The world around us – Isaiah 15:1-20:6

Remembrance Sunday 11 November 2012 11am.

Act 2 ended at the end of Chapter 14 with the death of Ahaz[1] – Act three now commences and Hezekiah is King[2] – the Child foretold in the prophecies in Chapters 9 and 11.

There are three scenes in this Act – the first deals with Moab[3], Judah’s neighbor on the opposite (east) shore of the Dead Sea (see Figure 1)[4]. The form is the reception of a messenger telling of Moab’s fate at the hand of the Assyrians, looking for help or shelter from Judah. The recipient is Shebna, Hezekiah’s minister. – he laments the destruction though the voice of God points out his part in the destruction because Moab resisted his will in rebelling against Assyria.

The point of the passage is simple – even though they brought it on themselves, Judah laments and is compassionate about their fate. What happens to our neighbours matters to us.

Of Germany before the second world war it was said by Martin Niemoller in a speech to the fledgling United Nations:

First they came for the Jews 
and I did not speak out– 
because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for the communists 
and I did not speak out– 
because I was not a communist. 
Then they came for the trade unionists 
and I did not speak out– 
because I was not a trade unionist. 
Then they came for me– 
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

WE are our brother’s keeper – and in John Donne’s words ‘We need not send to hear for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us’.

Scene 2 marks a turning point for Judah – Israel stands in her emptiness as a sign of the futility of opposing Assyria. There is peace between Damascus (Aram or Syria) and Samaria (Israel) now, since both have been destroyed by the Assyrians. No border disputes now! (17:-8)

But Judah, rather than paying attention, has forgotten the God of her salvation. She has followed her pagan Gods and told her woes to anyone who would listen.

How to act wisely – delegates come from the new powerful Ethiopian dynasty in Upper Egypt – and for once sensibly Judah sends them on to Assyria – and is rewarded with gifts from Assyria for her deferential attitude.

Egypt (lower Egypt the Delta and up to the fourth cataract on the Nile) is in disarray. Chapter 19 outlines the situation there are internal factions. Watts[5] mentions 18 different dynasties in a struggle for dominance in lower Egypt at this time. In such a state even petty Judah is a threat, but only if she works with the super-powers Ethiopia and Assyria. Alone she is doomed.

The latter part of the chapter (18-25) pictures the vision of peace that would come if Judah, Assyria and Ethiopia co-operated in Egypt. Judah’s influence would extend to the worship of The Lord in nine places in Egypt. But it is not to be!

Chapter 20:1-6 show Isaiah coming out of his silence to remonstrate by walking about naked against a misguided alliance by Judah with Egypt.

Walking against God is a foolish road – and we should not over-hastily assume that we know which side he is on??

Figure 1 – Geography of Ancient Near East around 725BC

 


[1] The date is disputed because the chronology of the age gives differing answers, 728, 715 or 718 BC. The most likely is 715 BC. This is the assumption we use.

[2] Surprisingly Hezekiah is never mentioned in these chapters – he is of course in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles who commend his liturgical reforms and therefore in Isaiah 36-39 which copy 2 Kings. For reasons see blog above later.

[3] Chapters 15 and 16.

[4] The map in Figure 1 is of a decade earlier than this – Israel and Aram Damascus have both been swallowed up by the Assyrian Empire since 721BC and have disappeared off the map.

[5] Word Biblical Commentary Vol 24 p253