Purpose of the Test

God’s focus, in Isaiah’s book, is always centered on Judah. It is from Zion that Isaiah’s prophecies proceed, first to Judah, then to those nations which threatened and warred with Judah. At the beginning of Israel’s settlement in the land, the writer noted,

Now these are the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of war in Canaan 

(it was only for successive generations of Israelites, to teach war to those who had no experience of it): 

the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath.

They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord that he commanded their ancestors by Moses. 

Judges 3:1-3 (NRSV)

There were, in other words, two reasons to leave these hostile nations in place.

Test of Faith

First, they were to act as a test of faith for subsequent generations who had not yet experienced the divine power of God on their behalf. The generation that remained in the desert saw the power of God in the great column of smoke and fire which led them. Their shoes and clothing did not wear out, manna fell from the sky for forty years, and God always provided water, sometimes in breathtaking ways.

The generation that following Joshua into the Promised Land experienced God’s mighty wonder-working power in military victory after victory.

Now, new generations were settling the land. They had no personal recollection of their ancestors’ manna and military triumphs. In every aggression of their enemies, they experienced very real terror, vulnerability, and critical need which prompted them to turn to God.

V0050134 The Israelites’ encampment in the wilderness, guided by God Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Israelites’ encampment in the wilderness, guided by God in the form of a pillar of smoke. Watercolour by J.J. Derghi, 1866. 1866 By: J. J. DerghiPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Test of Faithfulness

Second, their presence remained as a test of the Hebrew people’s willingness to remain faithful to God’s commandments and instruction. Sadly, according to that ancient historian, almost immediate assimilation into Canaanite culture commenced.

So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, 

  • and they took their daughters as wives for themselves,
  • and their own daughters they gave to their sons,
  • and they served their gods.
Judges 3:5-6 (NRSV)

But finally, God would bring to an end the centuries of warfare.

Purpose for Assyria and Philistia

The key word in this passage is purpose or plan:

The Lord of hosts has sworn:
As I have designed,
    so shall it be,
and as I have planned,
    so shall it come to pass.

… This is the plan that is planned
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts has planned,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back?

Isaiah 14:24, 26-27 (NRSV)

Jerusalem’s purpose would be accomplished according to God’s plan. God has a plan that the Lord will see through. God would judge the nations and fully restore God’s people. 

Assyria

Isaiah had already spoken about Assyria, so here he simply reviewed God’s plan.

I will break the Assyrian in my land
    and on my mountains trample him under foot;
his yoke shall be removed from them
    and his burden from their shoulders.

Isaiah 14:25 (NRSV)
Nimrud Lamassu’s at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal | By M.chohan – Own work, Public Domain

God would defeat the Assyrians on God’s own turf, at the base of Mount Zion, the very gates of Jerusalem (that story will be told in Isaiah 36 and 37). Isaiah prophesied against Assyria and Babylon together for two reasons. The Assyrian king had taken to himself the title “King of Babylon” during the time that Babylon was part of his empire. And there was an emotional link for Israel because these two nations succeeded in taking Israel and Judah into exile.

Philistia

Do not rejoice, all you Philistines,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,

Isaiah 14:29 (NRSV)

The Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser had also died.

Usually the death of a cruel, oppressive tyrant would be cause for rejoicing, but God warned Philistia not to glory in the defeat of their enemies.

for from the root of the snake will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.

Isaiah 14:29 (NRSV)

What comes from the root of the snake?

Only always more snakes.

In fact, the younger snakes are even worse, quick, darting, and poisonous. The Assyrian king’s evil characterized his whole dynasty. But his sons and grandsons would be even more wicked, even more brutal, and they would be coming after the Philistines. Shalmaneser, Sargon, and Sennacherib would repeatedly sack the city states of Philistia over the next hundred years or so.

During the course of that time God would protect God’s own people,

In my pastures the poor will graze
    and the needy lie down in safety,

Isaiah 14:30 (NRSV)

But the Lord would bring God’s judgment against the Philistines.

but I will make your root die of famine,
    and your remnant I will kill.

Isaiah 14:30 (NRSV)
Wall relief of philistines captives, mortuary temple of Ramses III (-1186 /-1154), Medinet Habu, Theban Necropolis, Egypt | By I, Rémih, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the oracle God gave to Isaiah, there is a connection between the root of the Assyrians in verse 29 and the root of the Philistines. There is hope when the leaf, plant, or even stem is diseased. But what if the root is bad?

According to Isaiah, both nations were evil because both were rivals to God and God’s people, both worshiped and counted on false gods that opposed God, therefore both came under God’s judgement.

As Isaiah continued with his oracle, the Assyrian army would come like smoke, an army beyond counting. The Philistines would have no way of escape.

So, Isaiah asked, in light of this prophecy,

What will one answer the messengers of the nation?

Isaiah 14:32 (NRSV)

Purpose for the Nations

It stands to reason that Isaiah’s prophecies would be written and spread among the Hebrew people. But would any other nations hear these prophecies, or was Isaiah merely encouraging and exhorting his own people?

From verse 28, we know that Isaiah delivered this oracle the year in which Ahaz had died, and Hezekiah, a young man about twenty-five years old, had just become king. As was the case in ancient times, there would have been many representatives from other countries visiting that year to find out what the new king was like, to try to renew alliances, or forge new agreements, a highly charged time, politically.

This is the beginning of the inscription which was carved on the pair of human-headed wing bulls which flanked the main entrance to the Throne Room of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (r. 704-681 BCE).
It includes the most detailed surviving account of the tribute sent by Hezekiah, king of Judah, after the Assyrian military campaign to Palestine in 701 BCE.
About 693/2 BCE. From Nineveh, South-West Palace, Courtyard H, door “a”. The British Museum in London. | By Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

For that reason it is highly likely there were Philistine diplomats in Hezekiah’s court when Isaiah delivered this oracle.

So, what should we tell them, Isaiah asked?

The Lord gave God’s answer.

“The Lord has founded Zion,
    and the needy among his people
    will find refuge in her.”

Isaiah 14:32 (NRSV)

Refuge is found in God

God is the Mighty Sovereign of the universe, Creator, Sustainer, and the One Who holds all accountable to the Word and words of God.


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