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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 17:7-14

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 18, 2008

7 In that day men will look to their Maker
and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
8 They will not look to the altars,
the work of their hands,
and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles
and the incense altars their fingers have made.

Asherah poles were part of a cult. Asherah was a Canaanite goddess, the wife or consort of El, the chief Canaanite god. Wooden poles seem to have been carved and arranged in patterns (groves, perhaps with actual trees) that formed part of her worship. Such places may have become like parks, beautiful places that people were fond of visiting, which may explain why King Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:6) was reluctant to demolish them.1 But beautiful or not, they were an abomination, and like any other religion that leads away from God (from Taoism to the Masonic Lodge) they did nothing but damn the people who followed them.

The spiritual truth of Judgment Day is that no one will look to anyone or anything for any reason—in worship or terror—except to God.

9 In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.

Unless we have missed his intention, Isaiah seems to slip into prose again for this one verse, as he did at the end of chapter 16. This might be because the prophet is commenting on the Lord’s oracle, as Amos seems to do in Amos 8:7, or perhaps for the sake of variety, as Ezekiel seems to do in Ezekiel 27:12-24 and Jeremiah in Jeremiah 46:25-26.

When Israel first entered into the promised land of Canaan, the cities of the Canaanites were huge, “with walls up to the sky” (Deuteronomy 1:28). As God fought for his people, these cities were destroyed, ruined, and abandoned. What use is trusting in walls, in vast armies, in a solid stock portfolio, in anything at all, if there is no trust in God? None of these things will help if the Lord isn’t at the center of our lives.

The physical truth of Judgment Day is that all the work of mankind will come to an end, and nothing of our world will remain, or matter, any more.

10 You have forgotten God your Savior;
you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
Therefore, though you set out the finest plants
and plant imported vines,
11 though on the day you set them out, you make them grow,
and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud,
yet the harvest will be as nothing
in the day of disease and incurable pain.

The “Rock” is the Lord. Isaiah uses this as a title for God when he wants to stress God’s faithfulness and protection for his people: Isaiah 26:4, 30:29, 44:8. This is the same thought present in the Apocrypha’s Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:12, “Give thanks to the shield of Abraham, for his mercy endures forever; Give thanks to the rock of Isaac, for his mercy endures forever; Give thanks to the mighty one of Jacob, for his mercy endures forever” (NRSV).

The eternal truth of Judgment Day will be that those who have rejected Jesus the Savior will have nothing at all to look to except the suffering of “disease and incurable pain.”

12 Oh, the raging of many nations—
they rage like the raging sea!
Oh, the uproar of the peoples—
they roar like the roaring of great waters!
13 Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters,
when he rebukes them they flee far away,
driven before the wind like chaff on the hills,
like tumbleweed before a gale.
14 In the evening, sudden terror!
Before the morning, they are gone!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
the lot of those who plunder us. (NIV)

The roar of the nations (Jeremiah 51:55) would be a terrifying sound, except that the Lord is in control of the universe. The roar “of the great multitude in heaven shouting ‘Hallelujah!’” (Revelation 19:1) is far more impressive and is a roar we will join in on.

The enduring truth of Judgment Day is that God keeps every one of his promises. Where he has promised to punish those who reject him, he will punish in a way that is unimaginable to us. But God has promised and shown us his salvation, his grace, and his mercy, and for us, the eternal truth of Judgment Day is that God will welcome us to our eternal home, because our sins are forgiven in Jesus, and his mercy endures forever.

1 A beautiful grove, filled with olive and plane trees, fountains and statues (but not Asherah poles) was the Academia, which the Greek philosopher Plato was fond of (he owned a house nearby). Plato and his followers met there so often that they and anyone else interested in learning came to be known as academicians, or academics.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.