prophet the desolation of His people, Holdest Thou Thy tongue, says the prophet, when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Jehovah answers, The just shall live by his faith. Our relations with God, because He dwells in the midst of us, bring His judgment on men because of what they do to the people of God.
Chapter 18.
It is needful to remember the position of the land of Israel. The rivers of Cush are the Nile and the Euphrates, which represent the two nations on the frontiers of Israel that had oppressed them, Egypt and Babylon.
The country here summoned, “shadowing with wings” (ver. 1), is beyond those rivers. It was a country unknown at the time when the prophet lived, and was consequently in no connection as yet with Israel; but it will be so in the last days. To shadow with wings is an expression often employed in the word of the Lord for marking protection. It will be a powerful nation undertaking to protect Israel.
“All ye inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the mountains” (ver. 3): God summons attention to that which He is going to do. “See ye when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains; and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.”
“For so Jehovah said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling-place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” (Ver. 4.) We see what God will do when the nations, following their own policy, will have restored the Jews to their land. He lets them act, and keeps quiet, but He keeps His eye on His dwelling-place.
“For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.” (Ver. 5.) It is not yet judgment, so all comes to nothing, whatever the promise, as in all human things when God is concerned. (Cf. Isa. 6:1010Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (Isaiah 6:10).)
“They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.” (Ver. 6.) The people are brought back to their land to be given over as a prey to the nations, like wild beasts in winter or ravenous birds in summer. Such will be their fate when anew returned to Palestine, for God is not yet putting His hand to it. Jerusalem will again be the central object of political schemes for the world, though the world despises God's people, and never occupies itself with them but to exalt itself. The Jew will be oppressed by the Gentiles once more in their land; but deliverance is at hand.
“In that time shall the present be brought unto Jehovah of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of Jehovah of hosts, the mount Zion.” (Ver. 7.) A present is to be brought of Israel and from Israel to Jehovah. They will bring an offering and themselves be as it were an offering to Jehovah, who will manifest anew His abode in Zion (after all the long sorrows and desolations), but also His hand in judgment of the nations. After this will begin His relationship with Israel for everlasting blessing under Messiah and the new covenant. The mount of Zion is the place God has chosen, in contrast with Sinai, the mountain of the nation's-responsibility and ruin. (See Heb. 12) At Sinai God gave, not His promises, but His law, and Israel stood afar off and fell under its curse. Zion is quite another thing. Israel failed under Moses and Aaron, the Judges, Eli, Samuel and Saul, under priest, prophet, and king. But David is chosen in sovereignty and places the ark of God in Zion, which becomes the display of royal grace on earth, after man in every respect had failed in his relations with God.
The mountain of Zion is for the earth the same thing in principle (save royalty) as heaven is for God's relations with the church. The majesty of God no more requires righteousness in man. It establishes itself in grace on the earth when man broke down in everything. This will be true in all, though we shall not be there but above. Jehovah of hosts, that is, the God of government here below, will place Israel, not the church, in connection with the mount Zion. The Father will have us with the Son in His house on high as His children, instead of governing us as His subjects on the earth. It is always important to distinguish our part from that of the earthly people; if not, we necessarily lower our calling, our privileges, and our responsibility.
God puts Himself in relation with the world as King by means of His people Israel.