Chapters 9 and 11 of Isaiah give us some of the key images and promises on which the Kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ are based: the promise of light for Galilee, peace for Israel and the nations, the mission, names and qualities of the Son given unto us (ch. 9), and the images of the peaceable kingdom (ch. 11). Such texts figure prominently in the Christian season of Advent, as they help us look backward to the beginning of their fulfillment in Christ’s first advent, and forward to their completion in his second.
But we must remember the time and context in which Isaiah received and spoke these visions. Those we see from prophecies regarding Assyria (chs. 10), Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia (“Cush,” chapter) and Babylonia (ch. 13). This latter prophecy presents both surprises and some problems: In Isaiah’s time, Babylonia had not yet succeeded Assyria as the major regional power, and thus as Judah’s threat and enemy. Isaiah was seeing well into the future here. But the fall of Babylon the city, during Israel’s exile, was not quite as total, nor devastating as Isaiah seems to foresee. Many inhabitants of the city welcomed Cyrus and the Medo-Persian army, we’re told.
Subsequent wars, invasions and destructions combined may have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, taking a long view of Isaiah’s vision. Or the devastating total fulfillment may yet be waiting, as some say.
Isaiah’s vision of Babylon’s total devastation is the first in the line of a biblical theme, running through Jeremiah and into John’s Revelation in which Babylon serves a symbol of the world, in its glory, power, decadence, arrogance, divine judgment and downfall.
The taunt against the dead king of Babylon, from other kings in the realm of the dead, recorded in chapter 14, contains elements that have been applied to Satan, such as the Latin translation of “morning start,” or “Lucifer,” and the words, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly (v. 13).” For any connection to the devil and his fallen angels, we have to rely on later biblical texts (Luke 10:18; 2 Peter 2: 4; Rev. 12), which may use some words and imagery from Isaiah 14. But that passage is talking about the king of Babylon, and only applies to Satan as a type or model, and not directly
Chapters 15 and 16 concern the destruction of Moab, which may have happened when King Sargon II of Assyria put down a revolt among the Moabites and Philistines early in the 8th C. But Moab does not disappear entirely until the Persian era. The same fate may have befallen Damascus and the Arameans, foreseen in Chapter 17. The promises and perils foretold about Egypt (Chapters 18 and 19) were fulfilled in Egypt’s decline and defeats at later Babylonian hands.
As for the road that would link Egypt and Assyria through Judah, so that all three nations together will worship Judah’s God (19: 23-25), and other prophecies about Egypt turning to YHWH God in chapter 23, those may have received partial fulfillment through the large Jewish presence there and in Mesopotamia in subsequent years, as well as through the childhood years of Jesus spent in Egypt, and to the large and influential historic Christian communities in Egypt and Mesopotamia. But complete fulfillment still awaits the “end of all things” and when God “makes all things new.”
Through all this turmoil and threat of violence and deportation runs a theme of hope and of restoration for a remnant of Judah. The real surprise of Isaiah’s prophecy, in its audacity and its fulfillment, is that Judah, the Jews, Zion and the worship of Zion’s God not only survive the coming disasters and upheavals that Isaiah foresaw, but that they thrive and flourish, even among Judah’s enemies and conquerors.
One school of Bible interpretation would call this an Enthronement Psalm, celebrating the enthronement of God, perhaps somewhat after the manner of that celebrated for earthly kings. Whatever the role it had in Israel’s worship, Psalm 47 is basic to understanding the development in the Bible of the concept of “the Kingdom of God,” so central to Jesus, his preaching and his mission. In a striking parallel to Isaiah 19 (just considered, above), not only Israel, but all the world is invited and foreseen in the worship and kingdom of YHWH God. Worship of the most exuberant kind is fitting in light of God’s sovereignty over the world and all creation.
Comments are closed