Isaiah 18:1 – 19:25 A Message concerning Ethiopia and Egypt


Concerning Ethiopia (18:1-7): This prophecy was probably given in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19-20). The King of Ethiopia had heard that Assyria’s great army was marching south toward them. He sent messengers up the Nile asking the surrounding nations to form an alliance. Judah was also asked to join, but Isaiah told the messengers to return home because Judah needed only God’s help to repel the Assyrians. Isaiah prophesied that Assyria would be destroyed at the proper time (37:21-38). This passage concerning Ethiopia (Cush) provides the transition to the following oracle which is explicitly concerning Egypt. In fact, chapter 18 introduces a block of material spanning chapter’s 18, 19, and 20, all of which are concerned with Egypt in one way or another.

Concerning Egypt (19:1-25): Chapter 18 has established the general context within which this chapter is to be read and understood. It is still Egypt as a potential ally against Assyria which is in view. The message is the same as it has been. Judah will find no security in looking to Egypt. On the contrary, Egypt’s only help is in Judah’s God, whom she is destined finally to acknowledge as her God also. There are two parts in this passage, the first (vv. 1-15) shows the Lord coming to Egypt to visit devastating judgment upon her; the second (vv. 16-25) points to her ultimate repentance and incorporation into the kingdom of God. So this chapter resonates with two great themes of prophetic preaching: judgment and salvation.

Judgment (19:1-15): By Isaiah’s time Egypt’s era of imperialistic glory, the New Kingdom period, was long since past and the land was ruled by Ethiopians. In the succeeding centuries she was to be a prize sought after and seized by one ambitious tyrant after another. Again and again Egypt proved to be an ineffective and unreliable ally of the small states of Palestine in their struggles against Assyria and Babylon. In three stanzas Isaiah identifies Egypt’s three crucial weaknesses: her religion (vv. 1-4), her total dependence on the Nile (vv. 5-10) and her false wisdom (vv. 11-15). Egypt’s religion was idolatrous and polytheistic, and had its natural reflex in social fragmentation. It could not unite the nation, and a nation without unity cannot long endure. Humanly speaking, the Nile was Egypt’s lifeline. Should the Nile fail, so would all the nation’s life-sustaining activity. The encroaching desert would soon swallow it up and turn it into a wasteland. And finally, its wise men were fools. Because they lacked any understanding of the Lord’s plans, they were powerless to counteract them. With such counselors Pharaoh, and all Egypt with him, would stagger blindly into disgrace and ruin.

Salvation (19:16-25): Here, as so often in Isaiah, the expression “in that day” points beyond the immediate horizon of unfolding historical events to what will finally be the case when the Lord’s purposes are fully realized. The opening segment (vv. 16-17) moves against the background of verses 1-15 and indicates that the first step towards Egypt’s incorporation into the kingdom of God will be fear, fear that arises from judgment already experienced and from the prospect of even worse to come. Such fear is a healthy thing. It leads here to the second segment (v. 18), Isaiah sees an eventual turning to the Lord so complete that some cities, including one which had been the center for worship of the sun god that will go so far as to adopt the language of Canaan (Hebrew). The third segment (vv. 19-22) shows the new allegiance of the Egyptians being expressed in action and experience. Egypt will acknowledge the Lord even as Israel knows Him. The final segments in verses 23 and 24-25 show us a world in which open borders and common worship witness the fact that ancient hostilities are at last resolved (v. 23), and in which Israel finally fulfils the destiny marked out for her in the promises made to Abraham so long ago: a blessing on the earth (v. 24b). It will be a peace brought about not by human might or wisdom, but by the Lord Almighty, whose blessing closes the chapter, arching over the whole scene like a brilliant rainbow (v. 25).

There are many questions left unanswered here, but if we are to be guided by the broad sweep of Isaiah’s vision as the rest of the book unfolds it to us, we will not look for fulfillment of this dream in some political or religious realignment of nations in the Middle East, nor or in the future. We will seek it rather in the eventual triumph of God’s kingdom through the suffering, death and exaltation of Israel’s Messiah, and ours. True worship is based on reconciliation and there is no way to true reconciliation that bypasses the cross.

Isaiah 18:1 – 19:25 Reflection Questions:

Are you relying on God’s help daily?

What message do you get about God’s patience in this study concerning Egypt?

What are some weaknesses that you need to bring to God for his help?

What does the fear of the Lord mean to you? Do you have a healthy fear of God?

Isaiah 17:1-14 A Message Concerning Damascus and Israel

by Larry Ferrell | March 23, 2018
Assyria was the destroyer of both Syria and Israel (Ephraim). Damascus fell after a ruinous siege in 732 BC, and Samaria (the capital of Israel) a decade later in 722 BC. In verses 4-6 three images depict Israel’s condition after her collapse. She will be like an emaciated man whose fat has disappeared, leaving him lean and skeletal (v. 4), like a reaped field in which only a few stalks remain for the poor to glean (v. 5), and like a grove of olive trees that have been so thoroughly beaten that only a few pieces of fruit remain on the highest branches (v. 6). The same condition is described in verse 9.

In one sense, of course, Israel’s fall was simply the result of her foolish collusion with Syria. But it had deeper roots. Isaiah probes these directly in verses 10-11, and indirectly in the pivotal passage in verses 7-8. At heart her undoing was her long history of idolatry, which had eroded her single-minded commitment to the Lord, and opened her to a politics of convenience and worldly wisdom instead of trust.

The worship of the Canaanites consisted largely of the performance of rites which were thought to induce fertility in flock and field by a kind of sympathetic magic. One such rite appears to underlie verses 10-11 with their mention of finest plants and imported vines. Seedlings were induced to grow and blossom at an artificially rapid rate, probably at a shrine. But of course the evidence which they appeared to give of the potency of the god was false, and participation in such rites by Israelites showed that they had turned their backs on the Lord, and only One who could have given them security (v. 10a). As the plants soon withered, so would the hopes of the worshippers (v. 11b).

In verses 7-8, at the center of the passage, idolatry is described in more familiar terms. A contrast is drawn between gods that are made by human beings, Asherah poles, and incense altars (v. 8), and the one true God who is the Maker of all things (v. 7). And a day is spoken of when people will finally recognize the folly of idolatry and acknowledge the supremacy of Israel’s God. Isaiah foresees a day when people everywhere will finally forsake their man-made gods. The Lord’s immediate purpose is to induce Israel to do so, and judgment is the means He will use to bring it about. The repentance of Israel is central to His wider purposes, as the pivotal position of verses 7-8 suggests. He has declared war on idolatry.

Isaiah 17:1-14 Reflection Questions:
What do the verses 4-6 remind you of about our spiritual condition?
What in your life is eroding your commitment to the Lord?
Has God won the war of idolatry in your life?

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Introduction to the Vision of Isaiah

by Larry Ferrell | November 6, 2017
Slowly he rose, and the crowd fell silent. Those at the back leaned forward, straining to hear. The atmosphere was electric. He spoke and his carefully chosen words flew like swift arrows and found their mark. The great man a spokesman for God was warning – and condemning. The crowd became restless – shifting positions, clenching fists, and murmuring. Some agreed with his message, nodding their heads and weeping softly. But most were angry, and they began to shout back insults and threats. Such was the life of a prophet.
The book of Isaiah is the first of the writings of the prophets in the Bible, and Isaiah, the author, is generally considered to be the greatest prophet. He was probably reared in an aristocratic home and was married to a prophet. In the beginning of his ministry he was well liked. But, like most prophets, he soon became unpopular because his messages were so difficult to hear. He called the people to turn from their lives of sin and warned them of God’s judgment and punishment. Isaiah had an active ministry for 60 years before he was executed during Manasseh’s reign (according to tradition).

The vision of Isaiah (Is.1:1-2)
These opening lines are like the first stirring chords of the overture to a great oratorio. They summon us to listen and give us the first indication of the character of the work we are about to hear. We Are told a once of both the human agency and the divine origin of the vision. It’s the vision of ‘Isaiah son of Amoz’; he saw it, lived it and died for it. In this sense his vision comes to us clothed in a human person, alive with human passion and cast in human language. It’s the human aspect of the vision that makes it accessible to us. But at the same time it has a quality that transcends this. The very term ‘vision’, especially in this and similar contexts, stands for divine revelation. It’s received by a human person, but originates outside him. At the most fundamental level, it’s God’s vision, and exists only because ‘the Lord has spoken’.
The vision which is introduced here spans the whole sixty-six chapters of the book. It is big in terms of its sheer bulk; but more significantly, it is conceptually big. The vision begins with heaven and earth being summoned to listen (1:2), and it ends with their being so affected by what they hear that they are transformed into new heavens and a new earth (66:22). It’s about renewal on a massive scale; the re-creation of the universe. At the heart of Isaiah’s vision is the startling revelation that the Messiah must suffer. Its sharpest focus is on the one who came to the window for us all. That is, if you like, the depth of it, the truth that lies in the center. But like a well-cut diamond, the vision has surface as well as depth, and we will be able to appreciate its many facets only as we attend carefully to the way it has been shaped and presented to us as Holy Scripture.
As we read and study Isaiah, imagine this strong and courageous man of God, fearlessly proclaiming God’s Word, and listen to his message in relation to your own life – return, repent, and be renewed. Then trust in God’s redemption through Christ and rejoice. Your Savior has come, and he’s coming again!

Reflection Questions:
Have you ever had a dream or vision that you knew was from God? If so, what was your response?
Open your heart and mind to God’s word as we work through this study and act on what He is telling you.

* The material for these studies is from Barry G. Webb’s “The Message of Isaiah” by InterVarsity Press; and from J. Alec Motyer’s “The Prophecy of Isaiah” Commentary by InterVarsity Press.

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Isaiah 15:1-16:14 Message Concerning Moab

by Larry Ferrell | March 16, 2018
From Philistia to the west of Judah we now pass to Moab in the east, beyond the Dead Sea. The general background is the same, although this time no specific date is given. According to Assyrian records Moab was another nation which was invited to join the revolt in 715 BC. The implication of this oracle is that it did, and suffered the same fate as Philistia. The three years of verse 14 probably refers to the length of the revolt, from its inception until it was finally crushed by Sargon.

The lament (15:1-9): There is a crescendo of horror in this lament, from wailing (vv. 1-4) to flight (vv. 5-8) to death (v.9). Verse 9 is clearly climatic. Here the place name Dibon, which first occurs in verse2, is changed to Dimon to echo dam, the Hebrew word for blood. This is the ultimate horror, to which the wailing and the flight are despairing, futile responses: bloody slaughter from which there is no escape. Those who manage to evade the sword will be devoured by wild beasts. Running away will prove, in the end to be as futile as remaining. The tone of this lament is a lot different from that of 14:3-23, an important reminder that it is possible to rejoice at God’s victory over evil without taking pleasure in the death of any individual or nation. Moab was a nation with close ancestral ties with Israel. In this lament, delivered by Isaiah as the Lord’s mouthpiece, we see God executing judgment with tears in his eyes. It should remind us sharply that there is no conflict between loving people and warning them of judgment to come; the one is a necessary consequence of the other.

The appeal (16:1-5): The appeal itself is in verses 3-5; the preceding two verses give the background to it. The gifts of verse 1 are intended to encourage a favorable response, and are presumably sent by the fugitives of 15:9 or their representatives. The helpless women of verse 2 epitomize the defenseless, panic-stricken state of the refugees as a whole. The long range background is hinted at by the reference to the house of David in verse 5, at the very climax of the appeal. By seeking shelter in the house of David these Moabite refugees acknowledge that their only hope is in Israel’s God, who’s chosen king rules in Zion. That hope has both an immediate and long-term aspect. What they hope for immediately is shelter from the oppressor who is presently ravaging their homeland (vv. 3-4a). What they hope for in the long term (presumably for their descendants) is a share in the ideal situation to emerge in the future when an ideal king reigns in Judah (vv. 4b-5). This appeal then has a messianic ring to it, and what the Moabites do here anticipates what people of all nations will finally do, as foreseen in chapter 2:2-4.

The reflection (16:6-11): In verses 6-7 Isaiah speaks on behalf of all his countrymen (we have heard); in verses 8-11 he speaks for himself alone (I weep, 9a). Verses 6-7 are a reflection on the pride of Moab; verses 8-11 are a lament over her because of the ruin to which she has come. Just how Moab’s famed pride and arrogance was expressed we don’t know. She certainly was not in a position to dominate other nations as some could. Perhaps her pride was tied up with her agricultural wealth, as verses 8-11 suggest. In any case verse 6 is a reminder that the spirit of Babel is not confined to the giants of this world. Moab was just as infected with it as Assyria and Babylon, and it is this for which she is judged. In a moment Moab has plunged from the heights of proud boasting to the depths of utter destitution. It’s a lesson from history, a foretaste of that terrible day of the Lord which will finally come upon all the proud (2:12-21). All nations will find security only as they align themselves, at last, with the God who rules in Zion. The same principle of course, still holds true today. The saints will reign with Christ! How foolish then for us, as His people, to seek security in the things the world worships as its gods.

Isaiah 15:1-16:14 Reflection Questions:
What were Moab’s close ancestral ties with Israel?
What are some of the things the world worships as its gods?
What are you putting your security in? What are you proud of?
What does Jesus say about the proud?

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Philippians 3:12 Following the Living Christ

by Larry Ferrell | March 30, 2018
Our study of Philippians has already brought us to two verses that were an expression of Paul’s great and lifelong desire to know Jesus Christ (3:10). Paul lived this desire. But as he wrote these words Paul must have realized that there would be some among the readers at Philippi, as there are today also, who would dismiss them as something that no Christian could possibly be expected to accomplish. They would admit that the ideal was a good one, but they would call it totally unpractical. Paul does not allow this kind of thinking to continue. He immediately adds that although even he has not realized the goal in its entirety, he is still trying; and we must understand him to imply that his readers should be trying also (Phil. 3:12). Paul’s confession is not only a statement of the demands of Christian discipleship; it is also an announcement of the principles by which this calling should be realized.

First, Paul acknowledges that he was called by Christ Jesus. It’s very important to recognize that all discipleship begins with God’s call or, as Paul says, with being taken hold of by Christ Jesus. God’s call must be foremost, for nothing can take place spiritually in a person’s life until this happens. Actually it involves the creation of spiritual life. The call to discipleship must begin with the power of God to make a spiritually dead person alive, for only then are the standards of that calling significant. This is what the new birth means. Before conversion God says that a person is dead in his trespasses and sins. The person is alive physically and intellectually, but he is not alive spiritually. Thus, he cannot respond to spiritual stimuli. While he is in this state the Word of God is a hidden book to him, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is nonsense. Then God touches his life. God’s touch brings life out of death, the life of the spirit, and the person then believes in Jesus Christ and begins to understand the Bible. This is what it means to be taken hold of by God. If you are only pretending, then you must begin where the others have begun. You must begin by acknowledging God’s call to you in Christ Jesus and your need for Him, and you must commit yourself to Him.

The second step in becoming an effective disciple of Jesus Christ is to be aware of the purpose for which He has called you. Paul says, “I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). What is that thing for which the apostle Paul and we as Christians have been taken hold of? The answer is spelled out in Romans 8:28-29. What was God’s purpose in saving you? His purpose was that you might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, God saved you to make you as holy, pure, gracious, and loving as Jesus. At this point I can almost hear someone saying, “Well, if that’s the case, I’ll just wait for God to do it. I’ll enjoy that holiness in heaven.” But this is not the way Paul means it. Paul had a great sense of the present demands of discipleship. Everything he mentions in this chapter has to do with the Christian’s present conduct. It is the attainment of a kind of life so filled with Christ that those who do not know him will regard it as the life of eternity. Paul is saying that he wishes to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ now. This should be your desire also. If it’s not, it will become your desire more and more as you begin to realize that this was God’s greatest purpose in calling you to faith in the Lord Jesus.

The first two of these points now lead to a very practical conclusion, for Paul writes that because God has called him and because he has done so for a purpose, he himself must determine to follow after Jesus. This means that God’s calling always puts an obligation on His children. This is personal. Discipleship is always personal. Discipleship can never be conditioned upon God’s plans for some other Christian. Christ’s call is always the personal one to “Follow me.” It’s also true that discipleship is costly. In fact, it costs a person his all. There are always Christians who think that they can be Christ’s disciples piecemeal. They think that they can follow him and inch at a time after first assuring themselves that there is no danger and that following him also conforms to their own plans for themselves and their future. But this is not discipleship at all. Discipleship means abandoning your sin, your past, your own conception of yourself and your plans for your own future, even at times your friends or your family, if that is God’s will for you, and following Jesus. You may be saying. “But isn’t that hard? To give up the things I treasure?” Well, it is true that it is hard sometimes. But it is also true that there is a far greater sense in which we really never give anything up in the service of our Lord. We give things up, but Christ gives us more. And even the things we surrender are so arranged by God that they work for our spiritual well-being.

Perhaps there is something that God has been asking you to lay aside in order that you might be a more effective witness for him. I don’t know what that is. The thing that is a hindrance for one disciple is often entirely different for another. But whatever it is, you know it. At this point in your life, for you it is the touchstone of your discipleship. Will you cast it aside to follow Jesus? If you do, you will grow in your Christian discipleship, and God will bring great blessing into your life and through you also into the lives of others.

Philippians 3:12 Reflection Questions:
Do you see the demands of Christian discipleship unpractical? Have you ever felt that way?
Are you one of God’s children? Has He picked you up and made you His? Or are you just pretending Christianity?
Where are you at in your journey to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ?

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