The Oracles Against the Nations

13:1 to 23:18

    DIG: Who is the intended audience of these prophecies? Why might God lead Isaiah to pronounce judgment upon all these nations if only Judah, and not the Gentile nations themselves, would have heard them? What does this say about Judah’s tendency to trust in alliances with lesser nations for protection?

    Isaiah now turns his attention away from his own people and begins to deal with nine surrounding sinful Gentile nations or cities around Judah. These messages were probably not written for them to read. The messages were probably to be read by God’s people to show that He would judge the southern kingdom of Judah's enemies. As in the other oracles, the historical situation, the impending Assyrian advance throughout the whole region, serves as a backdrop for the prophecies. The Hebrew word for oracle is related to a Hebrew verb meaning to lift up or carry and is possibly to be understood as either lifting up one’s voice or carrying a burden. Such an oracle often contains a message of doom.

    Furthermore, the section continues with the treatment of pride that appears in the first chapters of the book. It is the arrogance of the nations that will finally bring them down (13:11 and 19; 14:11; 16:6; 23:9). Because they have exalted themselves in the face of the LORD, creating gods in their image (2:6-22; 17:7-11), they will not endure.44 But he deals with those nations as they come in contact with Israel, moving westward from Babylon to Tyre, and the effect they have on the Jewish nation.

    There is one central theme in Chapters 1 through 39, the trustworthiness of God. If Judah places her trust anywhere but ADONAI, she will be destroyed. Both Chapters 7-12 and 36-39 make this same point. Ahaz trusted in Assyria and guaranteed destruction. Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, and Assyria was destroyed. Between those two extremes we see the oracles to the nations. God’s message of doom to the Gentile nations demands our attention just as much today as it did then. We must either trust in God, or the nations. ADONAI, through His prophet Isaiah, makes this case very forcefully.

    There are two series of oracles. The first series, from 13:1 to 20:6, is marked by great optimism. Even the world’s super powers are subject to ADONAI and His word is full of promise. The second series of oracles, 21:1 to 23:18, is very different. Even though the content of each oracle makes its subject clear, each oracle has an air of mystery, even foreboding. There is, in fact, an all-encompassing sense of doom and darkness.

    In Chapters 13 to 35 Isaiah seeks to answer these questions: Can ADONAI deliver Israel from those who would harm her? Can He be trusted? Or is He just one more god, added to all the others? But here in the Oracles to the Nations, the specific question that begs for an answer is this, “Is God Lord over all the nations?”


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