Sunday, September 18, 2011

Isaiah 23 - The Global Financial Crisis

The Triumphal Arch in Tyre, LebanonImage via Wikipedia
Triumphal Arch at Tyre, Lebanon, today
Opening thought
Last Friday morning the new unemployment numbers came out for August, and across our nation unemployment remained at 9.1%. Unemployment rose in 26 states and remained the same in 12 others. With very little economic growth the first half of the year, employers could not hire. And while North Carolina was the second highest state in the Union in adding jobs, our unemployment still grew from 10.1% to 10.4%. Our Nash, Wilson, and Edgecombe Counties still have some of the highest unemployment in the state, and we all had increases in August: Nash at 12.6% (up from 12% in July), Wilson at 13.6% (up from 12.4% in July), and Edgecombe at 16.2% (up from 14.5% in July).[1]

Times are tough and they have been now for three years. Does the Bible have anything to say about economic forces? Yes, in fact, Isaiah does.

Pray and Read:  Isaiah 23 in portions

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 uses global economic forces to bring forth His glory (Isa. 23: 1-9).
2.   The Lord uses global economic forces to bring forth His purposes (Isa. 23:10-14).
3.   The Lord uses global economic forces to bring forth His redemption (Isa. 23:15-18).

Exposition:   Note well,

1.   THE LORD USES GLOBAL ECONOMIC FORCES TO BRING FORTH HIS GLORY (Isa. 23: 1-9).
a.   Key: Isa. 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 (Isa. 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 (Isa. 23:4).
Satellite caption of the Mediterranean Sea.Image via Wikipedia
The Mediterranean: Tyre controlled the seas
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 (Isa. 23:8). His plan is to remind them who He is by humbling all who are renowned in the earth (Isa. 23:8-9, 11-12). Each section of this chapter begins with an imperative (Isa. 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.
g.   Larry Burkett, the founder of the Christian Financial Concepts which became Crown Financial Ministries, wrote a book in 1991 called The Coming Economic Earthquake. It sold over 800K copies. The gist of it was that the US government for decades has spent enormously more money than it has collected in tax revenues, and that if not reversed, we would have an historic financial collapse. He felt that the national debt, runaway deficits, Medicare and Social Security spending, and rising consumer debt loads would, perhaps at the turn of the century, bring the nation to its knees. His predictions have not happened on the time table he suggested, but he felt that sometime after 2000 the US economy would not be able to further sustain the debt loads its government and citizens were building.[2] He wrote, “All attempts to establish a time is purely guesswork. … Only when we get within one year of a major economic collapse will the indicators be clear [as national banks and investment firms begin failing.] … It should be noted here that the printing of money to pay the government’s bills will be one of the last, and certainly the most desperate, measures because of the potential severity of the consequences. … I cannot project timing very well but, in the long run, true economic principles take over. … Our single hope of economic recovery resides in the America entrepreneur’s ability to see a need and fill it.”[3]
2.   THE LORD USES GLOBAL ECONOMIC FORCES TO BRING FORTH HIS PURPOSES (Isa. 23:10-14)
a.   Key: Isa. 23:11
b.   God will use the Assyrians, who had just defeated the Babylonians (Isa. 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 (Isa. 23:13; Prov. 16:18). Pride that flows from material wealth is futile (Luke 12:13-21).
c.   ILLUSTRATION: The sectors of our economy were at an all-time peak. Technology and industrial output were roaring. Charles E. Mitchell, chairman of the National City Bank of New York, assured investors, “The industrial situation of the United States is absolutely sound, and our credit situation is in no way critical. The markets generally are now in a healthy condition. I know of nothing wrong with the stock market or with the underlying credit and credit structure.”[4] Two days later, on October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Many leading economists pronounced the crash “a buying opportunity.” The stock market rallied and slumped over three years after the crash, finally bottoming out in 1933 and dragging on until the US entered World War II.[5] Now we can look back over history and see that economies correct themselves or reset every 70-80 years. We won’t know for some time whether the Great Recession of 2008-9 was just that or if a double dip will mirror the Great Depression.
d.   Charles Stanley in his July 4th message in 2010 tried to prepare his people and listeners for a change coming when, he said, in about 18 months our nation will not be able to make our interest payments on our national debt, and it would change our way of life.

e.    Porter Stansberry has put a lengthy webinar online about a coming financial collapse.[6] Maybe you’ve seen it. While he is selling a product, he has some good information about our economic situation. He predicted the collapse of Fannie and Freddie, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and General Motors three years before they did. The same accounting they used, he says, has found its way into the US Treasury and threatens to change our way of life. using numbers provided by the Congressional Budget Office) a debt default by the U.S. government would be inevitable – were it not for one simple anomaly... the one thing that has saved the United States so far – our country's unique ability simply to print more money. You see, the U.S. government has one very important weapon to use in this crisis: It is the only debtor in the world who can legally print U.S. dollars. And the U.S. dollar is what's known as "the world's reserve currency." The dollar forms the basis of the world's financial system. It is what banks around the world hold in reserve against their loans. As things stand now, the U.S. government can't go broke in any ordinary sense of the word because it can simply print dollars to pay for its bad debts. (It's been doing so since March of 2009). And our creditors are figuring out what's happening, and they're getting very angry.
f.    With all the high gas prices, we still pay less than anyone in the developed world because oil is priced in US dollars. Dollars have been the world currency for decades, but historically when nations become debtors, their currency is devalued, and payment is accepted in new currencies. It couldn’t happen? It did in Great Britain in the 1970s. For nearly 200 years the British sterling was the world’s reserve currency. After World War II, Britain pursued a national socialist agenda, nationalizing corporations. The nation went broke, and the liberal Labour party in 1967, in an effort to help people pay their debts, devalued their currency by 14% overnight, but it 14% of everyone’s money evaporated overnight. In 1974, the British government instituted the 3-day week, allowing businesses only 3 days of electricity per week. In 1975 inflation increased 26.9%. The government then froze wages which made strikes rampant. Hospitals were reduced to accepting emergency patients only. Patients had to bring their own food, bedding, and clean towels. Candles were a commodity.
g.   Here in the US, the value of the dollar has dropped 12% from June 2010 to June 2011. And prices have begun to climb. Meanwhile, the Treasury is flooding the market with more money to pay government debt. The states are suffering because they cannot print money like the Federal government can. 46 states face huge budget shortfalls for 2011, on top of their 2010 deficits they still are figuring out. The total state budget shortfall could reach $160 billion. Last year the Federal stimulus helped the states, but that is gone. What now?  Arizona announced in early 2010 that it is selling $735 million worth of government-owned buildings, but will still occupy them by paying a 20-year lease. The government is selling the legislative buildings, the House and Senate, the State Capitol Executive Tower, the state fairgrounds, even prisons. California has taken the radical step of releasing thousands of inmates. About 11% of the state budget ($8 billion) goes to the penal system (more than they spend on higher education), so the state is releasing 6,500 inmates in 2012, about 4% of the prison population. Georgia is proposing taking out "dead peasant" policies on state employees, sending benefits when they die to the state treasury.
h.   Here is the important point: What most people don't realize is that the U.S. government can only continue printing dollars  as long as the U.S. dollar remains the world's reserve currency. Could that ever change? Robert Fisk of Britain's Independent newspaper wrote in the fall of 2010: "In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese Yen, Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar." Fisk also interviewed a Chinese banker who said: "These plans will change the face of international financial transactions. America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate." US officials quickly denied that this meeting took place, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that US currency will never be devalued. Cheng Siwei, a former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee, said that China (the holder of more dollars than any other nation) is going to stop putting so much money into U.S. dollars, and will instead look to the Japanese Yen and the Euro. Dollars are no longer accepted by HSBC in Mexico, at tourist destinations like Amsterdam and India’s tourism sites. Shops in China are no longer accepting dollar-based credit cards from foreign banks, and China and Russia will begin trading in each other’s currency to reduce the global influence of the dollar. Many places in Texas now accept Mexican pesos, and in Manhattan they accept euros. The International Monetary Fund on April 13, 2010, called for a new global currency called the Bancor, administered by a global central bank.
i.     15% of Americans are now on food stamps. Modern-day shanty towns like in the Great Depression of homeless people evicted from foreclosure are now in Fresno, Sacramento, and Nashville. Oprah visited the one in Fresno with 2000 residents. 43% of Americans spend more than they make each year. The average credit card debt for American homes is over $8,000.  The 9.1% unemployment rate only counts those who are getting unemployment benefits. It does not count those who have been out of work so long their benefits have stopped or those who have given up. The corporate tax rate is the second highest in the world, behind Japan, whose new prime minister says he wants to cut theirs by 15%. Intel CEO Paul Otellini said in a recent speech: "I can tell you definitively that it costs $1 billion more per factory for me to build, equip, and operate a semiconductor manufacturing facility in the United States," and 90% of the additional costs are not from higher labor rates... but from higher taxes and regulatory charges.
j.    What do you think will happen the first month that the government is not able to post funds to EBT (food stamp) cards? Or Social Security? Or Medicaid? Remember what happened in New Orleans after Katrina? That is a world where there is no moral fabric of people helping one another, but an evolutionary, humanistic, me-first worldview that says I will get it before you or kill you to get what is yours.
k.   ILLUSTRATION: But there is more than what Porter Stansberry or Larry Burkett talk about. According 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.
l.     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.
m. The effects are myriad, but can be separated into two general categories: financial and immigration. Financial: When retirement systems were established in the first half of the 20th century, male life expectancy was 62 years, so the retirement age was set at 65. Now as life expectancy nears 80 years in our society, retirement funding which was never intended to support an average of 15 non-productive years will create severe financial dislocations for individuals and societies. The retirement age cannot remain 65. Coping with this imbalance will consume much political capability in wealthier nations. Immigration: Aging states will be forced to increase immigration from poorer and younger nations to compensate for labor shortages. The United States, due to general social heterogeneity and prior migration, will not experience such steep declines as Europe.
n.   APPLICATION:  America has had more light given to her than almost any other nation, apart from Israel. Despite our blessings, we have thumbed our nose at God and let Him know that we do things our way. What God hears constantly are the cries of 55 million aborted children crying out for justice. We have embraced the ethics of Darwin’s deluded doctrine of evolution. This nation has produced more pornography than any other country in the world, enslaving millions in bondage to lust and every type of sexual perversion. We are a nation of covenant breakers who disregard the sanctity of marriage, breaking the vows which came out of our own mouths and emboldening those who claim a new right to gender-free marriages and shame us into accepting their Sodom and Gomorrah lifestyles as normal. We have banned public prayer from our schools and adopted a human-centered, social evolutionist philosophy, and wonder why our sons and daughters are shedding each others’ blood on campuses around the nation.
o.   America’s problem is not economic, but much deeper. We are not financially bankrupt. We are spiritually bankrupt. We did not have a banking collapse. We have a moral collapse. This is not about the problems of real estate. It is about the problems of our spiritual estate. It is not about failure in the housing market but failure in God’s House. We are more interested in being seeker sensitive than Holy Spirit sensitive. We don’t need repentance. We want relevance. We want the message to point us to our own prosperity rather than reveal our own spiritual poverty. We come seeking a blessing when the blessing is found in serving a brother. We think life is all about being happy when it is all about being holy. We want the Word of God made positive and encouraging all the time. We want a K-Love kind of gospel. But we want it prophetic and incisive none of the time. We don’t want it sharper than any two-edged sword. We think we are supposed to come to church to get something good out of it for our lives when we are supposed to come to church to give glory to the Lord of our lives.
3.   THE LORD USES GLOBAL ECONOMIC FORCES TO BRING FORTH HIS REDEMPTION (Isa. 23:15-18).
a.   Key: Isa. 23:17.
b.   This is the good news. God is merciful. Tyre is similar to Jerusalem. Her dirge is set to music (Isa. 23:16). She is a prostitute (Isa. 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 (Isa. 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 (Isa. 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 its old Cold War model of regional balances of power which Washington maintains and manipulates when necessary.
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 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.
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.
i.    So here are a few things I recommend you do to prepare yourself and your family
                     i.        Get out of debt as quickly as you can, including your house.
                    ii.        Cut back on your spending to levels below what you make. A good rule of thumb is to tithe 10%, save 10%, and live on 80%.
                  iii.        Develop relationships and friendships with people in your church and in your community. When the hard times come, and they come to all of us, financial crisis or not, having friends and sharing resources like some of us older ones remember doing during the Great Depression made life sweet and manageable.
                  iv.        Teach your children to be self-sufficient and to do more with less. Show them how to plant and harvest a vegetable & herb garden in your yard. If you don’t have a yard, offer to help a family member or friend do theirs so your kids can learn. Teach them how to change oil and cook a meal and gain strength from Scripture.
                   v.        Pray for provision and protection in the days that are ahead. As judgments were poised to strike the nations, Isaiah was in constant communion with God in prayer. "Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee " (Isaiah 26:8). Isaiah was prepared for anything because he was already "praying without ceasing." “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation... He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath Spoken it" (Isaiah 25:8-9).
                  vi.        Trust the Lord, His character, His provision, His protection, and His peace. Here is the second reason Isaiah had come into a place of peace despite all the upheaval around him. He was saying to us - indeed, to believers of every age - in effect: "You who live in the very last days can also have this double portion of peace. Abandon yourself to simple trust in the Lord, your Rock." "Trust ye in the Lord at all times: for in the Lord Jehovah is [your] everlasting strength" (Isa. 26:4). "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2).[7]
j.    Larry Burkett in 2000, three years before his death, cautioned believers in this way, “Although I still believe that this economy cannot continue at its present rate without suffering irreversible damage, I do not suggest that everyone run out and withdraw from the stock market or change all of their investments or retirement plans. My intent is to inform people of the seriousness of our national economic situation, to encourage them to become debt free (including their homes), and to inspire people to get angry enough to demand changes in our current government spending patterns. We also must seek God’s intervention and encourage others to do so. Scripture is clear about repentance bringing change. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
k.   Although we may not be able to forecast when the forthcoming economic collapse will happen or how to protect our holdings when it happens, God knows, and we can trust His guidance! Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God, and God would provide for our needs (see Matthew 6:33). A danger of being “financially independent” is that it often means we imagine ourselves also independent of God. We must decide if we truly believe God is able to supply our needs or if we are just saying we believe it. We may not be able to control the world economy, but we can allow God to control our lives, and we can live our lives for His glory. That is all God asks of each of us.[8]
Invitation:


[4] New York Times, October 23, 1929
[5] Larry Burkett, Crisis Control in the New Millennium (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), chapter 1.