Isaiah 14-16: The Neighbors
Updated: May 5
Chapter 14 begins with a big breath of fresh air. Isaiah takes a timeout from his troubling oracle about Babylon to reintroduce us to the sweeping vision of God: the reconciliation of His people and the restoration of all nations.
I think it’s worth quoting: “The LORD will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Foreigners will join them and unite with the descendants of Jacob. Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And Israel will take possession of the nations and make them male and female servants in the LORD’s land.” Isaiah 14:1-2 NIV
I really like the Living Bible’s translation: “And people from many different nations will come and join them there and unite with the people of Israel. The nations of the world will help the people of Israel to return, and those who come to live in the Lord’s land will serve them. Those who captured Israel will themselves be captured, and Israel will rule over its enemies.”
Israel making the foreigners their servants might sound a bit heavy-handed, but when the Kingdom of God is established, the people of other nations will be so excited to enter they will offer their services to Israel in appreciation for letting them in. And Israel will be happy to do it! Because by then they’ll understand that God did not choose them because they were worthy (they weren’t), or because they obeyed Him (they didn’t). They weren’t chosen because of their strength or their numbers. (They weren’t that impressive.) God chose them simply because He chose to choose them: “it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors…” (Deut 7:7-8) Then, as now, God was faithful to His people not because of who they were, but because of who He was. And because of who He is, He invites the foreigner in too. And all His people say “Amen.”
Caring for the foreigner wasn’t a new idea to the Israelites. When God moved them into the Promised Land, He made provision for those already living there: “But at the end of every third year, keep a tenth of the year’s produce in your own town instead and give it to the needy people there: the Levites—whose tribe won’t have any territory and property of its own to pass down—the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows. Let them come and take as much as they want to eat for as long as these supplies last. If you do this, the Eternal your God will bless you in everything you do.” (Deut 14:28-29) There were rewards for being neighborly.
Although God welcomes the foreigner in, His relationship with them is different than His relationship with Israel. When God established His covenant with Israel way back in the wilderness, He told them, “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut 7:6) He called them to be the exemplar of a nation in covenant with Him. Obviously, they didn’t answer the call the first time around, but they do get another chance to model perfect union with God when His end-time kingdom is here. Israel will lead the rebuilding, and the nations will gladly follow.
Verses 4-8 record Israel taunting the king of Babylon. It’s hard for me to imagine any taunting going on in the ultimate place of peace, but the Hebrew word here is masal, the word for ‘proverb’ or ‘parable’—or telling stories that bring a deeper truth to light. Like Jesus did. When Isaiah gave this prophecy, Babylon was being groomed to bring God’s judgment. They would be the last and the worst of Israel‘s enemies Isaiah named. They would take God's people into captivity for 70 long years. So the fall of the king of Babylon was a big deal—it would mean the end of Israel's oppression. I'll bet those who didn't listen to Isaiah when they were in Israel sang his song in Babylon. But in this Messianic Kingdom song, Israel won’t be poking fun at the nation of Babylon (it will no longer exist), but rather celebrating the end of all oppression. In the Kingdom they will be singing, “All the lands will be at rest and peace,” so there's no reason to believe that the ground where Babylon stood (present-day Iraq) won’t be included in the “all.”
While the foreigners are being welcomed into the kingdom of God, their unrepentant leaders are being welcomed into Sheol—the place of the dead. ‘Dead’ isn’t dead like we think of dead. In Sheol, the dead are alive. In Sheol, ‘death’ isn't termination or the end of existence, but a change of place and state of being. That’s why Adam and Eve were still up and walking after they ate the apple. God said that in the day they ate it, they would surely die. And die they did. They died on the inside and were sent to another place—away from the garden of God. In Sheol, peoples’ identities don’t change. They are still who they were on earth, but without purpose and strength, without the ability to hurt anyone any longer, either in Sheol or on the earth. In the place of the dead, those who were once strong in their pride are made weak in humiliation. In the place of the dead, the dead celebrate each other’s losses. In the place of the dead, it’s the biggest loser who is considered the greatest. So the evil kings that are already there will be cheering as they see the big guy enter.
Verses 12–15 may be familiar to you. They are often used to describe the fate of Lucifer and his antichrist, the fallen angel and the fallen man who try to counterfeit Christ. Sheol is their destiny: to be thrown down, made a spectacle, and revealed as powerless in the sight of all.
In all of this—the soon-coming destruction of Assyria, the prophesied fall of Babylon, and the final defeat of the devil—the LORD is saying, “It will be just as I planned.” And Isaiah agrees, “This is the plan determined for the whole world. If God has purposed it, who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (verses 24-27)
After Isaiah reviles Babylon, he continues the oracles, addressing kingdoms closer to home.
And so now, finally, a map. (Have I told you yet I love maps?)
First, the Philistines:
We’re probably all familiar with the Philistines. If you attended Sunday school, you probably know that Samson got a haircut from the Philistines and young David killed a Philistine giant with a stone. It was the Philistines who held the Ark of the Covenant captive until their hemorrhoids became unbearable. (Look it up—it’s in there! I Samuel 5:9 ) And when you read about Israel’s trouble with Gaza or Ashkelon or Ashdod or Ekron or Gath, you’re reading about the Philistines. ”Philistine” basically means bad news in the Bible. From the time the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, the Philistines were a thorn in their side. The land they inhabited along the coast of the Mediterranean had been promised to Israel but, ignoring God’s instructions, Israel neglected to drive them out and they ended up fighting over land until it all went to someone else.
After 200 years of the Philistines’ badgering, King David was able to bring them under control, but by the time of King Ahaz, they had become bothersome again. Although they had been able to gain some territory while Ahaz occupied the throne, they still rejoiced at his death. He was the last in the line of David—”the rod that struck them”—and I guess they still held a grudge. They also thought the next king in line (Hezekiah) might supply them with warm bodies for their front lines, so they came to them in alliance with Judah’s big brother to the north, and tried to convince them to fight with them, but Hezekiah listened to Isaiah and said ”no.” Still, God didn’t appreciate their scheming and assured the Philistines that in the days to come, while they are starving, God’s people will have enough, and when Assyria makes Philistia their vassal, Judah will remain free. (Philistia, by the way, was totally wiped out when the Babylonian armies came.)
Isaiah’s point? While the Assyrians were bullying Philistia and friends, Judah had nothing to fear. God was in Zion protecting them, and He was all the help they would need.
Next in line—Moab:
You’re probably familiar with the Moabites, too. The Moabites were the cousins of Israel, descendants of Lot, the product of Lot’s incest with one of his own daughters. (Genesis 19) Yuck. When the Israelites returned from their exile in Egypt, they camped out on the plains of Moab to take a look at the Promised Land (Numbers 22). It was the king of Moab who hired Balaam, owner of the talking donkey, to curse Israel (Numbers 22, too), and although Israel escaped that curse, God later used the Moabites to discipline them when they went astray (Judges 3). The Moabites were avid idol worshippers (Judges 10:6), and their women were a bad influence on the Israelite men (Numbers 25, and of course, Solomon.) The only good thing that seemed to come out of Moab was the young lady Ruth, who followed her penniless mother-in-law to Israel, and became one in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5).
But there was just something about Moabites. As perverse as they were, they seemed to stir up mercy in the heart of Isaiah and God. As Isaiah prophesied Moab’s flight from the Assyrians and felt their frantic fear, it broke their heart and they wept (Isaiah 15:5, Isaiah 16:9). In chapter 16, while listening in on a future meeting of some Moabites, Isaiah overheard that they wanted to ask for help. And the LORD said, ”Let them come and stay!” Although the people of Moab had long been a snare for the Israelites, God’s heart was moved by the plight of the fugitives, and behind all He does is mercy. In fact, right here in 16:4-5, Isaiah begins to tell the Moabites about a future when—it’s just so good I have to quote it: “when the one who has squeezed and oppressed you is gone and the forces of crushing violence wane in the land, then God will establish a royal throne, in loyal love—the One who rules there will be utterly reliable, with absolute integrity under the auspices of David. With a passion for justice, He will be quick to decide and do what is right.” Isn’t that good!?!
Isaiah’s promise of a righteous king wasn’t just for Judah, but for the neighbors too. But Moab would have none of it. Although their people may have talked about going to Judah for help, the leaders never did. Truth be told, as a nation they didn’t really have much, but they did have their pride and they were determined to keep it.
The point? God is a God of compassion and His Kingdom is open to anyone who will trade their pride for His glory. Even the worst of the worst, regardless of their past. But first, they have to ask.
More oracles next week to reveal more of the nature of God.