Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

The Alliance that Failed


18. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 17

In this chapter, the alliance that we learned about in chapter seven, reappears. You remember that the house of David, that is, the king’s household and all of Judah, “shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind” (Is.7:2), because of the report of two allies, joined against them. You may also remember that the alliance was between Syria or Aram and the ten northern tribes of Israel. God assured King Ahaz and his people that this threat would come to nothing: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass” (7:7). Now we will see why they had nothing to worry about from that source. God knows the future perfectly, therefore it is always right and always safe to stand firmly upon His prophetic word.

A cursed cup to drink

“The oracle concerning Damascus.” This is another oracle, and we know now that its synonym is burden, but Matthew Henry quotes a Caldeean paraphrase that helps us to understand better this difficult word: The burden of the cup of the curse to drink to Damascus. An oracle is a bitter cup that is to be drunk and it contains a curse upon Damascus. Damascus is the capital city of Syria, so they must first drink of this “cup of trembling” (another way to describe the bitter cup, Is.51:17, 22; Zech.12:2). From there it is passed around to all of Syria and then each of the ten northern tribes of Israel must drink from it.

These visions pass before Isaiah’s eyes, so, if he gives the account as having taken place in the present tense, this is the reason why. Faith hears and takes this word, as good as if it were already accomplished, because with God there is no future tense; the future is history to Him. His word is sure and it is accurate. Concerning Babylon, He said it would fall and “never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation” (ch.13:20). We can go to Iraq and gaze upon its ruins in this 21st Century, because it has never been rebuilt. Damascus likewise “will become a fallen ruin” (v.1), however nothing is said about whether it would or would not be rebuilt. It has been rebuilt and is today the capital of modern Syria.

The first of the tribes of Israel to fall were the 2½ tribes east of the Jordan River… Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The most commonly mentioned city called Aroer of verse two was on the banks of the Arnon River. It was built by the Gadites, assigned to the tribe of Reuben, but by now was in the territory occupied by Moab. This territory and its towns were abandoned and their buildings became sheep cotes. No human life would disturb the flocks.

The delusion of misdirected unity

The Christian church has often been deluded in joining forces as an advantage towards political strength. Would to God we were united in prayer and in edification! But I have yet to see a Christian political union reap any spiritual benefits. We need to be very careful, with whom we become allied. Not long ago I heard someone refer to the unified lie of Ananias and Sapphira and how then, they also came under divine judgment together. Even marital oneness is not to be sought at all costs.

In no situation is righteousness and truth ever to be compromised at the cost of unity.  These two countries sought a more potent attack force by uniting their armies and I have already alluded to the fact that this confederacy brought terror to Judah. However, in this chapter we see them united in defeat. They brought each other down. “Damascus and the remnant of Aram (Syria)… will be like the glory of the sons of Israel” (v.3)… leveled in defeat, the higher and brighter glory of the one nation, only falling farther to arrive at the infamy of the other. “In that day the glory of Jacob will fade” (v.4).

The harvest reaped by the enemy

 I was with the camp director the morning after the camp closed and all the young people left for their homes. “The kids are gone,” he said, looking around at the facilities, “there is no life here. Just empty buildings.” I felt his sadness and all that we had were the memories of good times behind us.

Don’t just read the analogies… feel them. The emaciated body, the field left bare, the olive trees picked, the grapes harvested, all point to a glory that used to be, but now is gone, faded as the people leave their homes and flee their land. How the Spirit of God inspires Isaiah to paint the picture vividly, in order to impress the heart!

The gathering of the stalks of grain is not a nice scene to behold (v.5). The enemy is harvesting the crops, which the natives planted in hope. He holds the stalks in one arm and uses the other arm to cut down more. A similar analogy is used in Revelation 14:19: “And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” It is time for judgment and when it is finished, only a remnant is left.

Would you please notice, who is taken and who is left? The Gospels are consistent with the Old Testament. Too many times, Christians do not investigate sufficiently the Old Testament in order to get their analogies straight. Jesus said, “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me” (Jn.7:16). His doctrine was totally built on the foundation of the Old Testament Scriptures, laid out by the Father, and you cannot possibly learn Gospel truth without learning the principles of the Old Testament.

Who is taken and who is left?

The harvest is one of judgment and the stalks are taken away to be burned. “One will be taken and the other left” (Mt.24:40,41). First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up…” (Mt.13:30). The remnant is left, after judgment. “Two or three olives on the topmost bough… four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree” (v.6).

The Assyrian judgment harvest takes place and the bulk of the ten tribes are carried away into captivity. They have lost their autonomy, their king, and the future looks gloomy for the remnant that remains. But will you watch now to see what the Lord begins to do? “In that day man will have regard for his Maker and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel” (v.7). I want to reemphasize the spiritual condition of these who were left in the northern kingdom. “They feared the Lord and served their own gods… the Lord … commanded them, saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods… but the Lord… Him you shall fear…” (2 Kgs.17:33,35). I am trying to show that the Lord will not tolerate a heart that is divided. He forbids any other god to enter and demands that He alone be feared.   

“Christian” idolatry

Can this dual commitment happen in New Testament times and how does it manifest itself? I need to get quite specific here, because what is happening in our day is so important that I do not want anyone to be able to sidestep it. I assure you, it is happening right now in the lives of people, who don’t know their own hearts. They try to convince themselves that they love God only, but the fact is that they are married to men and to movements, as the Israelites were tied to their nation and king. God stripped them of both. They have been inordinately arrogant, when their movement and its leader progressed, and their emotions are shaken, they are sad and confused, because that movement and leader are threatened. Mourning over the judgment that is falling proves the idolatry of the heart. They are not looking only to their Maker, the Holy One of Israel. This is a message for those people, to whom God brings judgment, in order to wrench idols from the heart. He is a jealous God. 

From the time of the division of the two kingdoms, the religion of the northern tribes was independent from their brothers in the south. They mixed new paganism and idolatry with the old ways of the Lord and were disorderly and careless in carrying out His commands. From the time of Jeroboam, their kings led them in this direction. But now, they had been humbled and brought low, and King Hezekiah of Judah is moved to send an invitation to the north to unite with the southern kingdom in keeping the Passover in Jerusalem, as God had ordered. Some laughed and refused to attend, but others came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Asher and Zebulun to do the will of God.   

Two unequaled Passovers

“So they decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem… So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, "O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see” (2 Chr.30:6,7). Chapter 30 ends on this wonderful note: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.”

In 2 Chronicles 35, King Josiah celebrated another Passover: “No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel.” We no longer celebrate the Passover; we go to the cross. At the evening of the last Passover, Jesus took the cup and the broken bread and said, “Take eat… drink.” The elements represent His body and His blood and as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Co.11:26) Those who are anxious to obey His commands are careful to do this often.

Thousands of Christians were massacred by the Communists in Cambodia. Some survived by hiding in the jungle. Friends of ours visited that land a number of years ago and said that still, decades later, a remnant of Christians continued to come out of hiding. Through the darkest of times, we can look to the God of all hope to revive us, to bring the joy of heavenly blessing and to give glory to His name.  

God and God alone

When a Christian prays, “Hallowed be Your name” he “will have regard for his Maker and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel”. To hallow His name or to sanctify it (the literal term) means to separate it from all others. His name will be unique, apart from all else, and stand alone in his life. The person who truly prays in this way, “Will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands, nor will he look to that which his fingers have made…” (v.8)

Albert Barnes comments concerning these two verses: Instead of confiding in their strongly fortified places and armies, they shall look for aid and protection to the God that made them, and who alone can help them. National afflictions and judgments often have the effect to turn the eyes of even a wicked and rebellious people to God. They feel their danger; they are convinced of their guilt; they see that no one but God can protect them...”

John Wesley on these same verses: A man - Those few men that are left. Look - They shall sincerely respect, and trust, and worship God, and God only.”

If this doesn’t happen, nothing has happened and all is in vain. In the lifetime and ministry of Isaiah, King Ahaz of Judah visited Damascus, just at this time, when it was taken over by Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria. There he saw an altar and he sent the pattern and measurements to Urijah the priest, who promptly built a replica in Jerusalem. The altar built by Solomon was pushed aside to make room for this heathen workmanship. Do we find this repulsive? Then why don’t we find it equally repulsive, when the successful patterns of the world are brought into the church? Why do we resort to its public relations methods, to its publicity, its salesmanship, its programs and its methods? We are no different that King Ahaz in bringing the patterns of Damascus to Jerusalem (v.8).

How often did the Lord say that if Israel resorted to the same evil for which the Canaanites were driven from the land, the same would happen to them! As these seven nations were judged, now it is Israel’s turn to be judged (v.9). In Leviticus18:28, the Lord warned that if Israel would defile the land, the land itself would spew them out and so it happened. Does this happen in the church age? Jesus warned that the lukewarmness of Laodicea was turning His stomach and if there was no repentance, He would likewise spew them out. “Judgment must begin at the house of God”, and an attempt to go on with church business with a lack of spiritual power, when ritualism has replaced the moving of the Holy Spirit, when there are repeated cases of leaders falling into sin and when there is an influx of the styles, manners and practices of the world, then we can be assured that His judgment will fall.    

The God of your salvation, the One God with nail prints in His hands is the only One of whom we should testify and praise. “You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth” (Dt.32:18). I am absolutely sick of people testifying of men and places, from where and from whom they have gotten help. If they remembered the Rock of refuge, there would be no place in the heart for anyone or anything else.

Foreign pleasure plants

Israel imported plants of pleasure from afar. These things were filling their lives and wooing their hearts. It typified confidence and pleasure in foreign powers, especially Egypt, which always is a type of the world in the Bible (v.10). Are our pleasures and our confidence placed in the world’s fountains?

Israel was focusing on these imported foreign plants, giving early and careful attention to them, rather than turning to the Lord in prayer, as the spring of all worthwhile blessings. Be assured, the time will come when God will show the folly of the attention, which is focused on earthly sources. Whereas God’s work can never be taken away, the Assyrians help themselves to Israel’s labors. After all the effort given to planting, cultivating, and fertilizing, the eye-opening disappointment at harvest time, when it becomes evident that nothing eternal has been reaped, will be severely painful. Isaiah says that the sickness will be incurable… too late for treatment (v.11). Hope turns to despair. All the work fed the pride and vanity of men, so instead of the expected and promising harvest, it is removed by the enemy. It was idolatry!  

The Assyrians are halted, defeated and routed

Now the prophecy moved to the south and we hear of the invasion of the Assyrians against Judah (v.12). These last three verses join to bring this chapter to a very pleasant end. It is so very poetic and expressive, and this is the beauty of God´s literature. Some of it is done in song. We have the books of Psalms, Proverbs, which are almost entirely poetic, and certainly it is present in the prophets, as well. The Lord doesn’t just record the facts; they are portrayed by song, prose and poetry with style and beauty. God is a God of color and rhythm.

Clarke says: “It is a noble description of the formidable invasion and the sudden overthrow of Sennacherib; which is intimated in the strongest terms and the most expressive images, exactly suitable to the event.” The Assyrian army was mighty, proud and self-confident, but it didn´t leave like it came. There is great irony in the mighty works of God, written for the encouragement of Judah and for us. One Angel was sent to defeat the enemy, but it is the Angel of the Lord (Is. 37:36)… the divine Angel. Isaiah writes so much of Him and we´ll cover this event more thoroughly later in this book.

The description of verses 12 and 13 helps our imagination view this powerful military invasion by a world-conquering army that has rumbled into many countries already, defeated their armies and overthrown their governments. Only our God is capable of stepping in front of this formidable force and with one word of rebuke, they come to a halt. He not only stops them, He turns the battle around and against the enemy and they run in retreat. He is an incomparable God. See the comparison: Like chaff before the wind; like dust before a gale. Isaiah sees it in vision and reports in present tense (v.13). The future tense need not be used, because God’s prophecies are as sure as if they had already taken place.

It only took one night and 185,000 soldiers were annihilated… “they are no more” (v.14). See the reversal from terror upon Judah, because of the powerful invasion at nightfall, to “no more” at the dawn. Not one is left; they are either dead or they have fled the country. Not only was fear removed, the enemy itself was removed and there was nothing more to fear. This was a victory that the faithful could always fall back on. What happened on this occasion will always be the case. God places these landmark victories in our life, so that we will never forget them. He wants us to know that what took place here, will always be the case.


Post a Comment