Scripture: from verse 6
Look what happened to the people
to whom we fled for help…
How will we escape now?
Observation: In this chapter, God had Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for three years. Never let it be said that God is especially worried about dignity 🙂 He did this as a warning: the people of Israel were relying on Egypt for help and protection, but Egypt would be stripped of their power and glory and led away naked. Israel would be dismayed because the source of help they were relying on had been destroyed.
Israel’s mistake, of course, was relying on Egypt to save them in the first place, when God was bigger and closer and considerably more willing and able to deal with the problem.
We can’t stand on our own. The world is too big and too unpredictable for any person to be truly self-sufficient. The only question is where we will turn for help.
When we turn to humans we generally feel that we are retaining some dignity. They are our equals, after all, and we each have something to bring to the table. Asking God for help requires considerably more humility: the knowledge that He is above and beyond anything that we can offer. We don’t get to pretend that we are capable of forging our own way and protecting ourselves when we turn to Him. It’s hard to do.
But in the end, all humans will fail. We have no dignity and no strength except for what God has given us. So we might as well get the hard part out of the way and rely on the Source of Sources.
Application: Ask God for help rather than humans. He’s more reliable.
Prayer: Father, thank you for giving me help when I need it. Help me to know when I am relying on human power when I should be turning to you. Amen.
Scripture: verse 24 and 25
On that day Israel will be a third partner
with Egypt and Assyria a blessing here on earth;
for Adonai–Tzva’ot [Lord of Hosts] has blessed him:
“Blessed be Egypt my people,
Assyria the work of my hands
and Israel my heritage.”
Observation: This chapter started out with yet more death and destruction, this time for Egypt. But it ends with this promise. We’ve had chapter after chapter of God promising devastating punishment for Israel, Egypt, and Assyria. They would be conquering and decimating each other in turn (they are, after all, traditional enemies), and in between God would be hitting them with plagues and famine and confusion and in-fighting.
But God promises something that’s an even greater miracle than fighting and death: He promises peace. He promises that we who have rebelled and continue to rebel will be brought close to Him. He promises that these people groups who have had millenia of conflict will work together and friends and equals to serve the Lord and bless the world.
I did not have the best day today. I made a critical remark that may have been overheard by the wrong person, and I taught a children’s class that included a boy who is more difficult than average. Neither of these things is especially surprising – in fact, they are common enough that they have their own pages on tv tropes, which I have linked to. And God is using these things to point out places where I am not loving people the way He loves them.
But God’s promise is here: that someday, at the end of all the bad days, we will all stand together as friends and equals and servants of the Lord. Someday the staid leaders and the rebellious children and the slightly-crazy intellectual women like me and all the rest of everyone will be a blessing on the earth. Someday God will be bigger than all of our differences.
Application: Love other people, I guess. You’ll end up there in the end anyway.
Prayer: Father, thank you for loving me even when I am not loving to others. Thank you for promising harmony in the end. Thank you that everything really will be all right. Please help me to love others the way you love them. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 1
Woe to the land of whirring wings…
Observation: The next line identifies his target as the land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. I’m not sure what people group that was at the time, but a couple of commentaries seem to think it’s Egypt, Ethiopia, or Cush. So that’s not terribly helpful.
In any case, the point is that “The Land of Whirring Wings” is a very cool name. And despite being an enemy of God, this nation has been deriving its identity from its wildlife – which God created. The prophet later calls them “a nation tall and bronzed,” which is again both a point of pride for these people and something that God created.
We have a bad habit of taking pride in things we didn’t make and don’t control. Sometimes it’s obvious that we are doing this, as it is for this nation. Sometimes it’s more subtle, when chance and choice architecture and poorly-understood social forces have played a far larger part in an outcome than we realize. Either way, we should be spending far more time than we do being grateful for what we have been given.
It’s a beautiful world God made. We’re just living in it.
Application: Notice when God gives you things. Be grateful.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for giving me so many things. Thank you for the weather today and the birds outside and the fact that my hair is behaving well. Help me to remember that you have given them to me. Amen.
Scripture: verse 6
Yet gleanings will be left,
as when beating an olive tree —
two or three olives at the very top,
four or five on its fruitful branches
Observation: God is, once again, reaffirming that He will not destroy Israel entirely, no matter how disobedient they get. There will always be some left.
Psalm 37:25 says, “I have been young; now I am old; yet not once have I seen the righteous abandoned, or his descendants begging for bread.”
Genesis 16 says that God is called “God Who Sees Me,” because we are never beneath His notice.
We are never abandoned. We have never crossed the line and become unforgivable and unredeemable. We are always safe in God’s hands. We may not like it, I admit, but we are always safe.
Application: Trust Him, and don’t despair. You are never alone.
Prayer: Father, thank you for seeing me. Thank you for preserving us, no matter what. Thank you for being faithful to your own promises. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 14
Within three years [and not a day more], as if a hired worker were keeping track of the time, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt…
Observation: God’s relationship with time isn’t the same as ours, so sometimes we get weird ideas about when He’s planning for things and it leads to confusion. But we can know that if God has set the schedule, then the schedule will be met. And if we are given a hard time limit like this one, it will happen.
Close doesn’t count in prophecy and cosmic portents. The shooting star that was a month too late is just a shooting star. Mind you, meteors and comets and other shooting-star-things are awesome and beautiful and reminders of God’s beauty and glory.
God knows time. He knows it inside out and upside down and backwards. He even knows it forwards, which is sometimes more than we do. He knows time because He made it. He can see it in ways we can’t.
Which means that we don’t have to doubt His timing. We know things will happen when He says they will, even if that doesn’t end up being when we think they should.
Application: Trust in the Lord. He is never late.
Prayer: Father, thank you for creating time. Thank you for giving me a space of time to live in and understand. Help me to move through time with the confidence that you are moving with me. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 7
Therefore they carry away their wealth,
everything they have put aside
Observation: Now Moab is getting punished. At least God is an equal-opportunity smiter? Okay, not really.
Anyway. The river is full of blood and the fields are dead, so the people are fleeing, carrying the scraps of wealth that they have in portable format. These days much of our wealth is portable (not our houses, of course, but other things) but back then their land was their wealth and their history and their anchor, and leaving it left them devastated.
The statistics on people’s saving habits these days are pretty terrible. We don’t save. We don’t put anything aside. I’ve been reading a lot about behavioral economics lately (I’m auditing the fabulous Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior) and one of the things they study is why we make these decisions. And what we learn is that people don’t think rationally. We think of our future self as a stranger, unconnected to ourselves. We figure that the decisions we made should be repeated, that our instincts are reliable, that the current trends will continue. As soon as a decision gets complicated, we just go with the default option – which is usually doing nothing.
There’s a reason God tells us not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3). It’s pretty terrible.
So here we have people who have been relying on their own understanding, and they are experiencing the consequences of it. Not only is God punishing them, but their fallback plan is also flawed, because they haven’t been listening.
Application: Listen to what God says. Know your biases.
Prayer: Father, thank you for my husband, who is really good at financial planning stuff. It is a great relief to know that we can work together on those things. Help me to know where I’m making foolish decisions. Amen.
Scripture: verse 32
And what is one to answer
the messengers of the nation?
That Adonai founded Zion,
and there the poor of his people will find refuge.
Observation: We have switched from the doom of Babylon to the doom of the Philistines. They aren’t all that different, apparently. The prophet is warning them not to assume they’re in the clear because the current king of Israel has died. Once God decides a nation is His enemy, they are pretty doomed no matter what happens.
But God will always be a refuge for those who need Him. Even in the middle of dealing out death and destruction, God remembers to provide for His people. The poor and weak and needy get food and comfort and strength, because God is big enough to care for them in the midst of battle.
God is big enough to be both Father and Mother to us. (I’m not trying to get into a discussion of God’s gender here, or about human gender roles. I’m just trying to get the right image.) He’s big enough to fight and win. He’s big enough to work and create and make things grow. And He’s big enough to love and nourish and comfort and teach. All at the same time, without getting confused or distracted or letting the emotions from one activity bleed into the others.
I tend to think of God as having a huge brain – tracking all the raindrops and holding the universe together and so on. But His heart is just as huge and just as able to take care of me.
Application: Trust Him to be what you need, when you need it.
Prayer: Father, forgive me for underestimating you. I’m sure I’m still doing it, of course, but thank you for helping me get a bigger and clearer idea of you as I learn. Help me to trust you with my heart, and to run to you for shelter. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 10
Now you are as weak as we are,
you have become like us!
Observation: This is part of a taunt-song aimed at the king of Babylon after he is fallen, though traditionally the song (at least parts of it) are thought to be speaking of Satan himself. In any case, this verse is the greeting of the other dead leaders he had conquered. No matter how much any given tyrant or destroyer has accomplished, in death he is weak and powerless.
Which is really cool because it was only an hour ago that I was doing a new little resurrection celebration with my family. The thing that sets God apart from the rest of creation is that after death, He came back to life. He was not weak and powerless. And He shares that with us.
Death does not leave us dead. Not anymore.
1 Corinthians 15 says that if Yeshua had not risen from the dead, we would have no hope. And that’s true. We can sing this taunt over the enemies that God has defeated (which incidentally seems a little childish to me, but I’m not going to worry about that), and they can’t sing it back at us. Because we will never be as weak as they are in death.
Yeshua came that we could have life and life abundantly. (John 10:10)
Application: Have hope. He is risen.
Prayer: Yeshua, I praise you because you conquered death. Not just for yourself, as Orpheus and Frigg attempted (for Euridyce and Baldr respectively), but for me and my family and everyone who accepts it. Thank you for creating that final victory. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 12
I will make humans rarer than gold…
Observation: Doom, doom, death and destruction. More wrath of God against evil and wicked people. This in particular is for Babylon, but that’s just a detail.
What struck me here is that it is a promise of vengeance and destruction, but also of value. Humans aren’t being dumped like so much garbage. They’ll be decimated, but not because they are worthless. They still have value to God, and in fact the ones who choose Him are so much more valuable because they are rare.
One of the Greco-Roman gods would have just blasted the place by now. The old Mesopotamian gods would have abandoned it to famine and starvation. But the God of the Bible values human life, and even when He is in the process of wiping out large chunks of a sinful and wicked population, He still values them.
Application: God hasn’t forgotten you. You are as valuable as gold.
Prayer: Father, thank you for valuing me. Thank you for seeing the worth in me when I cannot see it in myself. Help me to follow you and give your light to others. Amen.
Scripture: verse 3
I have ordered My holy ones,
summoned My heroes, eager and bold,
to execute My anger.
Observation: This prophecy is of the doom of Babylon, which is to be punished for…actually we haven’t gotten that far yet, but presumably pride and godlessness and the other things that nations usually got punished for.
I mostly like the imagery of this – the glory and power and might of God’s army, called to war. It needs sweeping music and rioting colors and lots of drums and trumpets and preferably an unusual time signature. (Hero is the one who points out time signatures to me, and we’ve noticed they are common in particularly rousing movie scores.)
We think of war and punishment and God’s anger as bad things. And certainly it is a bad thing that people are hurt and die. But God is good and glorious and loving and beautiful, and that means His anger has to be good and glorious and loving and beautiful. He is always Himself.
Application: Don’t really have one. Look for God’s beauty, I guess?
Prayer: Father, I praise you, for you are yourself. You are powerful and awesome and beautiful and stirring, and there is no part of you that is not those things. Help me to recognize you and respond to you. Amen.