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Isaiah 13-23: Hoping in Our Lord, the Judge Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 November 2008

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For the next couple of weeks, we will be looking closely at the judgment of the Lord. In this section, which runs from chapter 13-27, Isaiah seems to be reinforcing the truth that it is foolish to trust in the nations rather than in God, which was exactly the mistake of Ahaz. Why is it so foolish to trust in the nations? Because no matter how powerful they might seem, their fate is in the hands of the Lord, who will judge them for their sins. Thus, again, Isaiah is continuing to call the people of Judah (and us as well) to put all of our trust in the Lord.

In this section, Isaiah moves all the way from the mighty Babylon in the east to Tyre in the west and everywhere in between. These different nations represent those surrounding Judah. And it should be noted, that Judah will face judgment as well (see chapter 22). Who can possibly bring about all of these judgments? Isaiah tells us: It is Godís plan to judge and He will bring it about. Look at 13:2-5, 14:24-27, 19:12, 17, 23:8-9. Again and again we see that it is God who has planned and purposed these judgments. He is the Judge and nothing can keep Him from executing His judgments. Yet, what assurance do we have that He will indeed do all of this? Interestingly, at certain points, Isaiah gives us more immediate acts of judgment which point to the coming judgments.

For example, look at 16:14. There will be an immediate judgment (in three years) on Moab which will assure them of future judgment. Likewise in 20:1-6, Isaiah is told to go about naked symbolizing the coming humiliation of Egypt and Cush by Assyria, which will happen in their lifetimes. When they see the Egyptians being led into captivity naked and ashamed, they will know that Isaiahís words are true and the future judgments are sure.

Another example is found in 21:16. All of these are prophecies which are fulfilled more immediately to teach the reader that the coming judgments are certain. So then, let me encourage us as we consider some further questions about the Lordís judgments, to realize that in one sense, all of these judgments are pointing to the Day of judgment. Many of them have already come to pass, which only serves to assure us of the certainty of that day. In light of that sobering reality, what other questions can we answer about Godís temporal judgments from this passage?

First, how will these judgments come about?

We have seen that these judgments will come from the Lord, but how will the Lord actually bring them about? Will He use supernatural means to bring these about or natural means? The right answer is both. Look at 13:17-18. For the coming judgment of Babylon, the Lord tells us that He will raise up the Medes against them. Thus, another earthly kingdom will execute Godís judgment on Babylon. Look at 19:2-4. For the coming judgment of Egypt, we see what looks like a civil war taking place: Egyptians against Egyptians. Later they will be overtaken by the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them.

Yet, even in these Ďnaturalí means of judgment, we also see the hand of the Lord do we not? He will raise up the Medes against Babylon and He will set Egyptian against Egyptian. Although this would not be visible to the unbelieving eye, for those who see Yahweh as Sovereign ruler of the world, we know that He is behind such judgments. Yet, will there also be more supernatural judgments? Look at 13:2-5. It seems here that the Lordís involvement is more direct. Thus, either way, we see that it is the Lord who is behind these judgments. Even when it might appear like it is only Ďchanceí or Ďluckí that brings about certain fortunes, we know that such is not the case. The Lord is behind all things and He uses various means to bring about His plans, even His plans of judgment.

Let me offer a word of warning here before we move on. We must be very careful and cautious in declaring a certain event the Ďjudgment of God.í We heard this type of language used when 9-11 happened, when Katrina happened, and even now to describe the recent election. We must be careful and cautious with such language. Could it be that these events were acts of Godís judgment? Yes, that is a possibility. Yet, can we say this for certain and identify particulars about this judgment? Not so much. We are not Isaiah and we should not be speaking as if we were. Rather, we should learn principles of Godís judgment from his particular prophecies. We know that God has consistently judged Kingdoms and nations throughout the history of the world for their sin and we know that He will do this until the return of Christ. Yet, all of this is to point us to the certainty of the coming judgment. I believe that our primary focus should be on preparing people for that Day through the faithful proclamation of the gospel and not so much on trying to point out particular Ďjudgments of Godí that we cannot be certain about.

What will these judgments be like?

In a word, severe. The judgments that are described in these chapters are terrible. One of the ways that we see this is the repeated instruction to Ďwail.í Look at 13:6. Babylon will wail. Why? Because of the severity of the judgments. Look at 13:15-16. Philistia is told to wail as well. Look at 14:31. In Moab the wailing will run throughout the whole land. Look at 15:8 and 16:7a. The men on the ships of Tarshish will wail for the judgment against Tyre. Look at 23:2, 14. These nations will be filled with weeping and wailing in the times of their judgments because of the severity of the destruction.

We also see some more particular descriptions. Babylonís judgment is compared to a woman in labor (13:8), signifying the swift onset and the terrible pain involved. A number of the nations are told of the complete devastation of their resources. Moab is told that her waters will dry up and turn to blood (see 15:5-9). Syria (Damascus) will become desolate and will not reap their harvest (see 17:9-11). The people beyond the rivers of Cush will be lopped off like branches and cleared away (18:4-6). Egypt actually gets a three-fold judgment: they will turn on each other (19:2-4), the provision of the Nile will be brought to nothing (19:5-10), and their wisdom will be seen as foolishness (19:11-15). All of this describes the severe nature of the judgment of the Lord. It is not to be scoffed at or brushed aside. No, it will be real and terrible.

When Glenna and I visited Washington D.C., we spent some time at the Holocaust Museum there. At times the Holocaust seems like just a terrible story taken out of the pages of fiction. Yet, it was real. The harsh reality of it hit me when we went into a large room that had nothing but a huge pile of shoes in it. These were the actual shoes of just some of the victims from the various concentration camps. Such a sight was staggering simply because it made the whole terrible thing that much more real. These real shoes were taken off of real feet that belonged to real victims. Even though these descriptions of Godís judgment are given to us in poetic language, Isaiah is teaching us that they will be terribly severe and horribly real.

Such descriptions should motivate our faithfulness to the Lord. Brothers and sisters, judgment is coming. It is real and sure. And the temporal judgments spoken of here and written in the pages of human history will pale in comparison to the coming Day of the Lord. Thus, we must be quick to repent of our sins and obey the Lord. We must be quick to put all of our trust in Christ and His work at the cross. And we must be quick to warn as many as we can as long as the Lord tarries and gives us breath.

Third, why will these judgments come, or what is there purpose?

First, the obvious answer to this question is that judgment will come because of the sin of the nations. Look at 13:11. The Lord will judge the nations for their wickedness. Specifically, the Lord again and again pronounces judgment against pride and arrogance. Babylon was full of pride (13:11) and so was Moab and Tyre. Look at 16:6 and 23:9. The Lord will simply not tolerate the pride of men. His judgments fall to humble men. In fact, we know that on that final Day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Men might live lives full of pomp and prestige. They may think that such glory will last even beyond the grave. But it will not. All men will be humbled before Almighty God. The puny gods that we have made will not stand (see 17:7-8). The Lord will justly judge the sins of men.

Second, these judgments will come because of the character of God. We have to see in these judgments the mighty clash between manís sin and Godís holiness. As we have said, Godís righteous response to the sins of man is wrath. Isaiah speaks of this. Look at 13:9, 13. Godís holy character demands that He deal justly with sin, which is what His judgment is all about.

One final reason, or purpose, behind Godís judgment is for the good of His people. Look at 14:1-2. The Lord is going to restore Jacob. He will bring justice to their enemies for their harsh treatment. But, notice that it is not just Israel, but sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. We see more of this in 19:16-25. After pronouncing the judgment that will come to Egypt, Isaiah speaks of a time when the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day (v. 21). Not only Egypt, but Assyria will also worship the Lord with Israel (v. 23-25). Thus, in spite of these temporal judgments, the Lord will have worshippers from Egypt and Assyria. This had to be an amazing thought to the people in Isaiahís day. Yet, it is evidence of the fact that Godís heart is not just for Israel, but rather for the nations. Yes, He will judge them (as He will judge Israel), but He will also draw men from every nation to Himself.

It is not difficult to realize why talking about Godís judgments is hard. Whether you are talking about temporal judgments against nations or the final Day of judgment, such discussion is a harsh reality for us all. Yet, it is only when we truly understand these ideas that we really see the goodness of the good news. For in Christ our sins have been judged. Godís wrath has been turned away. Through our union with Him we can face the coming Day with hope. The amazing thought is this: Our Judge, the Judge of all the universe, has become our Redeemer. And if the Judge has declared us righteous, then as Paul asks: who is to condemn? May we celebrate the fact our sins have been atoned for in Christ and may we resolve, in light of the coming Day, to tell any and all of the glorious good news of Jesus our Savior. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 November 2008 )

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