God, our Father, gives us many figures, images and ways in which to learn and develop in our relationship with Him. He knows, because He made us, how different each of us are. That difference is clearly seen for example, in what interests us. I have absolutely no interest in economics. But I am fascinated by the natural world and how it is interpreted by science. But for most of us, in the secular world and within our faith community, science is like watching grass grow!
Our reading in Isaiah today (chapter 14) was very real for those to whom Isaiah’s message came. It must have been particularly encouraging for those who, like Isaiah, were faithful in Israel. It is based on a biblical theme and the imagery associated with two cities—Babylon and Zion.
As many of us know, Isaiah 14 is not about Satan, the devil, as some Christians wrongly believe. The “Lucifer” (verse 14 – King James version) of this chapter is a poor translation. However, even though it is, Isaiah is clear that his taunt was against a man (v 16), the king of Babylon (v 4). When Isaiah spoke these words, the power threatening the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, were the Assyrians and the emerging Babylonians. As a prophet, Isaiah was providing his credentials in telling and warning God’s people what was going to come. In king Ahaz’s Judah, there was the view that they could save themselves from what was happening around them, particularly the aggressive and threatening Syrians, their immediate neighbour, by simply relying on a stronger, greater power. Don’t we see that today in unfaithful Israel’s behaviour? So Ahaz entered into an alliance with the Assyrians to try and save his kingdom. It wasn’t going to work and God’s message through Isaiah was that God would use both the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish the disobedience and unfaithfulness of His people and their kings.
But what about faithful Isaiah and those in Israel and Judah who trusted God and His kindness? God never disappoints His people in any age. Imagine how these words would have sounded for those to whom Isaiah spoke them:
“On the day the LORD gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labour forced on you, you will take up this taunt…..” (v 3).God WOULD give them relief. He promised! Isaiah then describes how God will punish Assyria (v 25) and Babylon. So complete will this work of God be, that He says, “I will wipe out Babylon’s name and survivors, her offspring and descendants…his yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders” (v 22-25). But this was not simply for king Ahaz or his son, Hezekiah—it is for a day still to come because God says:“This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (vv 26, 27).
So how does this relate to a tale about two cities? Well, notice how God in this chapter speaks of wiping out Babylon’s name and says, “the LORD has established Zion and in her his afflicted people will find refuge!” (v 32).From our perspective, we are able to look back through 2,000 years at Jesus and his last prophecy. In Revelation, Babylon’s destruction is foretold (Revelation 17 & 18). While we can understand that Babylon’s destruction included the boastfulness of secular Rome and its subsequent evolution into the religious power, Babylon has ever been the persecutor of God’s people. The boastfulness of the king of Isaiah 14 has always been its hallmark. “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4 v 30). Babylon has always boasted against God and elevated itself above Him. There is surely some irony that a current world ‘leader’ has similarly boasted that he will make his nation great again. It has always been so! As God brought down the king of Babylon wiping out its name, so He will act again and humble proud and wicked men and women.
So what about us? For some who will read this, you are being persecuted by boastful and arrogant men who have pretended to elevate themselves above God. Some of you now reside fearfully in foreign lands and anxiously wait on the compassion of governments who are suspicious of you and would send you back to your persecutors. Our prayers are with you because we know the God who made these promises in Isaiah’s day, will know your plight and He WILL deliver you.But all of us must learn this lesson. The writer to the Hebrews gives us a faithful example:“Abraham made his home….like a stranger in a foreign country….for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11 vv 8 – 10).
Later, the same writer tells us that we have come to “mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”. Zion, the city God favours (Psalm 48) and all it represents, should define how we think and act. “The LORD has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge!”As we commence another week, dear ones in the Lord Jesus, may we reject Babylon and its boastful ways, teachings and philosophies. After all, it is a name which God will wipe out. But reflect on this promise in the week ahead:“Of Zion it will be said, this one and that one were born in her, and the most High himself will establish her”. The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “this one (that’s you and me!) was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87).
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