Familiar themes of judgment, prophecy and ruination continue this week as Isaiah records God’s words for the people. As we have read with Moab, Babylon and others, God is judging and punishing sinful nations. In this chapter, the focus is on Damascus, a city in Syria, and Israel itself, minus the remnant. If your recall, the remnant is that righteous group of Israelites that have remained in God’s favor and through which Jesus will be born.
Verses 1-11: The punishment and negative consequences of Damascus and Israel is carried out in these verses poetically: the people would be harvested as grain, the remnant left would be pitifully small, as two or three olives. Despite having made idols, the people in Damascus and northern Israel would look instead to the true God, but they would find no help.
Verses 10 and 11 most likely refer to a pagan practice of planting a plant to grow and bloom, then allowing it to die. This reenactment of the life cycle was supposed to increase the growth of their crops. Despite engaging in this practice, their harvest would be a heap of ruins. This drives home the point that there is one true God, and He is in total control.
Verses 12-14: Nations that are proud and boastful and that proclaim greatness with clamor will be chased until they are gone. This was the fate of Syria and northern Israel. The themes of pride and arrogance are implied here; once great nations brought low by God, who had clearly stopped putting faith in Him and had instead put faith in themselves.
What can we learn from this chapter? It is true that there have been repeating themes in these chapters as we read of the fates of these wicked nations. They collectively thought of themselves as great and denied God’s place in the universe. They suffer for their lack of gratitude, their lack of worship, their lack of respect and for their selfishness.
These qualities are described as characteristics of a nation, but also can be attributed to individuals. Is it okay to have pride in yourself, your work, your family? Yes of course. But what we see with these judged nations is a pride that took over normal bounds and grew into something ungodly.
If I have the belief that I am better, that I am owed things, or that I cannot be corrected, I am thinking in error. It can be natural to slip into this kind of thinking and correct myself. But if I think in this way and do not correct myself, then I will begin to act based on that thinking and I will not only create ten thousand kinds of trouble for myself, but I will also make myself into a huge fool and others will use me as an example of what not to do.
“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.” Deuteronomy 13:4