2 CORINTHIANS 11
Some Christians are very perverse! Their ‘bar’ of proof is raised very high when they listen to the true gospel and biblical teaching; they query it and take a great deal of persuasion to put it into practice. Then along comes some more ‘trendy’ but unbalanced teaching from someone on the outside, and they swallow it whole! The reason, of course, is that we are all in a spiritual battle; that it is often easier to go with the Devil’s ‘flow’.
Paul’s motivation was pure; he wanted to present to God the Corinthian church as part of the universal Bride of Christ, holy and single-minded in its devotion to the Lord. He was desperately aware that the rules of the battle he was in were being ‘rigged’ by the other side, which had no hesitation in ‘playing dirty’! Paul never stooped to their level, but he was only human and so he did, from time to time, use some obvious sarcasm in chapters 11 and 12, making some overt boasts and claims (which were, by the way, completely true!) in order to encourage his hearers to ‘level the playing fields’ of the argument. He is anxious that his spiritual children are not led astray – just as Eve succumbed to temptation at the very beginning – from devotion to Christ. Paul stresses that it is unwise to judge by outward appearances, since the Devil himself can put up a fabulously convincing show when he wants; unsurprisingly, then, these false apostles would naturally seem to be worthy of allegiance, if the church judged by externals.
If it is external that make the difference, Paul says, then he is also the most impressive on that score, if you total up his commitment to the gospel, the number of times he has been persecuted, endured pressure and hardships, and suffered injury or been in danger. These ‘weaknesses’ (so-called) are the things that Paul says he will ‘boast’ about if he has to, to earn the Corinthians’ respect again. (11:30). Even more stressful than the physical persecutions is the mental and emotional stress his is continually under, caused by his parental concern for the churches he has planted around the Mediterranean. Paul is completely willing to live through these ‘weaknesses’ in order to be effective in his ministry to them – if that’s what it takes!
ISAIAH 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22
As Egypt learned to its cost (Isaiah 18), Cush was no push-over! The land of ‘whirring wings’ as North-East Ethiopia (as it is now) was called, was the kingdom of Nubia which, in 715 BC attacked and gained control of Egypt, establishing the 25th Dynasty. ‘Whirring wings’ may refer to locusts. The Nubians were also like a plague of locusts on the land on Egypt, devouring territory as they pleased.
More about Egypt in the next chapter: “I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian – brother will fight against brother, neighbour against neighbour, city against city, kingdom against kingdom”. (19:2) You might almost be looking at this year’s news! What is prophesied here in Isaiah 19 is a civil war, perhaps the newly-established Cushite dynasty against some of the existing locals? But what is certain is that God is pulling the strings; and the idols and gods of Egypt are powerless to change things. Mediums and spiritists are like dumb spectators too. Furthermore, the Lord will dry up the Nile – the sign of strength of the chief gods of Egypt – and bring famine. This will all result in Egypt being filled with fear and having a new-found respect for the God of Israel. Indeed, five Egyptian cities including Heliopolis, will convert to the Lord Almighty.
Egypt will go further and build altars to the Lord God; they will cry out to him in their oppression, and he will send a Saviour to rescue them. (19:20). Who this ‘Saviour’ was supposed to be, is not totally clear – but it could have been Jesus himself, of course. The bible then speaks of a highway from Egypt to Assyria – what is known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’ – and on that highway all the people of those lands will become believers in the Lord. It is likely that this fulfilment must be part of the gospel age – since it has not yet previously occurred – and heralds a major revival of faith in Christ in the Middle East.
Many prophets were required to act out their prophecies as well as speaking them. Isaiah went naked and barefoot for three years to indicate that the king of Assyria would conquer Egypt and Cush and lead them away naked and in shame (chapter 20). How this relates to the previous chapter is unclear – it is likely not to be chronological either.
In the next chapter (21) there is the great cry: “Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!”. This is echoed in Revelation 14:8 and 18:2, to represent the world system fighting against the church, enticing the followers of Christ away with promises of easy living and temptations of the flesh. The Babylonian empire mentioned in (21) had not even started to exist!
Finally, consider the prophecy in 22 against the ‘Valley of Vision’ – probably near Jerusalem. God’s people were being called to mourn and repent for their sins, but they made light of them and partied instead. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” was the catch-phrase they coined. Those in the Valley of Vision were guilty of extreme short-sightedness and instant self-gratification. Some men, such as this mysterious ‘Eliakim’ were loyal and faithful to the Lord, but most were not. Eliakim’s life was to become a foreshadowing of Christ’s life and power, looking forward to an age when the true Israel of God becomes established forever under the Son of David.