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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Isaiah received many words from God over the years. When he compiled them together into a single book, they seem repetitive, and we tend to skip over them impatiently. Yet we should understand that there may have been months or years between each passage. But in those days papyrus (paper), clay tablets, and sheepskin were relatively expensive, so the writers ran everything together. Furthermore, there was no space between words, no paragraph spacing, and they did not even have any punctuation.
The first half of Isaiah is filled with warnings of impending judgment, calls for repentance, and laments that the unbelieving people were so deaf and blind.
Isaiah 9:8, 9, 10 says,
8 The Lord sends a message against Jacob, and it falls on Israel. 9 And all the people know it, that is, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, asserting in pride and in arrogance of heart: 10 “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with smooth stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.”
The “message” that God sent to Jacob-Israel may have been the great earthquake that devastated the land of Israel and Judah during the reign of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. The prophet Amos had been sent as a missionary from Judah to Israel “two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1). Scholars date the quake about 760-750 B.C. It actually destroyed the monarchy of Israel, leaving a 24-year gap where no king reigned in Israel.
Archeologists have found the rubble from that earthquake, and they estimate that the quake was about 8.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was just north of Israel. Judah too was devastated, but being farther south and away from the epicenter, it was not affected as much as Israel was. Josephus wrote about this in the first century, saying,
“In the meantime, a great earthquake shook the ground, and a rent was made in the temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king’s face, inasmuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately” (Antiquities of the Jews, IX, x, 4).
Josephus tells us that this quake occurred as a result of Uzziah’s attempt to usurp the role of a priest by burning incense in the temple (2 Chron. 26:19, 20). That was when he became a leper as well, so his son Jotham ruled in proxy as a co-regent on behalf of his father. See my book, Amos, Missionary to Israel, chapter 1.
Amos’ message had been rejected in Israel, but the quake coincided with the sin of the King of Judah two years later. The earthquake destroyed the defensive walls of the cities in Israel and did much damage also to Judah. In a practical sense, it destroyed their defenses and prepared the way for the Assyrian invasions. The prophets saw it as a sign of impending judgment. Yet the people refused to repent.
Israel’s 24-year gap in the monarchy between Jeroboam II and Zechariah probably meant that little was done to repair the houses and walls of Samaria. When Zechariah finally took the throne, a power struggle ensued. He ruled just six months and was then assassinated by Shallum (2 Kings 15:8-10). Shallum ruled just one month (2 Kings 15:13) before being killed by Menahem (2 Kings 15:14), who then reigned ten years (2 Kings 15:17).
Menahem died of natural causes, but his son Pekahiah reigned just two years (2 Kings 15:23). He was then assassinated by Pekah, son of Remaliah (2 Kings 15:25), who, as we have already seen, made an alliance with Syria’s King Rezin to try to overthrow Ahaz, King of Judah.
These were tumultuous times which formed the backdrop to Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah appealed to Israel to repent and to take God’s warning seriously. But the people’s response was that “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild” (Isaiah 9:10).
It is always interesting to see how prophecies to Israel have had a parallel application to America as well. America’s warning came on September 11, 2001. It was not a physical earthquake, but it was certainly a political quake. The parallel came the day after the Twin Towers were demolished when Congressman Tom Daschle quoted Isaiah 9:10 from the KJV,
“Nothing, nothing can replace the losses that we have suffered. I know there is only the smallest measure of inspiration that can be taken from this devastation. But there is a passage in the Bible, from Isaiah, that I think speaks to all of us at times such as this: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees [or sycamores] have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.”
There was a sycamore tree that was struck down by one of the falling Towers, and, indeed, this tree was replaced by a cedar tree as a symbol of resolve. This “Tree of Hope,” as it came to be called, later died and was then uprooted in 2010.
There are no plans to replant. It appears that Tom Daschle’s defiant fist against divine judgment was met with a divine response. Daschle’s quotation was prophetic and was used appropriately to reveal the same rebellious heart seen in ancient Israel.
The Twin Towers were replaced by the “Freedom Tower” to show America’s resolve to continue its unrepentant way of life. It will be interesting to see what happens when, if America continues in its rejection of Christ’s right to rule the nation, the real judgment arrives.
In Isaiah’s day, the warning quake took place at least 30 years before the fall of Samaria. America’s warning took place in 2001, and as of this writing, 20 years have passed. Most people by now have forgotten once again, but God does not forget such things.
Isaiah 9:11-13 says,
11 Therefore the Lord raises against them adversaries from Rezin and spurs their enemies on. 12 The Arameans [Syrians] on the east and the Philistines on the west; and they devour Israel with gaping jaws; in spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out. 13 Yet the people do not turn back to Him who struck them, nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.
As always, God took credit for raising up Israel’s adversaries to judge them for their sin and rebellion. The Arameans (both Syrians and Assyrians) nibbled at Israel’s borders from the east and the Philistines devoured cities from the west. Yet there was no repentance, because the people were too blind to understand the spiritual cause of their political problems.
God was the One “who struck them.” God spanked them with the rod of Syria and Assyria. But they had no spiritual discernment, so they merely took steps to rebuild their defenses and to fight those who were coming against them.
The situation is no different today. Ungodly governments see enemies approaching and issue calls to arms and perhaps decree national days of prayer, rather than calling for national repentance.
Repentance would imply that we have done something wrong; governments do not like to admit that they have done anything wrong. It is simply unpatriotic.