People have a love/hate relationship with change, some even love to hate it! How we think about and relate to change depends on what is changing, who is making change happen, and what we expect for an outcome. If we like present circumstances, we tend to resent big changes we don’t control or at least have a say in. At a certain point in life we like how we look, what we can do, are disturbed by inevitable changes aging process brings – additional skin texture, hair color variety, memory holidays. Some folks will do anything to slow down or even reverse the process.
When we do not like present circumstances, change can be more welcome especially if we have a say in it. “This isn’t quite the way it should be; if we can only change it so it’s like that instead, it’ll be better.” That is true on the small stage of our personal lives as well as larger stage of national and international affairs. Great many people in number of nations presently operating on premise that change is necessary, they have the answers, if it goes their way things will be a lot better. Same is true of our own country: majority of voters believed change was necessary (anything would be better than more of the same), were convinced that changes promised but not clearly defined by a particular politician warranted their vote, and here we are.
Today is little different from 700 BC and Isaiah’s day. In rapid succession (about length of time from Protestant Reformation to present), one world power was toppled and another rose to take its place: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome. Each had their effect on the little guys – Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Ethiopians, and others, including the Jews. Our text was delivered to Isaiah in about 727 BC, the year in which two major leaders died: Ahaz of Judah (age 36) and Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. God’s message through his prophet had great significance for both Judah and Philistia (Palestina,KJV), message still applicable to our culture and rest of the world.
Tiglath-Pileser a harsh but energetic and effective leader; unified Assyrian empire, waged extensive military campaigns subduing most who opposed him as far west as northern Sinai peninsula. Set the stage well for further solidification and strengthening by Sargon and Sennacherib. Ahaz one of more evil kings of Judah, practiced child-sacrifice (2 Chron. 28:3), reinstituted Baal-worship, substituted pagan altar for brazen altar in Jerusalem Temple and reserved brazen altar for his own private use (2 Kings 16:10-15). Is it any wonder he died young? In that tumultuous time God spoke words of warning to Philistia and words of comfort to Judah – there would be a regime change, in God’s plan two remnants would be distinguished, and refuge would be provided for his people.
A. regime changev.28-29
Philistia, narrow strip of land 15mi x 60mi from modern Gaza to Tel Aviv, a coalition of five cities: Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. Seafaring people, aggressive, had been thorn in side of Israel from time of judges (remember Delilah). Continually seeking to expand their small territory at Israel’s expense, at times more successfully than others. Shortly after Samuel became priest, Philistines captured Ark of the Covenant, later returned after they were afflicted with tumors. Once King David and his army drove them back to Philistia, had not become serious threat to Israel again.
expected change meant: things would be better, less oppression, greater opportunity, more freedom
had managed to annex some land from Judah, now without Assyria to hold them back perhaps they could overtake Israel, make it their own. Would not be required to pay tribute to Assyria, would have greater resources to build up military and expand borders
did not expect: things would get worse, more oppression, greater discomfort
were not prepared for stronger king in Judah, Hezekiah, in the short term. Definitely were not prepared for near extinction brought on by successive world powers. Philistia’s troubles not limited to time of Assyrian domination, increased harshness under Sargon and Sennacherib. Would become steadily more difficult as the rod of Assyria was replaced with affliction by various powers: a serpent, viper, and then a fiery flying serpent, perhaps an allusion to Babylon.
would not be for just one change of administration, the following one would be even worse
could not hope for better times after the next election, the next shift in superpower. Would become a pawn in international relations, serving as buffer zone between nations, succumbing to final defeat at hands of Nebuchadnezzar because they dared to join an alliance with Egypt. After large-scale deportation, never recovered as cultural or political entity.
B. remnants distinguishedv.30-31
All from God’s perspective was not intended to be gloom and doom: there would be TWO remnants but with dramatically different futures. One faced challenging but basically bright prospects, the other certain destruction; not only would the root be killed, so also would any surviving remnant of the Philistines. Only one avenue promised hope to Philistines, more on that later.
the poor (of his people)
God refers to portion of Jewish remnant, “poorest of the poor”; those who have smallest reserves, least protection, are most vulnerable to harm in time of conflict. Often are thought of as expendable, necessary casualties of war. They are ones who receive God’s particular attention and care. And it’s particular care, obvious by terms used: poor will “graze”, needy will “lie down”. Terms used to describe shepherding, both found in beginning of Shepherd Psalm.
sustenance and security
It is Good Shepherd who will pasture his sheep, the poor, so they will be nourished; same Shepherd who causes his needy sheep to lie down in security under his watchful care. Sheep are absolutely dependent on shepherd to provide for them, least able of animals to defend themselves. Certainly effective picture of what awaited remnant: under domination of Assyrian empire, then Babylonian when finally deported and resettled in foreign country. Were at mercy of captors, powerless to protect themselves, no one other than God to advocate for them – something he promised to do with utmost tenderness.
the proud (Philistines)
Once again God moves through means to oppose his enemies, the enemies of his people. Philistines had lived for generations in close proximity to Israel. Had seen repeatedly how God cared for those who trusted in him rather than idols. Even personally experienced humiliation of their own idol, Dagon, “fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it.” (1 Sam. 5:4) Their response was typical: “And when the men of Ashdod saw how it was, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god.” (1 Sam. 5:7) Over and over, refused to leave off idolatry and worship true God, continued to harass his people even after shameful military losses.
famine and death
promised not inviting green pastures in which to find refreshment but scorched earth practice carried out by advancing army from the north. Napoleon in 1812 campaign to take Russia consumed or destroyed everything in his path. Russians did their part, too, destroying anything left behind so would not fall into enemy hands. Proved to be his downfall when he tried to retreat along same route. Army nearly wiped out by starvation before they reached the border and supplies were available – had entered Russia in June with 500,000 men, left Russia with 27,000 following November.
Similar scenario in Philistia as advancing army conquered, plundered, destroyed, left for dead or to starve remaining residents of 5 cities. Those fortunate enough to survive would be deported, assimilated into another culture far from home. Unlike promise made to Judah, there would be no enduring remnant from Philistia – root and remnant both will be destroyed.
C. refuge providedv.32
People will ask questions; it’s not clear who “they” are, who the messengers are. This does seem apparent, someone’s gonna ask, “How will you survive this?” The situation is bleak, Judah is in the cross-hairs, no one is rushing to their rescue, what hope can they have? Ahaz had proudly refused to trust in Yahweh as did many of his countrymen yet God promised a refuge, a place of safety and security for those truly his.
God began message with warning to Philistia: Don’t get your hopes up just because there’s a new king. He ends the message with a promise: Trust in God and you won’t be disappointed; expect God to keep his promises and you won’t be let down; count on God to take care of the future and your expectations will be met, even exceeded. God uses means, he says so in the text: “the Lord has foundedZion“. Those who sought refuge in Zion, in what Jerusalem represented – worship of the true and living God – would find it. True regardless of nationality, cultural background; represented the only hope for Philistines, or any other for that matter.
Jerusalem was the place where God met with his people; the church is where God indwells and meets with his people; the city without foundations is where God and his people dwell together in eternal fellowship. Zion refers to each one of those in Scripture and it’s important to note that in each case Zion is a place of refuge because God established it and is present there.
Which brings us to an ultimate question for which there is an ultimate answer – where can I find help? “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – From whence comes my help?My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psa. 121:1-2)
If you expect help from the wrong source you’ll be disappointed. If you expect help in the wrong place you’ll not find it. If you expect help that meets your personal standard/definition you’ll ultimately lose. You must not be like the Philistines, all wrapped up with wrong expectations. When you seek help from the right source – God, in the right place – union/fellowship with the church (body of believers), of the right sort – a God-designed refuge, you will find it.
We must keep reminding ourselves of where our help truly comes from, God, looking tohimand trusting inhimexclusively for our help, gently but firmly pointing others tohimwho are seeking help. May our expectations truly be in the Rock of Ages where we can find perfect and lasting refuge.