If “The Day of the LORD” were a blockbuster movie, Isaiah 13-14 could be its movie trailer. In these two chapters, the prophet flashes scenes of devastation interspersed with heart-rending love scenes. Isaiah gets our attention and leaves us wanting more.
“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!”
The previous chapter, Isaiah 12, brought us to a mountain top of hope–we caught a glimpse of our future King and it made us burst into song. We closed our Bibles with high hopes for the future.
Then we woke. And I don’t mean “woke,” as in the political term that calls the rest of us bigots. No, we simply woke up the day after voting to find a world still waiting for election results. We were still waiting on the name of our next president, much less the coming of our future Messianic King.
How does Isaiah’s ancient prophecy help us wait?
Coming Soon: Babylon’s Fall and the Day of the LORD (Isaiah 13-14:23)
The Bible is a political book. It tells the story of our coming King and encourages us to pray eagerly for his Kingdom to come.
It’s hard enough to follow today’s news, but to keep up with world events in Isaiah’s time is even tougher. If you’re like me, you know the high points, but you get lost in the details. King David’s reign is memorable. King Solomon’s comes to us in full color with lush orchestration. But after that? Well, it gets a bit muddy.
Especially after Israel split into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. Now we have two dynasties to keep track of!
So we try to read our own headlines through a biblical lens. We ask, Who is God’s enemy? Is it Trump or Biden? The US or Russia or China or Iran or ???
Isaiah answers us in biblical terms: God opposes the proud. “I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless (Isaiah 13:11b).” In this case God was promising to take down Babylon, “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them (Isaiah 13:19).” He paints the picture of their devastation in wild, bold words.
Of course this prophecy goes over our heads, since we don’t live in ancient Israel. However, it also came as a surprise to its hearers. Babylon’s wasn’t even a major super power yet. And her fall was still 100 years in the future. The big bully on the scene right now was Assyria.
Why in the world was God revealing the future fall of Babylon to Israel in Isaiah 13-14:23? To encourage his people as they wait.
Sneak Preview #1: Real Footage of Assyria’s Fall (Isaiah 14:24-27)
Since Babylon’s fall is still a century away, God gives two sneak previews of coming attractions. The first movie trailer is the fall of Assyria, a current bully on the world scene.
In these brief 4 verses, God identifies himself as the LORD of hosts (v. 24 & 27). This is his military title. Not only is he the King, as King he is Commander in Chief of the hosts of heaven. These verses use forceful language. The LORD of hosts makes a solemn oath:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand.”
What has he purposed? To break the power of Assyria, not just over his people, but over all of its vast empire. This was a God-sized task, which he would accomplish with his little finger. Isaiah records it in 37:36, “And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” Listen to Alec Motyer’s description:
Assyria was the current super-power; its armies irresistible; its ferocity legendary.
It was crushed in one night by one angel.
Alec Motyer, Isaiah By the Day, p. 88
Shortly afterward, the King of Assyria returned to his palace in Nineveh, where he was assassinated by two of his sons. Done.
Sneak Preview #2: The Quick Defeat of a Nearby Bully (Isaiah 14:28-31)
If the first movie trailer of God’s absolute power over his people’s enemies wasn’t enough, Isaiah is given one more sneak preview to encourage Judah’s faith. This one has a time stamp. It occurred at the death of King Ahaz, the most ungodly king of Judah during Isaiah’s long ministry.
Now Ahaz had been not just wicked but foolish. He had actually made an alliance with Assyria, as if little Judah had anything to offer this major super power. To make matters worse, he gave the Assyrian king gold and silver from God’s temple.
And to top it off, Ahaz made a pilgrimage to Damascus to encourage his own “faith journey.” He thought, Wow, their altar is so much better than Yahweh’s pathetic one. I should make a copy of theirs and stick this old thing out back (2 Kings 16:10-16).
Ahaz’s death brought nearby dignitaries to his funeral, probably even an official delegation from nearby Philistia. You can imagine the Philistine princes dabbing their eyes while drooling over Judah as their next prize. God’s word to Isaiah says otherwise:
“Do not rejoice,
Philistia, all of you,
that the rod which struck you has been broken.
For from the root of the snake will emerge a viper,
and its fruit a fiery, flying serpent.”
In the words of our pastor, “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.” The neighborhood bully, Philistia, will face the same judgment as Assyria. The LORD of armies will take down Judah’s nearest enemy.
Movie trailers are vivid and short. They’re meant to whet our appetite for the coming release. The Day of the LORD scenes are pure action, thick with noise and dust. But what about the love scenes? One comes in the middle of the trailer, the other one in the final 3 seconds.
Final Scene: The Day of the LORD and The Heart of the LORD (Isaiah 14:1-2, 32)
The Day of the LORD dominates these two chapters, making them heavy with judgment, but the Lord’s compassion interrupts the heaviness with gut wrenching tenderness:
“For Yahweh will have compassion on Jacob,
and go on choosing Israel,
and he will give them rest in their own land…”
Isaiah 14:1a (my emphasis)
Compassion is a deep empathy that is moved to acts of mercy. According to Motyer, it comes from the word “womb” and pictures the instinctive surge of a mother’s heart for her endangered child.
Isaiah reassures his listeners, including us, that God’s love for his people won’t give up on us when we’re in trouble, even when–especially when–it’s our own fault.
Isaiah tells us that God opposes the proud (13:11b, 19), but James reminds us he gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). In that case we’re all sunk. Who among us is humble? In the days following a bitter election we see lots of emotion, but not much humility.
It’s a good thing the heart of our LORD is wrung with compassion for his disobedient ones. So much compassion that he sent his Son to be the Humble One, the lamb led without protest to his execution. As we stand before his cross and watch him take our sins of pride and trash talking and partisan fury, he humbles us to receive the mercy he is ready to bestow.
May God give us the humility we need to represent him in these post-election days. And may humility open the floodgates of his grace to those around us.