One language

After the flood that wiped out all living creatures on earth (Genesis 7:21), it says in Genesis 11:1 “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” What that meant was that not only did everyone speak the same language, but also used the same jargon or slang words. Therefore, everyone understood each other perfectly. The descendants of Ham, the son of Noah’s that was cursed by God, worked together on a building project known as the tower of Babel. When God discovered what they were doing, he said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated confound, balal means to mix (1101). Literally, what this meant was that words began to have mixed meanings. For instance, today a guy might say a girl is hot, which means he thinks she’s attractive. Anyone that didn’t know the slang meaning of the word hot would be confused by what he said. With each generation, words take on new meanings, therefore our speech is no longer pure. The prophet Zephaniah spoke about a time in the future when God would “turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). Essentially, what he was saying was there would come a time when God would  clarify the meaning of words so that everyone would understand each other again, so that the world could operate as a single, unified kingdom.

Throughout the Old Testament, God called his people to be separated from the rest of the world. Israel stood apart as the one righteous nation among all the wicked nations. Because Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments and even the holy city Jerusalem turned to idolatry, God decided to create a new world order under which all the people of the world could be united to serve him (Zephaniah 3:8-9). Rather than save only his chosen people, God would purge the world of evil and save all who would humble themselves and put their trust in the LORD (Zephaniah 3;11-12). Among those who would be saved would be a remnant of the nation of Israel that would also accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (Zephaniah 3:13).

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.

Power

In ancient times, the hand was a symbol of power. To be given into someone’s hands meant you were dominated by them and under their control (3709). To deliver someone out of another’s hands meant you released him from the other’s dominion or rule over him. One of the ways kings sought to increase their power, or at least their appearance of power, was to take other nations captive and rule over their people so that the size of their kingdom increased, making it seem as though they had become more powerful.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for 300 years from approximately 911 B.C. to 612 B.C., during which time its population peaked and its territory expanded across more than a million square miles. The Neo-Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height politically and militarily under the reign of Sargon II who brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sargon’s son Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and conquered 46 of its strongest cities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.).

When Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered the fenced cities of Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 32:1 that he “thought to win them for himself.” Sennacherib wanted to be the dominating power over Judah and Jerusalem so that he could claim himself to be their king. Sennacherib not only believed he was the most powerful man in the world, but he also believed he was more powerful than any god, including the God of the Israelites.

It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.” The Hebrew word translated rail, charaph means to pull off or to expose as by stripping (2778). Another way of saying what Sennacherib was trying to do was to bring shame on God, to ruin his reputation.

Sennacherib was a very powerful man, and because of his position as the king of the Assyrian Empire, he was the most powerful man in the world in 701 B.C. His claim that no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 32:15) was partially true, but to compare God’s  ability to that of an idol was a huge mistake. God intervened in the situation and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night, while everyone was sleeping (2 Kings 19:35). It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:21, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that come forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.”

Pride

We know that king Hezekiah’s healing took place sometime between 703 – 701 B.C. because of a visit he received from messengers of Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:12). Berodach-baladan reigned in Babylon from 721 – 710 B.C. After being defeated and forced into exile by Sargon II king of Assyria, he returned to the thrown for a brief period from 703 – 702 B.C. His visit to Hezekiah most likely took place during that time period. Berodach-baladan wanted to form an alliance with Hezekiah and probably asked for his help in fighting against their common enemy Assyria. Although God had promised to deliver Jerusalem out of the hand of the king of Assyria, Hezekiah was not at liberty to form an alliance with Babylon and should have sent Berodach-baladan’s men away without any acknowledgment from him. Instead, Hezekiah not only welcomed the messengers into his palace, but also treated them as if they were his faithful friends (2 Kings 20:13).

Hezekiah’s action was in principle a denial of the covenantal nature of his royal office that was probably motivated by pride. Similar to when king David took a census of the people of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24:1), king Hezekiah was acting independent of God’s will. David’s census represented an unwarranted glorying in and dependence on human power rather than the LORD.  It says in 2 Kings 20:13 that Hezekiah hearkened unto Berodach-baladan’s men “and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” Clearly, Hezekiah was boasting in his riches.

The Hebrew word translated dominion in 2 Kings 20:13 refers to rulership over a designated realm or kingdom. King Hezekiah was acting as if Jerusalem were his kingdom when in actuality it was God’s kingdom and all that it contained belonged to him. Although Hezekiah had responsibility for managing God’s kingdom, God was still the ultimate King and he had dominion over all its resources. After he made this mistake, Hezekiah received a message from God. “And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD, Behold, the  days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried unto Bablyon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD” (2 Kings 20:16-17).

 

The elect

One of the issues God had with the children of Israel being his chosen people was their attitude of entitlement. In spite of their disobedience to God’s commandments, the Israelites saw themselves as better than the rest of the world, because they were consecrated to the LORD (Isaiah 65:5). God’s judgment of his people was intended to bring an end to their bad behavior (Isaiah 65:6-7).

God’s primary objective in the captivity of his people was to preserve the Messianic line of descendants until Christ was born. Although the nation of Judah was destined to spend 70 years in captivity, it took much longer to purge the idolatry from the people’s systems. Isaiah described this process in terms of wine making. He said, “Thus saith the LORD, as the new wine is found in the cluster: and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and mine servants shall dwell there” (Isaiah 65:8-9).

The “mine elect” (Isaiah 65:9) Isaiah was referring to in this passage was the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Upon his birth, Jesus became the heir to the throne of God’s  kingdom, which in Isaiah’s time encompassed only the Promised Land. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new covenant went into effect that determined God’s elect or chosen people would no longer be those born into the household of Jacob, but those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Isaiah declared of those who rejected Christ, “And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name” (Isaiah 65:15).

The millennial reign of Christ that begins at the end of the great tribulation will be a time of transition from temporal to eternal life. During that time period, there will still be sinners alive on earth (Isaiah 6:20), but a new system of government will exist that mandates submission to God (Isaiah 32:1). It will be evident at that time that God’s elect are “chosen ones” (972) that have been called into the service of God on an individual basis rather than collectively as a group, as with the nation of Israel. Isaiah declared of these people:

They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and whiles they are yet speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:22-24)

Born again

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse established the fact that Jesus was both distinct from God the father, and was God in the fullest sense of who God is. Therefore, when Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth, he was not speaking for God, but as God.

In Isaiah 55:11, it was made clear that God would speak for himself at some point in the future, instead of through a prophet. He said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” In the same way that God spoke the physical world into existence, so he intended to speak a spiritual world into existence through the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The difference between God’s original work of creation and his work of salvation through Jesus was the eternal durability of the human heart. Whereas the heart of man was originally able to be broken and filled with sin, Jesus made it possible for man’s heart to be regenerated, to be born again (Titus 3:5). Isaiah declared of God, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

The Hebrew word translated revive in Isaiah 57:15 is chayah (khaw – yaw´). This word means “to bring to life” or “to cause to live” (2421). In this instance, God was referring to causing someone to live again in both a physical and spiritual sense. When Jesus told the man Nicodemus he must be born again, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:4-5).

The key to understanding Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ question is the word and. Jesus said that a man must be born of water and of the Spirit. Water spoke of the natural birth, coming out of a mother’s womb, and the Spirit referred to the spiritual birth that took place when a person believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only God could see the result, but Jesus assured Nicodemus that if he believed, Nicodemus would receive eternal life (John 3:16).

Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).