The Road to Nowhere; Isaiah 17-20
September 1, 2014

C. R. Oliver

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September 1, 2014

The Road to Nowhere
Isaiah 17-20

           Because the overall theme of our Isaiah studies is two-fold, it is often necessary to re-focus on the themes. The primary goal of Isaiah's writings was to "re-introduce the God of Israel" to the people of Israel and to the world. The second goal was to teach the principles (rules or promises) God uses in His plans. On the four passages this study scrutinizes, these two goals must be skewered from the text in order to afford continuity. Keep in mind, we are searching for these two areas in each chapter study. The goal is to have a comprehensive understanding of how God deals with His creation.

          Although I somewhat reject the simplistic analysis made by scholars that the first thirty-nine chapters are "condemnation" prophecies and chapters forty to the end are "consolation" prophecies, I do feel there are elements of both in every chapter.

          One thing is for sure, Twenty-first Century Christianity once again must be taught about the God they are dealing with and His rules and promises. It is time to exalt the powerful God of this universe and teach His ways to the multitudes.

Chapter 17: The Road to Nowhere
          Often Israel, and others, would seek the help of nearby Syria as an ally against their attackers. Syria became a military resource outside of the Lord's provision, and God said in essence, "Seeking Damascus is a road to nowhere." Syria was under judgment from the Almighty. Both Damascus and Israel had forgotten who they were dealing with and what His rules were.

Note: When reading Isaiah, it would do well to pay attention to his similes and metaphors. When he says a thing is "like" something, pay attention to it in order to learn scope and sequence. Often his examples carry agrarian themes or use some familiar venue (Isaiah's audiences were folks who tended flocks, raised their own fruits and vegetables and lived close to the land. They understood the importance of having a successful harvest. They were fearful of drought and loss of live stock). The intricacies of his examples afford the reader insight into the depth and range used by the Lord to bring judgment.

          Because much of modern society is removed from the realities of the farm or orchard and relate to their income as a paycheck or a job, it is difficult to associate the teachings of the texts to anything pertinent to today. BUT the results are the same, whether it is a crop failure or the loss of an industry or job.

Two areas are found in the following verses: God's reasoning and God's method.
Isaiah 17:10 God's Reason for destroying Syria and punishing Israel
10 Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation,
And have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold,

Isaiah 17:11 God gives His Method of judgment
... the harvest will be a heap of ruins
In the day of grief and desperate sorrow.
Note: Some Serious Similes:
Isaiah 17:5
It shall be as when the harvester gathers the grain (just some gleanings remain)
Isaiah 17:6
Like the shaking of an olive tree, (remaining few will not be taken)
Isaiah 17:9
In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough (too distant to concern)
And an uppermost branch, (left to the birds)
Isaiah 17:13
13 The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters; (forceful and irrational)
Isaiah 17:13
chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind,
Like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. (chaff is worthless, so is tumbleweed).
When the Lord rises up and begins judgment on a nation, as He did Syria, He is able to destroy the economy (the grain, grapes, harvests), the society (all the institutions for which a public depends including the amenities of its cities) and reveal the religious hypocrisy practiced by the majority. He is the Mighty God, and neither Israel nor Damascus had remembered with whom they were dealing.

Notice the forsaking of idols and how quickly people abandoned their pet religious practices.
Isaiah 17:7-8
In that day a man will look to his Maker,
And his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.
8 He will not look to the altars,
The work of his hands;
He will not respect what his fingers have made,
Nor the wooden images nor the incense altars.
What are the "darling sins" and "Ashtoreth (I Kings 11:33)" which citizens of the nations will stop bowing to in these latter days?

How quickly will one abandon his or her favorite theologies in favor of the true God in times of stress?

If stress, the dismantling of government and the destruction of financial systems is what it takes to bring down a nation that has prided itself in its ability to be the "answer to all the world's needs," then count it as judgment! God was the only source of Israel's supply and protection and He makes it clear in the last verses of this text.
(Lesson: Nations beware how you deal with Israel!)

Here is the principle behind God's actions.
Isaiah 17:14-18:1
This is the portion of those who plunder us,
And the lot of those who rob us.
Chapter 18 Ethiopia or?
(This chapter has been applied to multiple people, even some view it as addressing the United States, citing the graphics in 'smooth of skin,' 'rivers dividing it' and "having extraordinary military power."
Isaiah 18:2 'A nation powerful and treading down, whose land the rivers divide.'
Chapter Eighteen's graphics do indicate someone beyond Ethiopia as the main feature. It depicts a forceful people who control and dominate (wherever they employ their might). Egypt and Pharaoh's army fit the description as well. (Many historians have cited the interaction between Ethiopia and Egypt.)

No doubt this chapter is one most confusing. First, it is not a prophecy against Ethiopia. Ethiopia is merely a starting point for the prophetic word. Since scholars believe it has reference to Egypt, it most likely involves Ethiopia joining with Egypt in military action planned against the Assyrian King, Sennacherib. (Assyria had already taken away the Ten Tribes and Samaria.) Undoubtedly, Sennacherib had King Hezekiah in his sight as his next target.

At this point, it would be wise to recognize that ancient Ethiopia was a much larger nation than one encounters today. Named the oldest of peoples and derived from Noah's sons, its territory ranged from Southern Egypt downward to include most of the African nations we observe today. Ethiopia, for instance, ruled Kenya and even some places in India.
(Ethiopia ruled in Egypt [714 BC to 604 BC] and controlled most of Africa. This is why I say that America is now being ruled by an Egyptian. Spiritual Egypt asserting itself over spiritual Israel should never be tolerated.)
Isaiah vowed that God did not need outside help to conquer the Assyrians. He was capable of taking care of their aggression by Himself. The power of Egypt was not needed for Israel's defense. To prove this assertion, the Lord takes His rest until the cup of iniquity is full for Assyria, then He will destroy their entire army.

Please notice: Jehovah does not have to come to earth to handle His matters. (Note: "I will look from My dwelling place.") This is the same place from which Christians should be looking. Instead of the upward look in prayer, we should be looking down with Him in authority.
Isaiah 18:4-6
I will take My rest,
And I will look from My dwelling place
Like clear heat in sunshine,
Like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest."
5 For before the harvest, when the bud is perfect
And the sour grape is ripening in the flower,
He will both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks
And take away and cut down the branches.
6 They will be left together for the mountain birds of prey
And for the beasts of the earth;
The birds of prey will summer on them,
And all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.
There is, however, another very interesting conclusion as a result of Ethiopia's involvement; there will come from the Ethiopian territory--a people who worship the God of Israel.
Isaiah 18:7
In that time a present will be brought to the LORD of hosts
From a people tall and smooth of skin,
And from a people terrible from their beginning onward,
A nation powerful and treading down,
Whose land the rivers divide -
To the place of the name of the LORD of hosts,
To Mount Zion.
In Acts 8, Philip was commissioned to go and explain Isaiah's prophetic work to an Ethiopian Eunuch. This man was one of the first to be evangelized outside the territory of Israel, but one who was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Many followers of Judaism resided in Ethiopia prior to the eunuch's evangelization, which afforded him reason to be in Israel in the first place. God singled him out. Interestingly enough is the fact that from this time period down to 1974, when Islamic revolutionaries deposed the Christian ruler, Haille Sellasie, Ethiopia was known as a Christian nation. Will this also one day be the epithet for the U.S.? Will it be said, "It was once a Christian nation?"

(Historians have made much of Ethiopia's contact with Israel. Moses married an Ethiopian woman [who might well have been Egyptian, since Moses had once lived in Egypt]. The Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, was also Ethiopian.)

These verses indicate the Lord has a place in Ethiopia's history.

Just as Isaiah and the Lord set up the geography of Moab in preparation for the general prophecy against Moab, so Chapter eighteen sets the groundwork for a word against Egypt in Chapter nineteen.

Some Historical Asides:
Cush is the name most associated with Ethiopia and he was a son of Noah's son, Ham.
It was a nation of religious priests. (Remember Moses' father in law was a priest.)
The Religion of Egypt can be traced to Ethiopian origin
Since it ruled Egypt, many believe the pyramids were of Ethiopian design and origin.
It was Ethiopian stone which was used for the base of the great pyramid.
When any nation acknowledges the Lord and accepts His invitation to obey His word, that nation becomes unique in history. Those who malign America as not being a unique nation and set apart for righteousness are themselves pagan and unbelievers.

(Our two themes are evident in this chapter. God shows His authority over national matters and rules from His Throne. His will was accomplished prophetically the moment it was spoken.)

Chapter 19 A nation Gone too Far.

This chapter is a continuation of the prophetic word in chapter eighteen. In our study of "understanding the God you are dealing with" and "what are His promises," these passages fall into four areas: three with destruction and one with restoration.

It is not difficult to see the three areas when God steps into Egypt and deals directly with their religion, their economy and their governmental leadership. All three are the main structures of society.

The Big Three:
  1. Religion:
    Isaiah 19:1
    Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud,
    And will come into Egypt;
    The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence,
    And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.

    Isaiah 19:3
    And they will consult the idols and the charmers,
    (Society will begin to break down under pressure from these three. Hence, the passage about cities and neighbors [the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst-the national image will erode and Egypt will cease to know "who they are."].)
    Isaiah 19:2
    I will set Egyptians against Egyptians;
    Everyone will fight against his brother,
    And everyone against his neighbor,
    City against city, kingdom against kingdom.
    (Chaotic conditions have people turning against themselves. Shortage of food and supplies exacerbate such behavior.)

  2. Governmental disintegration:
    (Isaiah does not separate these entities, but intersperses them in his text. Here we will view the various governmental verses and bring them together.)
    Isaiah 19:3-4
    I will destroy their counsel,
    And they will consult the idols and the charmers,
    The mediums and the sorcerers.
    4 And the Egyptians I will give
    Into the hand of a cruel master,
    And a fierce king will rule over them,"
    Says the Lord, the LORD of hosts.
              (Look where God's judgment begins. "He destroys counsel." No more legislators, no more consultants, no more wise men with strategic plans and knowledge are to be found-counsel fails. There is no one to turn to, not even Saul's Witch of Endor. People begin to lose confidence in their leaders, for they appear foolish and unreliable. (Does this sound familiar?) The destruction of a nation's wise men and women is one of the great weapons God uses to destroy a nation. Without such resources, the military has no direction, the populous has no vision. The nation ceases to know who they are and their identity is lost.)
    Isaiah 19:11-15
    11 Surely the princes of Zoan are fools;
    Pharaoh's wise counselors give foolish counsel.
    How do you say to Pharaoh, "I am the son of the wise,
    The son of ancient kings?"
    12 Where are they?
    Where are your wise men?
    Let them tell you now,
    And let them know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt.
    13 The princes of Zoan have become fools;
    The princes of Noph are deceived;
    They have also deluded Egypt,
    Those who are the mainstay of its tribes.
    14 The LORD has mingled a perverse spirit in her midst;
    And they have caused Egypt to err in all her work,
    As a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
    15 Neither will there be any work for Egypt,
    Which the head or tail,
    Palm branch or bulrush, may do.
The "Princes of Zoan" were the heads of state. Pharaoh had palaces at Zoan and Noph. These were centers of learning, where the aristocracy dwelled. Being deceived themselves, the national leaders "have deluded Egypt (the whole nation)." What is the reason for this loss of direction?
"The Lord has mingled a perverse spirit in their midst."
They lead the nation one way today and another way tomorrow. "Like drunks trying to walk." They don't know heads from tails. The work force is direly affected, as industry and government begin to melt. Pharaoh, noted for elaborate plumed fans being waved overhead, in order to be cool in the Egyptian heat, will find a Palm branch and bulrush sufficing as the grip of poverty manifests itself. (It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of an angry God [National fear will be everywhere, as seen in the verses below.].)
Isaiah 19:16-17
In that day Egypt will be like women, and will be afraid and fear because of the waving of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which He waves over it. 17 And the land of Judah will be a terror to Egypt; everyone who makes mention of it will be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the LORD of hosts which He has determined against it.
  1. Economic Woes:
    Isaiah 19:5-10
    5 The waters will fail from the sea,
    And the river will be wasted and dried up.
    6 The rivers will turn foul;
    The brooks of defense will be emptied and dried up;
    The reeds and rushes will wither.
    7 The papyrus reeds by the River, by the mouth of the River,
    And everything sown by the River,
    Will wither, be driven away, and be no more.
    8 The fishermen also will mourn;
    All those will lament who cast hooks into the River,
    And they will languish who spread nets on the waters.
    9 Moreover those who work in fine flax
    And those who weave fine fabric will be ashamed;
    10 And its foundations will be broken.
    All who make wages will be troubled of soul.
Picture everything in the national economy disappearing. Isaiah covers the bases of general economy and ends with "the laborers will be dismayed as there is no way to make a living." (Does any of this sound familiar?)

All three areas are interdependent and if YHWH is not in the mix, there is no mix! Nations, take warning as the rule is simple! No YHWH, no future!

Isaiah then turns to the bright hope of the future found in verses 18-25. "On the day" those within the three nations turn and worship Him, their destinies will take a turn. The following verses are of historical value in that Alexander, the Great, conquered Egypt and Assyria and occupied Israel. He virtually stopped the savagery of the Assyrians, whose intent was to enslave Egypt and its people. After Alexander established a great city, called Alexandria in Egypt, a period of relative peace prevailed throughout these three nations. The reference to a Highway means commerce and travel without barriers, which did take place. Many commentaries want to make these passages millennial passages and tie them to the end time. However, since this chapter is positioned between two historical prophecies, it too is historical.
Isaiah 19:18-25
In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear by the LORD of hosts; one will be called the City of Destruction.
The language of Canaan was Hebrew. History proved that well over a million Jews came to occupy territories in Egypt and even built a Temple, so they could feel at home. The reference to the City of Destruction should read The City of Nothing.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. 20 And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. 21 Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the LORD and perform it. 22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the LORD, and He will be entreated by them and heal them.
A Savior and mighty One who is a deliverer, historically, would be a reference to Alexander, but spiritually it is a reference to Jesus' family, who took Him there during His infancy.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria - a blessing in the midst of the land, 25 whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."
This final word relates to those who worship Him in those three nations and their common bond in the communion of those who worship Him. Those who worship Him constitute the real spiritual identity of a nation. It is the spirit of these "people of the flame" who transcend the national spirit of any people.

Chapter 20: Shamed

           Truly this is a historical chapter, but it is overlaid with spiritual drama. Because the King of Judah made an alliance with Egypt to protect Israel from Assyrian attack, Sargon sent Tartan to conquer the major city of Ashdod (Seat of Dagon, home of the Anakim and in New Testament Times called Azotus). Ashdod stood on the high road between Israel and Egypt; it was a port area and a significant city to the Philistines.

          God instructed Isaiah to take off his outer garment and remove his shoes and to prophesy how those of Egypt and Ethiopia would be paraded by the conquering Assyrians (bare bottomed, in slaves chains and barefoot).
Isaiah 20:3
3 Then the LORD said, 'Just as My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia..."
Notice please: the prophet went for three years in this condition. Faithful to his calling, like Ezekiel, it must have been embarrassing for him to walk among the people, but he did it!

When this was accomplished, Israel would have a graphic picture of the hopelessness of their dependence on man to deliver them. Israel would be ashamed of putting confidence in such a humiliated people.
Isaiah 20:4-6
5 Then they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation and Egypt their glory. 6 And the inhabitant of this territory will say in that day, 'Surely such is our expectation, wherever we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and how shall we escape?'"
Most of the countries of this world are afraid and ashamed of their leadership. They find themselves in great dilemma, trusting in gold, armies or their illusive religious fanaticism. Indeed, the most cogent question on the lips of the Western World is, "How shall we escape?"

Until Next month,

Dr. Cosby R. Oliver, PhD.


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