Copyright © 2007, American Journal of Biblical
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Citadel of Sargon II, Assyria 742 - 706 B.C.
When we observe today's world culture, whether Christian, religious, and pagan, we find in place a complex network of trust as we seek to distance ourselves from life's dangers and risks. As humans, we find ourselves smaller and weaker than the systems of government that rule us, unable to defend ourselves adequately against the dangers of crime, concerned about the financial stability of our future, threatened by natural disaster, and often living in fear of the consequences of circumstances that surround us every day. In order to maintain our own safety and security, we fabricate a complex network of defenses against the risks that are inherent to our immersion in a sin-sick world and its unpredictable nature.
In the 1920s, many Americans who were concerned about their future financial security sought to place their trust in the stock market, and the purchasing of stock, fueled by aggressive and misleading public advertising, turned frantic. People were convinced that their investments would bring great gains. Many borrowed money to purchase stocks that became significantly overvalued, often paying prices ten times that of their true asset value. Most companies responded to this infusion of wealth by investing in capital construction that would prove to bring no appreciable productivity. In 1929 the stock market, as it always does, found its true value and investors witnessed the most dramatic loss of wealth in the history of the nation. Those who borrowed to purchase stocks included both individuals and corporations, each finding themselves deep in uncollateralized debt. People and corporations declared bankruptcy, further depressing the market. Many investors took their own lives when faced with the desperate circumstances that they themselves had engendered. The result of this single event was the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The southeastern American coastline is often buffeted by hurricanes, and many of these storms are powerful enough to destroy structures that are not strong enough to hold up against the wind, rain, and storm surge tides. A dramatic example of this is the flooding of New Orleans and the Gulf coast by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. When Katrina bore down on New Orleans as a category-4 storm, the city's levees were designed to hold up to only a category-3, and the levees failed. Many people suffered or even died when they ignored the reports of what was a category-5 storm shortly before landfall and they chose to ride out the storm trusting in those small and inadequate levees. The strongest part of the storm came ashore near Gulfport, Mississippi where the largest storm surge in history brought waves as much as two and three miles inland. Many people died when they decided to ride out the storm in homes that were simply swept off of their foundations by the wall of water and the debris it carried. The destruction from Katrina and Rita covered 90,000 square miles, leaving behind an inestimable number of demolished homes and businesses. People hoped to be able to trust in the government to alleviate their suffering, but the extent of the storm was far beyond any government or agency to even begin to address.
History is filled with events that have brought great human suffering in circumstances where much of that suffering was unnecessary. The stock crash of 1929 came from the foolish greed of people who ignored the instability of stock investments, and acted in a way that promoted that instability. There was sufficient time for people to leave the threatened areas of the Gulf coast when hurricanes Katrina and Rita came ashore, but people chose to place their trust in levees, homes, and buildings that had stood up to smaller storms in the past.
One of these disasters was predicated by the sins of man, the other by the predictable dynamics of world climate. However, in both cases, the suffering and death that were experienced could have been avoided had people not placed their trust in that which cannot provide them protection. How much suffering do we bring upon ourselves when we place ourselves under the protection of that which cannot fully protect us? As devastating as disasters of this world may appear, how much more personally disastrous will it be when you come before God at the final judgment and hear the words, "depart from me, I never knew you" (Matt. 7:23)? People place their trust in good works, in religion, or in agnostic apathy, and other things of this world that simply cannot save them from the infallible consequence of their unforgiven sin: separation from God.
Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
A third historical event that follows a similar pattern to those above is recorded in the Old Testament, and is instructive. The nation of Israel, "God's chosen people," had long ago turned its back on God whom they had promised to honor and obey in return for His continued protection in the "promised land" of the covenant at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34). The nation split into two kingdoms with the small remnant of faithful left in the southern kingdom of Judea. Choosing to be a kingdom under the authority of worldly kings rather than continuing to rely on God as their authority, they became subject to the vagaries of ungodly kings who led the nations further away from God as they exercised their pride and ego. This was also a time when the neighboring military powers of Egypt (Cush), Assyria, and Babylon vied with each other for regional dominance. At this point in history the nation of Assyria was the predominant threat in the region, and nations were positioning themselves for defense. Rather than rely on God for their protection, promised at the covenant at Mt Sinai, the northern nation of Israel allied with Damascus, an active enemy of the southern nation of Judah. Rather than turn to God, Judah looked to Egypt for a defensive alliance. In both cases, Israel and Judah sought foreign military alliances to protect itself from Assyria with pagan nations that also desired the conquest of the promised land. Faced with three evil nations, Israel and Judah sought to make pacts with the lesser evils in an attempt to ward off the greater of the three, ignoring God who promised to protect them against them all.
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD! Isaiah 31:1
Israel and Judah placed their trust in horses and chariots rather than the LORD who could truly protect them. The word translated "scornful men" is also frequently translated "mockers." which is the most detestable statement of wickedness used in the Hebrew language. It refers specifically to ones who willfully reject the Word of God in their efforts to lead people away from Him and bring them under their own plan or agenda. This description aptly applies to most of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel. Where God had intended the temple of Jerusalem to be a center of worship, it became quite the opposite as people followed their godless kings and worshipped the idols of the pagan society that they chose to immerse themselves in. They exchanged the true worship of God for a worldly and godless form of worship that they themselves desired. The word of God was not as important to them as was the ways of the world. Consequently, they moved from trusting in God to trusting in the things of the world.
Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
The kings of Israel and Judah were making "deals with the devil" for protection against the devil himself. It does not take much wisdom to recognize the foolishness of such a choice. Yet, such choices rarely seem foolish to us when we our judgment is clouded by our own pride and our own desires. What rationalizations do we employ when we choose our own solutions to problems rather than rely on God's promises? Probably one of the most disastrous rationalizations that we employ when making a choice is "I have no choice." Often, ignoring God, we see one illusive solution as our only choice and feel constrained to make a decision that in itself places us in jeopardy. Like the illusionist who misdirects our attention, our interpretation of circumstances can misdirect our response. Those who refuse to evacuate when faced when an oncoming disaster are making such a misdirected choice. Those who seriously consider suicide are making such a misdirected choice.
Rationalization has the power to kill. Thousands failed to evacuate New Orleans for lack of busses when safety was only a 30-minute to an hour's walk away. Consequently, people unnecessarily suffered and died in the days following the storm. When we listen to and follow irrational conclusions that are based upon incorrect information, we are responding to untruths; we make "lies our refuge," and by so doing place ourselves under their power rather than under the power and protection of God. Facing the "overwhelming scourge" of an Assyrian defeat, the Hebrews thought they could stop it with their alliances. However, these alliances were with nations that had just as much a desire for conquest as did Assyria, and as soon as their compact would serve its use, Damascus would only choose to destroy Israel, and Egypt would overrun Judah. Actually, neither nation even got the chance.
What voices do we listen to in times of decision making? Often we can fabricate limitless reasons to follow our own desire rather than our God-given wisdom. Or, we like the ancient Israelites, place ourselves under the protection or leadership of godless people who make decisions for us, and lead us away from God's plan for our protection. The people of Judah and Israel placed their trust in evil and godless kings who made decisions based upon godless advice and their own self-serving egos.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
We may fail to remember that while Isaiah writes, the temple is still standing in Jerusalem, and the Shekinah Glory of God, the Pillar of Fire that consumes the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, still stands in the center of Jerusalem, referred to here as Zion. Isaiah uses the symbol of a cornerstone as a metaphor for the sure foundation that the presence of God represents in the lives of the Hebrews as well as for us. Part of the preparation work in the building of a fine stone structure was the setting of the cornerstone, the first and most important stone in the foundation. Unlike other stones in the foundation, this stone was first cut so that its sides were ground perfectly square (a tried stone), and when set, it was assured that it was laid level and square with the desired direction of the building walls. If the cornerstone is cut or set incorrectly, it will affect the entire structure since every measurement is taken from this single stone. That which is set in line with the cornerstone will be true and square. As a metaphor, one can see how the cornerstone stands as the foundation of truth.
God is the cornerstone of all that is life, and the foundation for Hebrew and Christian faith and doctrine. While the ancient Hebrews have been looking everywhere around Jerusalem for help in times of stress, the answer lies where it has been ever since the Jews left Egypt: in the presence of God. God's promise was to protect His people as long as they remained faithful to Him, and as a forgiving God, all that is necessary is for the people to return to Him. If they will simply believe in God's promise and trust in Him, His presence as the cornerstone will set everything true and straight again.
Just as God made his presence known in the ancient tabernacle in Jerusalem, God tabernacled with mankind in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (John 1) whom Paul established as the same cornerstone of the faith (Eph. 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6.) Because of this, many see no particular difference between the nature of the cornerstone in the Old and New testaments, noting that Isaiah was describing the Messiah, Jesus Christ in this verse.
Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
Isaiah continues using the architectural design metaphor by adding the tools that are used to place the walls true to the cornerstone, the line and plumb. Just as the line and plum is used to true the walls, God's judgment is sure and true. The truth of God's judgment will be applied both on the surface where the lies are obvious, and in the subtle recesses where lies are hidden under any number of rationalizations and mistruths. Like a broom sweeping dust from the top of a stone, God's judgment will sweep away the lies and that which holds to them. Lies will not only be exposed and swept away, but their refuge will be exposed and removed also. Likewise, like a flood that fills every hole in its deluge, those deep hiding places where lies are hidden will be inundated and washed away. God's judgment will reveal and expunge every lie and rationalization that both Israel and Judah is depending upon as they reject God and seek to follow their own paths to utter destruction.
And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
Israel and Judah chose to place their trust in alliances with warring nations which, over the events of time, would result in their being swept away by the deluge of Assyrian and Babylonian invasions that would take place over the next century. Isaiah's prophesy would become both figuratively and literally completed. When we read of the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his taking of thousands of captives, and we hear of the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon we often fail to realize that their captivity served God's purpose as the faithful remnant was protected against the deluge of invasion, a deluge that totally wiped Judah off of the map. The small population that remained behind in and around Jerusalem rebelled against Babylon and was routed by Babylonian forces, resulting in their exodus and assimilation to Egypt, quite the irony since it was out of Egypt that Israel was born as a nation and it was back into Egypt that it died.
From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night: and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report. 20For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.
When we place our trust in things of this world rather than in God, we will always find that on which we rely will fall short of our expectations. First of all, God is to be the authority in the life of the faithful, and as soon as we turn our back on Him, we assign that authority over us to other things. For example, we may think that the purchase of that bright and beautiful, expensive new car will make our life more pleasant, and then add a new boat, motorcycle and new kitchen appliances to the house that we can barely afford. As the debt load adds up, we are enslaved to debt payments, having no money with which which to honor God in our stewardship or meet the daily needs of life, needs that God has provided for, but we have squandered. When we surrender to such authorities we are, like the Hebrews, making alliances with that which is not of God, and consequently, we are making a pact with Sheol, a figurative reference to the depths of this world.
When Israel confidently made its pact with Damascus, it found itself allied with Judah's enemy when Damascus attacked Judah in its own attempts for conquest. Three years after the pact Damascus itself was overrun by Assyria, nullifying any value to Israel that the pact had promised. Likewise, Judah made its alliance with Egypt. When Babylon swept over Judah, Egypt failed to honor its part of the alliance and had long before retreated from Nebuchadnezzar's advance, leaving Judah defenseless.
God's promise to provide for those who place their faith
and trust in Him is sure. When we place our faith and trust in things
of this world, we place them on things that are untrustworthy, and sometimes
the results can be disastrous. When we place our trust for eternal
security in this world, the results are eternally disastrous. The
value of the things of this world will always fall short of our expectation
when we come before God and the choices of our lives are judged (Rev. 20).
For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he
shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his
strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. 22Now
therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have
heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the
For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. 22Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth..
Isaiah began and ended this passage with a reference to mockers. He proclaimed the kings of Israel and Judah to be mockers as they demonstrated the wickedness of leading the nations into apostasy and ultimate disaster as they removed the nations from God's hand of protection. After illustrating the consequences of such mockery both in fact and in fulfilled prophesy, Isaiah turns his reference from the kings to the peoples of the nations with an imperative to "be he not mockers." How do we respond to this imperative? We find an answer by looking at the circumstance of Israel and Judah as they made a mockery of God in two areas: in their security, and in their practice.
We make a mockery of God when we place our eternal security in the things of this world: good works, religious practice, or any other endeavor that denies salvation by faith in God alone. Just as God demonstrated His presence in the Jerusalem tabernacle, described by Isaiah in the metaphor of the Cornerstone, God fully demonstrated His presence in the Messiah, Jesus who is the Cornerstone of all faith in God. Jesus paid the penalty for sin, for all of those who place their faith and trust in God, and it is only through that final act of atonement is salvation found. All truth is measured in Jesus. When we deny Jesus, we deny God, and when we deny God we make ourselves to be mockers. It is only when we place our faith and trust in God that the words of mockery are silenced.
We also make a mockery of God when we inordinately depend upon the things of this world. God desires to be your Lord, and to be so He must be Lord of all. A common cliché rings true: Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. A king has both authority and possession over everything in His domain. For us to truly submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we must trust all that we have to Him. In this we find a significant truth. It is not in our wealth that we find security: it is in the things that God has given us, including our wealth that truly belongs to Him, that our needs are met. If God is the Lord of our wealth, the decisions we make concerning it will always be made with prayer and consideration of God's will. This same principle applies to every facet of our lives. When we give back to God everything that He has given us He will "do His work" and "bring to pass His act."
Are you a mocker? Have you placed your trust into the things of this world? Have you given authority to things other than God, whether it be enslavement to things of this world or to people? A simpler question is this: Is Jesus the Lord of your entire life, and have you given everything to Him? It is only when we submit to God as our Savior and Lord that we will find ourselves free of the sin of mockery. When we place our trust in God we will also find that God is true to His promise that He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai: He will give us the land in which to live, including all that we need to live in it, and will protect and preserve us forever. That is a pretty good deal. Why would anyone refuse it?
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7