ISAIAH 13:1 – 15:9 and PHILEMON 1–25
Isaiah will now begin to speak a series of prophetic messages to foreign nations. These series of prophecies will be covered from chapter 13 through 23. There are nine nations that will come under these prophetic declarations. There are some judgements mentioned concerning Israel in these chapters as well. There is somewhat of a dual fulfilment seeing that many of these same nations will rise up against Jerusalem in the last days. The first nation mentioned is that of Babylon. It is interesting to note that Babylon was only a colony of Assyria at the time of Isaiah’s words. It is not the first mention of Babylon and will not be the last. Babylon is threaded through the whole of scripture. From its founding by Nimrod in Gen 10 all the way to the closing chapters of Revelation; the empire of Babylon can be found. Isaiah had a unique gifting upon him in much the same way as the Apostle John when he was on the island of Patmos. There will be enhanced prophetic clarity that will be evident in the last days.
In verses 2-3 we already see the “sanctified ones” that will rise in judgement against Babylon. These would be nations under the command of Cyrus. In verse 1 Babylon is mentioned and in the next two verses their seventy-year reign comes to an end. What tremendous insight Isaiah had in his prophecies. The judgement upon Babylon continues to be described in verses 4-5 as armies from Persia descend upon Babylon. In verses 6-8 a description of the pain and anguish is seen concerning those who are seeking to defend Babylon. Why is there such severe judgement upon Babylon? It is a land of idolatry and they were a people who brought about cruel bondage upon the inhabitants.
In verses 13-14 the Lord speaks of a great shaking that will come upon the earth; it is similar to the shakings that will be seen in the last days as well. What is being spoken concerning the Babylon of Isaiah’s day has a parallel for the last days. God will use Babylon for a season in bringing judgement upon Judah and Israel. Once this work has been accomplished God will allow them to be destroyed by another rising empire. In verses 15-16 we see a more thorough overview of judgement that will come at the time of Babylon’s fall. Once again it will be the same for the last days. We should be able to appreciate the sovereignty of God through these verses. The Medes and Persians will show no desire for gold or silver which means that they will not be able to be assuaged when the Babylonians begin pleading for their lives (vs 17-18). They were receiving the same judgements that they meted out to others. They were cruel oppressors and as a result were shown no mercy when the Medes and Persians moved in. There is again strong evidence of a dual fulfilment when seeing the magnitude of desolation that will come upon Babylon. The once glorious and illustrious empire will be brought to its knees suffering an even worse fate than Sodom and Gomorrah (vs 19-22).
It was the Lord that was allowing His beloved Israel to be brought into captivity in Babylon. It was also the Lord who spoke words of encouragement and hope to them in the midst of these pronounced judgments. Here again is a dual fulfilment; there will be a period of restoration after Babylon under men like Joshua, Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. There will also be a restoration of Israel to God after the fall of Babylon the great in the Book of Revelation. This will commence the millennial reign of Christ. In verse 2 it speaks of nations and peoples that will serve under Israel after the taking back of the land. This did not happen after Israel’s first return but will be evident during the millennium (vs 1-3). In verses 4-7 we see that no one will come to the aid of the Babylonians when they are destroyed. This of course took place the night of Belshazzar’s feast (Dan 5). One moment they were toasting the god of forces, having their drunken orgies and seemingly being on top of the world. They could not perceive that the handwriting was on the wall until it was too late. Is this not the case today? Are we able to perceive the signs and see all that is taking place? The signs are everywhere; the handwriting is upon the wall but who is paying attention? The enemy seems to have the ascendancy without restraint and one wonders when things will change. As believer’s we best prepare now for what is coming; if we are unbelievers then even more so. In this transition of power from Babylon to the Medes and Persians there is an initial period of rest and rejoicing. This is the case when the judgements of God come upon the earth. The predominant evil has been destroyed and it’s the righteous judgments of God that has come forth resulting in rest and rejoicing (vs 7).
In verses 9-12 we have one of those instances where Isaiah is actually speaking against the king of Babylon as well as Satan. The similarity of humiliation and judgement upon the king gives a clear window into what the fall of the antichrist and Satan will be like in the end. The prowess of the antichrist and Satan has been immense but they soon become reduced to like one of the other kings of the earth. The power and anointing they functioned under came from God and it will be recognized at this time of humiliation for the fallen.
In verses 13-14 we have what are known as the 5 “I wills” of Satan. One can see the abominable pride, presumption and arrogance in his seeking to take the place of God. This will be the heart of the antichrist when he comes upon the earth. It will be the dragon (Satan) that will energise him and give him his authority and power (Rev 13:2). He will lead the ultimate rebellion against God by martialling the ungodly elements from the earth. These 5 “I wills” are very similar to what was expressed through Nimrod when he sought to lead men in rebellion against God at Babel. How did this rebellion materialize in Nimrod? He can be traced through the lineage of Ham as being one of his grandsons. It was Ham who exploited the vulnerability of his father Noah. This opened the door for Satan to move upon Nimrod in even stronger measure. The enemy seems to be able to make inroads when he detects vulnerability. How do we respond when leadership appears vulnerable? Do we expose them or cover them? How we respond not only says a lot about us it either opens or closes a door to the enemy.
What was it that caused Lucifer to rebel against God? He was once a beautiful creation of God who led the angelic hosts in worship to the Most High God. The Bible says he had this position until iniquity was found in him (Eze 28:15). The key is to always look upon God as the one who has given gifts and anointing’s lest we get caught up in ourselves; taking credit for that which God has given. The Apostle Paul clearly understood this knowing that whatever he became it was solely due to the grace of God. Pride is an abhorrent evil and we must allow God to deal with this nature. It can be subtle and undetected which may require God to deal uniquely in eradicating this evil. Pride is associated with Leviathan as seen in Job 42; it’s a well-entrenched serpent that wraps itself around its prey. We must be vigilant, especially as believers and do all we can to not let it take hold.
In verses 15-20 we see judgements that will come upon the king of Babylon but judgements that will also be applied to the antichrist and Satan. These verses cite the damage that was done through the workings of the kings of Babylon and later the antichrist and Satan.
In verses 14-28 we see the judgements being prophesied against the Assyrians. This particular prophecy was pronounced during the reign of King Ahaz around 715 BC and it was fulfilled about 15 years later during the reign of his son King Hezekiah. The Assyrians have already purged the northern tribe of Israel some 7 years earlier. In verses 29-32 the word of the Lord is pronounced against Philistia or the Philistines. There is an interesting sequence of interpretations in this one verse. The Philistines have been an adversary against Israel, even to this day. They were rejoicing that King Uzziah was dead thinking that things would become easier for them with regard to Israel. The Word of the Lord spoke of an ever greater king which refers to Hezekiah as the cockatrice and then an even greater threat being the Lord Jesus Christ as the flying serpent. The day will come when Israel will utterly destroy the Philistines at the time of the 2nd coming and people will come to trust the Lord who will be reigning in Zion (vs 32).
The nation of Moab is addressed in this chapter. This nation was conceived due to an illicit relationship between Lot and his daughter after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two nations of Ammon and Moab came forth as a result of this unholy union. It is known today as modern day Jordan. A wonderful highlight out of Moab would have been Ruth. It demonstrates the extent that God can go in redeeming and cleansing the roots of the illicit seed. It gives hope to each and every one of us that the blood of Jesus can cleanse to the uttermost. One of the differences of the judgements that come upon Moab as opposed to other nations is that there is a certain lament on the part of the Lord. Why is this? Perhaps we can consider at least two reasons:
First, the blood of Moab flowed through the veins of David seeing that his great great grandmother would have been Ruth. Secondly, we see many of the cities mentioned in Moab 15-16 are the very cities that were inhabited by the 2 ½ tribes that settled on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Compare these two chapters with Num 32:3. These were cities that the 2 ½ tribes took as part of their inheritance and perhaps this is the reason why there is added woes in the pronounced Judgements. In verses 6-9 we get a glimpse of the destruction that will come upon Moab by way of the Assyrians. The 2 ½ tribes settled for an inferior inheritance and had no idea of the future judgements that would come upon their place of inheritance. We should keep in mind that it was primarily through the prophetic ministry of Balaam that inferior inheritances were taken. This is why vision is so important. This is similar to what Lot came to know in Sodom. He saw the land and it looked good but he had no clue what was in store. Abraham looked for a city whose founder and maker was God (Heb 11:8-10). The vision that a person or a church carries is of paramount importance. What looks good today can fall apart tomorrow. May God at all times be our vision!
There is one primary theme that radiates through the whole of this one-chapter letter from Paul to Philemon. It is the theme of Restoration. This is a private letter that Paul is sending forth to one of his sons in the faith. There are so many truths and gems to draw from this beautiful letter. Paul introduces this letter as one who is a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He cites Philemon as a fellow labourer in the Lord. He then extends his familiar greeting of grace and peace while expressing thanksgiving for Philemon and making known his prayers for him. It is obvious that Paul had deep affection for his brother Philemon.
There is an interesting truth that can be drawn from verse 5. Paul speaks of the faith and love that flows forth from his life towards the saints. This is a statement of great maturity as it relates to Philemon. It speaks of a man who is flowing and ministering from a position of agape love. We will later see where Peter speaks about adding to the foundation of faith in our life culminating later in agape love (2 Pet 1:5-8). Here we see the reverse. Paul is citing Philemon as one who has come into the position of agape love which now releases faith to produce miracles and fulfil the plan and purpose of God. Can we appreciate the difference between what Peter is exhorting the church and what Paul is saying here concerning Philemon (2 Pet 1:5-7, Philemon 1:5)? The difference can be seen in verse 6 where the communication of Philemon’s faith is effectual. The faith of God is flowing out of agape love. Whenever the Lord was moved with compassion in the gospels there would be an accompanying miracle. Jesus was moved with compassion (agape love) towards those he ministered to meaning that the faith operating through Him was effectual. This was the kind of man that Philemon was. In verse 7-9 we see Paul rejoicing in all the good reports that were coming forth concerning Philemon. Remember, Paul was a man in prison so these kinds of reports always served as an added benefit for him. It brought consolation and comfort as he endured his chains.
In verse 10 he gets to the matter of that which he is writing. He now speaks of a brother named Onesimus who he actually calls a son. His name means (profitable) and Paul plays on his name by saying that he was once an (unprofitable) servant to you (Philemon). What was the manner of relationship of Onesimus to Philemon? He was a salve who served under Philemon. Slavery was permitted in those days. The slaves had absolutely no rights or means of appeal; they served at the behest of their masters. Onesimus apparently ran away from Philemon and probably stole some of his goods. This would normally be an automatic death sentence. How then did Onesimus come into contact with Paul? Paul was in prison and it’s clear that Onesimus ended up in the same prison at the same time Paul was there. Onesimus became a “profitable” son to Paul; he became converted under the mentoring of Paul and now Paul is looking to send him back to his former master. Paul would never place such a burden on anyone if he was not convinced of the change of character in one’s life. In fact, Paul was desirous of retaining him to be a continual blessing (vs 13). Paul came to know of the background of the relationship of Onesimus to Philemon. He now desires to have him return to his former master. This is no small request that Paul is presenting to Philemon. Onesimus as a runaway slave could have been put to death with no questions asked. Paul was now requesting Philemon to take him back. Paul in his letter seeks to explain an overall perspective of this situation. In verse 15 he speaks that it may have been God’s will that he departed for a season for the purpose of reaping a greater blessing in future. This is often how God operates but we cannot see it in the early stages. God’s heart is always looking for opportunities for restoration. The process that leads to such restoration is one that man could not conjure up on his own. Paul is trying to give Philemon perspective; to see a bigger picture in this matter of Onesimus.
Here is where we see the message of restoration take on a whole new meaning. In verse 16 Paul is requesting that Philemon receives him as a brother, not just as a slave or servant. He then goes on to say to Philemon that if he were to regard Paul as a father and partner; if he respected Paul’s authority then he should receive Onesimus as if he were receiving Paul. Think about that for a moment. The great Apostle Paul, a man who is so well known throughout Asia is saying to one of his sons to receive a former runaway slave as if it were Paul coming himself. This gives meaning to the Words that Jesus shared in Math 25:33-40. In doing these things unto others it’s as if we are doing it unto the Lord. He then goes on to speak of any debt that may be owed and if so to put it on Paul’s account (vs 18). Paul recognized that a debt was owed to Philemon. Paul willingly took responsibility for whatever debt was owed to Philemon. Is this not the same thing that Jesus did for us? Jesus took responsibility for a debt we could never repay. Paul saw that Onesimus did not have the means to repay so he assumed responsibility. This is the hallmark of a priest as well. They take responsibility for the sins of a people and nation while making intercession to God. Paul makes abundantly clear that whatever debt is owed he will repay it (vs 19). He was giving Philemon the equivalent of a blank check.
Paul knew that Philemon would respond to his request. He was in a position where he could have asserted authority but he wanted to give Philemon the privilege of making the decision. I have experienced this in my years of working in India. My authority who was president of our International Fellowship oftentimes deferred to me regarding decisions to be made on the field. He could have easily told me what to do but he allowed me to grow and mature in the decision making process. This is wisdom in a leader and we see it here on display in how Paul is relating to Philemon. Paul had every confidence that Philemon would do what he was requesting and even to go above and beyond (vs 21).
There is a beautiful final footnote to this story. There are historians who conclude that Onesimus who was the once runaway slave and thief later became the bishop over Ephesus. Is this not a true picture of what the message of Restoration is all about? God is able to bring a beggar to the throne. This letter to Philemon serves as a perfect blueprint for the church of the last days. God’s heart is for restoration and we need to have the enlarged heart that Paul had and the forgiving and enlarged heart of Philemon. Both qualities are required in being able to receive and help the Onesimus’s that will be flooding the nets of harvest in the revival to come.