The Good, the Bad, and the Complacent

Every society includes the good, the bad, and the complacent. Isaiah shows us what to be, and how. 

A small, fractious, religiously dominated country was paying tribute to a rich empire with an advanced military. In a fit of hubris, the oppressed people stopped sending their wagonloads of gold, hoping that a neighboring nation would come to their aid. The empire mobilized its forces and defeated the weak intervening armies of the neighboring nation. It then turned its greedy eyes and vengeful hands on the rebels.

This is a common story, recurring in every age and on every continent. In this case, the rebellious country was Judah, the empire was Assyria, and the intervening nation was Egypt. In 722 BC, the Assyrian king Sargon II invaded Israel, the northern kingdom of the Hebrew people, conquered it, and carried its inhabitants away. He continued south, forcing the remaining Hebrew kingdom, Judah, under King Ahaz, to pay heavy tribute. Ahaz died in 715 BC and his son, Hezekiah, reigned in his stead. In 703 BC, Hezekiah stopped the tribute payments, hoping that Egypt would guarantee Judah’s safety. The new Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invaded Judah, defeated a small Egyptian force, and began reducing the fortress cities of Judah.

Isaiah prophesied in Judah at this time. He warned Hezekiah and the court leaders about the rebellion, but once they had defied Assyria, Isaiah told them the outcome. If they would trust in God, rather than trusting in Egypt, their land would be abased, but Jerusalem and ultimately the nation would be saved (Isaiah 29-31). God Himself would destroy the Assyrians. Nonetheless, faced with the terrifying political situation, and probably a chorus of false prophets promising freedom, safety, and prosperity under Egyptian protection, Hezekiah made the alliance. Isaiah rebuked the leaders, but then turned his wrath against the upper class and even the commoners in Jewish society (Isaiah 32).

The Good

Many commentators have considered Isaiah 32 to be Messianic, describing the future kingdom of God under the direct rule of Jesus Christ. While true, it also illustrates the rule of just kings, just leaders, and the actions of just men wherever they may be found. Isaiah promised good leaders to the Hebrew people, and Hezekiah himself would dramatically improve when he chose to repent and follow God.

Few today are absolute rulers, and not many are presidents, prime ministers, generals, or chief executive officers. Nonetheless this passage applies to us all, because every manager, teacher, coach, pastor, and parent can become a better leader by pondering these words.

The good leader leads with righteousness and justice. The glory and enjoyment of God is his goal, and he intentionally aligns his life to these ends. He believes in the objective existence of right and wrong, and places himself under God’s standards. The good leader then provides justice for each person under his authority.

As a result, those who place themselves under the authority of such a leader find themselves protected from the frosty winds of circumstances. They find shelter from the storms of life, which buffet them with troubles, swamp their lives with confusion and fear, and ultimately sink them into despair and death. Servants of a righteous king will prosper under just rule – intelligence and industry will be fairly rewarded and the rich will not have undue advantage over the poor. Even when hard times do occur, as is inevitable in life, wise and just leadership will scale down the suffering, acting as streams in a dry country and shade in a parched land.

Perceptive people can be blinded by suffering, injustice, or pride. Under a righteous ruler, these people will see. Those who have a special ability to listen to the cries of the poor, the threats of enemies, and voice of God can become deaf from apathy, injury, or anger. Under a righteous ruler, these people will hear.  Citizens with a penetrating mind that solves mysteries, and those with a golden tongue that lightens the heart and sooths the soul, will find themselves fully able to use their gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of Man. Even more, those with weak minds will become stronger and those with stammering tongues will become fluent.

Aside from Jesus Christ, there is no perfect ruler. No man will completely fulfill all of these promises, and every man will fail at times from omission and commission. Nonetheless, Isaiah’s description of just rule is not just the goal but is the standard for every leader. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, we pursue perfection, knowing that in the pursuit we will gain excellence.

The Bad

The Hebrew words that Isaiah uses, “fool” and “rogue”, are closely related and may refer in this passage to the same person.  While the ruling classes of Judah had a few good men, many were evil, giving bad counsel to the king and more concerned with their own success than with the welfare of their nation or the glory of God. They warped words, calling the fool “noble” and the rogue “generous”.

What was true in ancient Judah is no less true today. A philandering president defends himself by asking “what the definition of is is” while a major presidential candidate compromises US national security for the sake of her own political ambition. Legislators force people of different biological sexes to share bathrooms, and “tolerant” colleges cannot tolerate anyone who opposes their neo-Marxist (materialist, collectivist, atheist, and violent) agenda. Advertisers tell us that we “deserve” everything that our heart desires, and philosophers tell us that we as humans are the measure of morality and the judge of all things. Even as the serpent in the Garden, the fool thinks that he is god, and that we are too.

As a result, the fool spends his time arguing rather than working, and protesting instead of serving. He is too busy “fighting for the rights of others” that he has no time to give a piece of bread to the starving, or a moment of comfort to the dying. The fool’s attractive but vapid arguments glorify himself, and yet defraud the poor and oppressed that he claims to love.

The rogue is either the same person as the fool, or someone worse. His weapons are physical, mental, and spiritual, and he uses them for evil. Not satisfied with afflicting the underprivileged passively and by omission, the rogue preys on the unfortunate, actively and by commission. Modern rogues manipulate the stock market, traffic in sex slaves, and swindle the elderly. Then they use unscrupulous lawyers to defend their wicked ways with fine sounding arguments. In the modern USA as in ancient Israel, rogues fear neither God nor man, and will face a bitter reckoning.

The Complacent

The majority of Israelites in Isaiah’s day were neither kings nor rogues; they were average people living day to day, just like most of those in modern America. While Isaiah dedicated only three verses to the fool and the rogue, he dedicated six verses to rebuke these people, because in the pursuit of their interests, they had become “the complacent.” Isaiah specifically addressed his accusations to women, but in Israel some men fit this description and in the West many men do.  Unlike in many other passages, the prophet predicted precisely when this judgment would begin, “within a year and a few days.”

Society as they knew it would be crippled. Crops would fail, and wine production would cease. Thorns and briars would replace grain and other food crops. Joy would flee from houses and villages. The structure of society would collapse, and the governing authorities would be taken away (“palace abandoned”). Disorder would prevail, and no one would remain to make and enforce laws, build and maintain public works, and judge between conflicting parties. Without a functional society, people would scatter, and the population centers would be vacant.  Goats and donkeys would enjoy the ruins of former places built to defend a proud nation. The women of Judah, used to prosperity, beauty, and security, would mourn.

What does this mean for people in 2017? The Western world remains powerful, rich, and complacent. Ruling classes in every other continent are the same. We believe that nothing really bad will ever happen to our societies, and we will continue to pursue personal peace and affluence forever. Meanwhile, we forget the poor, oppress those unlike us, and spit on the face of God. In our self-imposed ignorance and intentional blindness, we neglect those who God supports.

Conclusion

In Isaiah 29-32, the Prophet Isaiah told the Hebrews how to handle the coming national catastrophe.  His people did not listen. The Assyrians under Sennacherib conquered Lachish, the key Israelite fortress city, and reduced most of the rest of the country to ashes. The Egyptian expeditionary force fought an inconclusive battle against Assyria and then withdrew, leaving the Jews to their fate. The Assyrians camped in a stranglehold around Jerusalem. Only after everything else failed did Judah heed his voice. Hezekiah, his court, and the people repented and threw themselves on the mercy and protection of God. Finally, the Lord intervened to destroy Sennacherib’s army, probably by means of an infectious disease like Anthrax. The Assyrians withdrew and Jerusalem was saved.

Isaiah’s words apply to everyone in the modern world. Every society is composed of the Good, the Bad, and especially the Complacent. Every society also faces the judgment of God for oppressing the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Every individual faces the decision of who they want to be – Good, Bad, or Complacent. Those who reject the Source of Light, Love, Beauty, and everything else that is good in the universe will get their wish – living an eternity without light, love, beauty, and everything else that is good in the universe.

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Timeline of Events in the Iron Age

What happened in the Iron Age? Which empires rose and fell? How do these events interact with Bible events? Look here for answers. 

This morning in Sunday School I was describing the background of the feast of Belshazzar in Daniel 5. In order to fully understand what this story, and what all Bible stories mean, we must understand the social, political, and cultural context. However it was hard for many in my class to remember and properly order each event so that they could grasp the full meaning of the passage. As a result, I promised to write and post a timeline of people and events that pertain to the eight centuries before Christ.

Keep in mind that these dates, specifically the dates of the reigns of kings, are approximate. Ancient chroniclers reckoned events by when they occurred in a sovereign’s reign (cf. Isaiah 6:1).

1179 BC – Catastrophic end to many civilians in the Western Mediterranean, including Crete and Mycenae

1046-256 BC – Zhou Dynasty in China

854 BC – King Ahab of Israel (869-850 BC) allied with Hadadezer of Syria and ten other kings held off at attack by Shalmaneser III, King of Assyria (858-824 BC), at the Battle of Qarqar.

841 BC – The Assyrians campaigned against Israel, forcing King Jehu (841-815 BC) to pay tribute.

810-782 BC – King Adad-Nirari III of Assyria claimed tribute from Israel.

798-782 BC – Jehoash reigned in Israel

796-767 BC – Amaziah reigned in Judah

793-753 BC – Jeroboam II reigned in Israel.

790-739 BC – Uzziah (Azariah) reigned in Judah (coregency with his father at first)

790 BC – Ministry of the prophet Jonah

782-746 BC – Shalmaneser IV reigned in Assyria

Around 782-745 BC – Ministry of the prophet Jonah. Assyria was at war with the powerful kingdom of Urartu (Van), allied with Mannai and Madai.

Around 767-752 BC – Ministry of the prophet Amos

753 BC – Rome founded by Remus and Romulus, legendary descendants from Troy

753-752 BC – Zechariah and Shallum ruled in Israel

752-732 BC – Pekah reigned in Israel

752-742 BC – Menahem reigned in Israel

750-731 BC – Jotham reigned in Judah

750 BC – Legendary rape (abduction) of the Sabine women

Around 750-715 BC – Ministry of the prophet Hosea.

Around 750-722 BC – Ministry of the prophet Micah.

742-740 BC – Pekahiah reigned in Israel

Around 740 BC – Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC) was king of Assyria and invaded Israel, requiring tribute from Menahem (752-732 BC). He later invaded Judah and received tribute from King Ahaz (735-715 BC).

735-715 BC – Ahaz reigned in Judah.

732-722 BC – Hoshea reigned in Israel.

732 BC – Fall of Damascus

729-686 BC – Hezekiah reigned in Judah.

728 BC – 25th Dynasty in Egypt founded under Piye

722 BC – Assyria under Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC) besieged the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ahaz of Judah paid tribute to Assyria.

721 BC – King Sargon II of Assyria (721-705 BC) conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and carried the people into exile.

718 BC – King Canduales of Lydia was murdered by Gyges, a courtier and probably a freed slave. Gyges then became King of Lydia.

717 BC – Assyria attacked Phoenicia and besieged Tyre but failed to conquer it.

703 BC – Hezekiah King of Judah (728-687 BC), stopped paying tribute to Assyria, thus launching a rebellion against Sennacherib (705-681 BC).

701 BC – Assyrian army under Sennacherib conquered Lachish and besieged Jerusalem.

701 BC – King Hezekiah of Judah humbled himself and God delivered Jerusalem, wiping out the Assyrians.

697-642 BC – Manasseh reigned in Judah.

684-320 BC – Maghada Dynasty in India

681-669 BC – Esarhaddon reigned in Assyria

669-633 BC – Ashurbanipal reigned in Assyria.

663 BC – Fall of Thebes

660 BC – Zoroaster (c 660- c 583 BC), founder of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism, was born.

652-626 BC – Ministry of the prophet Nahum.

Around 650 BC – Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah and son of Hezekiah, was captured by the Assyrians and carried away. While there he repented and sought God.

643 BC – Manasseh died and was succeeded by his son Amon.

642-641 BC – Amon reigned in Judah.

641 BC – Amon was assassinated and succeeded by his son, the good king Josiah (640-609 BC).

640-609 BC – Josiah reigned in Judah.

627-621 BC – Ministry of the prophet Zephaniah.

627-580 BC – Ministry of the prophet Jeremiah.

626-616 BC – Babylonian army under Nabopolassar (626-605 BC) and his son Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) achieved Babylonian independence from Assyria.

626-590 BC – Ministry of the prophet Habakkuk.

612 BC – Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, fell to Nabopolassar and the Babylonians.

609 BC – King Josiah died fighting against the Egyptians under Pharaoh Neco in the Battle of Megiddo.

609 BC – Pharaoh Neco installed Jehoahaz, then Jehoiakim as King of Judah.

605 BC – Nabopolassar died. At the Battle of Carchemish, Babylon defeated Assyria and Egypt (Pharaoh Neco).

605 BC – First exile of the Jews, including Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, to Babylon.

605-535 BC – Ministry of the prophet Daniel.

598 BC – Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin as King of Judah.

600 BC – Approximate time for the ministry of Hosea.

598-597 BC – Jehoiachin reigned in Judah.

596 BC – Revolt of Judah under Jehoiachin. Babylonians defeated the Jews and installed Zedekiah as king.

597-586 BC – Zedekiah reigned in Judah.

593-570 BC – Ministry of the prophet Ezekiel.

587 BC – Revolt of Zedekiah, Jerusalem and temple destroyed. Most of the inhabitants of the land were taken away.

586 BC – Remnants of the people in Judah killed the Babylonian governor Gedeliah, kidnapped Jeremiah, and fled to Egypt.

585 BC – Solar eclipse – key event from which other events were dated.

Around 586? – Early exilic period – Obadiah ministered and wrote his book.

584-564 BC – Moab, which had attacked Judah during Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion (2 Kings 24:2), resisted Babylon and was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

563 BC – Nebuchadnezzar died

560 BC – Evil-Merodach, son of Nebuchanezzar, assassinated in a conspiracy led by Neriglissar

560 BC – Croesus became king of Lydia, a large kingdom in present day western Turkey.

556 BC – Neriglissar died

556 BC – Labashi-Marduk, son of Neriglissar, ascended to the throne of Babylon.

556 BC – Nabonidus, a wealthy merchant in Babylon, led a rebellion against Labashi-Marduk, seized power and assassinated the king.

551 BC – Confucius (551-479 BC) was born

546 BC – Croesus King of Lydia was defeated by Cyrus the Persian and his empire was destroyed. Nabonidus had allied with Croesus, and so Cyrus attacked him

540-539 BC – Cyrus (539-530) defeated the Babylonians at the Battle of Osis and Nabonidus fled south.

539 BC – Cyrus conquered Babylon and killed the king, Belshazzar (29 October).

538 BC – Cyrus issued his proclamation for Jews to return home (Ezra 1:1).

538-537 BC – Many of the Jewish exiles returned to Palestine. Temple rebuilding began.

538-518 BC – Assuming that Daniel wrote the Book of Daniel and that he finished it shortly before his death in the early part of Cyrus I’s reign, it must have been written in this period.

Around 530 BC – Many factors including resistance from neighbors caused the rebuilding of the Temple to stop.

530 BC – Cyrus the Great was killed while fighting against the Massagetae, a nomadic tribe in Central Asia related to the Scythians, along the Jaxartes River (modern Syr Darya).

Late sixth century to early fifth century BC – Probable writing of the Book of Joel.

529 BC – Cambyses (530-522 BC) ruled Persia.

528 BC – Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC) founded Buddhism.

525 BC – Persian forces under Cambyses conquered Egypt.

522 BC – After some political intrigue, Darius I (522-486) ascended to the throne of Persia.

520 BC – Haggai’s first message (August), second message (October), third and fourth messages (December)

520 BC – Zechariah’s ministry began (November)

520 BC – Temple construction resumed.

519 BC – Zechariah’s eight night visions (February)

516/15 BC – Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt under Zerubbabel (Ezra 6:15).

512 BC – Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) wrote the Art of War.

510 BC – Establishment of the Roman Republic

495-429 BC – Life of Pericles (Greek Ruler)

490 BC – In the Battle of Marathon, Darius 1 (the Great, 550-486 BC) of Persia was defeated by the Athenians and Plateans.

485 BC – Xerxes 1 (The Great, 485-465 BC) became king over Persia. He is known as Ahasuerus in the book of Esther.

484-325 BC – Life of Herodotus (Greek historian)

480 BC – Xerxes 1 invaded Greece with a large army, winning at the Battle of Thermopylae and losing decisively at the Battle of Salamis. Xerxes returned to Susa and left his general Mardonius in command of the Persian army in Greece.

After 480 BC – Zechariah’s final prophecy

479 BC – Mardonius was crushed by the Greeks in the Battle of Platea and the Battle of Mycale. The Persian Army limped home, a shadow of its former self.

479-465 BC – Likely period during which the events in the Book of Esther occurred.

475-450 BC – Ministry of the prophet Malachi.

470-399 BC – Life of Socrates (philosopher)

465 BC – Xerxes (As mentioned in the Book of Esther was assassinated, and after some intrigue, his son Artaxerxes succeeded him.

464 BC – Artaxerxes I (464-424 BC) became ruler over Persia.

460-395 BC – Life of Thucydides (historian and general)

458 BC – Ezra led a group of Jewish exiles back to Judah and wrote the Book of Ezra, recounting the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel.

450-300 BC – Most likely date range for the writing of the Book of Esther.

449 BC – Herodotus completed his History, covering the Persian wars.

445 BC – Nehemiah led a group of exiled Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.

431-404 BC – The Peloponnesian War between the Athenian empire and the Peloponnesian League (including Sparta).

430 BC – Plague of Athens (recurred 429, 427, 426), a devastating epidemic that killed 1/3 to 2/3 of the population. Typhus, typhoid, and viral hemorrhagic fevers are possible pathogens.

427-347 BC – Life of Plato (philosopher)

Around 425 BC – Ministry of Malachi.

Early fourth century BC – Edom destroyed by the Nabateans, a people from northern Arabia and the southern Levant.

415-413 BC – Disastrous Athenian invasion of Sicily in the Peloponnesian War.

403 BC – Artaxerxes II (403-359 BC) ascended to the Persian throne.

384-322 BC – Life of Aristotle (philosopher)

384-322 BC – Life of Demosthenes (statesman)

358 BC – Artaxerxes III (358-337 BC) became ruler of Persia.

331 BC – Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) crushed Darius the Persian for the final time at the Battle of Gaugamela, destroying the Achaemenid Empire and extending his borders from Macedonia to India.

323 BC – Alexander died in Babylon, his four generals dividing up his empire. This resulted in the Ptolemic Kingdom (Egypt and Palestine), Seleucid Kingdom (Persia, Mesopotamia and Eastern Anatolia), Lysimachid Kingdom (Western Anatolia and Trace) and Antigonid Kingdom (Macedonia).

221-206 BC – Qin Dynasty in China

206 BC – 220 AD – Han Dynasty in China

198 BC – Antiochus III (The Great) of the Seleucid Kingdom defeated the Ptolemiac forces at the Battle of Panium, wresting Palestine from Egyptian control.

168 BC – Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, prompting a revolt. Later he massacred Jews in Judah.

164 BC – The Maccabees rebelled against the Seleucids, throwing off their rule and founding the Hasmonean Dynasty which reigned in Palestine until the Roman conquest.

63 BC – Roman forces intervened in a Hasmonean Civil War and captured Jerusalem, making Judah a client state.

37 BC – After Jerusalem passed back and forth between Parthian and Roman rulers, Rome finally secured it and the Idumean Herod the Great became “King of the Jews”.

4-6 BC – Jesus was born.

Please use this as a reference when trying to understand the history of the Ancient Near East in the seven centuries before Christ. This information came from several references, including The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, 1899-1983) and Annals of the World by Irish Archbishop Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656).

Hezekiah – an Example of Crisis Leadership

Hezekiah had the same foibles and failings as the rest of us, and that is why his example is worth studying. 

After the golden age of Israel, during the reigns of David and his son Solomon, Israel split apart.  The tribes of Judah and Benjamin kept Rehoboam, grandson of David as their king, but the northern ten tribes chose Jeroboam, an Ephraimite.  The subsequent history of Israel is a sad tale of uniformly evil rulers, people unfaithful to the Lord, and near extermination by the Assyrians two hundred years later (721 BC).  The history of Judah is little better, with a few good kings, including Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah and Jotham interspersed with many evil ones.  Judah lasted 135 years longer than Israel but became progressively more wicked and was finally overwhelmed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.

Continue reading “Hezekiah – an Example of Crisis Leadership”