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O.T.Handout #38: End-time exodus, Assyrian empire, Judah, Uzziah, Micah, Servant, Northern Kingdom, salvation,Syro-Ephraimitic, light to nations. October 2014
The history of the northern Kingdom is very important to the study of Isaiah. Remember the relatively stable, prosperous reign of Jereboam II. It collapsed finally into near anarchy with its power struggles and assassinations. The Assyrian menace was growing. as the prophets Amos and Hosea pointed out, spiritual decline and Ba’al worship were rampant, factors that further weakened national identity and resolve.
At the very time that Tiglath-Pileser III was coming to power in Assyria, marking the rebirth of the Assyrian Empire and the greatest external threat the Israelites had faced since the beginning of the Kingdom, Israel was self-destructing. The Northern Kingdom would never recover.
Zechariah (746-745), the son of Jereboam II and the fourth king in the lineage of Jehu, took the throne after the 40-year reign of his father. However, after only 6 months in office he was assassinated by Shallum ben Jabesh who attempted to seize the throne (2 Kings 15:8-12). He was likewise murdered after only a month in power by Menahem ben Gadi.
The throne was occupied briefly by Pekahiah an Pekah and the Syro-Ephraimitic coalition. They campaigned against the Assyrians, but is was disastrous. Judah was asked to join, but Jotham, then king of Judah refused. Pekah decided to march to Judah, remove the king and replace him. In 2 Kings 16:6, and 2 Chron 28:17-18 we see that a new ruler, Ahaz had to face the combined Aramean and Israelite forces. The siege failed.
Now the Assyrian king could more easily invade the Northern kingdom with support from Judah from the south. By 1733 b.c. they had taken most of those territories and were ready to conquer Samaria, the northern capital. (2Kgs 15:29).
Hoshea assassinated Pekah, took control of the Northern Kingdom, surrendered to Shalmaneser IV, king of Assyria and paid tribute. Hoshea was captured, also by Shalmaneser.
Only Samaria remained. It was besieged for 3 years, and was finally taken in 721 (2 Kings 17:5-6). The city was destroyed, the northern Kingdom transformed into a province of the Assyrian Empire, a number of the people taken as prisoners or exiles to Assyria, and other people resettled in the captured territory (2 Kings 17:24-34).
The Northern Kingdom had ceased to exist. Even though there were continued prophetic dreams of a restored and unified Kingdom (for example, Ezek 37:18-22) it would forever disappear from history. The writer of 2 Kings gives a long theological evaluation of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, attributing their demise to faithlessness to their covenant with Yahweh in worshipping other gods (2 Kings 17:7-18).
In the southern Kingdom of Judah, Uzziah was a capable leader. He ruled 40 years, one of five successful kings. Ba’al worship flourished (Amos 7:10-17). His son, Jotham was co-regent eventually, but he died just as the armies of Pekah were poised to strike at Jerusalem, it fell to his son Ahaz (735-715) to deal with this threat. He was one of the worst kings of Judah, willing to compromise the nation’s commitment to God and to surrender to the Assyrians.
Isaiah desperately pleaded with Ahaz to trust in the promises of God and not to pursue such a reckless course of action (Isa 7-8). But Ahaz ignored Isaiah, and after overtures to Egypt failed to produce any results, he finally appealed to the Assyrian ruler Tiglath Pileser III for assistance (1 Kings 16:7-10). In effect, Ahaz had willingly surrendered the Southern Kingdom to Assyria.
Ahaz offered sacrifices on the altar. In addition, he removed some of the furnishings of the Temple and closed the king’s entrance into the Temple at the instructions of the Assyrian ruler (2 Kings 16:10-18). In effect, Ahaz had converted part of the Temple into a shrine to Asshur!
With the king providing such an example, Ba’al worship and all sorts of Canaanite religious practices flourished. Ahaz himself even allowed one of his sons to be offered as a child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3). This era is remembered as one of the worst times of apostasy from God in the Southern Kingdom, rivaled only by the reign of Manasseh. Isaiah and Micah both scathingly denounced the apostasy and warned of dire consequences for the Southern Kingdom, just as had already happened to the North, if Judah did not repent and return to God (Mic 1:2-16, 3:9-12, Isa 9:8-10:4). But the nation remained captive to Assyrian and Assyrian gods throughout the reign of Ahaz.
As bad as the reign of Ahaz had been, the reign of his son Hezekiah (715-687) was remembered as one of the best for Judah. Hezekiah came to the throne just as events were heating up again in Palestine. After two decades of Assyrian rule, many of the surrounding nations as well as Judah were anxious to be free of the Assyrians. And there were many faithful followers of Yahweh in Judah, as exemplified by Micah and Isaiah with his group of followers, who found the religious situation under Ahaz intolerable. Hezekiah would quickly be caught up in a series of events that would allow Judah to escape the fate of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom, at least for a while.
Hezekiah wanted an alliance with Assyria but Isaiah advised him no to have an alliance with Egypt, one of the rebels.
Hezekiah, encouraged to restore the worship of Yahweh by the prophets Isaiah and Micah, began a series of sweeping religious reforms that intended to purge the pagan religious practices as well as to address the social abuses that had been allowed to prevail under Ahaz. The biblical traditions report this as simply an attempt to cleanse the nation of the religious syncretism that Ahaz had allowed to pollute the land (2 Chron 29).
Knowing some history, it is easier to understand the pleas, the prophecies of Isaiah.
Reading through Isaiah, we find there are passages where Isaiah is simply stating “Thus says the Lord:”; others where he relays to us, perhaps in his own words, what the Lord has revealed to him; and others where we have Isaiah’s interjections into the prophecy, his commentary, his laments, his appeals to those around him to repent.
Again in Is. 31:4-8, Isaiah prophecies of how God will preserve Jerusalem from her invaders, yet in the midst of the prophecy he interjects: “Turn ye unto him from whom ye have deeply revolted, O children of Israel!” (Is. 31:6). Likewise in the midst of a prophecy pronouncing “Woe!” upon Israel for their sins, Isaiah interjects: “O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble” (Is. 33:2). He had come close enough to God to know that even the prophetic words which he was uttering on God’s behalf could be changed by repentance and prayer; for surely he had learnt the lesson provided by Moses and by Abraham as he pleaded for Sodom.
According to Isaiah, Israel’s end-time exodus from the four directions of the earth will lead through waters, mountains, deserts, steppes, and fire (Isaiah 41:9, 17–19; 42:16; 43:2, 5–8, 16, 19–21; 48:21; 49:9–12). Like the ancient exodus out of Egypt, however, God’s people returning from their worldwide dispersion will be carried to Zion by certain (spiritual) kings and queens of the Gentiles: “Thus says my Lord Jehovah: ‘I will lift up my hand to the nations, raise my ensign to the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosoms and carry your daughters on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, queens your nursing mothers’” (Isaiah 49:22–23).
Israel’s end-time wandering in the wilderness will be a joyous occasion, resembling Israel’s ancient annual pilgrimage to Zion: “For you there shall be singing, as on the night when a festival commences, and rejoicing of heart, as when men march with flutes and drums and lyres on their way to the mountain of Jehovah, to the Rock of Israel” (Isaiah 30:29); “Let the ransomed of Jehovah return! Let them come singing to Zion, their heads crowned with everlasting joy; let them obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away” (Isaiah 51:11). God will be with those who return: “Jehovah will go before you, the God of Israel behind you” (Isaiah 52:12).
Theme of Isa 40: Here, the book of Isaiah begins with the Vision of Isaiah where we saw the Lord’s people, Israel, are rebelling. “The Lord has reared sons, brought them up but they have revolted against me. And the heavens and the earth are called as witnesses against the Lord’s people who are witnesses of the Sinai covenant. “Israel does not know. My people are insensible. They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, lapsed into apostasy,” and then the judgments of God set in, through the king of Assyria and his agency, which are the consequences resulting from Israel breaking the covenant.
Theme of Isaiah 41-42: Jehovah’s righteous servant (Christ) who hails from the east leads Jacob/Israel’s returnees in a new conquest. Jehovah appoints his servant as a light to the nations to lead to new exodus or captivity. The Servant is one of the major themes.
Themes of Isaiah 43-45: Jehovah’s people who repent of idolatry come in a new exodus from the 4 directions of the earth. Jehovah’s servant (Christ) resembles Moses and Cyrus in diverting people from idols, rebuilding temples, routing their enemies.
Themes of Isaiah 46-47: Jehovah sends his servant as a bird of prey to turn his errant people from idolatry to righteousness. Babylon descends to the dust in God’s Day of Judgment.
Themes of Isaiah 48-49: Jehovah’s servant calls on Jacob/Israel it forsake its idols, coming to new exodus out of Babylon. The servant is empowered to restore his people and implement that exodus. Jesus is a light to the nations.
Ch 49:1: This is another Servant passage. “Hear me, O isles; listen, you distant peoples.” Read somewhat through chapter 48: 16. “Come near me, and hear this. I have not made predictions in secret.” The shift from Ch. 42 is that here the servant is beginning to speak up -assert himself, his mission the Lord has commissioned him with.
The Lord’s salvation is himself. He personifies salvation. He will come to the earth to save his people at a critical time. He will come and rule among them in that great, Millennium of peace that is to come. And who’ll be included in that? Anybody may. If they’re not literal lineages they can still be adopted into the lineages. By now, anyway, the lineages of Israel are scattered far and wide. There are those who have been able to maintain their ethnic integrity as Israelites among the nations, such as the Jews. There are also those who of mingled lineages of Israel who don’t know they’re of the House of Israel, anymore . By now, the lineages of Israel are out there, mingled and diluted, and so there’s justification for the Servant’s mission to the ends of the earth because they might still be invisible, though they are known as Gentiles.
Edited from Avraham Gileadi