Salvation in Isaiah 14
You may be wondering why today we have read from Isaiah 14 with its references to the devastation of a Middle Eastern Empire. The first reason is that we are continuing a series of sermons from Isaiah, going through the book consecutively, and discovering how Isaiah is called a Gospel Prophet – this is the point we have reached Chapter 13.
The second reason is that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable. It seems a coincidence that the region mentioned in these chapters is a focus of attention on the world scene at present. But we must not run away with the idea that Isaiah saw in his prophecy the fall of Iraq and Saddam Hussein – but he was seeing 150 years in advance, the fall of Babylon. Yet the remarkable thing was that when Isaiah saw under inspiration, and recorded in word and writing, the fall of Babylon, the Babylonian Empire did not exist! The chief power in the region of Mesopotamia at that time was the mighty Assyrian Empire, not Babylon!
So what is there for us tonight from this chapter that has any Gospel relevance? What do we learn about the Lord God from Isaiah 14?
We firstly learn that Jehovah is a God of judgement and that He has power to execute judgement and punishment on a whole Empire.
Secondly we learn that God is a God of mercy and knows how to rescue His people when they are oppressed and that His care for them is intense, loving and sovereign.
Briefly we will outline the contents of Chapter 14 – but then we will spend the majority of time looking at God’s power and His merciful care for His elect people.
Verses 1 – 3 are a song of triumph over the downfall of the king of Babylon, his vast empire and his people. At the end of chapter 13 last week we noted that Nebuchadnezzar and his co-reigning son Belshazzar, were suddenly attacked and defeated by the Medes and the Persians. The writing was on the wall – Daniel the Jewish prophet interpreted the strange words that God had written with his finger. So this song sung by the Jews who were captives in Babylon, reflects the prospect of their restoration to their own land and their resettlement there after the 70 years. It was all through the distinguishing mercy of God towards them.
As the song continues in verses 4 – 8 it seems that the inhabitants of the rest of the known world joined in and rejoiced that with Babylon’s fall, peace and rest would follow. No doubt the Iraqis and Americans would wish for this today.
Even the great trees, the famous cedars of Lebanon are said to rejoice in verse 8 – now they can grow in peace because none will come to cut them down as successive Babylonian monarchs had done.
Verses 9 – 11 graphically describes the dead in hell welcoming the king of Babylon with taunts and jeers – he too is weak and comes to hell in shame whereas before, when he was alive, he behaved with arrogance and pride. There is an interesting play on words in verse 11 when it speaks of worms.
the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
Just as the king of Babylon, representing all the wealth and luxury of his empire, went to bed between sheets of costly silk, which as we know, is spun by silk WORMS – so now in the process of decay in eternal hell other worms come into play – now he is in a bed of worms. Such language in song comes from an oppressed people who rejoice to see their captors get their reward!
Verses 12 – 17 show the low and despicable position the king of Babylon was brought down into in defeat and in judgement. He is described as the proud one “son of the morning or son of the dawn.” He was so proud that he believed that light followed him wherever he went. He exalted himself to believe that he could achieve equal status with God – v 14. In other words he had proudly assumed God-like status as king and emperor of Babylon. There are many who believe that this scripture refers to Satan; and that Isaiah is recording Satan’s fall from his place as the chief angel. But the context of the passage does not allow for this. The words here continue to describe the fall of the king of Babylon – the key to this is verse 16 and the second half of the verse – where after a description of this person’s arrogant assumption of a God-like position in the world, this question is asked after his fall –
Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
Lucifer is a man. Satan is an angel, a fallen angel. But this refers to a man – a king – and it is the king of Babylon. He was a king who was cut down to the ground and whose influence weakened the nations. How careful we must be not to take passages of scripture at random and give them meanings that were never intended.
Having said this, the Lord Jesus Christ DID see satan falling and he said so in Luke 10 v 18
And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
But the Lord saw Satan fall as lightning – which is not mentioned in Isaiah.
Verses 18 – 23 record that this man’s family would be cut off and his kingdom utterly destroyed all of which was in God’s purpose.
Verses 24 – 28 then brings in a mention of the destruction of Assyria, which was nearer to Isaiah’s time than the predictions of Babylon.
And then verses 29 – 31 forecast that Palestine or the Philistines would also be destroyed by another nation, but not Babylon.
The last verse of the chapter brings a sense of relief to the reader –
32 What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
The picture held up here is one of people coming from other nations and asking, “What is all this about? What does it mean this destruction of the greatest civilization ever known?”
And the answer is that God has His own people’s highest interest at heart and has moved nations and ordered the affairs of men to benefit His chosen ones. Zion is a picture initially of the Covenant people the Jews. But afterwards it expands to mean all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ – the church – “Saviour if of Zion’s city I through grace a member am…” Zion is under the sovereign Lord’s care and protection and His people have great reason and encouragement to trust in Him.
This then is the outline – it is a fascinating passage which has been fulfilled in all of its predictions, and is a means of encouragement for us living in this era, to admire and worship the God who moves in history to bring about His purposes – namely the gathering in of a great company of people who will love and trust His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, to die and to rise again in glory.
2. Gospel Teaching.
There is a truth in the letter of James that is very precious and very relevant as a commentary on this passage in Isaiah.
James 2 v 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
We noticed earlier that there are 2 messages in this chapter –
Firstly that Jehovah is a God of judgement and that He has power to execute judgement and punishment on a whole Empire.
Secondly that God is a God of mercy and knows how to rescue His people when they are oppressed and that His care for them is intense, loving and sovereign.
Judgement is a feature of the operation of God in His world as he rules and overrules in the affairs of men.
Mercy is a feature of the nature of God as he cares for each one of His elect believing people so that no harm whatsoever can come to any one of them.
We could say much about the judgement of God. Right from the beginning of history there has been an element of judgement in human experience.
Adam and Eve were sent from the garden after their disobedience because judgment rendered them unfit to be trusted there any longer.
Cain after he had murdered his brother Abel said that his judgement was too hard for him to bear.
Noah preached for more than a hundred years about God’s intention to send judgement on the world because the people were so wicked and did evil continually.
The Egyptians tasted of the judgement of God at the first Passover when the angel of death visited the firstborn of every family with death because of Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Hebrews go.
God’s people saw the judgement of God on the Egyptian army when they tried to enter the Red Sea along the path that was reserved for them alone.
But they themselves suffered judgement when they murmured against God’s provisions for them in the desert – fiery serpents bit the people so that they died.
As the behaviour of the people of Israel rose and fell in quality, God sent His judgement in many ways to teach them love and devotion to Him exclusively. But when they became so idolatrous and rebellious; and failed to trust completely in Him after He had done so much for them – He judged them only fit to be encaptured and sent to Babylon, where they languished away from their own land for 70 years.
And as we have seen in Isaiah God comes to judge the Babylonian Empire for the way that they have treated His people the Jews.
These judgements are here for our learning. God has His way of dealing with His believing people. Other nations oppress them when they rebel. Their own kings rule badly leading them to suffer. We learn that God uses the circumstances of the other nations of the world to deal in disciplining love with His people.
But when it comes to God ultimately judging sin we find that we shall be judged by the law. This law was written on the heart of every human being. We know when we have broken God’s laws – when our consciences scream at us and provoke an uncomfortable spiritual feeling within. But the law is also written on tables of stone given to Moses at Sinai – the Ten Commandments. You and I have the law to show us how far we fall short of God’s standards.
But more than this we have the Law to remind us that one day we will be judged, compared to, the standards of law-keeping behaviour that was achieved by the Lord Jesus Christ. God has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world by the man whom He has appointed – the Lord Jesus Christ. He kept the law in his human life right down to the minutest detail. Judgement brings me and you alongside the perfect Son of God to identify how we have kept it. I will fail the test and so will you. For all have sinned…
What we tend to do as human beings is to gloss over the breaking of the law – ie sin.
One little girl was caught by her dad doing something that she had been told not to. She was reminded that her father required her not to break God’s law. She replied, “I haven’t broken the commandment – I’ve only cracked it!” Anything to make it better than it is – anything to minimise sin. Back to James again – verse 10
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
My wife has a bracelet of several links. But one day she brought it to me for repair – one of the links had bent and come adrift from the next one to it. The whole bracelet became unwearable and useless. It was no use arguing that nine out of ten links were fine and whole and were connected together well. Because one link was faulty the whole piece was rendered unfit for the use that was intended.
So it is with the law. Whosever obeys the whole law and only makes a single slip, is guilty of everything and is ripe for judgement.
Are we aware that we are under judgement my friends? It is appointed unto man once to die and after this what? The judgement! We are in great danger!
If we come to judgement without any plea that will hold up before the judge we will be condemned and punished for ever.
Psalm 1 v 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
Where will you stand on the day of judgement? Will you stand all alone with no one to speak for you? Are you saying to yourself, like so many, that you will take your chances and hope that the judge will be kind, or even take into account some of the good things that you have done? My friend that is foolish. That is merely clutching at straws. The judgement is real and none of us can stand on those conditions. We need something much more than that – in fact we need someone – someone else to appear with us and for us. Because the judge is ready to be merciful – but not on our terms – on His terms. What are His terms of mercy?
Very simply they are this.
The judge calls sinners who are condemned simply to ask His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to speak up for them. They do this by believing that their only hope is God’s Son’s perfect righteousness and law keeping being somehow credited to their life account – it is called imputation – put in to the soul. God will accept all those who appear before Him in judgement and pronounce them not guilty when He sees that they have a relationship and trust in His Son. He accepts His Son’s righteousness as if it were the sinner’s righteousness.
This is how merciful the judge is.
Now hearing this you would imagine that people would be flocking to find out how to get to know this Jesus Christ; how to have His righteousness in their souls in order to escape the condemnation following judgement. But is it not amazing that most people utterly ignore this message and despise and count it as worthless! They don’t seem to want mercy – the mercy that triumphs against judgement. What a wonder this mercy is!
How did God do this? How can the righteous judge accept unrighteous sinners and receive them into His heaven?
It all centres on a place called Calvary. At that awful place God’s mercy and His righteousness met in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Righteous Son of God took on himself the sins of His elect people and paid the price of sin – death.
And when that happened God’s judgement was satisfied.
And all who simply believe that Jesus died for their sins on the cross and leave their sins behind in true repentance, receive this righteousness of Jesus in their souls so that they will not have to fear the judgement. I do not fear meeting God – because my hope and trust is in the perfect finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ who has become my friend and saviour. Is He your saviour my friend? Are you a member of Zion? Could you sing with the Psalmist
I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing (Psalm 101 v 1)?
O my friend the gospel is not complicated – it is simply a matter of trusting the only one who can ensure that you have mercy in the judgement – the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Him? Will you turn to Him today? Will you turn from your sins and have Christ and His righteousness in your soul?
May he save souls tonight and may there be rejoicing in heaven.