The Book of Woes

28:1 to 35:10

    DIG: Why do you think New Covenant writers often quote the “woes” depicted here in Isaiah Chapters 28 through 33? Who are these "woes" for?

    The key issue in these chapters is whether Judah, especially her leaders, will rely on Egypt or on the LORD in the face of the ever-increasing Assyrian threat. Chapters 30 and 31 are entirely devoted to this issue, with 31:1 providing the most pointed and succinct statement of it. Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots, and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Isra'el, or seek help from ADONAI.

    This is the eighth major segment in the Book of Isaiah. The crisis itself will be told to us in Chapters 36 and 39, in the ninth segment of the book. But the eighth segment is concerned with the prophecies called forth because of that particular crisis. What was the crisis? In Isaiah, Chapters 7 through 12 we talked about the Book of Immanuel. There, Ahaz chose not to trust God, but to seek help from the Assyrians. The Assyrians did come and destroy the two kingdoms of Syria and Israel, but then they continued south into Judah. Sennacherib then destroyed forty-six Jewish cities. So under Ahaz the nation of Judah became subservient to the Assyrian Empire. This continued for fourteen years with Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz.

    In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah a crisis developed, because there were two opposing political forces in his government. There was the pro-Egyptian party, and the pro-Assyrian party. The pro-Assyrian party was led by Isaiah the prophet. He told Hezekiah that Judah should not rebel against the Assyrians because this was part of God’s divine judgment against Judah because of his father Ahaz. On the other hand, there were those who were anti-Isaiah and Assyria and they wished to join up with the Egyptians in a revolution against the Assyrian Empire. Finally, Hezekiah sides with the pro-Egypt party and against Isaiah. This is one of the few lapses in judgment that Hezekiah would make. To the prophet, the thought that someone would commit himself to fickle Egypt instead of to God, who had proven himself again and again, was simply unbelievable. But Hezekiah took his army and heads north to join up with the Egyptians against the Assyrians. Instead of Egypt helping Judah, she is devastated. Thus the LORD through the prophet announces the six woes in this section.

    Isaiah not only deals with the near historical covenant between Judah and Egypt that led to the devastation of Judah, but he also points us to the far eschatological covenant between Israel and the antichrist that begins the Great Tribulation, with similar devastation to the people of Israel, and the people of the entire world. So in these chapters Isaiah is speaking of two covenants. One with the Antichrist, which he will start with in Chapter 28 and 29, that will bring about worldwide devastation. In Chapters 30 and 31 he will primarily deal with the covenant with Egypt and the devastation of Judah. So we have two covenants, and two devastations. The crisis of the fourteenth year of Hezekiah is what brings it about. As Isaiah is given these prophecies, the covenant with Egypt is being made. Isaiah warns of the coming judgment, which will be the total devastation of the Land by the Assyrians. When we come to Chapters 36 to 39 the devastation will occur with several of these prophecies being fulfilled.

    In Chapters 13 to 35 Isaiah sought to answer these questions: Can God deliver Israel from those who would harm her? Can He be trusted? Or is He just one more god, added to all the others? Is ADONAI Lord over all the nations? But here in the Book of Woes, the specific question that he answers is this, “Is God’s counsel and His wisdom superior to human leaders?”


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