The Hand Stretched Out Over All Nations (Isaiah Sermon 16 of 81)
August 24, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Judgment, Prophecy, Providence and Sovereignty of God
Of all the marvels of the physical universe, few are more amazing to me, as a former mechanical engineer, than the human hand. I’ve been thinking about the human hand. Now, I know I’m supposed to have grown out of hand-regard a long time ago. Infants just lay and stare at their hands. But I’ve been thinking about the human hand because the hand of the Lord is in this passage. I can’t see his invisible hand, but I can know what human hands do. The human hand is a marvel of design and of engineering and of beauty. Each hand contains twenty-nine major and minor bones, twenty-nine major joints, at least one hundred and twenty-three ligaments, thirty-five muscles (seventeen in the palm and eighteen in the forearm), and forty-eight named nerves. You won’t be asked to name them. I don’t know what they all are, but they’ve named them for us, these forty-eight nerves. There are thirty named arteries and nearly as many smaller named branches. The thumb is a marvel. It’s controlled by nine individual muscles, which are themselves controlled by three major nerve branches. It moves in such a complex fashion that there are six descriptive terms for just the particular directions of one joint, the basal joint at the bottom of the thumb.
Sir Isaac Newton said this, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” Well, there’s a lot more proof than that, but I’ve been thinking about the power of the human hand. It’s an amazing instrument. Think about the strength. There are three different ways that the hand shows strength. The first is the crush grip, and there’s one among you who has the gift of a vigorous handshake. I’ve talked to you about it before. I am blessed by it every week. I’m grateful that he holds back. You know who you are. That’s the crush grip. For example, if you’ve been watching the Olympics, I watched the super heavyweight weight-lifting man from Germany, and he lifted 565 pounds over his head. I watched for thirty seconds as he got his grip right on the bar, adjusting and readjusting and gripping, just knowing what the hand was about to go through, 565 pounds.
Then there’s the pinch grip, which we use to carry heavy things like a piece of plywood or something like that. It’s the weakest of the three grips. We do it to pinch. Then there’s the support grip, in which the hand has to be strong over a long period of time, like for rock climbers that are dangling by three or four fingers. Have you seen it, where they reach back for equipment or take a break, just dangling like that? Or the ability to hold a bucket of water, a pail, over a long period of time. These are the three ways that the human hand shows its strength. Now, the human hand has shaped all of history. Alexander the Great grasps his sword and conquers an empire. Or maybe Michelangelo grasps a paintbrush and paints the Sistine Chapel for us. Or maybe it’s Bach who’s writing down the music to St Matthew’s Passion so that we can enjoy it centuries later. Or Thomas Jefferson taking hold of the quill pen and writing the Declaration of Independence, the birth sounds of an infant nation. These are the very powers of the human hand, and with it we also stroke the face of our little baby, or shake each other’s hand, pat each other on the back.
People can talk with the hand through sign language. They can use the expressiveness of the different motions of the human hand in order to communicate. If these are the various powers of the human hand, what then of God who created it? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who made the ear, does He not hear? And He who formed the human hand, does He not have power to change events in history? We see in scripture the hand of God mentioned again and again. We know that God doesn’t have a physical body. He doesn’t have a hand. But this is human language so that we can know that this is the way that God exerts His effect on the world. We see it in creation, for example. It is meditated on so beautifully in Psalm 8:34, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Just with the fingers of God, He sets the sun and moon and stars in position. We also see His hand in the flow of history, in providence, in God’s orchestration of history. And that’s the focus of our text today: we see the hand of God in history.
Look at Isaiah 14:26-27, “This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” The context of this great statement of the power of God over the nations is that it’s the beginning of a series of oracles that the Prophet Isaiah is going to utter concerning all of the minor nations in the ancient Near East, in Palestine. We’ve already had his contemplation of God’s great power over Assyria, and also over Babylon, the present empire and the future empire. He’s already talked about that. But from chapter 14 through chapter 23, he’s going to give a series of oracles about the smaller nations. Palestine of the ancient Near East is somewhat like the Balkans today, made up of a lot of small countries. The Balkans has Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and all of these small countries. In the ancient Near East you had Israel, the Northern Kingdom and Judah, and you had Ammon, Moab, the Edomites, and all of these smaller kingdoms.
Certainly Egypt and Assyria, and then eventually Babylon, would be the major powers of the day. The empires would be fighting over these smaller nations, trying to control them and to organize them. Each of these nations had tribal deities, national gods. For example, Moab had the detestable god Chemosh. Anything that concerned Moab concerned the god Chemosh. When the Moabites would go out to fight, Chemosh was right there with them. Today, Moab is gone, and so is Chemosh. The Philistines had Dagon, the half man, half fish god. Whenever the Philistines would go out to fight, Dagon was right there with them. The Philistines are gone today, where then is Dagon? He’s gone.
But the God of the Bible is not gone. He’s not a localized tribal deity. Yes, it is true that He chose the descendants of Abraham to be His very own chosen people, the Jews. That is true, they were His people. They were the smallest of all the nations when they were called because they were called from a barren couple. They weren’t even a nation, there was nothing there. So, a small nation. But God is a great God, a majestic God, the God over all the earth. And though He is incredibly concerned with the Jews and that one nation, yet He is sovereign over all nations. The picture of God is of a God who rules all the earth. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says this, “’Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” He’s not a localized tribal deity. It says in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” He is not a localized tribal deity.
He is Lord of Heaven and Earth, sovereign over all nations. He speaks oracles over them. He dictates policy to them and they must obey. He decrees events for them. He brings about their rise and their fall. But above all, God yearns for their salvation. He yearns that they would reach out for Him and seek Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him, we live and move and have our being. Yes, God decrees the time set for those nations and the exact places where they should live, but God does it all so that men will find Him and be saved. As it says in Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” So we’re entering this section in Isaiah, the oracles to the nations. And here is Isaiah, a lone Jewish prophet, in some room somewhere, perhaps in Jerusalem, somewhere in Judah. He is speaking the word of the Lord. He’s writing out the word of the Lord. He speaks of the sovereign hand of the King of all the Earth, orchestrating events to achieve His final purposes. Oracle after oracle will come from Isaiah’s lips. They will stand over the events of foreign peoples.
If the foreign peoples knew that this Jewish prophet was speaking about their affairs, they might be indignant. They might laugh. They might wonder what this prophet had to say that in any way concerned them. But it wouldn’t matter, because he was speaking the words of Almighty God. He was speaking the oracles of the living God. Over the next nine chapters, Almighty God is going to speak to one Gentile nation after another; to the Philistines, to Moab, to Damascus, to Cush, to Egypt, to Babylon, to Edom, to Arabia, and to Tyre. Many of those nations have gotten absorbed into modern nations. Many of them do not exist as such anymore. But the lesson’s still the same. God is sovereign over all the earth. He’s sovereign over the affairs of the nations. He rules heaven and earth.
Two great lessons then, come from these chapters. First of all, God is sovereign over the nations and has the power to destroy them. And secondly, refuge from God’s wrath can only be found in the God of the Jews. These are the two great lessons of these oracles to the nations. God is sovereign and rules and has the power to judge nations for their sins. Secondly, refuge is available. It is found among the God of the Jews. As Jesus put it very beautifully to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) In order for any of these Gentiles to be saved, they must humble themselves and go to the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and find salvation, find refuge there.
The Plan and Power of God Proclaimed (vs 24-27)
The Absolute Sovereignty of God Declared to the Nations
So let’s look, first and foremost, at the plan and power of God proclaimed in verses 24-27. Look again at these beautiful verses, “The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.’ This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” The absolute sovereignty of God is declared to all the nations. God’s name here is Yahweh Sabaoth. “The Lord Almighty,” it’s translated in the NIV. First, the Hebrew word for God, Yahweh, His covenant name, the name by which He revealed Himself in the flames of the burning bush to Moses. It’s the name with which He made the covenant with Israel, and He’s declaring that name to the nations. Sabaoth is literally “of host.” He’s the Lord of Hosts. He’s the commander of the armies of Heaven. He rules over great power, indescribable power. The Lord Almighty. He takes somewhat of an oath stance here. He puts His feet together and puts His hand up in the air and He makes an oath. He swears something here. He’s in an oath stance.
Everything God says is true. God is incapable of lying. He cannot lie. It’s impossible for Him to lie. When He swears, we ought to pay careful attention. For example, when Abraham was willing to offer up his son Isaac, the angel of the Lord spoke from heaven and stopped him. He said, “I swear by myself, …that because you have done this, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…” (Gen 22:16-18) Or even more seriously, when God the Father swore to His own son. Psalms 110:4 says, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The book of Hebrew says, when the Lord swears something and takes an oath, it’s His way of underscoring that “by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us, may be greatly encouraged.” (Heb 6:18) It’s for the sake of us that God swears His oaths and makes His promises, that we might know that God is sovereign over the nations and that God’s wise plan means our salvation, that we can have forgiveness of sins so we can live with Him forever.
So the Lord swears an oath to the nations. He wants the ends of the earth to know two things. Number one, God has an infinitely wise plan for all nations. And number two, God has an infinitely powerful hand to make it happen. God’s absolute sovereignty is proclaimed here. This is a topic over which many people stumble and fall needlessly. Human sinners, I’ve found, including myself, are tempted. We want absolute freedom. We don’t mind a God who gives us advice and makes recommendations. We don’t mind a God who lets us make our own choices. And we certainly don’t mind a God who’s there to clean up any mess we might make when we make bad choices. That’s the kind of God we’re attracted to. We like that kind of God, but we want the final say. We want to make the final decision. We want the freedom to rule over our lives, and we like to control as much around us as we can. That’s what we do. We like to be as sovereign as we can be.
The doctrine of the power of absolute sovereignty of God is repugnant to the natural mind. But the grace of God has power to transform that view. It’s transformed for me. For me, the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God is my only hope over my constantly wandering heart. It’s my only hope that I’m going to end up in Heaven, free at last from the corruption of sin. I trust in the absolute sovereignty of God to save me and to save you too, and to save people from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, who ordinarily wouldn’t listen to us at all. But because of God’s sovereign hand, He opens up their ears to hear the messengers of the Gospel. I trust in the sovereignty of God. Slowly, as we being to understand and embrace the Biblical doctrine that the Most High rules over the heaven and earth, our hearts are encouraged and are humbled. We don’t trust in ourselves any more. We have security to face the bitterest trials that we’re going to face in our lives.
A.W. Pink talked about how important this doctrine is in his book, “The Sovereignty of God.” He said this, “The sovereignty of the God of scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory just as He pleases, without conferring with us. We affirm that His right is the right of a potter over the clay, namely that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel for honor and one for dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to anyone. Sovereignty characterizes the whole being of God. He is sovereign in all His attributes. He is sovereign in the exercise of His power, His power is exercised as He will, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.”
In other words, to deny the absolute sovereignty of God is to worship an idol, a god who doesn’t really exist. It is to leave us, as Christians, preaching a false gospel, one that will save no one. It is to leave us vulnerable to deep doubts and unneeded suffering during the painful trials of our lives. It is to strip us of the greatest weapon we have for fighting sin, knowing that God’s power is available for us so that we can stand firm and resist the devil. What’s he going to do? He’s going to flee from us. Why? Because we’re so mighty and powerful? No, because God’s sovereignty ordains that if we stand firm, he will run away from us. And it is to deny the clear teaching of the passage we’re looking at today, Isaiah 14:24-27.
The First Assertion: God Has a Plan for All Nations
The first assertion is that God has a plan for all nations. Look at verse 26, “This is the plan determined for the whole world.” What is the plan? It is God’s wisdom, His foreknowledge woven together ahead of time to determine the best course of human history. It’s God’s wisdom in action woven into the events of history. That’s what the plan is. This plan is shown in scripture to be both massive and minute. It’s massive enough to cover the rise and fall of great empires; how long they will reign, how long they will last, and what will bring them down. It’s massive enough for that. It’s minute enough to extend even to the death of a sparrow. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from the will of God, or the casting of lots into the lap of a child when he plays a game, the rolling of a die. It extends even to minor things like that.
How incredible is the range of the plan of God! Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him, we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” It’s a comprehensive plan, and that plan, scripture reveals, was made before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world.” God does not merely react to human choices and shape His plans accordingly. We are not on plan B or plan C or plan Triple Z by now. We’re on schedule. We’re in God’s plan. And think of this, God has never learned a single thing. He never will. That’ll boggle your mind, won’t it? God has never learned anything, and He never will. Everything He knows, He has always known. He’s not increasing in knowledge or wisdom as He goes on, as He gains experience being God. That’s not the God of the Bible. No. This plan was wise from the very beginning. God took all of His attributes and wove them together in His plan. His plan is a display of His love, of His mercy, of His grace, of His wrath, of His justice, of all of His attributes. It’s all woven into His plan.
God’s plan here in Isaiah 14 is also revealed to be comprehensive and universal, for the whole earth. He’s looked out over all the earth and He’s claimed it as His own. He can rule over it as He chooses. God’s plan extends to every nation on earth. To every nation on earth, He has given evidence of His existence through physical creation. To every nation on earth, He has shown kindness by giving rain and crops and their seasons. To every nation on earth, He has given internally, through a conscience, a sense of His moral law. To every nation on earth, He threatens judgment for sin when we violate our conscience and go against that moral law He has revealed. To every nation on earth, He has sent one man, the savior of the world, Jesus Christ. This is the plan of God. And so, assertion number one is that God has a wise plan for all nations.
The Second Assertion: God’s Omnipotent Hand Will Most Certainly Accomplish that Plan
The second assertion is that God has a mighty hand to make that plan come true. God’s omnipotent hand will most certainly accomplish that plan. It’s not enough to say that God has a plan. We all have plans. Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that overrules them all. Almighty God alone has the power to make certain that all of His plans will definitely be accomplished. Look at verse 24, “The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” There’s no chance about it. It’s going to happen. And all others beings, Satan, all of his demons, all the kings and potentates and emperors, and even the most minor, insignificant people on the face of the earth, none of them can change God’s plan. Why? Because God has an omnipotent hand to make it so. All of God’s wisdom and love went into making that plan. Now all of God’s omnipotence is behind making sure it happens.
We have two phrases that I have kept in mind, right from the text. “This is the plan.” ”This is the hand.” There it is, easy to remember. There is a plan and there is a hand behind it, and that’s Almighty God. Things are under control. Both the plan and the hand extend over the whole world. Not just a corner of it, but all the world is under this plan and all the world is under His mighty hand. The hand of the Lord Almighty cannot be resisted. Look at verse 27, “The Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” God’s hand represents, then, His power to act in history, to make a difference, to effect a change. His hand stretched out shows that He is moving. He’s not the god of the deists, standing back and watching to see what will happen. He is moving out. He’s making changes. He’s working in history. He says His hand is stretched out and no one can turn it back. We’re all created beings together. Satan and his demons and all human beings, all of their mass, their power together, sought to push God’s hand back. They couldn’t move it a slight bit, for God is omnipotent. No one can stop His hand from extending exactly where He has willed.
The Plan and Power of God Applied (v 25)
God’s Eternal Plan Made Up of Small Acts in History
Up to this point, we’ve been speaking of the plan and power of God somewhat in abstraction. Here in this text, it’s applied directly to a certain circumstance, to a situation. Look what verse 24 says, “The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Then, verse 25, “I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” God’s plan doesn’t stand hovering up there like a theory. It comes down on the Assyrians here. Now, you might say, “I’m not too worried about the Assyrians.” There’s a reason you’re not worried about the Assyrians. This verse tells us why. They’re gone, but God’s still the same. We can transfer this principle to modern politics and nations. We know that God rules now, as He did then. God’s eternal plan, then, is made up of small acts in history. As a tapestry is made up of single threads, so history is made up of single events. They may seem small to us, but God understands their significance.
God is well aware of the effects of seemingly small things in the flow of history. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. He understands that better than anyone. And He’s just as aware of the big moments in history, Waterloo and Gettysburg, and D-Day, all the big events. The rise of Charlemagne, or the defeat of the Muslims in the 7th century by Charles Martel. He understands what’s happening, how significant these things are. He understands it all.
The Destruction of Assyria Part of God’s Plan
The destruction of Assyria was part of God’s plan. It’s the most significant moment in Isaiah’s lifetime. We’ve talked about it before, we’ll talk about it again. Assyria sweeps down from the north. They bring into exile the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They move down into Judah seeking to take it over as well. They conquer all of Judah, except the city of Jerusalem. They come right to the walls of Jerusalem. But they’re arrogant and boastful. They say, “The God of the Jews is just like all the other gods. Every nation has its gods, like Chemosh, and Molech, and Dagon. And Yahweh would be just another national deity.” Oh! That was a mistake, talking like that, because it motivated God to show His glory. And in the sovereignty of God, it just so happened there was a godly king who knew what to do, and that’s get out of the way. Get down on your face. Be humble and ask God to work and move.
So the Lord sent out the Angel of the Lord. One hundred eighty-five thousand Assyrian troops died in one night. They’re all dead. And the King of Assyria thought it best to leave, wisdom of man. Time to go home and be assassinated by your son, in the temple of your god. You can’t fight God. And that’s what God has ordained. He said, “I’m going to crush the Assyrian in my land. I’m going to take his burden off of my people.” This is the plan determined for the whole world. This is the hand stretched out over all nations. This is what the Lord can do to a mighty empire that boasts against Him. And notice how personally He takes it. Look at verse 25, “I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountain I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.” This is very personal for God. He is getting involved to crush the Assyrians. He is defending His people and His promised land.
A Warning to the Philistines: Death is Coming (vs 28-31)
God Speaks to the Philistines a Message of Warning
The chapter ends with a warning to the Philistines. What does that have to do with it? Well, he goes right from this to talking to the Philistines. We’ve talked about the Assyrians. What about the Philistines? Look what it says in verses 28-31, “This oracle came in the year King Ahaz died: ‘Do not rejoice, all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken; from the root of that snake will spring up a viper, its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent. The poorest of the poor will find pasture, and the needy will lie down in safety. But your root I will destroy by famine; it will slay your survivors. Wail, O gate! Howl, O city! Melt away, all you Philistines! A cloud of smoke comes from the north, and there is not a straggler in its ranks.’” God is speaking to the Philistines here a message of warning. By the way, that alone is evidence of grace. God could just do it. As a matter of fact, sometimes He does just do it. People do just drop dead without warning. It does happen. Nations do topple without a prophet saying ahead of time what’s going to happen. But here, He gives them a warning, speaking to the Philistines through a Jewish prophet named Isaiah. The context, at this moment, was King Ahaz’s death, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.
The Philistines: Ancient Enemies of the Jews
Who are the Philistines? They’re the ancient enemies of the Jews. You know them. They migrated from Crete, perhaps originally from the shores of the Aegean Sea around Greece. They came down and took a foothold along the shoreline near the land that God had promise to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, on oath. Their land was an alliance of five Philistine lords in the cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. They were a thorn in the side of the Jews again and again. They were the bitter enemies that were fought during the period of Judges. Samson was after the Philistines all the time, right up to the time of Samuel. Then King Saul comes along and starts to fight them and has some successes and some defeats. It was a Philistine named Goliath that David defeated, showing his military strength. Then, when David becomes king, he pretty much reduced the Philistines to servitude, and they never really rose to ascendance again. However, they were still there, present on the coast lands, still a factor when Ahaz died.
Isaiah’s Warning: Do Not Rejoice… Death is Coming
Look at the warning he gives. Look again at verses 29-30, “Do not rejoice, all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken; from the root of that snake will spring up a viper, and its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent.” This is a false cause for joy, the death of the rod that struck them. Who is this? I don’t think it’s Ahaz. Though they weren’t necessarily friends, the Philistines and the kingdom of Judah, Ahaz didn’t do much, militarily. He wasn’t the rod that struck them. No, it was Tiglath-Pilesar, the King of Assyria. The Assyrian king. He died the same year Ahaz died.
There was partying in the streets. They’re celebrating and they’re rejoicing that the King of Assyria is dead. Well, meet the new King of Assyria, same as the old King of Assyria. There’s a warning here. Because what has happened is the Philistines, upon the death of the King of Assyria, are sending emissaries, messengers to Zion, to Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah, saying “Join us together in a rebellion, a revolution, against Assyrian power. Join us, and we’ll throw them off. It’s a time of weakness now. You come along with us and we’ll get rid of the Assyrians.” But what does it say here? Don’t rejoice that the rod that struck you is broken. Out of that will come a venomous viper, even more powerful than before, the next King of Assyria. With that revolution, with that revolt, the Assyrians were motivated. They swept down and they conquered the Philistines almost entirely, took over their land, and absorbed them into the Assyrian kingdom. That’s what happened there.
A Cloud is Coming from the North
They should have listened to the warning, because the warning actually speaks of death. Look at verse 30, “But your root I will destroy by famine; it will slay your survivors.” The root is a hope for the future, something that can spring up. But it’s gone forever for the Philistines. Why? Because, as verse 31 says, “Wail, O gate! Howl, O city! Melt away, all you Philistines! A cloud of smoke comes from the north, and there’s not a straggler in its ranks.” It’s a mighty army sweeping down from the north, and they know what they’re doing. “Not a straggler in its ranks” means they are well-disciplined, and they’re coming to destroy you. The Assyrians came down in 711 BC and they reduced the Philistine territory completely and made it a permanent part of Assyria. Verse 30 says, “It will slay your survivors,” that’s what the NIV gives us. Another translation would be “remnant.” They’re all dead. The Philistines would be gone. “I will make the Philistines extinct.”
This is predicted in numerous places. In Jeremiah 47:4, the prophet says, “The day has come to destroy all the Philistines and to cut off all survivors… The Lord is about to destroy the Philistines, the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor.” In Amos 1:8, “’I will destroy the King of Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter in Ashkelon. I will turn my hand against Ekron, till the last of the Philistines is dead.’ says the Lord.” From this point in Isaiah’s prophecy, the Philistines were never mentioned again. They’re gone. You know very well that you don’t personally know any Philistines. They don’t exist anymore. I think they may have given their name to Palestine, but they themselves were extinct as a people. Why? Because God’s hand was against them.
What a contrast with the Jews. How powerful are the Jews? A weak remnant at this point. As a matter of fact, the Assyrians are coming after them next. That’s why it says in Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” That’s what the Jews say. “If the Lord hadn’t protected us, we would have been wiped out too.” Therefore, Hezekiah, when facing the same Assyrian army, said to Isaiah, “Pray for the remnant that still survives.” (Is 37:4) And so he did. God moved out with His sovereign hand and His sovereign plan and protected a small remnant of Jews. They’re with us to this day, the remnant of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You know what? They’re going to be with us right through to the end of time. Why? Because this is the plan determined for the whole world. This is the hand stretched out over all nations, and no one can stop it. It doesn’t matter how powerful their enemies, it doesn’t matter about Nazi Germany or Stalin or any of them. They can organize their plans all they want to try to exterminate the Jews. It cannot happen, because God sovereignly will not allow it to happen. He is upholding the remnant until Jesus returns.
An Answer to the Nations: A Refuge for the Afflicted (v 32)
The Answer: Salvation is from the Jews
So what answer should be given to the nations? Verse 32 says, “What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation?” Well here’s the answer. Here come the envoys. They’re saying, “Join us in rebellion.” Here’s the answer. “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge.” You’re not going to find refuge in a plan to revolt against Assyria. You find refuge in Zion. Zion represents not just the literal physical city of Jerusalem. It represents God’s saving plan through the Jews. In effect, what He’s saying is, “You want to be safe? Come to Zion.” I think for the Philistines, it literally meant come to Zion and get inside the walls with King Hezekiah; you’ll survive. If any Philistines had believed this message and had literally come into the walls of Jerusalem when the gate went up and they were there, just like Rahaab or Ruth, any of these Gentiles that come and say, “I want to get close to the God of the Jews. Your God will be my God and your people will be my people,” then they’d find refuge there, not in your plans of throwing off the Assyrians.
True Danger and True Deliverance.
The bottom line is that the true danger isn’t the Assyrians. Never has been. The true danger is not another Islamic attack, terrorist attack, on American soil. That’s not the true danger. Nor is it the coming economic crisis, or inflation, or the strength or weakness of the dollar against the euro. It’s none of that. The true danger isn’t heart disease or cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. It’s never been any of those things. It’s not the ascendancy of China in the 21st century to a position of world dominance. It’s none of that. Those things may happen. That’s not the danger. No, Jesus said it this way, “…Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Lk 12:4-5) Is there a refuge from this God? Yes, there is. God Himself is a refuge from His own judgment and His own wrath. It says in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath.” And so God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, Jesus, into this world to carve out a safe place, a refuge. Anyone from any tribe or language or people or nation, including the Jews, can flee to that place of safety, and they can find refuge. They can have their sins forgiven. His blood was shed on the cross that there might be a safe place, a safe haven, for any who trust in Christ.
I don’t know what brought you here today. I think the sovereign hand of God must have brought you here today. If you don’t know Him as your Lord and Savior, you’re under great danger. It says in John 3:36, “The wrath of God remains on you.” This sovereign God who controls and orchestrates everything down to sparrows falling to the ground, you don’t want Him as an enemy. Oh, how sweet it is to have Him as a friend! Oh, how sweet it is to have Him as a savior! You can flee to Christ and trust in Him and know, because of the sovereign hand of God and His plan, that all of your sins will be forgiven. And if you do, if you become a child of God, His hand will take hold of you for good and will never let you go. It doesn’t matter what happens in your life. It doesn’t matter what you struggle with. It doesn’t matter what temptations. If God has taken hold of you for salvation, He will not let you go until you are fully saved.
What is “fully saved?” It means freedom from all sin, freedom from temptation, pure in your heart, in a resurrection body as glorious as Jesus’ resurrection body. It means being in a company of people so great that no one could count them, from every nation on the face of the earth, in the new heaven and new earth, living there forever in happiness and joy. That’s the plan that God has determined for His people. That’s the hand that’s stretched out over all nations, to save a people for Himself. Flee to Christ. Trust in Him.
Meditate Often on God’s Sovereignty and Wisdom
By way of application, I would urge you to meditate frequently on this theme: God is sovereign. His hand is stretched out. His plan is worked out to the ends of the earth. Everything’s on schedule. Though you may not understand it, God has actually chosen this universe as the best possible universe to display His glory and His attributes. You may not understand the suffering, like that of a 19-year-old that dives into a lake, hits his head, and dies. You may not understand that. I don’t understand that. But I know this, God has never learned anything and God is loving and compassionate, and this world is not all there is. We can trust in Him to take us into heaven to live with Him forever. We don’t need to fear the rise and fall of the nations. That’s all under control. God knows what He’s doing. Therefore, stand in awe of what God is doing.
Stand in Awe Over What God Has Done with the Jews
Finally, if I can say this one last thing, stand in awe over the fact that the Jews still exist. The Philistines are gone. The Moabites are gone. But the Jews are still with us. Why? Because God’s gift and His calling are irrevocable. God’s plan is to save the Jews at the end through faith in Christ. It’s an amazing thing. Even a staunch unbeliever like Mark Twain said, “I have no explanation for how it is the Jews are still with us.” Nations come and go, but the Jews are still with us. Well, I have an explanation for it. This is the plan determined for the whole world. This is the hand stretched out over all nations. Close with me in prayer.