Sinners in Zion

"The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised (overtaken) the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14)

There are indications in some parts of the prophetic Word which seem to foresee a time at the end of the Age when Israel is regathered awaiting its predicted final deliverance, and the hearts of some thus regathered will fail them, and they will abandon the Land of Promise and revert to the outer world from which they came for fear of the enemy threat. It is fundamental that the Lord can only deliver when there is faith; in Old Testament days when the people had apostatised it was always the position "therefore he brought down their heart with labour...and there was none to help. THEN they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved (heard, and delivered) them out of their distresses." (Psa.107:12‑13) So at the end; only those who manifest utter faith in the power of God to deliver, in the face of their enemies, will experience the spectacular deliverance which marks the outward and visible establishment of the Millennial Kingdom upon earth. The remainder will take their place with humankind in general as those to whom the law of the Lord goes forth, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (Isa.2:3), at an immediately succeeding time.

Here in Isa.33 the immediate threat was that of Sennacherib the Assyrian threatening Jerusalem with his forces. The story is recounted in Isa.36 and 37 as well as in 2 Kings 18. The Assyrian king boasted that the God of Israel was powerless to deliver his people. The besieged ones in the city, inspired by both Isaiah the prophet and Hezekiah the king, "answered him not a word." (2 Kings 18:36) In full faith they waited quietly for the Lord to deliver, and He did deliver. "And when men arose in the morning," to look upon the besieging host, says the chronicler exultantly, "behold, they were all dead corpses." (2 Kings 19:35) Faith had won its victory.

But some there were who did not participate in the deliverance. Sennacherib himself has left behind his own account of this same campaign, inscribed upon tablets which still exist and can be read. And he records a feature of the affair which the Biblical writer omitted to mention, that some in the city, not so sure that the Lord was able or intended to deliver, endeavoured to escape from the city by night, hoping to evade the besieging army and get away, "and" says Sennacherib, "all they that came out of the city by night I captured and sent to Nineveh." They did not really escape after all, and they missed the glory of the deliverance.

Is this event in past history intended to foreshadow a similar position on a greater scale at the end of the Age when the forces of Gog and Magog come against the regathered nation? It would seem that Zechariah, the prophet of the Restoration two centuries later, thought so, for he cast his vision of that final conflict against the background of Sennacherib’s invasion. "Behold,… I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle" he says in Zech.14:1‑3, "and the city shall be taken" (encompassed as a bird or an animal in a snare) "and the houses (shall be) rifled, and the women ravished; and half" (a portion, not meaning just one half) "of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. THEN shall the LORD go forth..." This is just what happened in the days of Hezekiah. A brief account appears in 2 Kings 18:13‑16 but a more detailed one in Sennacherib’s own description, in which he says that in his preliminary campaign he took from Hezekiah all the treasures of the palace and the Temple, and of the wealthy men, the king’s wives and daughters and women of the Court, and carried them away to Nineveh. This, with the defection of those who lost faith, is just what Zechariah describes in his chapter 14. It is noteworthy that it is only AFTER all this has happened that it is said "THEN shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations." (v.3) This perhaps is what the prophet Zephaniah saw in vision when he in his turn spoke of Israel’s coming deliverance. "Wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, ...for all the earth shall be devoured (consumed) with the fire of my jealousy (my fiery zeal)...then I will take away…them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty…I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD." (Zeph.3:8‑12) The pride and arrogance of present‑day Israel is proverbial, justifiably so from the point of view of this world’s standards, when one considers her strength and achievements, but these are values of this world and not the values of God. Suppose by some unexpected turn of events in the political world the strength and power of Israel proves inadequate against those elements hostile to her. Suppose that there is a reversal of the present situation so that those who trust in the arm of flesh depart in fear and are replaced by a directing power much more like those "governors of Judah" in Zech.12:5 who say "the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God"? When such a revolution of thought and action takes place in the Holy Land it might well be that the introduction of the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking forth upon the world.

Ezekiel also seems to have a word about this. Talking, in his 20th chapter, about the Lord’s intention to regather and establish his people in their own ancient land, he records the Lord’s words "I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: AND I WILL PURGE OUT FROM AMONG YOU THE REBELS, AND THEM THAT TRANSGRESS AGAINST ME: I WILL BRING THEM FORTH OUT OF THE COUNTRY WHERE THEY SOJOURN, AND THEY SHALL NOT ENTER INTO THE LAND OF ISRAEL: and ye shall know that I am the LORD." (Ezek.20:37‑38) This word "enter into" is quite significant. It has the meaning of entering into a close relationship, of a close connection; in this context it quite well indicates that these "rebels," though physically in the land, are not spiritually wedded to it. They are not really part of the new nation and the new land because on account of lack of faith they are alien from God, and so He describes them as "sojourners," not really citizens of he land, and He purges them from the land.

A map of the middle east

It has to be remembered that in the classic description of the great deliverance in Ezek.38 and 39 the nation of Israel is depicted as completely defenceless, dwelling in "the land of unwalled villages;" (Ezek.38:11) and yet in complete peace and confidence, which can only mean that the nation, as in the days of Hezekiah, reposes utter faith in the saving power of the Lord. And that confidence is not misplaced; in the outcome the Lord does deliver. That can only mean that all unbelievers and those who lack faith, together with all whose trust is in earthly weapons and the arm of flesh, will have departed for fear of Israel’s apparently hopeless position.

THEN shall the Lord go forth!