Sunday, July 18, 2010

Isaiah 23 - God's sovereignty over global financial markets

The global golden calf
Opening thoughtAccording to the global strategic forecasting group, Stratfor.com, “Economically, the next 10 years will mark the beginning of a massive reversal in the dominant trends of the past 500 years. For the entirety of that era, steadily rising populations have set the stage for the economic models used in every part of the world: Larger populations mean larger workforces, larger capital supplies and ultimately larger markets. The entire fabric of human economic relations has been based on the precondition of continually enlarging populations.

The 2010-2020 decade will be the turning point in this rule as populations cease rising and rapidly age. This shift is most pronounced in the developed world — with Japan and Europe the most dramatically affected — but it exists in the developing world as well. Turkey, Mexico, China and India are actually aging faster than Europe.
The effects are myriad, but can be separated into two general categories: financial and immigration.
  • Financial: Retirement systems were established generally in the first half of the 20th century, setting 65 as the retirement age. At that time, life expectancy for males was 62 years. As life expectancy moves toward 80 years in advanced industrial society, the financials of retirement, never intended to support an average of 15 years of non-productive life, will create severe financial dislocations for both individuals and societies. The retirement age cannot remain 65. Trying to cope with this imbalance will consume much political capability in the countries affected — which is to say most countries of importance.
  • Immigration: States will have no choice but to compensate for labor shortages by increasing immigration from countries where the demographic decline is less progressed. It should be noted that the mid-tier countries that have traditionally supplied labor have been growing — and aging — dramatically. In addition, some of these mid-tier countries are now growing so rapidly that the attractiveness of emigration will decline. At the same time, not all advanced industrial countries are aging at the same rate. The United States, due to general social heterogeneity and prior migration, will not experience the same declines as Europe. Consequently, new patterns of relations — as well as new patterns of immigration — will emerge, as poorer and younger states become the new sources of migrants.
Pray and Read:  Isaiah 23

Contextual Notes: 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 chapters 21-23 are a middle section that will end with an end-times prediction of judgment on the whole world in chapters 24-27.

The oracle of judgment in chapter 23 is about Tyre, the wealthy Phoenician seaport on the Mediterranean coast north of Israel. Just as Babylon is the land power (21), so Tyre is the sea power (23). Isaiah predicts the harbor will be destroyed and its greatness end. We see here the principle that every culture on earth will surely bear the judgment of God one day.

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 23 to teach Israel that the Lord uses economic forces for his sovereign purposes.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about how the Lord uses the global economy for his purposes.

Sermon Points:
  1. The Lord Almighty plans economic forces (Isaiah 23:1-9).
  2. The Lord uses economic forces to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 23:10-14).
  3. The Lord uses economic forces to deal with nations and bring them to redemption (Isaiah 23:15-18).
Exposition:   Note well,

1.   THE LORD ALMIGHTY PLANS ECONOMIC FORCES (Isaiah 23:1-9)
a.   Key: 23:9.
b.   The cities of Tyre and Sidon are today located in Lebanon to the north of Israel. Their inhabitants were famed seafarers who controlled the sea trade and thus the commerce of the Mediterranean coast (23:1-2, 8; Ezekiel 28:2). The pride of Tyre was its two rocky islands off the coast which served as its port. King Hiram had connected the two islands with an embankment and run water to it. Alexander the Great destroyed the old town on the mainland and used the rubble to build an embankment to the islands.
c.   Under David, the border of Israel extended to Tyre (2 Sam 24:7). Solomon negotiated with them to build the Temple (2 Chron. 2:2-16). Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre who married Ahab and tried to introduce Baal worship to northern Israel (1 Kings 16:31). About 850 BC Tyre colonized Carthage in north Africa and worked gold mines in Thrace. Tyre was a close trading partner with Egypt and sold their agricultural products. They sailed as far as Tarshish, which many believe, because of its use in other passages, is Spain or perhaps northern Europe or the United Kingdom. They worshiped the sea, but Isaiah has the sea tell them that the Lord created the sea, and it denies the powers they ascribe to it (23:4).
d.   As the bankers and financiers, commercial planners and shippers, Tyre and Sidon controlled much of international commerce. They were the decision makers. If you did not work with them, they would not ship your goods, and you stood to lose a lot of money. As such they also had a powerful voice in geopolitical matters because they had a choke hold on the international financial markets through their seafaring monopoly. But God belittles their financial power and their princes (23:8). His plan is to remind them who he is by humbling all who are renowned in the earth (23:8-9, 11-12). Each section of this chapter begins with an imperative (23:1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 16). Howl, the ships of Tarshish are told, because not one house remains inhabitable. The ships from Kittim, perhaps the Aegean, southern Greece, and southern Italy, or perhaps Cyprus.
e.   Tyre’s decline: In 876 BC, Tyre began paying tribute to the Assyrians, and lost the battle of Qarqar, 853. Tiglath-pileser III and later Shalmanezer besieged the city for five years, but a treaty was concluded in 722, the year that northern Israel fell to the Assyrians. They destroyed the city in 677. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years before conquering it in 572 BC. Once the Persians came to world domination, Sidon became more powerful than Tyre, and in 520 BC, Carthage became independent. Artaxerxes III Ochus destroyed Sidon in 351 and later by Alexander the Great. He built a mole from the destroyed city half a mile long and 200 feet wide from the coast to the island port and conquered it in 7 months. Alexander hanged 2000 of Tyre’s leaders and sold 30,000 inhabitants into slavery. Tyre never again regained its glory, though it remained a commercial and industrial center throughout the Roman period. In AD 636 the Muslim Arabs conquered the city, and today it is just a coastal town, the modern Sur, with about 6000 residents.
f.    APPLICATION: God is in control. He directs nations and leaders and economies for his purposes. He dislikes arrogance and pride and will bring it down to repentance. This is why as Christians in this global economy we must walk in repentance and holiness, and he will guide, protect, and direct us.
2.   THE LORD USES ECONOMIC FORCES TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSES (Isaiah 23:10-14)
a.   Key: 23:11
b.   God will use the Assyrians, who had just defeated the Babylonians (23:12-14). A century and a half later, the Babylonians would arise and destroy Tyre again (Ezekiel 26-28). Tyre would soon be of no account, Isaiah says (23:13; Prov. 16:18). Pride that flows from material wealth is futile (Luke 12:13-21).
3.   THE LORD USES ECONOMIC FORCES TO DEAL WITH NATIONS AND BRING THEM TO REDEMPTION (Isaiah 23:15-18).
a.   Key: 23:17.
b.   Tyre is similar to Jerusalem. Her dirge is set to music (23:16). She is a prostitute (1:21; Hosea 1:3), trading with any city who had the money to spend, and like Jerusalem, she will see mercy in 70 years (23:15, 17; Jer. 25:11; Dan 9:1-2). Despite the immensity and persistence of sin, God continues to show himself merciful. Her wealth would be used for God’s glory in the coming days (23:18).
c.   ILLUSTRATION:  Stratfor.com, in their 2010-2020 forecast, says, “From the American point of view, the 2010s will continue the long-term increase in economic and military power that began more than a century ago. The United States remains the overwhelming — but not omnipotent — military power in the world, and produces 25 percent of the world’s wealth each year.
d.   The United States is in the fourth economic crisis since World War II: the municipal bond crisis of the 1970s, the Third World Debt Crisis and the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s, and now the investment banking crisis. Each represented excessive risk-taking in the financial community followed by a federal bailout based on monetizing privately held assets through printing money and taxing. Each resulted in recessions, and each ended in due course. The magnitude of the problem of the early 2010s is debatable, but we see no reason to believe that this crisis will not work itself out as did the other three.
e.   The United States will withdraw for a while from its more aggressive operations in the world, moving to a model of regional balances of power which Washington maintains and manipulates when necessary. This will not manifest as introspection, but rather as a rebalancing of U.S. attention and force posture.
f.    The greatest international issue for the United States will no longer be the Islamic world or even Russia, although both will have to be dealt with. The issue will be Mexico, and it is an issue with several parts. First, Mexico is a rapidly growing but unstable power on the U.S. border. Second, Mexico’s cartels are gaining power and influence in the United States. Third, the United States will be trapped by a culture that is uneasy with a massive Mexican immigrant population and an economy that cannot manage without it.
g.   But in terms of demographics, as in many other categories, the United States stands apart. Yes, America is aging, but at a much slower rate than Japan, China, Germany, France, Mexico, Turkey or India. The United States is also very good at assimilating immigrants — from Mexico or elsewhere — while Europe (to say nothing of Japan) is not. Therefore, the United States’ biggest demographic-related problem in the 2010s will be financial: retiring baby boomers will generate a capital crunch that will have to be dealt with by not allowing them to retire, cutting retirement benefits sharply or both. This is a serious concern, but one the United States shares with the rest of the developed world.
h.   APPLICATION: God’s plan is to bring the nations to redemption. Often he must use the thing that is closest to our heart and that is closest to worship, and for many of us, whether believer or not, financial matters are an idol. You can trust the Lord to provide for you through this economy as you are obedient to him in following the commands of Scripture regarding money. You can trust his character and his leadership with what is and will go on in our new global economy.
Invitation: