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).

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.”

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

God’s Territory

The Promised Land and in particular mount Zion was considered to be God’s territory. As much as God was interested in protecting and preserving his people, he was also interested in maintaining possession of the city of Jerusalem. Knowing the Assyrians intended to capture and take possession of Judah’s capital, Isaiah declared, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The terms defend  and deliver were typically used in connection with God’s people, but in the case of mount Zion, or as it was also known as, Jerusalem, God’s resources would be expended to retain a territory dedicated to his Messiah. Zion was mentioned throughout the book of Isaiah appearing in 31 of its 66 chapters. Clearly Isaiah saw Zion as a critical element of his prophecy about Israel’s future. The significance of Zion was both its geographical location and its purpose as a worship center for the entire world. According to Isaiah, the LORD founded Zion (Isaiah 14:32) and would reign there after his judgment of the world for universal sin (Isaiah 24:23).

Although the importance of mount Zion was connected to God’s people, the LORD’s protection of it was independent of their situation. God intended to personally defend his territory (Isaiah 31:4) in spite of his children’s rebellion. In fact, the LORD told Isaiah, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: that this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD” (Isaiah 30:8-9).

Eventually, Jerusalem would fall into enemy hands (2 Kings 25:4), but not to the Assyrians. God would miraculously deliver Jerusalem from king Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 B.C. and delay the city’s destruction for more than a hundred years, allowing the people of Judah to escape Assyrian captivity and end up instead in Babylon. Isaiah described the Assyrian attack as punishment for the Judah’s rebellion.

Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, because ye despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out of a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare. (Isaiah 30:12-14).

Imagine

Psalm 48 is a vision of a future or end state of the capital of God’s kingdom. The psalmist refers to this city as the “city of God” (Psalm 48:1). Another way of looking at it would be as God’s hometown, the city where he actually lives. It may be hard to imagine God living on earth, but the Messianic name of God, Immanuel, means “with us (is) God” (6005) or God with us.

The amazing thing about Psalm 48 is that it appears to have been written after Israel was taken into captivity. The purpose of the psalm was probably twofold. First, it was a statement of faith that Jerusalem would survive Assyrian attack. Second, the psalm provided hope to those who dared to imagine that God’s presence on earth would one day be a reality.

The ability to imagine themselves as the final victors over every kingdom on earth gave the Israelites strength to endure their most difficult challenge, exile from their homeland. With hopeful expectation, the psalmist stated, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Psalm 48:2). In other words, he wanted us to imagine the city of Good as a bright light that brings joy to the faces of everyone that sees it.

In addition to portraying the city of God as a place of hope, the psalmist also described mount Zion as an impenetrable fortress. The city’s elevation, proximity to the desert, and access to a water supply made it a perfect place of refuge, but the presence of God’s temple made it an intimidating citadel that seemed beyond capture. The psalmist declared, “For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled and hasted away” (Psalm 48:4-5).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the city of God is its eternal existence. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that he would give them the land of Canaan for ever (Genesis 13:15). When Jesus establishes his kingdom on earth, it says in Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” According to this promise, the psalmist stated, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psalm 48:8).

Trying to imagine a city without end would be impossible if it weren’t for the concept we have of heaven. Even though we can’t see it, we know heaven exists and that it is God’s home right now. Somehow, in the future, heaven and earth will intersect in such a way that eternal life will be natural for human beings. The key to this intersection is Jesus and his triumph over death. As if to explain the need for death to occur before there could be eternal life, the psalmist stated, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).

 

Judah’s turnaround

King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz king of Judah, began his reign within a few years of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. It says in 2 Kings 18:1 that Hezekiah began his reign in the third year of Hoshea’s reign, which would have been about 729 B.C. In 725 B.C., Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, attacked Samaria and three years later the northern Israelite kingdom ended. From that point forward, only the kingdom of Judah was left and Hezekiah became the first king since king Solomon that had sole control of the Promised Land.

Hezekiah’s approach to managing God’s kingdom was the opposite of his father’s. Whereas Ahaz had practiced obscene idolatry comparable to the pagan practices of Syria, Hezekiah was devoted to the LORD and kept his commandments (2 Kings 18:6). Most likely, this was due to the influence of his maternal grandfather Zechariah. During the reign of Uzziah king of Judah, Zechariah was a spiritual advisor. It says in 2 Chronicles 26:5 that Uzziah “sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God.” No doubt, Zechariah also shared his understanding of these visions with Hezekiah. Perhaps, as a young child, Hezekiah had listened in as his grandfather counseled king Uzziah in the ways of God.

The difference between the reigns of king Ahaz and his son Hezekiah was like night and day. The dramatic change produced an almost overnight turnaround in Judah’s decline in stature. King Ahaz’s defeat by Pekah the son of Remaliah resulted in 120,000 valiant men being killed in one day and another 200,000 people being taken into captivity. In spite of this devastating blow to the army of Judah, king Hezekiah was able to reverse the conditions in which the Philistines captured Judahite cities and subdued the most dreaded enemy of Israel (2 Kings 18:8).

King Hezekiah’s dramatic turnaround of the kingdom of Judah was proof that God had not turned his back on his people and was willing to forgive their transgressions if they would put their trust in him. The sincerity with which Hezekiah sought the LORD was such that it says of him in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.”

Upside Down

The land God intended the Israelites to possess was described for Joshua as being, “from the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast” (Joshua 1:4). The closest Israel came to occupying the entire land promised to it was during the reign of king David when a friendship was formed with the king of Tyre, the Philistine hold on Israelite territory was broken, the Moabites were subjugated, and Damascus was forced to pay tribute to David (David’s Conquests).

Because Israel never gained full control of the land, kingdoms such as Tyre and Syria continued to exist and were a continual threat to Israel’s well-being. The only way for God’s kingdom to truly be established was for these kingdoms to be destroyed. God used the Assyrian empire not only to execute his judgment on Israel, but also to punish the universal sin of the nations that rebelled against God and the establishment of his kingdom on earth.

Moab, a kingdom to the east of Israel, was described by Isaiah as an extortioner, a spoiler, and an oppressor that would be consumed out of the land (Isaiah 16:4). Concerning Moab, Isaiah prophesied, “but now the LORD hath spoken, saying, within three years, as the years of a hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble” (Isaiah 16:14). “The destruction of Moab was probably connected with an invasion by Sargon of Assyria in 715/713 B.C.” (note on Isaiah 15:1).

The crushing of Damascus, the capital of Syria, took place during the reign of Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria who captured Damascus and made it an Assyrian province (note on Isaiah 17:3). Damascus was like Tyre in that it was included in the land given to the Israelites, but it could not be converted from Baal worship and it influenced Israel into practicing idolatry. Referring to Damascus’ destruction, Isaiah declared, “At that day shall a man look to his maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves or the images” (Isaiah 17:7-8).

An indication that Isaiah’s message about the doom of Egypt was both immediate and ultimate in its significance was its partial fulfillment in 670 B.C. when Esarhaddon conquered Egypt (Isaiah 19:4), but some of Egypt’s transformation had yet to occur. In particular, references to Egypt being converted to the Lord make it clear that Isaiah was talking about things that would happen after the Messiah was born (Isaiah 19:19-21). Isaiah’s shift in focus to the eternal kingdom of God indicated that the transformation of the world would not be complete until the Messiah’s reign began.

Speaking about the end of time or last days, Isaiah said, “In that day shall Israel be third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed by Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (Isaiah 19:24-25). God’s judgment for universal sin has not yet occurred, therefore, the transformation that occurred during Israel’s captivity was only phase one of God’s plan of redemption. In the end, Isaiah predicted, only God’s kingdom would be left standing.

Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof…Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously. (Isaiah 24:1, 23)