In the chapters before us today, Isaiah continues his predictions of judgment that will soon strike the nations of his day in the Middle East. He had begun at chapter 13 and ended with a long focus on Egypt. Chapters 21-23 are a middle area of this section of Isaiah’s prophecy that will end with an end-times prediction of judgment on the whole world in chapters 24-27.
In the lesson today, chapter 21 concerns the fall of pagan Babylon to Assyria (21:1-10), not even due to become a world power for another century, and a few lines against Edom and Arabia who try futilely to resist Assyria’s power.
Chapter 22 is a strong denunciation of the shallow faith of God’s people at Jerusalem, despite God’s gracious deliverance from Assyria at the time of Hezekiah (22:1-14). Following on its heels, Isaiah calls out with scorn a contemporary government official in Jerusalem named Shebna and predicts his replacement by “my servant Eliakim” (22:15-25), but even he will not be able to hold in the day of judgment.
Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 21-22 to teach Israel their need to intercede for others and to repent of their sin.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about prayer and repentance.
- You are called as a watchman (Isaiah 21).
- You are called to repent (Isaiah 22).
Exposition: Note well,
1. YOU ARE CALLED AS A WATCHMAN (Isaiah 21).
a. Assyria was in northern Mesopotamia, Babylon in the south. In this brilliant image, the Desert by the Sea (21:1) is near the Persian Gulf. Isaiah had already prophesied its future destruction (13:1-14:23) because of cruelty and idolatry (21:2, 9). The Medes and Persians would march on Babylon, well armed, well ordered, and controllable as a tornado (21:1, 2, 7, 9).
b. 21:3-4, 8 – The prophetic ministry of intercession: Isaiah models the work of the ministry of intercession.
c. 21:6 – Go, post a watchman: Like the preceding chapter 20, this one throws light on the task of the prophet and his sensitivity to suffering as God’s representative (21:3-4). He does not enjoy foreseeing violence, but he must obey God’s call. Notice the call to “go” (21:6) reminds us of his call to “go” in 6:9, where he was told to go and proclaim salvation and judgment. God told Abraham to go (Gen. 12:1), and Balaam to go (Num 22:20), and Hosea to go (Hosea 1:2) and Jonah to go (1:2; 3:2). That command had to be obeyed, even when in God’s sovereignty it brought suffering, for disobedience would bring worse consequences. In Matt 28:18-20 we are called to “go” as well. It is a command, not a nice thought or something for those committed missionaries. Are you willing to go even when it might mean that you suffer some (Romans 8:18-20)?
d. The prophet was to be a watchmen/lookout (21:6; Ezek. 3:17). This position is tiring because it means constant vigilance to observe the signs of the time (21:8; 20:1-6). Isaiah had to focus on two things: (1) God’s word to him and God’s word spoken in the past (21:10; 8:20; Deut 27-28) and (2) how the events and behavior of the times related to God’s word. This is our job. This is Christlike. Isaiah’s focus on God surprised his hearers (Mark 6:2-6; Luke 5:15, 26; John 7:45-46) and resulted in his being loved by the oppressed (Mark 6:30-34) or detested by the oppressors (1 Kings 18:1-19:18; Mark 6:14-29).
e. APPLICATION: Who are you called to pray for? Are you interceding for that person, or those children or grandchildren, or that family, or that church, or that group of friends, or that company, or that city, or that nation? You are called to be a watchman for somebody else. Are you going in obedience to the place of the watchman, or are you neglecting your post? You must stand on the unchanging Word of God and watch the ever changing events and developments of the times for the ones you are responsible for. Isaiah 62:6.
f. 21:11-12 – Edom: In his oracle to Dumah, a play on the Hebrew for silence and Edom, the descendants of Esau (Gen. 23:3; Obadiah). (Instead of a-dom, Edom, it is dom-ah – stillness, silence of night and death). The Edomites were a people who always stood against whatever God wanted to do.
g. 11:12 – “Watchman, how much of the night has passed and how much more must we endure before the light of morning comes?” The Edomites ask the prophet, God’s watchman (21:6), when the misfortune, or night, will come (21:11), the anticipated Assyrian invasion (8:1-10:34). The prophet points to the hopeful end and then the dark beginning. The morning is coming as well as the night. However, to experience the day, the Edomites need to return (shuv) to God, i.e., to repent and be converted (21:12; 37:15-38). This is the only way to escape the coming night (38:16).
h. 21:13-17 – Arabia: The Arabian tribes, the Dedanites, the Tema, and the Kedar lived in this region (Gen 25:3, 13, 15). The message is similar to the one to the Edomites/Moab (21:16-17; 15:1-16:14). Note this reference to years as counted by a contracted servant, implying a technical precision to this prophecy of coming punishment, but giving time to prepare for the coming night. The Arabs are given the assurance of a remnant of survivors, a sign of God’s mercy (16:13-14).
i. APPLICATION: Night is coming. Have you repented of your sin? Have you found yourself in Christ? The night is nearly over and the day is almost here. Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom. 13:12).
2. YOU ARE CALLED TO REPENT (Isaiah 22).
a. 22:1: The Valley of Vision – This passage is clearly about Judah and Jerusalem which is situated on a hill, Mount Zion, but Isaiah points ironically to Jerusalem as being in a valley, a valley that cannot see the vision. Isaiah’s vision is that the leaders of Jerusalem are not on a mountaintop seeing what is happening. They are in a valley, isolated, enjoying themselves, and unaware that their celebrations should be mourning. While other nations face great misfortune, Jerusalem is at ease and happy. God questions them knowing their confidence will turn to shame (22:1-2). Isaiah prophecies that when their city comes under siege, their officers will flee the battle, as did indeed happen during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587BC (22:2-3; 2 Kings 25:4).
b. 22:4, 5, 14 – Misplaced priorities - While Jerusalem celebrates, God is sad, mourning for the daughter of my people (22:4; 1:2). Jeremiah 8:19-23 has a similar lament for the city. Despite his sadness, God’s character requires him to act against the people’s sin. He knows that only when Jerusalem’s walls are flat will the people return (shuv) to him (2 Kings 25:10). The people have forgotten that God is their only source of protection (Psalm 121).
c. 22:6-11 – Misplaced trust – Faced with invasion, the people of Jerusalem prefer to trust in their own military, their own strength. They look to the Palace of the Forest, i.e., the king’s palace where the weapons are stored (1 Kings 7:2; 10:16-17). They have forgotten that the battle is not by might nor by power (Zechariah 4:6). They also trust in their own resources and water reserves (22:9-11), but God’s plan was laid down long ago. The people of Samaria made the same mistakes (9:8-10).
d. 22:12-14 – Call for repentance – God now calls the people to repent of their sin (22:12) to avert the coming destruction. But the people of Jerusalem remain unconcerned and continue celebrations (22:13, 2). Without repentance there can be no forgiveness, so the Lord pursues his plan against Jerusalem (22:14).
e. APPLICATION: Have your priorities been out of line? Have you been misplacing your trust? Have you been relying on yourself? Have you been trusting in your own resources, trying to do it yourself? Are you one of those who does not ask anyone for anything if you can’t get it for yourself? That, my friend, will destroy your soul. You have to come to an understanding that you need Christ, that your sin is destroying you, before you can be saved.
f. What about our nation? Do we rely too much on our military and our own might when we know that it is not by might nor by power but by my spirit, saith the Lord? Have we been arrogantly certain that our position as the #1 economic power in the world will keep us from harm? Do we think that we cannot run out of money, that we can just print more when we need it? Are we spending our time doing our own thing, isolating ourselves from the suffering in the world, trying to imagine we live in a better world than we do? Perhaps we need to repent for our national sin and arrogance. Perhaps as a church we need to seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our misplaced trust and priorities.
g. 22:15-25 – Two examples in government, one poor, one good.
i. 22:15-19: A self-serving government official: Shebna – While Jerusalem stands in harm’s way and its future is shaky and bleak, the government official Shebna looks out for his own interests. He is building himself at taxpayer expense a magnificent tomb as a monument to himself like the Egyptian pharaohs, piling up riches, including hot rides -- splendid chariots. Shebna has no concern for the well-being of his nation or his people. Shebna is concerned about Shebna. God says he will punish him, thrown him out of office, and leave him destitute.
ii. Note that while this anti-leader is piling up riches, carving out his own monument to himself and his memory, a tomb hewn out of rock, there is a Rock, the Lord Jesus, who lived a life of poverty, but who had a new tomb hewn out of rock in which no one else had ever been laid, that was given to him, and he broke it wide open on the third day, defeating the grave and death and hell and he took all his riches with him to the Throne where he sits at the right hand of the Father.
iii. 22:20-25: A servant leader: Eliakim – He is a different leader, and a picture of the Messiah to come. First, he is called “my servant,” a Messianic label that Isaiah was called (22:20; 20:3) and which goes back to Moses and Joshua. He wears a robe and sash of office like Aaron the priest (Lev 8:7; Isa. 11:5), and he is descended from Hilkiah, a high priest. Like God, he will be a father to the people (22:21; 1:2; 9:7). He carries a key, a symbol of ruling power (22:22; Matt. 16:19). He is a solid peg on which many others can depend (22:23-24). But even though Eliakim is all this, he is still just a man, and that peg will eventually give way.
iv. But there is coming a Peg whose pegs (nails) can hold the whole world’s sin to his cross. He carries a key to unlock salvation for anyone who would call upon him. He is not a father who will die, but he is an Everlasting Father who has overcome death. He is a priest who will finish his work. He is the Messianic servant, the suffering servant that Isaiah will see later in his prophecy, who will come and set his people free through is own sacrifice.
h. APPLICATION: One has come, the Messiah, and he is coming again. But next time, he won’t be a little baby in a manger or a dying man on a cross or a body wrapped in a tomb. He is coming back with healing in his wings, with power in his mouth, with a white horse of victory under him, and he will come to rule and reign. Will you serve him today?