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Unrolling the Scroll of History

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Isaiah 13–23

In Isaiah’s oracles announcing the Lord’s judgment against the various nations, we find a wonderful truth: God is, and always has been, in sovereign control over all His creation. And yet He cares for and gives sure hope to each one of us. Why would we put our trust in anyone else?


Unrolling the Scroll of History

Isaiah 13–23


Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, once wrote that history is “little more than the register of crimes and misfortunes of mankind.” I would say that is a rather pessimistic view of world history. A little more positive perspective was given by a former American president, James Garfield, who said that history is “the unrolled scroll of prophecy.” In other words, history shows us how God was indeed in charge. History is His story.[1]  

Today in our Wisdom Journey, we are going to watch as Isaiah unrolls the scroll of history. He delivers a series of oracles that reveal the judgment of one nation after another.

Chapter 13 opens in verse 1 by saying, “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.” The Hebrew word for “oracle” refers to a burden you must carry. These prophecies were a burden for Isaiah to bear. The prophet is not just rattling off judgments without any compassion or sorrow.

Let me tell you, beloved, any true preacher—any believer for that matter—who delivers the gospel feels this burden. We are delivering both the hope of the gospel and the warning of God’s coming judgment to those who refuse to follow Him. And that is a heavy burden.

Note what Isaiah says in his oracle to Babylon here in verse 19:

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

You can go today to where we believe Sodom and Gomorrah were located and see layers of burnt ground. You can pick up little balls of sulfur the size of golf balls lying right there on the surface that God sent down to burn these cities to the ground.[2] Isaiah says that is the future of the defiant empire known as Babylon.

Listen to the arrogance of Babylon’s future king, here in chapter 14 of Isaiah:

“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (verses 13-14)

I would say this is a pretty arrogant king—and His fall is going to be great. I believe this defiance describes the pride and rebellion of Satan himself. This highest of the created cherubim, this angel, who tried to overthrow God had a great fall. In spite of that, Satan is still at work in every age. But remember this: Satan is on a leash, and he cannot do anything to you or anybody else unless God permits it.

Chapter 14 closes with an oracle concerning the Philistines. They rejoiced when King Ahaz died, thinking Jerusalem was finished forever. But Isaiah unrolls the scroll to reveal that Jerusalem will one day stand, but the Philistines are going to fall to the Assyrians—which they did in 711 BC.

And let me just say, beloved, you have never met a Philistine today. That nation is gone. There is no Philistine ambassador at the United Nations. But there is an ambassador from Israel, whose capital city is Jerusalem.

Now in chapters 15 and 16, God’s judgment is turned on the people of Moab. The Moabites were bitter enemies of Israel. Isaiah unrolls the scroll a little farther and tells us here in chapter 16 that Moab will be crushed by the Assyrians.

Chapter 17 presents an oracle against Damascus, the capital of Syria. Israel had chosen the help of Syria over asking God for help, and Isaiah effectively says, “That was a big mistake!” Here in verse 1, Isaiah prophesies, “Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins.” 

The next nation mentioned in this scroll of history is Cush. The Cushites lived in modern-day portions of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. They allied with Israel, and Isaiah prophesies here in chapter 18 and verse 7, they will bring an offering of thanksgiving to God, for destroying the Assyrian Empire.[3]

In chapter 19 we have an oracle “concerning Egypt.” The first fifteen verses describe the judgment coming upon Egypt. This particular oracle unrolls the scroll of history all the way to the second coming of Christ.

Amazingly, we are told that there will be a host of believers coming from the kingdoms of Egypt and Assyria who are going to worship the coming Messiah-King of Israel. This is a reference to the millennial kingdom, and listen to what Isaiah says here in verse 24:

In that day Israel will be the third [nation] with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

These are surprising converts! Beloved, don’t count anybody out. That person you think will never bend the knee to God just might become a wonderful testimony of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. There is no such thing as a hopeless case.

Now in chapter 20 God instructs Isaiah to walk around Israel barefoot and without an outer garment—essentially naked, in that day—and to do that for three years. You might think God has asked you to do some difficult things and then later you realized what He had in mind. Well, that is what happened to Isaiah, as God explains here in verses 3-4:

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years . . . so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles . . . naked and barefoot.”

Now in chapter 21, Isaiah delivers “the oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea” (verse 1). This refers to southern Babylon near the Persian Gulf. Verse 2 tells us the Elamites and the Medes will attack Babylon like a whirlwind, and Babylon will fall. We will see that victory described in Daniel 5, where we also learn those nations are joined by the Persians.

As Isaiah further unrolls the scroll of history here in chapter 21, we have an oracle concerning Edom, or Seir. Edom is given the promise that the Assyrian oppression is not going to last very long.[4]

Following that we have an oracle about Arabia. Isaiah prophesies the Arabians are not going to last more than a year before being overrun by the Assyrians.

Chapter 22 then begins “the oracle concerning the valley of vision.” This is a rare name for Jerusalem. The city is going to be judged right along with the pagan nations, including the Phoenicians, described in chapter 23. It must have been humiliating for Jerusalem to be judged along with those sinful nations. But God will keep His word and judge His people for their defiance. He will take them into a painful and difficult valley they will never forget.

But understand that this is a valley that becomes a place of vision. In the valley of despair, the people of Israel will recognize that God alone rules the world. Isaiah says this about their restored vision of God: “In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 17:7).

Maybe you are going through a valley of some kind right now. That valley might be painful and even confusing. But it can become a place where you get a fresh vision of God’s faithfulness and God’s promises in His Word so that you are not looking to anyone else for help but to your Maker, your Lord.

You see, valleys are not necessarily wrong turns that take you away from God’s plan. Valleys are on the map; they are God’s designated places where you learn more about Him and you learn to lean on Him like never before.

Valleys are places in life where you realize the scroll of your history, your story, is written by the hand of God, who loves you and promises to lead you as your Good Shepherd.

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted (Victor Books, 1996), 42.

[3] John A. Martin, “Isaiah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Victor Books, 1985), 1065.

[4] Wiersbe, 54.

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