Following the promise of Babylon’s fall in the beginning of today’s reading, the next oracle comes “in the year that King Ahaz died...” which would have been around 715 B.C. Remember that Ahaz was the king in chapter 7 who refused to ask the LORD for a sign regarding the threat from Israel and Syria. Not only had Ahaz and Judah survived these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, but, as Isaiah had promised, neither Israel nor Syria even existed as nations any longer.
Moreover, Philistia, Moab, and Cush would meet their demise as well. You’ll recognize most of these names from Israel’s past, and each had delighted in the troubles of Israel and Judah. These oracles are scattered throughout an undefined time period – some just after Isaiah promises Damascus’ fall in chapter 7, others after the fall of both Damascus and Samaria. As we’ve seen in other places – most notably in the book of Judges – patterns and themes matter more to the author than chronology.
Chapter 14 opens with a promise: “The LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land…” When you read you’ll notice that this promise is nested within a prophecy against Babylon. There was nothing jarring to the Israelite mind in these oracles against other nations. What do gods do? They try to beat up on other gods. And what do I want my gods to do? I want my gods to provide protection and exact vengeance on other nations.
The jarring part is the alarm that this ebb and flow of strife is not how it's supposed to be, and one day it will be put right. The promise in these passages – and it’s an audacious one – is that the LORD alone has the ability and the integrity to end the chaos. Not simply to exact vengeance, but to inaugurate an order that both mirrors and fulfills the promise of Genesis 1.
Our verse for this week is James 1:22: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Isaiah 14 through 18. Now let’s read it!
Isaiah 14 - 18
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 up
to 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.
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
Those who see you will stare at you
and ponder over you:
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
who shook kingdoms,
who made the world like a desert
and overthrew its cities,
who did not let his prisoners go home?’
All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
each in his own tomb;
but you are cast out, away from your grave,
like a loathed branch,
clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,
who go down to the stones of the pit,
like a dead body trampled underfoot.
You will not be joined with them in burial,
because you have destroyed your land,
you have slain your people.
“May the offspring of evildoers
nevermore be named!
Prepare slaughter for his sons
because of the guilt of their fathers,
lest they rise and possess the earth,
and fill the face of the world with cities.”
“I will rise up against them,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the LORD. “And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” declares the LORD of hosts.
The LORD of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand,
that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
and his burden from their shoulder.”
This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?
In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:
Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
and your remnant it will slay.
Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
and there is no straggler in his ranks.
What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion,
and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.”
15:1 An oracle concerning Moab.
Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone.
He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
On every head is baldness;
every beard is shorn;
in the streets they wear sackcloth;
on the housetops and in the squares
everyone wails and melts in tears.
Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
his soul trembles.
My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
they raise a cry of destruction;
the waters of Nimrim
are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
the greenery is no more.
Therefore the abundance they have gained
and what they have laid up
they carry away
over the Brook of the Willows.
For a cry has gone
around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
for the remnant of the land.
16:1 Send the lamb to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
Like fleeing birds,
like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
at the fords of the Arnon.
make your shade like night
at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
from the destroyer.
When the oppressor is no more,
and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness
in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
and is swift to do righteousness.”
We have heard of the pride of Moab—
how proud he is!—
of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence;
in his idle boasting he is not right.
Therefore let Moab wail for Moab,
let everyone wail.
Mourn, utterly stricken,
for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.
For the fields of Heshbon languish,
and the vine of Sibmah;
the lords of the nations
have struck down its branches,
which reached to Jazer
and strayed to the desert;
its shoots spread abroad
and passed over the sea.
Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer
for the vine of Sibmah;
I drench you with my tears,
O Heshbon and Elealeh;
for over your summer fruit and your harvest
the shout has ceased.
And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
I have put an end to the shouting.
Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail.
This is the word that the LORD spoke concerning Moab in the past. But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”
17:1 An oracle concerning Damascus.
Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
and will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of Aroer are deserted;
they will be for flocks,
which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the LORD of hosts.
And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
in the Valley of Rephaim.
Gleanings will be left in it,
as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the LORD God of Israel.
In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.
In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.
Ah, the thunder of many peoples;
they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
Ah, the roar of nations;
they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.
18:1 Ah, land of whirring wings
that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
which sends ambassadors by the sea,
in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide.
All you inhabitants of the world,
you who dwell on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
When a trumpet is blown, hear!
For thus the LORD said to me:
“I will quietly look from my dwelling
like clear heat in sunshine,
like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks,
and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away.
They shall all of them be left
to the birds of prey of the mountains
and to the beasts of the earth.
And the birds of prey will summer on them,
and all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.
At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts
from a people tall and smooth,
from a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide,
to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts.