The Wolf Has Been Approaching for 29 Years/Good News for the People of Iran


In a recent post, I opened by citing the words of Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who pointed out that Israel has been claiming for the last 22 years that Iran is mere months away from having a nuclear weapon. It turns out that this rhetoric has actually been going on for at least 29 years – since I was in kindergarten, Ronald Reagan was nearing the end of his first term in office, and seven years before the World Wide Web was introduced.

On November 27th, Mondoweiss re-posted a Twitter status from Richard Silverstein, the creator of the Tikun Olam blog, showing a Maariv headline from April 25, 1984. The headline read: “Iran In Final Stages of Production of Nuclear Bomb.”

Maariv headline

Maariv is a Hebrew-language daily newspaper, which was founded in 1948, and is the second highest selling newspaper in Israel. To be fair, the above story in Maariv cited Jane’s Defence Weekly,  which quoted West German intelligence sources regarding Iran. For a good perspective on the long-repeated warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, see this timeline at The Christian Science Monitor. The loudest warnings have come from the United States, the world’s nuclear champion and a signatory of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and Israel, a nation believed to have as many as 200 nuclear weapons (undeclared) and a nation which has refused to sign the NPT.

As is now well-known, Iran signed an interim 6-month agreement on November 23rd, after a couple rounds of discussions with the United States and several other nations. The US will provide “limited” and “modest” sanctions relief in exchange for Iran “halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles,” among other concessions. According to President Obama, America’s toughest sanctions will continue to be applied to Iran. New channels of communication have certainly opened between Iran, the US, and other countries in recent weeks.

Many nations have treated these developments as good news. Saudi Arabia and certain other Gulf States (strongly opposed to the Shiite form of Islam) have not. Israel, predictably, is going nuts. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had these words to say the next day:

“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake. Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world… Israel is not bound by this agreement. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of Israel and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself…”

It’s hard to know if Netanyahu actually believes what he says or not. The government he represents has been crying wolf on Iran for 29 years. Some are suggesting that Israel needs to keep hyping up the Iran issue in order to deflect attention away from its illegal settlements, bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the blockade on Gaza, and other controversial domestic activities.

Just as predictably, Christian Zionist sources (for example, author Joel Rosenberg) have lined up to agree with Netanyahu and continue to demonize Iran.

I’m glad to see these recent developments, though, and I believe they are good steps in the right direction. They are especially good for the people of Iran, who have been suffering the effects of harsh sanctions. As I shared in a post on this subject almost a month ago, the effects of sanctions on the Iranian people have included “a 20% unemployment rate, a 30% – 50% inflation rate, expensive basic goods, the plunging value of Iran’s currency, increasingly unsafe commercial aircraft, an increasing inability to export oil, and other economic ramifications. They are also said to be resulting in half the population struggling to provide food and shelter for themselves, and struggling to maintain emotional health.”

Iranian Muslims, Iranian Jews, and Iranian Christians alike have experienced these things, in part due to a relentless campaign of deceit, politicking, and warmongering that has been vigorously supported by the Christian Zionist movement. Only God knows the extent to which Iranian and Palestinian Christians have suffered needlessly as a result of activities and rhetoric coming from many of their professing brothers and sisters in Christ.

An NBC News article highlights the provisions Iran can expect to see with the new easing of sanctions, concluding that Iran’s people will only see “precious little” relief in the short-term future, but that this deal provides “far more of a psychological benefit than an economic one” for now. Some groups are still investing in efforts to not only reverse these changes, but to bring even harsher sanctions quite soon. Others are watching for the slightest indication that Iran is not holding up its end of this deal, so that such actions can be justified (allegedly). Meanwhile, in plain sight are 2007 intelligence reports and other official statements from the CIA, Mossad, and other agencies agreeing that there is no evidence Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

While Israeli and Christian Zionist leaders continue to say that Iran is bent on destroying Israel, Iran’s Jewish parliamentary representative, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, praises Iran for allowing Iranian Jews to worship freely. Sedgh states that conditions for Iranian Jews are “better than yesterday, and today, our condition is much better than 10 years or 20 years ago.” Interestingly, he added that Iran’s Jewish community chose not to commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008 because they are “in complete disagreement with the behavior of Israel” and its “anti-human behavior.”

The secular nation of Israel will do as it will do. As for God’s people, may we reflect and work toward God’s desire to see the nations, including Iran and Israel, healed by the river of life that flows from His throne (Revelation 22:1-2).

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US Congress Ignores Drone Attack Survivors in Washington DC


I don’t use this blog to wade into partisan politics, but I do pay attention to certain components of American politics, and in particular I care about our foreign policy. If you were to ask me right now, as an American, how many nations America is at war with, I’m not sure I could give you an accurate response. There are the official wars, and then there are the unofficial wars. I find all of them to be disturbing.

Launching drone missiles into other nations and killing their citizens – these are acts of war. If any other nation sent drone strikes into Austin, Boston, or Tuscon, killing residents there, it’s not hard to imagine how the US would react and how we would label such acts. However, there’s apparently a world of difference if we’re the perpetrators rather than the victims. The US may not officially be at war with Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, but our government under both George Bush and Barack Obama (and any hidden hands that order their steps) has been carrying out acts of war against these nations, and the American public is mostly silent.

Hundreds of civilians, including women and children, have been killed by American drone strikes. Others have lost body limbs. Even more people are afraid to step outside, walk to school, go to the neighborhood convenience store, etc. I’ve bookmarked a number of articles on this phenomenon, with eye-opening statistics and more, and I’ll probably include most of them in a future post.

In this post I’d like to share an article about a Congressional hearing on this issue that took place in Washington, DC at the end of October. I had read about this upcoming hearing, where US lawmakers could hear from drone attack survivors for the first time. I had read about the Pakistani lawyer representing these survivors being repeatedly harrassed by manufactured visa issues. And I had hoped that this hearing would be well attended, well publicized, and effective in turning the tide toward justice and compassion. Out of America’s 535 lawmakers (435 Congress representatives and 100 Senators), only five had the decency to attend:

In “historic” briefing, Rehman family gives heartbreaking account of drone killing of 65-year-old grandmother… to five lawmakers.

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer: October 29, 2013

The Rehman family waits to testify at the Congressional Briefing on drone strikes Tuesday, October 29. (Photo: @akneerudh/ Twitter)

Despite being heralded as the first time in history that U.S. lawmakers would hear directly from the survivors of a U.S. drone strike, only five elected officials chose to attend the congressional briefing that took place Tuesday.

Nabila Rehman, 9, holds up a picture she drew depicting the US drone strike on her Pakistan village which killed her grandmother. (Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters)

Pakistani schoolteacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children—9 year-old daughter Nabila and 13 year-old son Zubair—came to Washington, DC to give their account of a U.S. drone attack that killed Rafiq’s mother, Momina Bibi, and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan last October.

According to journalist Anjali Kamat, who was present and tweeting live during the hearing, the only lawmakers to attend the briefing organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).

Before the handful of reporters and scant lawmakers, however, Rafiq and his children gave dramatic testimony which reportedly caused the translator to break down into tears.

In her testimony, Nabila shared that she was picking okra with her grandmother when the U.S. missile struck and both children described how they used to play outside but are now too afraid.

“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” said [13 year old] Zubair, whose leg was injured by shrapnel during the strike.

“My grandmother was nobody’s enemy,” he added.

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama last week. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 65-year-old grandmother of nine.”

“But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this,” Rafiq continued. “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable.”

He concluded, “Quite simply, nobody seems to care.”

You can watch a recording of the briefing below and here:

The purpose of the briefing, Grayson told the Guardian, is “simply to get people to start to think through the implications of killing hundreds of people ordered by the president, or worse, unelected and unidentifiable bureaucrats within the Department of Defense without any declaration of war.”

The family was joined by their legal representative Jennifer Gibson of the UK human rights organization Reprieve. Their Islamabad-based lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, was also supposed to be present but was denied a visa by the US authorities—”a recurring problem,” according to Reprieve, “since he began representing civilian victims of drone strikes in 2011.”

“The onus is now on President Obama and his Administration to bring this war out of the shadows and to give answers,” said Gibson.

Also present was U.S. filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who first met Rafiq when he traveled to Pakistan to interview the drone strike victims for his documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars.  Before the briefing, Greenwald told the Guardian that he hoped the briefing “will begin the process of demanding investigation. Innocent people are being killed.”

The following clip from Unmanned was shown at Tuesday’s hearing:

My Wife’s Singing Gift


One of the many blessings I’m able to enjoy in my marriage (of 15 months and counting) is my wife’s beautiful singing voice. Back in April of this year, she posted five videos of herself singing on YouTube. Perhaps later she’ll add more songs, and even eventually some of the original songs she’s written which have never been shared publicly. With her permission, here are those five songs from seven months ago:

1. “Can’t Give Up Now” by Mary Mary (Cover)

2. “Shackles” by Mary Mary (Cover):

3. “Miss Celie’s Blues” (Cover):

4. “The Lord’s Prayer”:

5. “You Can See With Your Heart”:

For anyone who notices that most of these songs follow a theme of hopes and dreams, it might be good to point out that they were posted at a time when we were forced to give up on St. Paul Cultural Village, the multicultural marketplace and community center we were developing. By April 30th, less than a month after they were posted, we had vacated the building we were renting for that purpose. Once I update the St. Paul Cultural Village website, I plan to share in more detail what happened with that project. For my wife and I, January – April 2013 was a period marked by a lot of pain and shattered dreams, but God kept and sustained us then, and He continues to do so now.

-Adam

“The Stones Cry Out”: New Documentary Challenges Evangelical Bonds With Israel


I’m interested in seeing this documentary when/if the opportunity arises. In the meantime, if anyone who comes across this post has seen it, I’d be glad to know what you think about it.

Graham Liddell has written an article for Ma’an News Agency highlighting a new documentary called “The Stones Cry Out.” The documentary is directed by Yasmine Perni, an Italian-born journalist who has lived in various places in the Middle East, including Israel. I’ll share an observation that jumped out at me after viewing one of the links in Graham’s article, but first here’s the article itself:

A new documentary about Palestinian Christians is challenging mainstream evangelical assumptions about the Holy Land in the United States.

As evangelical organizations hold events across the US presenting an unbreakable bond between Christians and Israel, first-time director Yasmine Perni tours American churches with a film that instead documents the plight of Palestinian Christians at the hands of Israel.

“The (Palestinian) Christians have never been covered like this before,” Perni told Ma’an Saturday.

“The Stones Cry Out” starts by documenting the history of Kifr Biram, a predominantly Christian Palestinian village that was destroyed by Israel after the Nakba.

Former residents of Kifr Biram tell the story of being expelled from their homes by Jewish militants in 1948 and becoming refugees in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. Many attempted to return, but in 1953, they watched as their village was demolished on orders from the Israeli government. Israel has since converted the village lands into a national park.

Perni wants Western audiences to hear the story of Kifr Biram firsthand while they still can. Many of the original residents have already died, including three elderly men who passed away during filming.

“And so I feel that telling their story is a way of keeping their memory alive and their struggle to find peace,” Perni said.

The film moves to an overview of the Six Day War and Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Footage of the events overlaps with Palestinian Christians’ accounts of their experiences throughout the First Intifada – during which Israeli forces killed over 1,000 Palestinians – and throughout Israel’s 2002 siege on Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity during the Second Intifada.

“Most of the Christians abroad were silent (during the siege),” Bethlehem pastor Rev. Mitri Raheb says in the film.

He says Christians “like to sing about the little town of Bethlehem in the churches on Christmas Eve, but I felt at that time that actually Bethlehem was abandoned.”

Featured prominently in the film, Raheb told Ma’an Friday that the story of Palestinian Christians is little known in the West, and even less “among Evangelical Christians.”

He said he hopes the documentary reaches as many people as possible.

Hopes for impact on Western audiences

Christian Zionism – the belief that the modern State of Israel is a manifestation of God’s biblical promise to the Jews – is a significant force in US politics. One Christian Zionist organization, Christians United for Israel, is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States. In addition to lobbying Congress and contributing financially to pro-Israel causes including illegal settlements, CUFI holds regular “Nights to Honor Israel” in US churches using scripture to back up pro-Israel political action. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at one such event last Sunday.

“I think that is using the Bible as a weapon,” Perni told Ma’an.

Though she hopes Christian Zionists will see the film, they are not necessarily her intended audience.

“The film is for everyone. … I’m not a theologian. I’m a journalist. I report the stories that I see,” Perni said.

Without dwelling on theology, “The Stones Cry Out” simply tells “the Palestinian story, but through the eyes of the Christians.”

Despite widespread Christian support for Israel in the US, Raheb told Ma’an that he was optimistic about changing evangelical mindsets on Palestine.

“It’s not a hopeless case,” Raheb said. “The first time I went to the States in 1991, most of the people I met knew nothing about Palestine. That has changed a lot.”

“I see among the evangelical Christian community more openness towards the Palestinians.”

Christians under Israeli occupation

In 2012, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal in which he blamed Christian emigration from Palestine on Muslims.

Raheb says in the film that Israel “would love” Palestine to be free of Christians, “because then they can sell this conflict as a Jewish-Muslim conflict, as a religious conflict.”

“Oren at the end of the day really is interested in fueling Islamophobia because this sells well with certain groups,” Raheb told Ma’an, “as if Israel actually is the one defending the Western value.”

He said that in an academic study he conducted, less than 1 percent of emigrating Christians said they were leaving because of tensions with Muslims, and most actually left due to political and economic situations imposed by the occupation.

The documentary, Perni told Ma’an, “reveals my own discovery of what it really means to live under occupation.”

Though she lived in the Arab world throughout much of her life, she said that the reality of the occupation only set in when she moved to Jerusalem and visited Bethlehem. A major hub of Christianity in the West Bank, Bethlehem is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. A wall constructed by Israel beginning in 2002 separates Palestinians not only from Israel, but in many cases from their own property.

One Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem shows in the film how the wall encases her house on three sides, rendering access to her backyard impossible and turning her home “into a tomb.”

“Christians are hit by the occupation the same way Muslims are,” Raheb told Ma’an.

Unfortunately, Perni said, many in the West are unaware of the very existence of Palestinian Christians. When they meet Christians from Palestine, “people in America ask them when they converted.” 

“The Stones Cry Out” premieres in cities across the US in late October and early November.

In this article, Liddell pointed to a link describing how the former village of Kafr Bir’im had been turned into a national park by Israel. I was struck by the revelation that Kafr Bir’im “was located in an area which IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] wanted, for security reasons, populated only with Jews.” So in November 1948 “most of the inhabitants were evacuated by the IDF ‘temporarily’ to the town of Jish further south ‘until the military operations are over.’”

The reason this struck me is because in numerous conversations I’ve had with Christian Zionist individuals, I’ve been told that the Palestinians were advised by Arab outsiders (e.g. from Jordan, Egypt, etc.) to temporarily take refuge in Arab lands until an Arab alliance could wipe out all the Jews. Therefore, I’ve been told, these Palestinians relinquished their right to the land, and only the Arabs are to blame for leaving them in limbo. This (Israeli) source, on the other hand, indicates that at least Kafr Bir’im was largely cleared of Palestinians by the IDF.

Removing one people group from an area in order to replace them with another people group is not only racist, but this fits the definition of ethnic cleansing. Elias Chacour, another Palestinian Christian, shares similar first-hand stories in his book, “Blood Brothers.” In some of the stories he shares, it wasn’t just ethnic cleansing that took place, but genocide as well.

In any case, I’m glad to see that more Palestinian Christians are being given a chance for their voices to be heard.

The Christian Zionist Movement Is in Panic Mode


“A smile attack is much better than a lie attack. Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues have been saying since 1991 – and you can refer to your records – that Iran is six months away from a nuclear weapon. And we are how many years, 22 years after that? And they are still saying we are six months away from nuclear weapons. We are not seeking nuclear weapons, so we’re not six months, six years, or 60 years away from nuclear weapons.”

-Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran, late September 2013

The installation of Iran’s newest president, Hassan Rouhani, has been met with some rather fascinating (and, to me, disgusting) reactions from the Christian Zionist movement. As President Rouhani and other Iranian leaders speak of Iran’s desire for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons, numerous Christian Zionist leaders have locked arms tightly with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in loudly and repeatedly denouncing President Rouhani as a wolf in sheep’s clothing who can’t be trusted.

It’s clear that a moderate Iranian president simply won’t serve the interests of either Zionism or Christian Zionism. These movements, which are nearly joined at the hip, need a rabid, fire-breathing, foaming-at-the-mouth, anti-semitic, holocaust-denying maniac at Iran’s helm in order to effectively push their cause. (For that matter, they also need barbaric Palestinian leaders in order to advance other elements of their cause.) Iran’s failure to elect such an individual this year has apparently been a major cause for panic.

It’s one thing if this behavior characterizes Zionism. It’s another thing when it characterizes “Christian Zionism.” By the name of this movement, one could be forgiven for believing that it aims to follow the teachings of Christ, the One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

When’s the last time a Christian Zionist leader highlighted the peacemaking efforts of a Palestinian individual toward the Jewish community? (Such efforts do exist.) How about the peacemaking efforts of Jewish individuals toward the Palestinian community? (These also exist.) When’s the last time a Christian Zionist leader pronounced blessings upon the Iranian people and their leaders, wishing for their peace and well-being?

 Hassan_Rouhani_official_portrait

Photo Source

Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran on June 15th of this year, and took office on August 3rd. Rouhani has been described as a moderate and diplomatic leader, and one of his campaign pledges was to repair relations with the West. It wasn’t long at all before Christian Zionist organizations published a flurry of statements seeking to discredit him, to call for increasingly tough actions against Iran, and to highlight Iran’s alleged “relentless development” of nuclear weapons (which, of course, they must be just itching to use against Israel).

A Chorus of Christian Zionist Voices United Against Iran

Israel Today is an organization whose mission “is to be the definitive source for a truthful and balanced perspective on Israel.” They have subscribers in more than 80 countries and believe that “the existence of the State of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy and a plumb line for the purposes of God for these times.”

The month of September saw Israel Today publish articles featuring [1] Israeli PM Netanyahu responding to Rouhani’s Rosh Hashanah greetings with calls for tighter sanctions against Iran [2] Israeli warnings that Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing [3] Netanyahu’s warnings against Rouhani’s “charm offensive” [4] another mocking and desperate article seeking to discredit Rouhani and Iran [5] panic and frustration over President Obama’s and John Kerry’s failure to fall in line with Netanyahu’s hardline rhetoric toward Iran. The comment sections under these articles feature plenty of un-Christlike and warmongering pronunciations against Iran which are far worse than anything former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ever publicly said regarding Israel.

The month of October saw Israel Today publish articles featuring [1] an admission that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since at least the early 1970’s, and has almost used them [2] claims that Netanyahu was prophetically correct when he quoted Scripture during his UN address in “a brilliant admonition of Iran’s anti-Israel madness,” that Iran is an “ancient enemy of Israel,” and that Rouhani is a murderous wolf [3] claims that CNN is inept and biased toward Iran by showing Rouhani in a favorable light [4] strong doubts that Iran’s new offer to downgrade “the nuclear crisis” means anything at all [5] Israel’s stress and fears over the possibility that sanctions against Iran could be lifted or lessened [6] how serious Netanyahu is about striking Iran [7] how Israel is wary of American promises and diplomacy toward Iran.

Breaking Christian News, an Albany, Oregon-based news outlet associated with Steve Shultz and The Elijah List, also routinely publishes articles in support of harsh action against Iran. Recent examples include an article (originally from Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network) featuring Netanyahu’s urgent cries to the world that crippling sanctions must continue to be levied against Iran. Another example is an article (originally at Israel Today) rejoicing that various Arab nations are secretly aligning with Israel behind the scenes, bonded by “a strong desire to eliminate the influence of Iran.”

One Christian Zionist ministry, which I’ll refrain from naming, is based in Israel. I’ve been receiving their email updates for several years ever since a relative signed me up for them. Back in September, when it looked like President Obama was going to lead the US into war strikes on Syria, this ministry sent almost daily updates passionately setting out a case for why America absolutely needed to strike Syria hard for the sake of Israel. This ministry has also used the same reasoning for why America needs to take tough action against Iran, including military strikes: “for the sake of Israel.”

Since when has the mission of the Christian Zionist movement been to rival AIPAC as the biggest war lobby entity on the planet? Why do both entities behave as if they’re agents of the Israeli government?

Not to be outdone, John Hagee’s organization, CUFI (Christians United for Israel), has an article, among others, highlighting a movement of Republican Senators who want to increase sanctions against Iran, targeting “all Iranian government revenue and reserves.” The effects of the present sanctions on the Iranian people include a 20% unemployment rate, a 30% – 50% inflation rate, expensive basic goods, the plunging value of its currency, increasingly unsafe commercial aircraft, an increasing inability to export oil, and other economic ramifications. They are also said to be resulting in half the population struggling to provide food and shelter for themselves, and struggling to maintain emotional health. The sanctions and their effects on millions of Iranian citizens apparently aren’t crippling enough for CUFI’s liking, however. In an email alert sent out on October 30th, John Hagee and David Brog urged their supporters to sign a letter to be sent to all US Senators, including these words:

“I’ve read that the White House is urging you to delay action on legislation to tighten the economic sanctions on Iran. I think the White House is making a serious mistake. So long as Iran continues to add to its uranium enrichment capabilities, we must – at the very least – continue to add to our sanctions.”

A People Movement to Christ in Iran

These sanctions aren’t so much hurting the government of Iran as much as they are hurting the common people. Among them are a growing number of believers – our brothers and sisters in Christ. Elam Ministries, founded by Iranian believers in 1988, reports on the present phenomenal growth of the church in Iran:

Tell me about Jesus! Do you have Bibles?” This is the continuous cry of Muslim-Iranians, especially the youth, who literally flock around you in the street, like moths to the only light in the night… A quiet revival is sweeping through the country… Christians have sent in hundreds of thousands of New Testaments into Iran, but the demand dwarfs the supply. According to the church of Iran, if more than 10 million Persian New Testaments were available, it would still not be enough.

Reza Safa, a former Shiite Muslim whose television program broadcasts into Iran, shares a similar testimony. J. Lee Grady, a Charisma editor, also highlighted the spiritual breakthroughs in Iran in a 2010 report titled “God’s Strategic Plan for Iran,” calling for believers to look upon Iran with compassion instead of wishing for Iran to be bombed.

Hypocritical Powers Crying Wolf

As mentioned earlier, Israeli officials have been crying wolf now for more than two decades, always urging immediate action because Iran is allegedly just a few months away from having a nuclear bomb (but it’s OK for Israel and trigger-happy America to have hundreds of them). The warmongers imply that Iran’s scientists are so utterly incompetent that they still haven’t developed even one nuke after “being on the brink of having them” for more than two decades. What if, just perhaps, they’re not even trying to develop any?

A year ago, Nima Shirazi of the Mondoweiss news site crafted a list of public statements by Iranian leaders from 1991 – 2012 that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons and that they don’t believe in the principle of doing so. It’s a profound list, and worth checking out.

The Ahmadinejad Objection

“But, but, but Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said he intended to wipe Israel off the map!”

Did he really? Even though this was spread widely around the internet as truth, multiple sources, including native speakers of Persian, insist that Ahmadinejad’s 2006 statement was severely mistranslated. Wikipedia is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but the “wiped off the map” controversy is discussed somewhat at length there, and one can follow the footnotes to various articles (some scholarly) which discuss the matter further. A better translation of his words is said to reflect the following statement:

“This Zionist regime that is occupying Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history.”

A BBC report less than two years later allowed Ahmadinejad to clarify his earlier statement:

“Asked if he objected to the government of Israel or Jewish people, he said that ‘creating an objection against the Zionists doesn’t mean that there are objections against the Jewish.’ He added that Jews lived in Iran and were represented in the country’s parliament.”

Indeed, the Jewish community in Iran is the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel.

In other interviews Ahmadinejad has advocated for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their homes, and for a democratic government to be elected by them and everyone else presently in the land. For example, in a September 2006 interview with Time Magazine, he said:

“Our position toward the Palestinian question is clear: we say that a nation has been displaced from its own land… Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government.”

In that same interview, Ahmadinejad said that Iran does not oppose the Jews having their own state, but that Iran is, in fact, opposed to nuclear weapons.

I won’t deny that Ahmadinejad made some inflammatory statements during his political career. Some of his own government colleagues and others in Iran also rebuked him for it. From the Zionist camps especially, however, he was also demonized, and some of his statements were either misrepresented or blown far out of proportion. This has been done, obviously at times, by those who seek a pretext for war. Now that a more mild-mannered leader has taken his place, those who are still seeking that pretext are scrambling for reasons to demonize him too. Rouhani’s publicly stated desire for peace and reconciliation simply doesn’t serve the interests of those who are seeking Iran’s downfall and demise.

Most unfortunately, the world of Christian Zionism is as vocal as any camp in playing this spite-filled game. Only it’s not a game. It affects the lives of people. It sows seeds of destruction. It’s irrational warmongering. It literally affects the foreign policy of the United States. It also affects the reputation of those who say they belong to Christ. It makes it seem to the world that we don’t believe Jesus or take Him seriously when He said things like “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “love your enemies.”

But Jesus was serious. He really does call His followers to make peace and to love all people, and there is no exception when it comes to the Iranians and the Palestinians.

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All posts on the subject of Christian Zionism can be found here.

As The Deer (IHOP) and Like An Avalanche (Hillsong United)


Today, as I’ve been enjoying a much-needed day off from work, I’ve been listening to a number of worship songs. I’d like to share a couple of them here.

The first one is “As the Deer,” sung by Matt Gilman at IHOP (International House of Prayer)’s Fascinate Conference in Kansas City, Missouri in July 2011. This version of “As the Deer” is different than the song written by Marty Nystrom in 1981. That version, I’ve learned, was composed and arranged spontaneously by Marty at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas (where I attended their 2-year Associate Degree program and the Third Year School of Missions from 1997-2000). Matt Gilman’s version is sung to an entirely different melody, but is also based on Psalm 42:1-2 in addition to Psalm 84:5-7. This recording is over 14 minutes long:

The second song I’d like to share is “Like An Avalanche” by Hillsong United. This is from a live worship event in Miami, Florida in 2012. I believe that Hayley Law is the lead singer here, and the lyrics are included in the video:

St. Paul, Minnesota’s Downtown Skyway


I had never experienced downtown living until August 2012, when Jasmine and I got married and moved into an apartment in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. We found it to be a beautiful city, and really enjoyed living there. (A month ago we moved to Bowling Green, Ohio.)

Downtown St. Paul 02 - Copy

           View of downtown St. Paul from just south of the Mississippi River  (Credit: Personal photo)

Mississippi River

View of the Mississippi River and the Smith Avenue high bridge from downtown St. Paul (Credit: Personal photo)

One of the things we liked most about downtown St. Paul was its skyway system. Downtown St. Paul is relatively small, but it has five miles of skyway, all of it elevated one story above street level. It’s like a city within a city, linking 47 city blocks. Inside are two food courts, various shops, additional eating places, access to apartments and buildings, etc. (Minneapolis, by the way, has eight miles of skyway.) This map of downtown St. Paul shows the skyway routes in red:

St. Paul Skyway Map-page-0

Map Source

Winters are excessively cold in St. Paul, so having a skyway system is a great idea and a very welcome addition to the city. Please enjoy a series of photos from inside the skyway:

Skyway 01

Skyway 02

Skyway 03

Skyway 04

Skyway 05

Skyway 06

Skyway 07

In future posts, I plan to include more photos and videos from our time in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. I have plenty of organizing to do first.

**The photos above can also be viewed in a slideshow on Youtube.

The Bible: Interesting Facts and Study Principles


Fun Quiz

(Answers are below.)

1. How many books are contained in the Bible?

A. 56 B. 66 C. 76 D. 86

2. How many books are in the Old Testament?

A. 27 B. 29 C. 37 D. 39

3. How many books are in the New Testament?

A. 21 B. 24 C. 27 D. 37

4. What is the only book of the Bible that doesn’t mention God?

A. Esther B. James C. Hezekiah D. Ecclesiastes

5. How many accounts of the gospel are in the Bible, and what are those books called?

6. What is the name of the last book of the Bible?

7. Which book of the Bible has the most chapters, and how many are there?

8. What book of the Bible has the shortest name (i.e. the least amount of letters)?

9. Which five books of the Bible contain only one chapter?

10. Can you name any secular historians who lived during the time when the New Testament was written, and whose writings back up many of the narratives written in the New Testament?

INTERESTING FACTS

There are many interesting facts about the Bible, which, according to Daniel Radosh of The New Yorker, is not only the best-selling book of all time, but also the best-selling book every year. The following are just a few of these facts:

  • Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible, containing only two verses. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, containing 176 verses.
  • Psalm 118 is the middle chapter in the Bible (there are 594 chapters before Psalm 118, and 594 chapters after Psalm 118).
  • The middle verse in the Bible is Psalm 118:8, which reads, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
  • The book of Psalms, the longest book in the Bible, contains 150 chapters and 43,743 words. The book of 3 John is the shortest book, and contains only 299 words.
  • The longest verse in the Bible is Esther 8:9, with 90 words. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, with only two words (“Jesus wept“).
  • There are 31,102 verses in the Bible (more than 23,000 in the Old Testament, and almost 8,000 in the New Testament. That’s an average of 26 verses per chapter.
  • The Bible was only divided into chapters in the year 1228, by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The New Testament was only divided into verses in the year 1551, by Sir Robert Stephens.

PRINCIPLES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE


Distinguish Between Literary Forms and Genres

The Bible is made up of narratives (stories) more than any other type of literature (other genres include law, poetry, wisdom, prophecies, parables, and epistles). Narratives sometimes teach things indirectly, rather than directly. For example, in the story of David committing adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11), we’re not told directly that adultery is wrong. However, this was already taught directly in the law of Moses (e.g. Exodus 20:14). Still, II Samuel 11 illustrates how David’s adultery harmed his personal life and his ability to rule over Israel.

Note the Context

In the Bible, it’s rare that we seek to understand a single verse by itself, or isolated from all surrounding verses. There are exceptions to this, of course, in the book of Proverbs. Looking at a verse or a passage in context means considering a larger portion of the text as a whole.

The word “earth,” for example, is used many times in both the Old and New Testaments. In some places where it’s used, it’s not a reference to the entire globe. Instead, it’s a reference to the land of Israel (i.e. the Promised Land) only. In fact, some Bible translations will use “earth” in the same passages where other translations will use the word “land.” Luke 21:23 is one example of this pattern. Even if a translation uses the word “earth” in this verse, the context ought to clearly show that Jesus was speaking specifically about Israel. He predicted that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (verse 20), and He warned “those living in Judea” to flee to the mountains (verse 21). He then spoke of “great distress in the earth” (or “land”) and “wrath against this people” (verse 23). The context shows that He didn’t speak of people in Chicago, or of people living in the 21st century, but of Jews living in his own generation.

Consider Audience Relevance

“Exegesis” is a literary interpretation method that involves determining what a text meant to those who first received it. This method should guide “hermeneutics,” the science of interpretation. So the first question to ask is, “What did the text mean to the original audience that first heard or read it?” Then, and only then, is it time to ask the second question: “What does this text mean to us now?”

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other Old Testament prophets often announced the future. However, were they speaking about our future, or were they speaking about the more immediate future of Israel, Judah, and other surrounding nations? Many today believe that Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of a future invasion of modern-day Israel by Russia, Ethiopia, and a few other countries. This is despite the fact that Ezekiel described ancient warfare (e.g. the use of horses) in his prophecy.

In II Thessalonians 2, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica about the man of sin and the Day of the Lord. Many today assume that what Paul told them will be revealed soon and will take place for our generation to see. Yet consider what Paul said to his first century readers: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way” (verses 5-7).

Similarly, John told his first century readers in the book of Revelation that they were capable of calculating “the number of the beast”: “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666” (Revelation 13:18). In other words, they could figure out who the beast was. Many have not considered the audience relevance when thinking of this text, and have insisted that the beast (or “Antichrist,” they might say) was Napoleon, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Barack Obama, etc.

It’s also important to note that we don’t live under the Old Covenant, as ancient Israel once did. This covenant, through Jesus, has been made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). There are commands that were given to the ancient Israelites under the law, which are no longer instructive to God’s people on how to live. We can still derive principles from those laws, understand God better by reading those portions of Scripture, and understand how certain types and shadows are now fulfilled in Jesus, etc. Yet we are not bound by the Old Covenant laws which functioned as a national constitution for ancient Israelites who lived in the land of Israel. We are told in Hebrews 8, for example, that this first covenant was not faultless (verse 7), was made obsolete (verse 13), and has been replaced by a new covenant with better promises (verse 6).

Scripture Interprets Scripture

We are not the ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting Scripture. If we believe that the Biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we can appreciate how they interpret older Scripture passages, even if it means setting aside our own preconceived notions. We see an interesting example of this principle very early in the New Testament when Matthew takes an Old Testament passage from Hosea 11:1 that clearly refers to ancient Israel (“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son“), and applies it to Jesus:

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring your word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’ When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matthew 2:13-15).

The implication is that Matthew viewed Israel, not as his own homeland, the political nation of Israel, but rather as Jesus.

In Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65 we see a prophecy that a wolf will lay down with a lamb. Many today believe or teach that the animal kingdom will literally be transformed in this way in a future millennium, a period lasting 1000 years. However, Paul demonstrated in Romans 15 that Isaiah 11 was fulfilled through Jesus’ work on the cross, and His bringing together Jews and Gentiles in Himself. In other words, the wolf and the lamb represented Jews and Gentiles.

In Matthew 23 Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the religious rulers of Israel, when He said:

“I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:35-36).

Who did Jesus say would be responsible for shedding the blood of all righteous people, and which generation would be held responsible? Clearly, it’s first century Israel. So what do we conclude then when we see these passages in the book of Revelation?

[1] “Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.’” (Revelation 16:4-6)

[2] “I saw the woman [Babylon the Great], drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6)

[3] “Alas, alas, that great city… Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her! … And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:20, 24)

Not only do Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 tell us who shed this blood and when they did it, but the principle of “first mention” can help us here as well. “The great city” is first mentioned in Revelation 11:8. There it is described as “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” We know, of course, that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. The “great city” then is Jerusalem, which also happens to be the city Jesus said in Matthew 23 would be held responsible for the shed blood of all the saints. 

Types and Shadows Point Toward Fulfillment

The New Testament follows the Old Testament in the Bible. Within the Old Testament, there were many practices and laws which foreshadowed realities that have been fulfilled in Jesus. The book of Hebrews speaks much about the types and shadows (e.g. in the sacrificial system) which pointed toward Jesus. One form of eschatology, the study of last things, teaches that in a future millennium there will be renewed animal sacrifices and offerings in a rebuilt temple. Does this teaching not promote a return to types and shadows? One author, Kim Riddlebarger, calls this ” a redemptive-historical U-turn.” Perhaps this teaching persists because some view certain prophetic passages in the Old Testament through a lens that doesn’t recognize apocalyptic language, and assumptions are made that they haven’t yet been fulfilled.

ANSWERS TO THE QUIZ

1. B (66)

2. D (39)

3. C (27)

4. A (Esther); P.S. There is no book called “Hezekiah.”

5. Four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

6. Revelation

7. Psalms; 150

8. Job

9. Obadiah, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, Jude

10. Josephus (a Jew); Tacitus (a Roman)

Sources:

1. Maarschalk, Adam. “Romans 15 Shows That Isaiah 11 Is Fulfilled.” Pursuing Truth Blog. January 29, 2012. http://kloposmasm.com/2012/01/29/romans-15-shows-that-isaiah-11-is-fulfilled/
2. Radosh, Daniel. “The Good Book Business.” The New Yorker. December 18, 2006. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/12/18/061218fa_fact1
3. Riddlebarger, Kim. “Jesus, The True Temple.” The Riddleblog. April 9, 2008. http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/4/9/jesus-the-true-temple.html

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This article first appeared on the Yahoo Contributor Network

An Outline of the Book of Isaiah


The last two posts on Isaiah 17 (covering verses 1-6 and verses 7-14) have rekindled my desire to study Isaiah’s prophetic writings more deeply. As time allows, I hope to complete and post more studies from this rich and wonderful book, especially verse-by-verse studies. A few studies from the book of Isaiah are already listed on our Bible Studies page.

One of the rich features in Isaiah is the level of insight he was given into the new covenant age we presently live in and enjoy. He not only gave warnings to Judah, Israel, and other surrounding nations, but he also spent a great deal of time sharing the visions he was given of the spiritual blessings available to God’s people now in Jesus Christ.

Another feature I hope to bring out is Isaiah’s accuracy as a prophet for his own time. God used Isaiah as a voice to foretell times of judgment and redemption that his own people and surrounding peoples would soon experience. And his words came to pass. This is important at a time when books are being sold by the millions speculating on how Isaiah’s prophecies are about America, Syria, a “resurrected Babylon,” and other modern nations, while often ignoring how they were beautifully fulfilled in his own generation or soon afterward. For example, a well-known author left a comment at this site last week implying that Isaiah 13-23 will be fulfilled in the future. However, looking just at Isaiah 13 (Isaiah’s burden against Babylon), not only did Isaiah prophesy at a time in history when there really was an empire named Babylon, but verse 17 even identifies who would overthrow Babylon: “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them…” (Isaiah 13:17). The fulfillment of this prophecy is shown in Daniel 5-6 when the Medo-Persians defeated Babylon.

The Biblica website has a very informative outline of the book of Isaiah published by Zondervan. I’m reproducing it here, and also including much of Zondervan’s description on the book of Isaiah. I believe it will be helpful as a guide to future studies on Isaiah at this site, as well as helpful for anyone at anytime:

Isaiah

Outline

Part 1: The Book of Judgment (chs. 1–39)

  • Messages of Rebuke and Promise (chs. 1–6)
    • Introduction: Charges against Judah for Breaking the Covenant (ch. 1)
    • The Future Discipline and Glory of Judah and Jerusalem (chs. 2–4)
      1. Jerusalem’s future blessings (2:1–5)
      2. The Lord’s discipline of Judah (2:6—4:1)
      3. The restoration of Zion (4:2–6)
    • The Nation’s Judgment and Exile (ch. 5)
    • Isaiah’s Unique Commission (ch. 6)
  • Prophecies Occasioned by the Aramean and Israelite Threat against Judah (chs. 7–12)
    • Ahaz Warned Not to Fear the Aramean and Israelite Alliance (ch. 7)
    • Isaiah’s Son and David’s Son (8:1—9:7)
    • Judgment against Israel (9:8—10:4)
    • The Assyrian Empire and the Davidic Kingdom (10:5—12:6)
      1. The destruction of Assyria (10:5–34)
      2. The establishment of the Davidic king and his kingdom (ch. 11)
      3. Songs of joy for deliverance (ch. 12)
  • Judgment against the Nations (chs. 13–23)
    • Against Assyria and Its Ruler (13:1—14:27)
    • Against Philistia (14:28–32)
    • Against Moab (chs. 15–16)
    • Against Aram and Israel (ch. 17)
    • Against Cush (ch. 18)
    • Against Egypt and Cush (chs. 19–20)
    • Against Babylon (21:1–10)
    • Against Dumah (Edom) (21:11–12)
    • Against Arabia (21:13–17)
    • Against the Valley of Vision (Jerusalem) (ch. 22)
    • Against Tyre (ch. 23)
  • Judgment and Promise (the Lord’s Kingdom) (chs. 24–27)
    • Universal Judgments for Universal Sin (ch. 24)
    • Deliverance and Blessing (ch. 25)
    • Praise for the Lord’s Sovereign Care (ch. 26)
    • Israel’s Enemies Punished but Israel’s Remnant Restored (ch. 27)
  • Six Woes: Five on the Unfaithful in Israel and One on Assyria (chs. 28–33)
    • Woe to Ephraim (Samaria)—and to Judah (ch. 28)
    • Woe to David’s City, Jerusalem (29:1–14)
    • Woe to Those Who Rely on Foreign Alliances (29:15–24)
    • Woe to the Obstinate Nation (ch. 30)
    • Woe to Those Who Rely on Egypt (chs. 31–32)
    • Woe to Assyria—but Blessing for God’s People (ch. 33)
  • More Prophecies of Judgment and Promise (chs. 34–35)
    • The Destruction of the Nations and the Avenging of God’s People (ch. 34)
    • The Future Blessings of Restored Zion (ch. 35)
  • A Historical Transition from the Assyrian Threat to the Babylonian Exile (chs. 36–39)
    • Jerusalem Preserved from the Assyrian Threat (chs. 36–37)
      1. The siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army (ch. 36)
      2. The Lord’s deliverance of Jerusalem (ch. 37)
    • The Lord’s Extension of Hezekiah’s Life (ch. 38)
    • The Babylonian Exile Predicted (ch. 39)

    Part 2: The Book of Comfort (chs. 40–66)

  • The Deliverance and Restoration of Israel (chs. 40–48)
    • The Coming of the Victorious God (40:1–26)
    • Unfailing Strength for the Weary Exiles (40:27–31)
    • The Lord of History (41:1—42:9)
    • Praise and Exhortation (42:10–25)
    • The Regathering and Renewal of Israel (43:1—44:5)
    • The Only God (44:6—45:25)
    • The Lord’s Superiority over Babylon’s Gods (ch. 46)
    • The Fall of Babylon (ch. 47)
    • The Lord’s Exhortations to His People (ch. 48)
  • The Servant’s Ministry and Israel’s Restoration (chs. 49–57)
    • The Call and Mission of the Servant (49:1–13)
    • The Repopulation of Zion (49:14–26)
    • Israel’s Sin and the Servant’s Obedience (ch. 50)
    • The Remnant Comforted Because of Their Glorious Prospect (51:1—52:12)
    • The Sufferings and Glories of the Lord’s Righteous Servant (52:13—53:12)
    • The Future Glory of Zion (ch. 54)
    • The Lord’s Call to Salvation and Covenant Blessings (55:1—56:8)
    • The Condemnation of the Wicked in Israel (56:9—57:21)
  • Everlasting Deliverance and Everlasting Judgment (chs. 58–66)
    • False and True Worship (ch. 58)
    • Zion’s Confession and Redemption (ch. 59)
    • Zion’s Peace and Prosperity (ch. 60)
    • The Lord’s Favor (ch. 61)
    • Zion’s Restoration and Glory (62:1—63:6)
    • Prayer for Divine Deliverance (63:7—64:12)
    • The Lord’s Answer: Mercy and Judgment (ch. 65)
    • Judgment for False Worshipers and Blessing for True Worshipers (ch. 66)

Position in the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible the book of Isaiah initiates a division called the Latter Prophets…including also Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets (so called because of their small size by comparison with the major prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and not at all suggesting that they are of minor importance)… Thus Isaiah occupies pride of place among the Latter Prophets. This is fitting since he is sometimes referred to as the prince of the prophets.

Author

Isaiah, the son of Amoz is often thought of as the greatest of the writing prophets. His name means “The Lord saves.” He was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Micah, beginning his ministry in 740 b.c., the year King Uzziah died (see note on 6:1). According to an unsubstantiated Jewish tradition (The Ascension of Isaiah), he was sawed in half during the reign of Manasseh (cf. Heb 11:37). Isaiah was married and had at least two sons, Shear-Jashub (7:3) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:3). He probably spent most of his life in Jerusalem, enjoying his greatest influence under King Hezekiah (see 37:1–2). Isaiah is also credited with writing a history of the reign of King Uzziah (2Ch 26:22).

Many scholars today challenge the claim that Isaiah wrote the entire book that bears his name. Yet his is the only name attached to it (see 1:1; 2:1; 13:1). The strongest argument for the unity of Isaiah is the expression “the Holy One of Israel,” a title for God that occurs 12 times in chs. 1–39 and 14 times in chs. 40–66. Outside Isaiah it appears in the OT only 6 times. There are other striking verbal parallels between chs. 1–39 and chs. 40–66. Compare the following verses:

1:2 66:24
1:5-6 53:4–5
5:27 40:30
6:1 52:13; 57:15
6:11–12 62:4
11:1 53:2
11:6–9 65:25
11:12 49:22
35:10 51:11

Altogether, there are at least 25 Hebrew words or forms found in Isaiah (i.e., in both major divisions of the book) that occur in no other prophetic writing.

Isaiah’s use of fire as a figure of punishment (see 1:31; 10:17; 26:11; 33:11–14; 34:9–10; 66:24), his references to the “holy mountain” of Jerusalem (see note on 2:2–4) and his mention of the highway to Jerusalem (see note on 11:16) are themes that recur throughout the book.

The structure of Isaiah also argues for its unity. Chs. 36–39 constitute a historical interlude, which concludes chs. 1–35 and introduces chs. 40–66 (see note on 36:1).

Several NT verses refer to the prophet Isaiah in connection with various parts of the book: Mt 12:17–21 (Isa 42:1–4); Mt 3:3 and Lk 3:4 (Isa 40:3); Ro 10:16,20 (Isa 53:1; 65:1); see especially Jn 12:38–41 (Isa 53:1; 6:10).

Date

Most of the events referred to in chs. 1–39 occurred during Isaiah’s ministry (see 6:1; 14:28; 36:1), so these chapters may have been completed not long after 701 b.c., the year the Assyrian army was destroyed (see note on 10:16). The prophet lived until at least 681 (see note on 37:38) and may have written chs. 40–66 during his later years. In his message to the exiles of the sixth century b.c., Isaiah was projected into the future, just as Ezekiel was in Eze 40–48.

Background

Isaiah wrote during the stormy period marking the expansion of the Assyrian empire and the decline of Israel. Under King Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 b.c.) the Assyrians swept westward into Aram (Syria) and Canaan. About 733 the kings of Aram and Israel tried to pressure Ahaz king of Judah into joining a coalition against Assyria. Ahaz chose instead to ask Tiglath-Pileser for help, a decision condemned by Isaiah (see note on 7:1). Assyria did assist Judah and conquered the northern kingdom in 722–721. This made Judah even more vulnerable, and in 701 King Sennacherib of Assyria threatened Jerusalem itself (see 36:1 and note). The godly King Hezekiah prayed earnestly, and Isaiah predicted that God would force the Assyrians to withdraw from the city (37:6–7).

Nevertheless Isaiah warned Judah that her sin would bring captivity at the hands of Babylon. The visit of the Babylonian king’s envoys to Hezekiah set the stage for this prediction (see 39:1,6 and notes). Although the fall of Jerusalem would not take place until 586 b.c., Isaiah assumes the destruction of Judah and proceeds to predict the restoration of the people from captivity (see 40:2–3 and notes). God would redeem his people from Babylon just as he rescued them from Egypt (see notes on 35:9; 41:14). Isaiah predicts the rise of Cyrus the Persian, who would unite the Medes and Persians and conquer Babylon in 539 (see 41:2 and note). The decree of Cyrus would allow the Jews to return home in 538/537, a deliverance that prefigured the greater salvation from sin through Christ (see 52:7 and note).

Themes and Theology

Isaiah is a book that unveils the full dimensions of God’s judgment and salvation. God is “the Holy One of Israel” (see 1:4; 6:1 and notes) who must punish his rebellious people (1:2) but will afterward redeem them (41:14,16). Israel is a nation blind and deaf (6:9–10; 42:7), a vineyard that will be trampled (5:1–7), a people devoid of justice or righteousness (5:7; 10:1–2). The awful judgment that will be unleashed upon Israel and all the nations that defy God is called “the day of the Lord”… Throughout the book, God’s judgment is referred to as “fire” (see 1:31; 30:33 and notes). He is the “Sovereign Lord” (see note on 25:8), far above all nations and rulers (40:15–24).

Yet God will have compassion on his people (14:1–2) and will rescue them from both political and spiritual oppression. Their restoration is like a new exodus (43:2,16–19; 52:10–12) as God redeems them (see 35:9; 41:14 and notes) and saves them (see 43:3; 49:8 and notes). Israel’s mighty Creator (40:21–22; 48:13) will make streams spring up in the desert (32:2) as he graciously leads them home. The theme of a highway for the return of exiles is a prominent one (see 11:16; 40:3 and notes) in both major parts of the book. The Lord raises a banner to summon the nations to bring Israel home (see 5:26 and note).

Peace and safety mark this new Messianic age (11:6–9). A king descended from David will reign in righteousness (9:7; 32:1), and all nations will stream to the holy mountain of Jerusalem (see 2:2–4 and note). God’s people will no longer be oppressed by wicked rulers (11:14; 45:14), and Jerusalem will truly be the “City of the Lord” (60:14).

The Lord calls the Messianic King “my servant” in chs. 42–53, a term also applied to Israel as a nation (see 41:8–9; 42:1 and notes). It is through the suffering of the servant that salvation in its fullest sense is achieved. Cyrus was God’s instrument to deliver Israel from Babylon (41:2), but Christ delivered humankind from the prison of sin (52:13—53:12). He became a “light for the Gentiles” (42:6), so that those nations that faced judgment (chs. 13–23) could find salvation (55:4–5). These Gentiles also became “servants of the Lord” (see 54:17 and note)…

Literary Features

Isaiah contains both prose and poetry; the beauty of its poetry is unsurpassed in the OT. The main prose material is found in chs. 36–39, the historical interlude that unites the two parts of the book (see Author). The poetic material includes a series of oracles in chs. 13–23. A taunting song against the king of Babylon is found in 14:4–23. Chs. 24–27 comprise an apocalyptic section stressing the last days (see note on 24:1—27:13). A wisdom poem is found in 28:23–29 (also cf. 32:5–8). The song of the vineyard (5:1–7) begins as a love song as Isaiah describes God’s relationship with Israel. Hymns of praise are given in 12:1–6 and 38:10–20, and a national lament occurs in 63:7—64:12. The poetry is indeed rich and varied, as is the prophet’s vocabulary (he uses a larger vocabulary of Hebrew words than any other OT writer).

One of Isaiah’s favorite techniques is personification. The sun and moon are ashamed (24:23), while the desert and parched land rejoice (see 35:1 and note) and the mountains and forests burst into song (44:23). The trees “clap their hands” (55:12). A favorite figure is the vineyard, which represents Israel (5:7). Treading the winepress is a picture of judgment (see 63:3 and note), and to drink God’s “cup of wrath” is to stagger under his punishment (see 51:17 and note). Isaiah uses the name “Rock” to describe God (17:10), and animals such as Leviathan and Rahab represent nations (see 27:1; 30:7; 51:9).

The power of Isaiah’s imagery is seen in 30:27–33, and he makes full use of sarcasm in his denunciation of idols in 44:9–20. A forceful example of wordplay appears in 5:7 (see note there), and one finds inversion in 6:10 (see note there; see also note on 16:7) and alliteration and assonance in 24:16-17 (see note there). The “overwhelming scourge” of 28:15,18 is an illustration of mixed metaphor.

Isaiah often alludes to earlier events in Israel’s history, especially the exodus from Egypt. The crossing of the Red Sea forms the background for 11:15 and 43:2,16–17, and other allusions occur in 4:5–6; 31:5; 37:36 (see notes on these verses). The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah is referred to in 1:9, and Gideon’s victory over Midian is mentioned in 9:4; 10:26 (see also 28:21). Several times Isaiah draws upon the song of Moses in Dt 32 (compare 1:2 with Dt 32:1; 30:17 with Dt 32:30; and 43:11,13 with Dt 32:39). Isaiah, like Moses, called the nation to repentance and to faith in a holy, all-powerful God. See also note on 49:8.

The refrain in 48:22 and 57:21 divides the last 27 chapters into three sections of nine chapters each (40-48; 49-57; 58-66; see Outline).

© Zondervan. From the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Used with Permission.

Source

Isaiah 17:12-14 Is Addressed To the Enemies of Judah


Our previous post, “The Bible does not teach that Damascus, Syria is about to be destroyed,” concluded that Isaiah 17:1-6 was fulfilled during the days of the Assyrian empire, even during Isaiah’s own day. In this post we will study the final eight verses of Isaiah 17, and propose that Isaiah 17 is essentially a three-part prophecy which covers:

1. how Assyria defeated Damascus and Syria in 732 BC (verses 1-3)
2. how Assyria defeated the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC (verses 4-11)
3. how Assyria attempted to defeat Judah and Jerusalem in 701 BC, but miserably failed when God miraculously intervened (verses 12-14).

A Review of Isaiah 17:1-6

Here’s a summary of what we covered in the previous post:

  • Amos, a contemporary of Isaiah, prophesied that Damascus was to be punished and defeated, and that the people of Syria would be taken captive to Kir.
  • Isaiah 7 – 8 tell us that Syria (led by king Rezin) and Israel (led by king Pekah) conspired together in an attempt to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah foretold that both Syria and Israel would be soundly defeated by Assyria.
  • Isaiah 17 again foretold that both Syria and Israel were about to be defeated, and that Damascus would lose its kingdom and be turned into a ruinous heap.
  • II Kings 16 shows Syria and Israel coming together to attack Judah and Jerusalem. This is followed by the king of Assyria conquering Damascus, killing Rezin (their king), and taking the people of Damascus captive to Kir.
  • Isaiah 17:4 uses the phrase “in that day” to describe when Israel would be defeated. We know that Israel was destroyed in 722 BC, and that it was at the hand of Assyria. “In that day” was a reference to the defeat of Syria and Damascus foretold in verses 1-3. So if Isaiah 17:4-11 was fulfilled when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria, then Isaiah 17:1-3 was also fulfilled around the same time.
  • We have the testimony of Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria that he destroyed 591 cities in the 16 districts of Damascus in 732 BC, and other secular testimonies that Damascus ceased to be a kingdom at this time in history (as foretold in Isaiah 17:3).

When Isaiah turned his attention from Syria (verses 1-3) to Israel, he predicted that Jacob’s glory would fade away, his flesh would grow thin, and Jacob would be like an olive tree which had only a few olives in the top branches of the tree (verses 4-6). In 722 BC Assyria struck a fatal blow to the 10 northern tribes of Israel, and they were all carried off to captivity in stages. One way to understand the few remaining olives is to consider that this left only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to the south, along with the pivotal city of Jerusalem. It could also be a reference to just a few citizens of Israel being left behind, or possibly escaping. The imagery of flesh growing thin may have also been a reference to famine caused by Assyria’s three-year siege from 725 – 722 BC (see II Kings 17:3-6).

The manner in which the Assyrians carried off their captives was humiliating and fairly gruesome. The captives had to march naked, even for hundreds of miles, linked together with string and fishhooks pierced through their lower lips (PG-rated photo at link). Amos predicted that this would come upon Israel:

“The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: ‘Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,’ says the Lord” (Amos 4:2-3).

Isaiah 17:7-11

Isaiah goes on to predict the aftermath of Israel’s fall to Assyria:

In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; He will not respect what his fingers have made, nor the wooden images nor the incense altars. In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel; and there will be desolation. Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; In the day you will make your plant to grow, and in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins in the day of grief and desperate sorrow” (Isaiah 17:7-11).

What a picture of heartache and futility for the captives of Israel, but also a picture of lessons learned. They would finally see the uselessness of their idols and altars made to other gods, and they would see how true and worthy God was. The Pulpit Commentary (published in 1890) notes that during Josiah’s reign “offerings of money were made for the temple service by ‘men of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel,’ which the Levites collected and brought to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:9)” from the captives. Yet their former cities were forsaken, and their efforts at creating a harvest would yield only “a heap of ruins.” This expression, incidentally, was also used to describe the fate of Damascus (verse 1).

Isaiah 17:12-14

Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas, and to the rushing of nations that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters; But God will rebuke them and they will flee far away, and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. Then behold, at eventide, trouble! And before the morning, he is no more. This is the portion of those who plunder us, and the lot of those who rob us” (Isaiah 17:12-14).

Here are a couple of questions to ask regarding these final verses of Isaiah 17:

1. Who are the “many people” and “the rushing…nations” spoken of here?
2. Who is Isaiah speaking of when he says “us“?

In the previous post, we saw Syria and Israel forming a coalition to attack Judah (Isaiah 7-8), and Isaiah predicting in detail that they would both be overwhelmed by Assyria. Recall that Isaiah described Assyria as “the waters of the river, strong and mighty” (Isaiah 8:7). This imagery was significant because Israel had “refused the waters of Shiloah that flow softly” (Isaiah 8:6). This was a reference (see Nehemiah 3:15) to the stream of water flowing from the Kidron Valley toward the temple in Jerusalem, the center of worship. Isaiah goes on to describe Assyria in terms of a violent, massive body of water: “He will go up over all his channels and go over all his banks. He will pass through Judah, he will overflow and pass over, he will reach up to the neck; And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:7-8).

This indicates that Isaiah is now prophesying against the same entity, Assyria, in this final portion of Isaiah 17. Assyria was an empire made up of many nations, which often had to do Assyria’s bidding “or else.” Just like in Isaiah 8, Assyria was pictured as “rushing like the rushing of mighty waters…the rushing of many waters” (Isaiah 17:12, 13).  Assyria would have already had its way with Syria and Israel, so who were they to seek to plunder and rob next (verse 14)? Isaiah includes himself when he says “us.” He’s referring to his own people, and Jewish tradition has it that Isaiah was from Judah. The overall scheme of his book was also “concerning Judah and Israel” (Isaiah 1:1). Assyria would attempt to attack Judah.

This being the case, how and when were the prophecies of verses 12-14 fulfilled? Numerous older commentators are in consensus that Isaiah’s words played out when Sennacherib, another king of Assyria, came against Judah to attack it in 701 BC. This is the opinion of Albert Barnes (1834), Adam Clarke (1831), John Gill (1763), the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (1882), and The Pulpit Commentary (1890). Matthew Henry (1710), John Wesley (1765), and the Geneva Study Bible (1599) also at least identify Assyria as the attacking army (Source: commentaries on verse 12, verse 13, verse 14). We can see the story of Sennacherib’s attack and resounding defeat in II Kings 18-19, II Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36-37.

In these three accounts we see that Hezekiah, who had much favor from the Lord, rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. In the fourth year of Hezekiah’s reign, Assyria besieged Samaria, finished off the northern kingdom of Israel three years later, and deported the people of Israel to the cities of the Medes and elsewhere. A decade later, Assyria captured the fortified cities of Judah, causing Hezekiah to strip the silver and gold from the temple in Jerusalem and give it to Sennacherib, who had then become king of Assyria. Sennacherib then sent a great army against Jerusalem, believing that he would take this city too. He taunted and even bribed the people of Judah with many words, saying things like this:

Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands in any way able to deliver their lands out of my hand? Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed that could deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or persuade you like this, and do not believe him; for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?” (II Chron. 19:13-15).

Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed and cried out to God together (II Chron. 19:20). Hezekiah specifically prayed these words: “…Truly, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands—wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone” (II Kings 19:7-9). God’s response was amazing:

And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians 185,000; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat” (II Kings 19:35-37, Isaiah 37:36-38).

This is how God miraculously intervened when Judah was under threat by the most powerful army in the world at that time. It happened in the middle of the night, just like Isaiah 17:14 predicted. “Then behold, at eventide, trouble! And before the morning, he is no more.” Not only did Sennacherib depart, but he was chased for a long distance. Herodotus, the Greek historian known as “The Father of History,” records that when he retreated from Judah “the Egyptians pursued the army of Sennacherib and slew vast numbers” (The Histories 2:141). Isaiah 17:13 predicted that the surviving Assyrians would “be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind.” The result of these events was that God was glorified, just as Hezekiah had prayed:

Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side. And many brought gifts to the Lord at Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter” (II Chron. 32:22-23).

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Isaiah 17 contains fascinating examples of prophecies given and prophecies fulfilled. The way in which they were fulfilled is richer than any futile speculation about how Isaiah 17 might be fulfilled in our own future.