Reading: Isaiah 20–21
What do you trust in? In what do you place your hope for deliverance and help? Or, to ask it in the vernacular of Isaiah, “Are those on which you place your trust for peace and safety going to end up butt-naked and barefoot?” There, I said it. But not just me... it's in the Bible. I've heard of preachers going out of their way to make a point, or to illustrate effectively, but Isaiah takes the cake. Isaiah walked around Israel for 3 years butt-naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:1-6). Why?
I think the answer might be said this way: Because we can't see things as they really are and need help. Or said another way, because we walk by faith and not by sight...so we need vivid pictures to help us understand unseen realities. Isaiah's original audience, Israel, was getting a message because they had not trusted in the Lord, but had trusted in Egypt for safety and security against Assyria. The message was clear: those you trusted in will have no ability to help you; they will be reduced to being captives led away naked. The picture is that of captives, stripped and chained, being led into captivity. If this is what happens to those in whom they trusted, those who were perceived to be so much stronger than they were, what will happen to them?
Why did the Lord have Isaiah write these words and preserve them for generations of God's people yet to come? I believe the answer is because we too will be tempted to trust in that which appears to be strong and powerful and not place our hopes in the unseen God. God's people are constantly tempted to believe that relying on what they see will be far more effective than calling on the unseen God in prayer. So we too are given a visual that tells us: Everything we are tempted to turn to instead of God, will end up butt-naked and barefoot, powerless to do anything for us.
But not all of Israel had ceased to trust in the Lord. In Isaiah 3:10, in the middle of a chapter which speaks about the judgment that will come on God's people because they did not trust, the Lord says, “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” Interesting words, because it seems evident that the whole nation will be going into captivity of some sort, so how will it go well with them? Will they be spared all the difficulty? No. Yet God promises that there will be a good outcome.
In a similar way, I believe Isaiah 21 speaks to those who do trust in the Lord. In Isaiah 21:2-4, Isaiah is given a day vision. He speaks of things that bring fear, things that bring anguish on Isaiah himself, and evidently will bring it on the people of God. The language of verse 3 brings to mind Romans 8:22-26.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Isaiah seems to be the one groaning, as he instructs watchmen to watch. And they watch for what appears to be a very long time (Isaiah 21:6-8). But finally the rider comes, and the message is clear.
9Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!'" 10O my people, crushed on the threshing floor, I tell you what I have heard from the LORD Almighty, from the God of Israel. (Isaiah 21:9-10)
The oppressed people of God, those crushed on the threshing floor, are given the message: Babylon has fallen, has fallen!” The repetition drives home the point. Deliverance has come. Babylon represents the power and might of the world. Babylon is the name that becomes associated with that which holds God's people captive. It is the world and its power. Babylon was oppressing God's people (or would be at the time this prophecy came to pass.) The New Testament uses this expression as well (Revelation 14:8; 18:2), and it may be rooted in this very text.
What is the message to God's crushed people? Keep your faith! For, even though it appears you are destroyed, it is not going to end that way. God delivered His people from Babylon; God can deliver you from your oppression. Live for what is unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). So the message of each chapter seems to be two sides of the same message: We are to trust in God and not in flesh or man; we are to walk by faith and not sight.
There is another visual God has provided through a prophet being stripped bare, in fact, the Prophet of all prophets. God demonstrated His love for us in the cross of the Lord Jesus (Romans 5:8). This visual should always remind us that no matter what things look like, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,