Isaiah (Part 37): Right Dependency – Restoration (Ch 30b)
We have already mentioned the command in Deuteronomy urging Israel not ever to return to Egypt for dependency. Yet in Isaiah 30 we see Judah doing just that. And it seems that Isaiah has the Deut 17:14-16 injunction in mind as he relates the disobedient attitude of the Jews because he specifically mentions the horses. Look at Deut 17:14-16 again:
“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ you are to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. Appoint a king from your brothers. You are not to set a foreigner over you, or one who is not of your people. However, he must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You are never to go back that way again.’”
There it is—don’t go back to Egypt and especially not to acquire horses. But that is exactly what Judah did according to verse 16 of Isaiah 30. By the way, archaeologists of 40 years ago and earlier laughed at the notion of horses in Egypt during the time of the exodus. They had not found any remains of horses. But two distinct digs in the 1970s and 1990s changed that. “The most surprising feature of the assemblage is the large number of equid remains, some of which are from domestic horses (Equus caballus). ... There was a general supposition that domestic horses were not introduced into the Levant and Egypt until the second millennium, but Davis (1976) found horse remains at Arad from the third millennium and small domestic horses seem to have been present in the fourth millennium in the Chalcolithic period in the northern Negev (Grigson 1993). [Thomas E. Levy, David Alon, Yorke Rowan, Edwin C. M. van den Brink, Caroline Grigson, Augustin Holl, Patricia Smith, Paul Goldberg, Alan J. Witten, Eric Kansa, John Moreno, Yuval Yekutieli, Naomi Porat, Jonathan Golden, Leslie Dawson, and Morag Kersel, "Egyptian-Canaanite Interaction at Nahal Tillah, Israel (ca. 4500-3000 B. C. E.): An Interim Report on the 1994-1995 Excavations," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 307 (August 1997): 1--51.]
Verse 18 of Isaiah 30 is a transition verse. We are turning from the sin of the Egyptian alliance discussed in the first 17 verses to the restoration of God’s people in verses 19 through 26. One interesting remark is in the middle of verse 18. The HCSB reads, “[The Lord] is rising up to show you compassion.” The KJV states, “[T]herefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you.” We can understand that, taken apart from context, the words “exalting” and “rising” may seem similar. But within the context, the HCSB seems to be saying something slightly different from the KJV. The Holman’s “rising” is an action—a stirring toward something. Whenever we read, especially in the immediately surrounding chapters of God rising (different Hebrew word), it is a rising in judgment or a rising to judge. The sense of the KJV is that God is exalting himself in order to show compassion, which, of course, leads us to wonder what the KJV translators were thinking: how exactly does God exalt himself in order to show compassion? I think the answer to understanding the phrase combines both ideas presented above. The first part of the chapter leads us into understanding the sin of the Jews in seeking security from Egypt. It also shows us, through God’s insistence, that Egypt will not be able to help. God meets sin with judgment…always. However, God has plans beyond the mere wiping out of sin in his anger. He has a plan for restoration for people of all time, which he takes care to demonstrate through the picture of the nation of Israel. The pattern is shown several times in Isaiah, and chapter 30, especially verse 18, helps us understand the flow of this pattern: people sin; God exalts himself (in his justice, holiness, and power) as he meets that sin with judgment; the judgment itself is revelation from God of his justice, holiness, and power; some who see this revelation repent; and God shows compassion and mercy to those who return to trust in him. This is a repeated theme of Isaiah. It is shown in chapter 30. And the HCSB provides a better indication of the entire movement of God in his intention to judge, in order to both satisfy his holy justice and provide revelation so that some may repent in faith, by choosing the translation of God “rising up to show you compassion.”
This verse, in fact, provides a chiasm to help us understand God’s interest through patience, judgment, and compassion.
-->The Lord is waiting to show mercy
----->The Lord is rising up (exalting himself in response to the sin)
-------->The Lord will show compassion
----->The Lord is just
-->All who wait for him are happy
In the restoration message of the next 8 verses, God explains this process of sin—judgment (revelation)—repentance—mercy. Verse 19 tells us, literally, that the people who “live in Zion will live in Jerusalem.” The emphasis here is twofold. One is to show that God would not allow the Assyrians to gain control over Judah and relocate them elsewhere as they had done with other nations, including Ephraim (Israel’s northern kingdom). The second emphasizes that God’s people would dwell with him. Zion was the mount on which the temple stood. The temple was the place of meeting with God. Therefore, the people who live on Zion would continue in Jerusalem as God’s people.
These verses (19-26) may be divided into two sections with verse 22 as the transition from the first to the second. The first section (19-21) shows God’s care in rescue. In this portion God relates the affliction and oppression on the Jews to bread and water. In the Hebrew the words stand directly next to each other as in apposition, as in “The Lord gives to you bread, affliction, and water, oppression.” But the rest of this verse explains that the bread of affliction and the water of oppression are meant to teachers, providing God’s revelation. (The HCSB reads “Teacher,” confusingly changing the Hebrew plural to singular and making it refer to God. However, I believe that Isaiah has in mind the affliction and oppression as the teachers, even though ultimately it is God who provides the lesson.)
In the judgment on Judah, then, those whose eyes are opened by God’s revelation may repent and turn to him. And the indication of the repentance is found in verse 22. Judah’s false gods and idols are destroyed. They no longer depend on those things for care and security. They depend on God.
The second section of this passage (23-26) shows God’s care in revelation. Isaiah uses corresponding imagery. In the rescue section bread was affliction. Now, in the relationship section, the food provides abundant life (23-24). In the rescue section, water was oppression. Now, water is a blessing (25). Barrenness and dryness is normally linked with pride. Towers are also symbols of pride. Therefore, verse 25 shows that in dependency on God (humility), the dryness of pride is washed out; the towers of pride fall. And finally, just as God used the judgment to open eyes and make them see in the rescue section, so now in relationship the light shines seven times brighter in the joy and care of God.
The chapter concludes in verses 27 through 33 in poetic imagery. The picture combines festival and funeral. First, God is shown to be coming close from far away. He comes in anger (in judgment). There is heavy smoke (27), which is the heavy-handed judgment he will deliver, and the torrent of his breath as a raging flood will have those receiving judgment up to their necks (28) in trouble. But verse 29 switches to a festive march of those turning to trust God, marching up to the mountain—to the Rock—to meet him.
God strikes Assyria in protection of his people, and Assyria is shattered. Notice in verse 31 that God’s voice shatters them, and his rod strikes them. This is similar to the imagery of Revelation 19:15 as Christ on a white horse has a sword issue from his mouth and he rules with his scepter.
Again the music plays in verse 32 even as judgment is meted out. The “brandished weapons” of God provide further festival connotation. The word translated “brandished” is the same word used for the “wave” offerings.
In the final verse of the chapter, God shows the ultimate judgment of death. The verse says, “Topheth has been ready.” Topheth is a word of Persian/Assyrian origin that means place of fire. It was applied (in a slight variation) to the southeast part of the Hinnom valley below Jerusalem in which human sacrifices were made to the god Molech (Jeremiah 7:31). This area is the same area that Jesus refers to as Gehenna in the Gospels. It had become, in Jesus’ day, a garbage dump in which trash was burned. Fires constantly burned in that area, and so it was a good image to use when Jesus discussed hell. Here in Isaiah, God uses it similarly to describe the judgment of death.
Notice then that this passage has the coming of God in judgment, the going up to meet him by the repentant faithful, and death pictured in the fires of Topheth—the same place that Christ associated with hell. Can we see a connection with final, second coming judgment and rescue?
Isaiah 31 seems to repeat Isaiah 30 in condensed format but with a stronger focus on God’s care. The woe to Judah is given in the first two verses for Judah’s sin in looking to Egypt for protection. Isaiah notes that not only will Egypt not help, but they will fall as well (3). In the center of the chapter (4-7), we see the focus on God’s care. In verse 4 God is like a lion in ferociously and tenaciously holding on to its prey. The idea is to see the attributes of God in this and not wonder how Judah is supposed to relate to prey. In the second image, God is seen as a hovering bird that protects the nest, flying off to draw enemies away. This image shows a closer, caring concern of God to those he protects. Thus, the points show ability and concern. Verses 6-7 emphasize leaving any other dependency and relying on God alone.
The end of this chapter, like chapter 30, depicts the destruction of Assyria. This time, however, the fire takes on a different meaning. Whereas in chapter 30, the fires of Topheth were a place of judgment, in chapter 31, the fire of Zion emphasizes the holiness of God. To merge the images, the fire of holiness is what causes the fire of judgment to burn away the evil.