The title is a bit misleading, for it is a quote from Joseph to his brothers who had sold him into slavery. [Genesis 50:20] The brothers were afraid that after their identity had been revealed to Joseph that he would pay them back for all the evil they had done to him. But they forgot the God Joseph served. Even though Joseph was thrown into prisons and falsely accused of things, he rose above the trials and tribulation. God was at work in Joseph’s life – he recognized the handiwork of Jehovah. Now by this point you are trying to figure out what does all of this have to do with the book of Isaiah and our chapters 16-20 for this week? Well, here is the point, Jehovah again was going to bring/allow what we consider evil to happen to Judah. While the devastation and destruction were well overdue and well deserving, God would not allow the pagan rulers and armies to wipe out Judah – there would be a remnant. Our reading for this week highlights the “oracles of God” against – Philista, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyria, and Ethiopia. An oracle is defined as a “burden” or judgment against. God would use each of the aforementioned nations to punish and discipline Judah [already happened to Israel] in an attempt to bring Judah back to a right relationship with Him. While Israel [northern kingdom] had played the harlot and chased after Baal and the other pagan gods; they also received their due discipline. In fact the Assyrians were allowed to “carry off” the 10 tribes and scatter them to the four winds of the earth. Only Judah remains; but Judah did not pay attention to the wrath of God on their northern brothers and fell subject to the punishment of God some 150 years later. The pride of the conquering nations, which had been empowered by God for judgment cause their downfall. A great lesson here, while it may appear that we win over our enemies; caution must be exercised so we will not think that it was done in our human power. A lesson each of the conquering kingdoms had to learn the hard way. While God allowed the armies to inflict great turmoil and punishment, He would restrain them from “going too far.”
I am not going to try to recapture the information or judgment of God on each of the nations previously listed, for they by and large are very similar. The oracle is two-fold for each – Isaiah recounts what success each will have on Judah, but then brings the prophetic downfall of each. The whole point that God is attempting is using enough trials/tribulations and bondage to foreigners to cause Judah to return. It is interesting that Judah like Israel, brought into the whole Baal worship thing in order to have bountiful crops, herds and families. From an agrarian perspective one can see what all this was so important at the time. But their failure [short memory] to remember how God had cared for them as a people during the wilderness wanderings and invasion/conquest of Canaan led to their idolatry. It seems too often when mankind ventures into a “comfortable state” that we become rebellious and agnostic towards God.
It is very difficult for a believer much less an unbeliever to see that the “tough love” of God was just that, out of love for Judah. Even as the Loving Father had to let the Prodigal son leave and go on his own, so he could come to his senses during the fall from the lofty perch of dad’s money, so God will often let us rebel, and fall into grave trouble to the point of destruction in-order for us to wake up to reality of really who is in control. Sometimes I think Christians are like Israel/Judah, we know God will take care of us – experientially, yet we seem bored with Him and search out more “sensual pleasing gods. While no trial seems enjoyable or even beneficial, we must say as Joseph said, the problems, trials and crisis seem to be for evil, but God means it for our own good. Oh that we would be responsive to the gentle chiding of God, rather than endure the painful punishment of “tough love!”