ISAIAH 46:1 – 48:22 and HEBREWS 10:19–39
The Word of the Lord now addresses the chief gods of the Babylonians. Bel and Nebo were the initial deities that Babylon established as gods of worship. You can even see how some of the kings took on their names (Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar). In the end the Word of the Lord makes clear that these gods have no power and no ability to deliver the Babylonians in their time of judgement. These gods were among those being celebrated the night of King Belshazzar’s feast which happened to be their last night as an empire (Dan 5:4-5). This verse has similarities to the destruction of Dagon who was the chief god of the Philistines when they boasted of their victory over Israel (1 Sam 5). There are seasons when the enemies of God will seem to be in the ascendancy but their time will come when God allows judgement to come upon them.
The Lord reminds Israel that it is He who carries them from the time of their birth throughout the whole of their lives. The idols that men serve are manufactured and have to be carried about which in the end have no power (vs 3-4). The Lord then reaffirms this very same truth in verses 5-7 where the idols have to be crafted and carried upon shoulders. It is clear that the Lord is trying to emphasize this truth over and over again. Remember, it is idolatry on Israel’s part that is leading them into captivity. They will be forced to serve and bow down to the idols of Babylon which in the end will be judged. God in His mercy is trying to present to Israel the big picture. We need to ask the question as to what are the idols that man (we) serve today? It would be dangerous as modern day believers to sit smugly and judge Israel for their foolish allegiance to idols and think that we are somehow immune. The truth is we are more accountable. An idol is something that takes the place of God in one’s life. Do the things we live for and occupy our time with have the ability to save us in the end? It would be wisdom on our part to see the counterparts to the idols seen in Isaiah’s day with modern day examples such as sports, movies and other recreational pursuits. The danger comes when a proper balance is lost. Let’s believe God for the big picture so that we can heed the warnings that Isaiah was making to Israel of old.
The Lord continues His message of trying to convince His people of the foolishness of pursuing idols. It is God who is able to declare the end from the beginning; it is God who is able to establish and make His counsel stand. Why is it then that people, especially God’s own people continue to serve and pursue other gods? It just does not make any sense and yet it continues. It goes to show how easily distracted people can become and it continues on today.
The Lord concludes by pleading with His people to hear his voice and instruction; that they would turn from serving idols. There will come a time when righteousness and salvation will reside in Zion. This is a promise that has implication for the last days. The prophet Joel confirms this in Joel 2:32. In spite of Israel’s disobedience, God in His long-suffering and mercy extends the promise of a future restoration.
Joel 2:32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.
There are judgments pronounced upon Babylon that will have several applications. The judgement upon Babylon under Cyrus is included here but so are the future judgments upon the Babylon’s mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev 17-18). This helps to make clear that what we see during Isaiah’s day has absolute relevance for our day. This truth should help to heighten our interest in the study of God’s Word; to see it as more than just a historical journey but one which gives insight for living today. The Word of the Lord uses the term “The lady of kingdoms” in describing Babylon. The cities represented by Babylon, especially in our modern day will often have fashion as was one of the prominent pursuits. The Lord states that He will make bare the lady of kingdoms; he will cut away the veneer of their garments which hides their evil and idolatrous heart. This chapter draws together the two Babylon’s seen in Israel’s history. It helps for us to identify trends that we can apply to our world. The judgments that are being pronounced are significant and they will have repercussions that will extend far beyond the boundaries of Babylon.
Rev 18:8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
Rev 18:9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
Rev 18:10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
Rev 18:11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
In verses 7-8 we see another problem that is existent in Babylon. It is their heightened pride; that sense of invincibility that nothing can stand in their way. This pride can be seen back in Genesis where the first mention of Babylon is seen. Through the leadership of Nimrod we see a picture of a man who sought to become like God in his attempt to build a tower to the heavens (Gen 11:1-7). It was pride that brought Lucifer from his heavenly position of the anointed cherub. It was idolatry that led Israel into Babylonian captivity but at the core it was pride that will result in its ultimate destruction. I guess we can say that the fruits of idolatry lead to pride. The ability to be cleansed of idols will go a long way in keeping us humble and contrite before the Living God. It is scary to see how subtle pride can be in its development within a person. It is a problem in today’s church where people and leaders begin to get caught up in their own success. One begins to lose their reliance upon God while trusting in their own abilities.
In verses 9-10 we see the sudden destruction that comes upon Babylon. The empire of Babylon fell in one night in the midst of Belshazzar’s pride. The fall of Nebuchadnezzar came in an instant, when in his pride he took credit for all that was done in his kingdom (Dan 4). The same scenario will take place in the last days when we see the sudden destructions that will come upon both mystery and natural Babylon. The Bible continually warns that we come out from among this system. As believer’s we need to echo and remind ourselves of the words of the apostle Paul. “I am what I am by the grace of God”(1 Cor 15:10).
In one final warning God again emphasizes that the destructions upon Babylon will come suddenly upon them. This certainly was the case at the time of Belshazzar’s feast. They were in a drunken stupor (spiritually and naturally) not even knowing that the enemy was scaling their walls. What shakes me today is that a similar stupor has come upon the world and the church. There is evidence all-around of pending judgement. Yes, there will be great glory and revival that will come in these last days but are we really preparing for all that is about to take place? Even in our churches our pursuits and interests do not reflect the intensity and tension of the hour. The saints of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 have laid a foundation that needs to be fulfilled by the church of the last days. Are we truly in a position to finish the task?
There is warning given to the people of God in this chapter to keep their eyes upon God and what He is doing in the church and what He is speaking to our individual lives. There is the tendency to over speculate about end time events at the expense of our personal walk with the Lord. We take comfort that we are safely situated in a church and serving God but are we hearing all that God is saying? Are we preparing ourselves for all that is coming? I speak this from experience as one that tends to get overly caught up to what is happening in the world. It is important that we keep a close eye on events but not at the expense of personal responsibility before the Lord. This is a warning that God is bringing forth within the first two verses.
In verse 3 the Lord once again speaks of His ability to declare unto them the former things. How far does the Lord have to go to prove that His Word and warnings are true? This is even more relevant for us seeing that we have the advantage of history in observing the dealings of God. The Lord knew how stubborn and stiff necked HIs people were in that they would attribute victory to their idols. It is long before these events take place that the Lord is declaring what He will do. Still, they will not give glory to God. In verses 7-8 the Lord speaks of new things that will come to pass concerning Babylon that could not have been known before. Remember, he even called Cyrus by name 150 years before his birth. The Lord seems to be hitting on a familiar theme within these verses and to me it is all rooted in pride. They cannot come to the place of acknowledging God as the one who ultimately brings their deliverance. What does this mean to us today? Is it possible to acknowledge God as deliverer and yet be filled with pride? I feel this is what the Lord is addressing through these verses. We can say that we thank God and acknowledge Him yet do things or serve Him on our own terms. One of the attributes of God that the Apostle Paul emphasized was that we walk in humility, having humbleness of mind. The Word of the Lord throughout these chapters in Isaiah is addressing the pride of Babylon. Threaded in these warnings is a message for us concerning pride. If we ever become anything for God, it will be strictly due to His grace and mercy. It is a truth that will never change.
In spite of Israel’s refusal to hear and obey God’s Word He defers His anger and judgment; He will not cut them off forever due to His goodness and longsuffering. This was the plea that Moses made on Israel’s behalf when the Lord threatened to cut off Israel while raising up Moses to be a great name. One of the more popular verses of this chapter is the following:
Isa 48:10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
This was true of Israel but certainly true for the church. It is a process that the Lord employs in bringing us into that position of being chosen. Jesus spoke about many who are called but only a few who are actually chosen (Math 22:14). How do we move from amongst the called to the chosen? How do we move from the Outer Court into the Holy Place? It is in allowing the Lord to bring us through a process of fiery trials. It is allowing the work of the wilderness to reveal and change our heart (Deu 8:2). It is a process that many Christians choose to refuse. They would rather opt for a life of Christian convenience where they can bypass God’s instrument of refining. If this is our heart, we will never come into that place of being among the chosen. Each and every Christian will come to a certain point of decision in their walk. It is our choice and it is this choice that will determine whether we be of the called only company or those who are chosen. Will we take the broad way or narrow way?
Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
The Lord refers to Himself as the Alpha and Omega to Israel (vs 12-14). He will speak of Himself in the same manner when John writes the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:8). He is before all things, knows all things and will complete all things. This comprehensive insight into God should help Israel to have a right perspective concerning their situation. It should dissolve any thoughts of relying and trusting in idols. It is due to His deep love for Israel that he will ultimately judge Babylon. The Lord speaks of the benefits to Israel after their captivity; they will be purified and changed (vs 15). This is true for our respective Babylonian experiences. If seen and appropriated properly it can result in a personal cleansing in needed areas of our lives. The prophet reminds Israel that if they would have only hearkened and listened to God they could have avoided all of these judgements. It goes back to the exhortations of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy to keep and uphold the laws of God. There is protection in the seeking and upholding of God’s ordinances and statutes however there are consequences when they are violated. Throughout the entire course of Biblical history this has never changed.
Finally, in verse 22 it is stated that there is no peace for the wicked. It is the Peace of God that serves as an ultimate weapon against the works and power of the evil one (Psa 37:37, Rom 16:20). He goes to and fro throughout the earth as one who knows no rest. As Christians we must work hard in not getting caught up in the strong currents of restlessness. It is a very real danger because oftentimes our restlessness stems from excess ministry. It is now more than ever when the people of God need to enter into that position of true Rest.
Paul will now speak of a new and living way regarding the working of the law. He describes the Law in the Old Testament as a shadow of the real. A man who casts a shadow is manifesting a figure but it is not the real thing. It is only an image of the real. That perfectly describes the ordinances that were observed in the Old Testament. The Law of the Old Testament could never make a man perfect or Holy. The Levitical offerings could never purge and take away sin, they were only a shadow of the real that was to come. These shadows were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul is now presenting Jesus, the one the Jews crucified, in a different way. In the previous chapters we saw Him as the greater High Priest. Paul now presents Him as the One who fulfilled the Law and the Levitical sacrifices. Paul shows them that there had to be a continual offering for sin through the years but with Christ it is a once for all fulfilment (vs 2-4).
Paul makes a reference to a statement that David made as recorded in Psa 40:6 (vs 4). God is not looking for animal sacrifices to satisfy Him but rather is after those who willingly surrender their minds and hearts to Him. The sacrifices of animals were merely a type or shadow of the One who would bring pleasure to the Father; one who would delight in doing His will and pleasure. God is honoured when we give ear to what He speaks and then go about doing what He says.
Jas 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
Paul speaks a similar theme when writing to the Romans. We are to present our bodies as a Living Sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. The Lord was consumed with doing the will of the Father even right up to the end. The ultimate will of the Father for His Son was that He would partake of the cup (Luke 22:42). This meant that He was to become sin and take the weight of sin to the Cross and die. This involved separation from the loving gaze of the Father in exchange in seeing His wrath released in great fury as sin was judged. His delighting in the Father’s will needs to be our delighting. It is a worthy prayer in asking the Lord to help us in delighting to do His will. In verse 11 Paul speaks of the priests who were still doing the daily ministering at the temple of offering sacrifices. The Lord had already come and fulfilled the very sacrifices that the priests were still carrying on with in the temple. This is the point that Paul is seeking to get across to His audience. Everything they were practicing and doing in their daily services was fulfilled in His one great sacrifice (vs 14).
The New Covenant is illustrated in verses 15-16. This covenant is the Law of God being written and emblazoned on the fleshly tables of the heart. It is not a matter of do’s and don’ts but more that we be an expression of all that the Law entails. Though the New Covenant was mentioned in the Old Testament it never could be a reality until Christ would come as the Saviour of mankind. Man could never fulfil the law outside of Christ and its accompanying grace supplied by the Holy Spirit. Paul is letting it be known that there is now a new and living way by which man can live. It is possible to have the Law and all that it entails written and placed within the heart of man. This is the New Covenant and it is what God is ultimately after.
We will later see in our study through Ezekiel that God gives the promise of a new heart and Spirit; a heart of flesh and not of stone (Eze 36:26-27). The offering for sin was a once for all offering. There is no further need of Christ or anyone else to make a sacrifice. His offering is sufficient in dealing with past sins, present sins and sins that are committed in future. Let’s be clear; though the offering of Christ for sin was a once for all offering there does need to be appropriation of the shed blood of Christ for future sins. As we walk in the light of God and His glory we will come to the place of acknowledging issues in our lives. What do we do at that moment? Do we ignore these issues and simply carry on with life? Do we hide and cover-up these areas? Yes, the blood of Christ is a once for all sacrifice but there needs to be the appropriating of that once for all sacrifice when we sin. If we continually reject the dealings of God, we can lose the experience of our salvation. God has given us the ability to reason and make choices. In the end we will be a product of the choices we make in life which serves as a reflection of what is in our heart. This is why the New Covenant reality is so important. It gets to the root of the sin issue in our lives. A good definition of the New Covenant is its ability to get to the root where all sin originates which is in the heart.
One of the most precious invitations given to the early church is the ability to enter in the holy of holies (vs 19). We can do so because of the blood of Jesus that was shed. The veil of separation was torn away providing the means of access for all believers. It still requires the believer to possess the priestly attributes that were signified by the Old Testament High Priest. We are given the opportunity to be priests and kings to God so that we can have that access. Just because we are born again believers does not mean we automatically become kings and priests; they are made after the order of our great high priest Jesus Christ (Rev 5:10).
Rev 5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
The key is not just to be able to enter within the veil but to dwell there as well. This was the cry of David when he asked the question, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? In our lives we do not want to just be fruitful but to have fruit that abides (vs 21-25). There are warnings given to those who tasted of the Lord’s goodness only to turn aside or to go back all together. God is merciful, loving and kind but he is also a Judge. As believers we cannot choose to live a life that is contrary to His ways and expect to escape any consequences. There are those in scripture who sinned against God and found no mercy or repentance from God. The examples of Saul, Esau and Judas are examples that come to mind. You then have people like David who sinned and yet found mercy and forgiveness. He was guilty of adultery and murder and yet God forgave and restored him. David had a heart that pleased the Lord; an ability to respond to truth and the light. When he was confronted by Nathan he immediately acknowledged his iniquity. How do we handle the Truth? Do we embrace it, do we acknowledgement Truth when confronted by it? Rejecting, denying and hiding from the Truth does something to our hearts. Over time it will become hardened, calloused and seared making it difficult for the Word of God to penetrate the heart and becoming fruitful. God has no pleasure in those who draw back and turn away from His daily provision of grace. His desire is that we be a people who are ever pressing on in the things of God. A seeking heart that is pure and undefiled is what brings great pleasure to God. Paul is not only magnifying Christ as the great high priest he is demonstrating a new and greater way in which man can live. The Old Testament shadows and types not only pointed to Christ but they also showed how one can live on a daily basis so that we become more and more like the Son of God.