Bible Commentary: Isaiah 14:28-16:14 and Related

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Isaiah 14:28-16:14 and Related

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The Year King Ahaz Died

The next item in the book of Isaiah is a prophecy against Philistia dated to "the year that King Ahaz died" (Isaiah 14:28). Thus, the death of Ahaz in 715 B.C. finally comes. Whether or not he had reasserted himself in the years since Hezekiah's reign began is not known, although there is reason to think so, as we'll see.

In any case, we see here that just being king did not automatically carry with it the adulation of the people. Although the people often followed in the idolatrous ways of a wicked king, they sometimes were able to recognize his questionable behavior. In this case in particular, Hezekiah provided such a contrast to this evil king and had led the people to a renewed commitment to God. However, it was now 13 or 14 years since Hezekiah's great Passover and there is no way to know whether or not the commitment of the people had remained steadfast.

Still, the people's opinion of Ahaz was shown through the nature of the burial they gave him. He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal cemetery with those given a place of honor (2 Chronicles 28:27). Hezekiah himself was likely involved in the decision of course—and perhaps Isaiah as well. A similar fate had been accorded Jehoram (who had been married to, and influenced by, Ahab's daughter Athaliah, 2 Chronicles 21:20).

Returning to the book of Isaiah, the specific dating of the prophecy to the year Ahaz died may be a clue that elements of this particular prophecy were actually meant for the people of that day. Ahaz was pro-Assyrian. In former days, he had been a vassal of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. In fact, Tiglath attacked and defeated the Philistines in 734 B.C. at the urging of Ahaz. But Tiglath had died 12 years before this prophecy was given—in 727 B.C., shortly after Ahaz himself was essentially replaced as king of Judah by Hezekiah.

Yet perhaps Ahaz had, as earlier suggested, reasserted himself at some point. We do know that in 720 Sargon II of Assyria demanded tribute of Judah and that Judah appears to have capitulated. It is possible that Ahaz's hand had been strengthened in the wake of that. In any case, some commentaries suggest that upon Ahaz's death, the Philistines sent a mission to Hezekiah to propose a rebellion against Assyria—that this is who is meant by "the messengers of the nation" in verse 32.

A Viper Against Philistia

Verse 29 seems to be slightly mistranslated in the King James and New King James Versions. Notice it in J.P. Green's Literal Translation: "Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you, for the rod of your striking [that is, your own military power] is broken, because a viper comes forth from the root of a [or the] snake, and his fruit [or offspring] shall be a fiery flying serpent."

References to a snake or serpent, a viper and a "fiery flying serpent" or dragon would seem to point to Satan (Revelation 12:4, Revelation 9; see highlights on Isaiah 6)—and, by extension, to the gentile empires empowered by him. In fact, dragon-like creatures were prominent emblems in Assyria and Babylon.

The usurper Sargon II had actually stormed through Philistia twice in recent years (720 and 716 B.C.). He seems to be the "viper" that "comes forth"—that is, presently continues to come forth—against the Philistines, causing their power to be broken. Indeed, he had just come the previous year! What makes the Philistines think they can now defeat him?

The viper is seen coming from the root, or the roots, of a snake or serpent—or of the serpent—and thus sharing the same origins of this serpent. Prior knowledge of this serpent would seem to refer to the Philistines having been bitten before—as they were by Tiglath-Pileser III. If that is so, notice that the viper is not the serpent Tiglath's son. Rather, the viper comes from the same roots the serpent did. This could well apply to Sargon II, who, not the son of Tiglath, was an Assyrian general of noble roots.

Sargon had already come against the Philistines twice. And he would do so again, in a much greater way, two years later in 713-712 B.C.—to put down a Philistine rebellion at Ashdod and neighboring areas (see Isaiah 20:1).

Then notice the warning about the viper's draconian offspring (verse 29). Sargon's son—Sennacherib—would utterly crush a later Philistine rebellion in 701 B.C., the same rebellion in which Hezekiah also took part. The fact that smoke (probably either rising dust from the Assyrian armies or smoke from the fiery destruction they would bring) is coming from the north (verse 31) is another indication that an invasion from Mesopotamia is meant—as that is the direction from which such invasions came.

How does the passage say the Philistine entourage should be answered? Besides the foregoing, that the only place the Philistines could go for refuge would be Zion, or Jerusalem (verse 32). Amazingly, only Jerusalem did not fall to Sennacherib's invasion, as we will later see.

Of course, since prophecy is often dual in application, it is possible that these verses have relevance for the last days—that an end-time Assyrian ruler, coming from the same roots as Tiglath-Pileser and his immediate successors, could again fulfill the prophecy in some way.

Further prophecies against the Philistines can be found in Jeremiah 47, Ezekiel 25:15-17, Joel 3:4-8, Amos 1:6-8, Zephaniah 2:4-7 and Zechariah 9:5-7.

The Burden Against Moab

Isaiah 15 and 16 are addressed to Moab. Terrible devastation is going to befall its people. Beyond that, there are multiple ways to possibly understand this passage, none of which is certain.

Reliance on the pagan temple of Dibon in the north of the country (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:12) is foolishness. God calls it Dimon in Isaiah 15:9, which "sounds like blood in Hebrew" (The Nelson Study Bible, 1997, note on verse 9)—and explains that its waters will indeed be full of blood.

"Three-year-old heifer" in verse 5 could also be translated "Third Eglath"—designating an unknown city. But the translation "three-year-old heifer" does fit the context: "The expression 'three years old' implies one at its full vigor (Gen. 15:9), as yet not brought under the yoke; as Moab heretofore unsubdued, but now about to be broken" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, 1961, note on Isaiah 15:5).

Moabite fugitives flee to Zoar, in southwest Moab on the south end of the Dead Sea—a border city with Edom and Judah. We then see them in the way of Horonaim, "a town of Moab not far from Zoar... It means 'the two poles,' being near caves" (note on verse 5). Lack of water and fertile land have driven them south (verse 6), and they continue to the "Brook of the Willows" (verse 7). "Margin has 'valley of Arabians'; i.e., to the valley on the boundary between them and Arabian Petrea; now Wady-el Araba. Arabia means a 'desert'" (note on verse 7).

Yet God sends lions after even the escapees (verse 9). Some equate this with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, represented as a winged lion in vision (see Daniel 2, 7). But the remnant of Jacob in the end time is also referred to as a lion (Micah 5:7-8).

That Isaiah 15-16 is an end-time prophecy there can be no doubt. For Isaiah 16:4-5 contains a clear picture of the reign of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Also, you should read Jeremiah 48:1-5 and Jeremiah 48:28-36 at this point. While it might appear from the end of Isaiah's prophecy that the events mentioned would transpire within three years of when he delivered it (see Isaiah 16:13-14), we should notice that Jeremiah wrote long afterward and gave, in many respects, the very same prophecy. This adds to the certainty of this being a prophecy of the last days. Yet the prophesied destruction on Moab might seem to contradict another end-time prophecy.

Daniel 11:40-12:3 also contains a prophecy of the "time of the end." In these verses, the "king of the North"—the final human dictator of the last days (known as "the Beast" in Revelation)—will invade and occupy many Middle Eastern countries. "But these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon" (verse 41). These ancient regions largely constitute the modern nation of Jordan. So do the Jordanians escape or are they destroyed? How do we resolve this?

The forces of this end-time Beast power will invade the various Middle Eastern nations a few years prior to Christ's return, as other prophecies show. But the punishment on Moab appears to come in the final year before Christ's return: “‘...upon Moab, upon it I will bring the year of their punishment,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 48:44). A related prophecy pertaining to Edom names this the Day of the Lord: "For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (Isaiah 34:8).

Thus, Ammon, Moab and Edom will initially escape destruction from the Beast power. But during the Day of the Lord, the final year before Christ's return, they and the Beast power itself will experience devastating punishment from God for their treatment of God's people Israel, i.e., both physical and spiritual Israel. That year will be the time of the blowing of the seven trumpets of Revelation (see Revelation 6:12-17; Revelation 8-9; Revelation 11:15)—a time of terrifying, cataclysmic events. And it appears that part of the punishment on these nations will be inflicted by a somewhat resurgent Israel and Judah (compare Isaiah 41:14-15; Micah 4:13; Jeremiah 51:19-24; Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 14:14). We will consider this in more detail when discussing Jeremiah 51.

Moving on, the first verse of Isaiah 16 says, "Send the lamb to the ruler of the land..." This could be a reference to the ancient tribute of lambs that Moab used to pay to David (see 2 Kings 3:4). Perhaps it is a way of saying to Moab, "Submit to Judah again if you want to be protected." Or maybe the "ruler of the land" is now the Messiah of verse 5, who is of the line of David as mentioned—and Moab is being told, in this manner, to submit to Him. It is also possible that the lamb itself refers to Jesus Christ, the "Lamb of God" (compare Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; Revelation 5:6). Perhaps He is here pictured being sent by God the Father to Jerusalem to take over from the present ruler of the land. Still, it is also possible that the lamb refers to the remnant of Moab as a taunt—that, continuing from the previous verse, if they flee through the wilderness through Judah, they will be like a lamb ravaged by "lions" (Isaiah 15:9).

We also see mention in Isaiah 16:1 of Sela, meaning the "rock." God elsewhere tells Moab to "dwell in the rock" (Jeremiah 48:28). Yet He earlier gave the same instruction to Israel (Isaiah 2:10). The reference in Isaiah 16:1 could represent a figurative picture of people hiding in rock caves (as in Isaiah 10:19-21 and Revelation 6:15-17)—either from God, to no avail, or from danger in general—or refuge in an actual place called Sela in Edom (2 Kings 14:7). That place today is known by its Greek name with the same meaning, Petra. The city of Petra is Jordan's prime tourist attraction, as its ancient inhabitants, the Nabataeans, carved tombs, temples and even a massive amphitheater right out of the rock walls of this secluded and sealed-in valley. There is no place like it on earth.

Some see Isaiah 16:1-4 as an indication that Petra is the location of a prophesied place of future protection for God's Church or a faithful remnant of Israel (compare Revelation 12:14-16; Isaiah 26:20-21; Isaiah 33:15-17; Isaiah 42:11; Zephaniah 2:1-3, 8; Matthew 24:16; Luke 21:21; Luke 21:36). However, there are too many variables and unclear elements to be sure. First of all, as already mentioned, there is no certainty that a specific place is even meant in Isaiah 16:1. And if it is, there is no way to be sure that the place is Petra as opposed to some other location designated as a rock. However, it does seem likely that Petra is meant if "Brook of the Willows" is alternately understood to mean, as mentioned above, the Wadi al-Arabah—which would put it in the right vicinity.

Interestingly, an international correspondent for WorldNetDaily wrote an article on the famous "rose-red city" of Petra, noting that the Israelis believe it may indeed serve as a place of refuge for them in the future. He reported: "WorldNetDaily traveled to Petra with the Amman-based Mossad intelligence agent Avi Rubin—a former airborne commando in the Israel Defense Force. Rubin explained that Petra might be the ultimate defensive position in a regional war. 'It is an outstanding defensive position. Airborne assault would be most difficult. It is what I would call a natural defensive position. The Roman legions, the Crusaders, the Arabs and now the IDF, Iraq and the Jordanian army all recognized this,' said Rubin. 'The most important defensive feature is called 'the Shiq,' which is about 2,000 meters long. {Today, the passage is marked by the 'Indiana Jones' souvenir shop.} It is a narrow passageway which leads into the city. It has very high, sheer walls which will protect the Israeli population as they enter the city from the west. The rocks of Petra can help protect from gunfire, bombing, artillery and perhaps even absorb some radiation'... Rubin said that both the IDF and the Mossad had examined Petra from a strategic and military perspective" (Anthony LoBaido, "A City for 'End Times': Is Petra Hiding Place for Israeli Remnant During Armageddon," WorldNetDaily, April 24, 2001)

"Let My Outcasts Dwell With You"

Yet while the King James and New King James Versions give the sense of Moab hiding the "outcasts" in these verses, other translations make the passage an appeal to hide and protect the refugees of Moab. While that might seem unlikely, since it appears that God calls them His outcasts and has sent lions after the outcasts of Moab, these other translations view "my outcasts" as a Moabite appeal—in other words, "Let us dwell with you, Judah," which Judah then rejects.

Another puzzling element is the fact that the Moabite fugitives are first seen running far south—and are then stated to be cast out of their hiding place at the "fords of the Arnon," which would be quite a ways to the north again, up near Dibon. Perhaps this indicates that they go southwest into Edom or Judah but that the Jews, who will apparently be resurgent to some degree during the Day of the Lord (see Zechariah 12:6; Zechariah 14:14), then chase them back into Moab. (This would actually make it more likely that the inhabitants of Sela, if it is Petra, are not the Moabites.) Or perhaps the Moabites actually try to assault those in Sela to take over their place of refuge (compare Zephaniah 2:1-3, Zephaniah 2:8)—and God drives the Moabite invaders out of there and into the open, forcing them to flee back north.

In any event, it still seems most probable that Isaiah 16:3-4 is an appeal by God rather than the Moabites—for Moab to hide His outcasts. Moab, in this scenario, gets into trouble for denying them refuge (though God, it would seem, secures it for them anyway). Then, when it comes time for Moab's outcasts to seek refuge, God, in this same scenario, denies them—just as they formerly denied Him.

What, then, of Isaiah 16:13-14 saying Moab's destruction would take place "within three years"? While this may have referred to an event in Isaiah's day—The Nelson Study Bible suggesting "the quelling of a rebellion against Sargon in 715 B.C." (note on verses 13-14)—we should again keep in mind Jeremiah's much later use of basically the same prophecy. Perhaps Isaiah's words regarding three years, then, are for the future. It could be that the time frame of "now" in verse 14 is the point at which Moab is supposed to hide God's outcasts (verses 3-4). This would be the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which, as other prophecies show, will occur three and a half years before the return of Christ. The Day of the Lord apparently begins two and a half years from this point—again, one year before Christ's return (see previous highlights for Hosea 6:2). And this means the Day of the Lord commences "within three years" from the beginning of the Tribulation. So it is possible that this is what is intended.

Speculation about how and where God will protect His people during the coming Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord is always interesting. However, it's not important that we know the answers in advance, or else God would have made them clear. What is important is that we keep our hope and faith in the spiritual Rock, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:4; Psalm 18:2; Matthew 16:18; Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8). Christ's consistent teaching is that a Christian's primary focus should be on spiritual preparedness (Matthew 24:44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).

Further prophecies against Moab can be found in Isaiah 25:10-12, Jeremiah 48, Ezekiel 25:8-11, Amos 2:1-3 and Zephaniah 2:8-11.