Isaiah is the first major prophet documented in the Scriptures. His ministry took place between 744 and 700 BC. While his ministry was relevant to Israel and Judah, he says more about the coming Messiah than any other Book in the Old Testament. Chapters 9 & 53 describe birth & crucifixion of Jesus 700 years ahead.
Isaiah is quoted more in the New Testament than any other Book of the Old Testament. A prophet generally has two primary functions after their call to the ministry. The first is to speak the words he gets from God to the people. The era of God’s revelations to humankind has never ended. His primary way of revealing Himself to us is through the Scriptures He has already given us through prophets, apostles and writers throughout the Old and New Testament periods. Mastery of the Word is absolutely necessary for any person believing they might have received a revelation from God. Any revelation from God must be first filtered through God’s Word. The primary reason for this is that Satan can provide revelations which oppose God’s will and plan for our lives. The enemy began that in the Garden of Eden and has never stopped. The best way to validate a revelation is through God’s Word. God cannot be inconsistent with or contradictory to His Word as already documented. Any revelation which fails to meet this criterion is easily classified as a false prophecy and must be disregarded. If it passes that test, it must be passed on to all.
The second function of a prophet is to share what God tells him about the future so they can be prepared to deal with the new situation. This is where historic context plays a very large role in the mission of the prophet. One absolutely must examine the current context of the prophet’s words before the words to a future context. During the time of the prophets, there were several major events to be considered. First, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines many of which were of the same tribes whom God commanded Israel not to go into because they would lead their husbands away from Him (1 King 11:1-3). When Solomon was old, his wives led him into worship of at least three false gods: Ashtoreth (goddess of Sidon), Molech (god of Ammon) and Chemosh (god of Moab). They led him into those pagan religions condemned by God through Moses in the sermons of the Book of Deuteronomy as Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land.
So, God removed Solomon’s right to rule and promised him that Israel would be divided into two nations (1 Kings 11:11). Most of Israel would continue to be called Israel and consist of the 10 tribes of the North (Galilee and Samaria). As God said, it would be ruled by Solomon’s servant, Jeroboam, instead of his son and heir, Rehoboam. The Southern tribes would be called Judah and consist of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They would occupy the area of Judah. God said Solomon’s permission to continue as king until his death was only given by Him as an honor to Solomon’s father, King David (1 Kings 11:13).
As early as Chapter 1, Isaiah begins to warn Judah they could be next. He reminded her of the many warnings God gave Israel through prophets like Obadiah, Jonah, Joel, Amos, Hosea, Elijah and Elisha. Her refusal to acknowledge her sin, repent and return to following God combined to result in her defeat and ultimate exile.
So, Isaiah prophesied predominantly after the exile of Israel in 722 BC but before the exile of Judah as she would fall to Babylon in 586 BC. We will read a lot about Isaiah’s messages regarding the sickening nature of Judah’s worship of false gods and how she must repent or follow directly after Israel in losing access to the land God promised and delivered to her. Isaiah tells us it was the death of King Uzziah (742 BC) that influenced his call into his ministry for God.
As a pre-exilic prophet, Isaiah prophesied and warned Israel of her pending fall. As a post-exilic prophet, he warned Judah that unless she repents, she would be next. Even so, verse 1:1 says his message is for Judah and Jerusalem. The next verse contains God’s condemnation saying He gave her birth and she rebelled against Him. Only a small remnant (as God promised) would survive God’s punishment and escape destruction.
The Prophets of Israel & Judah
The chart above shows the chronological relationship between the prophets and Israel’s divided kingdoms. As we read the prophecies delivered to the kings of Israel and Judah, we can see where the prophets existed in time, and what circumstances surrounded them and their prophesies. We are studying Isaiah who prophesied to Judah (Southern 2 Tribes) shortly before and just after the fall of Israel (the Northern 10 tribes) into the captivity of Assyria in 722 BC.
So, Isaiah had the experience of hearing the prophesies to Israel (see chart) as they warned Israel of their sin and turning against God. He began his ministry about 744 BC, or 22 years before the Fall. While God protected Israel for decades, her refusal to turn back to Him resulted in His taking His hand off them, and Israel was taken into exile. Most of them never returned. This differed from the exile of Judah to Babylon beginning in %87 BC. Judah repented of her rejection of God and turned toward returning to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding for Judah’s return.
The Key Themes of Isaiah
There are numerous themes in the Book of Isaiah. Looking at just a few of the Key Themes finds emphasizes the idea that acting against God’s Law (sin) has tremendous personal impact on a relationship with God. But it also has a national impact when the country is known as God’s Chosen People. The rebellion of Israel and Judah with God was the source of centuries of sorrow and strain for God and for the country. When God lifted His hand of protection in response to such rebellion, Israel and Judah suffered. God used some of the nations from whom He had protected them as source of judgement against them. So, the personal damage to their relationship with God became international in God’s responses.
The Key Themes of Isaiah (Cont.)
God has total power over all events in the world and exercises it brings about rewards and judgements to guide His people along the desired path - It is often hard to understand how Israel (and we) seem to forget that power and refuse to follow His announced way for us. The Key Theme is “God is always in Command.”
The truth of the Faithful Remnant is pervasive in the Scriptures - I always
think about how Elijah had such a grand victory through God over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Many people recall the 450 prophets of Baal but miss the additional 400 prophets of Asherah also mentioned in 1 Kings 18:19. All of these were invited to mount Carmel by Elijah for a showdown of the gods. God had such a lopsided and humiliating victory over the pagan leaders through Elijah that anyone else would have had a lifetime of blessings from just that one event. But not Elijah. 1 Kings 19 documents a threat from Queen Jezebel against Elijah that sent him running away to hide under a juniper tree. He claims to God that he is the only one left of God’s people and he fears for his life. God gave him a vision of His next victory over Jezebel which included 7,000 soldiers who had never once bowed a knee to Baal. Elijah thought he was alone, but God had a remnant of 7,000 faithful waiting to join Elijah in battle.
The Holy One of Israel is the name Isaiah uses 31 times to refer to God. It is clearly his favorite name for the Lord. Frequently, he will couple “The Lord, they God” with “The Holy One of Israel” to make sure there is no chance of misinterpreting of whom he speaks.
The Servant of the Lord is the term Isaiah uses for Israel in the earliest parts of the Book, but he uses it to identify the Anointed One of God and the associated prophesies as the Book proceeds.
Judgement and Salvation has a shift in meaning or application between the earlier 39 chapters of Isaiah and the chapter 40 and following. It warns of judgement early and salvation later.
Isaiah is one of the five Major Prophets. The difference between major prophets and minor prophets is simply the length of the Bible Book, i.e., the longest 5 Books are Major Prophets while the shorter are the Minor Prophets. Most often, the prophets are introduced and their call into the ministry revealed early in their writings. In Isaiah, however, the introduction is found in Chapter 1 while Chapter 6 contains his call into the ministry.
Isaiah begins with the Prophet’s anger against the chosen people of Israel. During this time, Israel had already become a divided nation into the Israel of the North and the Judah of the South. Recall that God took Israel away from King Solomon because he allowed some of his 700 wives lead him into worship of other gods, at least three of them, as he aged. So, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam only ruled over Judah and Benjamin in the Southern Province of Israel soon after Solomon’s death. Solomon’s servant, Jeroboam, ruled over the 10 remaining tribes of the North.
The Covenant relationship between the nation of Israel and God was more like a marriage pledge than a legal contract. God and the nation of His chosen people had vows they exchanged between them in the Law from Mount Sinai and Israel was routinely becoming an adulterer against her Husband. God was angry and His prophet, Isaiah reflected that anger to the people. The people of Israel were “cheating on their Husband” by following these other gods. The worship of these gods required the sacrifice of Israeli babies. The Bible documents God nausea at these practices and the eventual judgements He brings to both Israel and Judah. Nevertheless, the rebellion continues and is documented here and in the Books of writings and the prophets.
As we read through the pages of the New Testament, we see the evidence of the religious class, i.e., scribes, pharisees and sadducees, worshipping God with their lips but denying Him with their hearts. I have said many times that the Romans were only used as the vehicle for crucifying Jesus; He was actually murdered by the Jewish Ruling Class in their denial of the Man the knew was God’s Messiah. Put simply, Jesus was killed by religion.
Now we see that God is repulsed at their attempts to bribe God with sacrifices while completely denying Him with their actions. The bloods sacrifices were supposed to be outwards indications of inward truths. But here, Israel worshipped other gods in their daily practice of living while they offered blood sacrifices to maintain a front of obedience but certainly not from their hearts. God told Isaiah He had no joy or feelings of fulfillment in the offerings of a people whose hearts were far from Him. An application statement for today: GOD CANNOT BE BOUGHT!
So, God told Isaiah to tell the people He had no need nor desire for vain or abominable offerings, their celebrations of new moons or sabbaths or even their calling together of assemblies (vs 13). He says even the solemn meetings are a burden to Him. The reason is that all the outward oblations are supposed to reflect the inward allegiance of the people of God and these people are just not any longer a people of God. Their festivals and religious celebrations have become so obviously fake that He hates them down to His soul, they trouble Him, and He tires of even hearing them.
His response begins in verse 15, “When you spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you” yea, when ye make prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.” The blood sacrifices once offered by His people to their God were for sins of omission or commission, not outright rejection. God will no longer hear the prayers of His people because they are no longer His people.
But our God never turns His back on us without telling us how to come back. Verses 16-17 contain God’s instructions for how to get over His rejection of them. The first instruction is to wash and cleanse yourself. The antient Jews, as well as modern day Jews, practiced the cleansing ceremony of the Scriptures called Mikvah. When they sinned and turned their backs to God, they would make a decision to repent and give evidence that demonstrated that repentance to the Rabbi of the Temple or Synagogue and present themselves for symbolic cleansing from their sin in the Mikvah pool. The Rabbi would take them down into the pool and bury the old man in the water and resurrect the new man as symbols of the rebirth or recommitment to God. (Sounds like our Baptism, right?)
The symbolic washing must be preceded by the heart-felt change and repentance and then followed-up by a lifestyle showing that recommitment. Verse 16 continues after the washing and cleaning with “put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.” Submitting oneself to the Mikvah ceremony or recommitting through the Baptistry are not works of magic that result in holiness. No, they are mere outward symbols of inward truths. Today, if you have not confessed with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believed in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you can be baptized until the water turns to ice but you CANNOT be saved in the water (Romans 10:9-10). Jesus says you must BELIEVE and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16). Otherwise, you have just taken another bath!
I love the way verse 18 begins! God says to this rebellious group of false god worshippers, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Notice that He does not threaten to burn them in their beds or give them some other just punishment for taking the body He gave them and use it to worship a false god. Instead, He acknowledges for them that their “sins be as scarlet,” but that He can make them “as white as snow.” That “though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is frequently shown with arms open wide in anticipated reception of the repented sinner coming home. I like the picture of the response of the prodigal son’s father as he stands waiting in expectation of his wayward son’s return (Luke 15:11-32). And God has spoken to the prodigal as well as he examined what he had become versus what he once had. He was ready to return home to work as a farm hand rather than a son. He felt he was no longer worthy, but the father ran to him and would not here of such a thing. Rather, he held a celebration, he slew the fatted calf, he gave his son a ring and a robe. The father welcomed the repented son home! Isn’t that just like Jesus? He wait with the robe and a crown for those who have weathered the trails and tribulations of this life. He says only, “Well done my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will make you master over many” (Matt 25:21).
And the Isaiah gives a list of some of the evidence of that changed life. He says in verse 19 that this changed person will “be willing and obedient and will eat of the good of the land.” But he realizes also that some of those coming to repent are just a show. Those who “refuse and rebel shall be devoured with the sword” of truth because the Lord has spoken it. There are many folks in the church today who will announce repentance and renewal but be the same as the were. God has no more pleasure in them after the fake repentance than before. There is no gain in this show because God knows the heart of man and is never fooled.
So, if the relationship you have with the Lord today is not what it used to be, guess who moved. Turn around and come back into His waiting arms. Change the way you are walking and return to the peace that passes all understanding.
There is a great deal of history in Isaiah Chapter 5 that sets up the call of Isaiah in Chapter 6. The study starts with the premise that God is faithful in preparing those He calls, and that is the context of the happenings in Chapter 5. Isaiah sets up the analogy of a vineyard to explain his preparation for ministry. Starting at a point prior to the call God, as the vineyard keeper, only selects the best materials for developing His vineyard. The grounds of the vineyard are properly leveled, and the earth in the planting area is appropriately plowed and fertilized for the nutrients required specifically for the grapevines. No expense is spared in making sure the vineyard is not only properly prepared, but it is also well protected from any kind of pests or animals getting into the vineyard to harm or devour the plants.
I recall a house we bought in Northern Virginia that needed a total replacement of its shrubs and flowers. My wife and I spent a good deal of time selecting the right plants and flowers for the new work and paid well for the most beautiful landscaping for the area. About two weeks after the beautiful work was completed, we were walking around the grounds to see how well it was holding up. Much to our chagrin, we found large portions of the landscaping missing. We found that the flowers and plants we selected for the decorations were the favorite foods of deer, rabbits and a few other friends we had in the area. Needless to say, we were more careful with our selections for the second replacement.
God was having similar challenges with the vineyard comprised of Israel and Judah. The deer and rabbits of my story were replaced by false gods in God’s story. God’s preparation of Israel and Judah should have caused them to flourish and prosper in their newly divided kingdoms. But what Solomon had begun in his worship of false gods in his old age, was not easily cast aside. Both kingdoms were involved with at least three false deities and even built shrines to them in their capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. These gods dealt mainly with secular desires of man and included sin as part of worship. In other words, they were given to self-oriented worship to gratify their human temptations and weaknesses. But God heard the cries and prayers of those not overtaken by this evil. God said there would always be a faithful remnant of Israel surviving the trials and temptations. Allowing the nation to be taken into captivity seemed the only option for eventual redemption.
God's Glory (Isaiah 6:1-4)
“In the year that king Uzziah died” provides key information on the prophet Isaiah as well as the actual dates of his ministry. It begins his autobiography and sets the date at 740 BC. The SBC Quarterly writer reminds us of the historic context by giving a few lines of information on the status of each of the kingdoms. Uzziah was the king of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) and had ushered in a time of prosperity. Jeroboam II died three years before Uzziah died and that brought a major slowdown to the Northern Kingdom. Two prophets contemporary with Isaiah (Amos and Hosea) spoke of how the people rejected God during times of earlier prosperity. Israel and Judah always tended toward self-reliance and moral laxity whenever their secular needs were being met. The change in national leadership in the North also caused insecurity. Think back to how we felt when we were without a Lead Pastor for several months, or even now with all the Covid-19 restrictions. People just generally do not like change.
Isaiah testifies to an awesome vision - he saw the Lord in His throne room. “He was high and lifted up.” That is, the Lord was in a position high above the others gathered there and you could hear the excitement in Isaiah’s choice of words to describe the scene. Not only was He exalted above all others, He was clothed in His righteousness. The very hem of His garment filled the entire throne room and flowed to the rest of the Temple. Above and around the throne were seraphim, heavenly creatures having six wings. Two were used to fly about the room, guarding the holiness of the surroundings. Two of the wings were used to cover their faces, that is, they were not worthy to look upon the great holiness of God (recall how God told Moses he could only behold His glorious afterglow, but Moses could not see Him or he would die). The third set of two wings covered the feet of the seraphim; these were among the “more comely” of their parts – always unclean. The seraphim did not merely speak to one another but cried out loudly of the great holiness of this place; not once but three times to emphasize the supreme holiness God brought to the temple and beyond, to the entire world. Matthew Henry quotes John 12:41 (NLT) to say that Isaiah saw a vision of God’s Messiah here. I found the same evidence in the NIV: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” Isaiah expands the impact of the presence of God’s Messiah at the end of verse 3, saying “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3, KJV). Isaiah increases the impact of what he saw even further in verse 4 saying that the cries of the seraphim was so intense that it made the doorposts of the Temple quake and that smoke filled the entire room. The significance of the smoke is to suggest that the incense surrounding the Lord followed His entire presence. It seems to this writer that Isaiah was struggling to find words of sufficient impact to fully describe his feelings of awe concerning what his eyes saw.
God's Forgiveness (Isaiah 6:5-7)
After realizing all he saw, Isaiah looked at himself and saw how completely unworthy he was to even see the sights God privileged him to see. He spoke of “woe” as he perceived his personal unholiness along with the unholiness of the surroundings from which he came. In other words everything about him was completely and thoroughly unworthy of seeing what he saw. I can image that Satan caused all the sins he ever committed to parade before his eyes to prove that Isaiah was fully unsuited to see, let alone describe in writing, what he had seen. Does he not do that to us every time we approach the holiness of God’s throne? But as “children of God,” is that not exactly where Jesus has brought us (John 1:12-13)?
I agreed to serve as a deacon in one church I attended and, after the ordination service, I was voted in as Vice Chair of the Deacons. Oh, I protested greatly because those on the board had more experience as deacons in their smallest fingernail than I had in my whole body. What they could speak of over decades of service, I could only speak of over minutes. There was no way I was even partially worthy to provide leadership to these great men who were all senior to me by decades. But it got worse, the first responsibility of the Vice Chair in that body was to provide the annual deacon training as a refresher to those already having the training and the foundational training to those freshly ordained. Even worse, just a couple weeks after beginning my service, the Deacon Chair was given only a few weeks to live. You guessed it, with all of what felt like 15 minutes experience compared to the others, they insisted that I become their leader. I had no explanations for what caused them to make that choice, but after seeking the Lord’s face on the whole thing, I knew WHO! The feelings of unworthiness filled my every inch of being. Nevertheless, God set it all up, and I was much too submitted to Him to question what He was doing. Feeling unworthy is not strange to this writer.
So, Isaiah spoke of his unworthiness in that instant and God caused one of the seraphim to grab a burning coal from the fire of the alter and approach him. God’s fire cleanses all. The fires of the Temple’s alter received the sacrifices of God’s people and provide forgiveness for sin in exchange. As Isaiah finished his statement of unworthiness, the seraphim approached him with the burning coal from the alter. Isaiah saw the seraphim place the coal on his lips to figuratively cleanse him of all sin, thus eliminating his complaint of unworthiness. What God cleanses is cleansed INDEED. But to make sure there was no misinterpretation, God had the seraphim tell Isaiah, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thy iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged” (Isa 6:8). Just like God’s message to me about the deacon issue, Isaiah was told in no uncertain terms that he was worthy because God said so! Further, that any sin, actual or imagined, was forgiven and separated from him. That is, there is no further excuse for not serving. Isaiah’s sins had been totally purged. Like you and me, Isaiah had no personal holiness, his full holiness rested in the Lord and that holiness exceeded any holiness from any other source.
God's Call (Isaiah 6:8-10)
So, after giving Isaiah all the knowledge, understanding and power he needed to successfully execute the task set before him, God issues a call to him. Notice however, that God issued the call to Isaiah in general so that he would have to respond to it personally even though the call did not have his name on it. God said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isa 6:8). Isaiah had been given a vision of God few had ever seen. He had experienced the feelings of unworthiness common to all of us who have been called to His service, and he was given a personal reminder from the Lord to show he was fully worthy and equipped to respond to the call God just offered. Isn’t it just like God to set things up so that His call is abundantly clear and specific? I can imagine that in that few microseconds between God’s call and Isaiah’s response, he thought, “Well, if You put it that way, I have no choice” and he found himself looking in to the eyes of the Lord saying, Here am I; send me.” And I can feel his feelings of shock as he heard the words slip by his lips and wondered, “Who said that?” While God always knows the response of those He prepared for a position, those accepting the call are always shocked that it is happening. In my ministry, I have found that those believing they are entirely ready and fully qualified to fill a position for the Lord, are the least likely to be chosen for it. Dependence on the Lord is a major requirement for serving Him. Key word: Humility.
Isaiah responded to the Lord the only way he could, and the Lord gave him the specifics of the assignment. Isaiah was to go and tell. These words are used many other key places in the Scriptures. In my book, Inside the Church, I presented a table showing the four places containing the call to God’s people to present the Gospel to all people. They are Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke (in Acts 1:8) and John 20:21. Each of these verses repeat the call of Isaiah to go and tell. Matthew’s version is most often quoted as the Great Commission. It says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:19-20). It says, “go and teach,” but teaching is certainly a way of “telling.” But listen to what else He says concerning the message.
Isaiah is to tell the people of qualities in their lives that make it impossible for them to receive the message God had prepared for them and selected Isaiah to be the messenger to deliver. They hear indeed, but cannot understand; they see indeed, but cannot perceive. This is the message to the people God wants to be converted to be His people. It plants the idea that the message is there, but the target audience seems to have blocked ears and blinded eyes to prevent them from receiving the message indeed. Recall that these are the people who have already angered God by worshipping false substitutes for Him. They have built alters and images of these gods in the major worship centers that should have been reserved for our God, alone. God established the First Commandment as: “1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:1-6, KJV).
The meaning of the commandments was clear to the people as they were read at least once a year during the feasts. They knew God stood firmly against having any gods except Him. Those who rejected God’s Word repeatedly after knowing It developed a hardened heart. That is, with the repetitive, willing sin against the Lord, one becomes less sensitive to that disobedience. God’s charge to Isaiah here is to “make hearts fat, ears heavy, and shut eyes” of the people, or simply, harden their hearts even more. He wants Isaiah to take this action lest they see, hear and understand the message of redemption in order to be converted and healed of their sinful attitudes.
Why would God take this kind of action? Just as in the destruction of the world by flood, just as in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God will not always strive with man (Gen 6:3). God knows the heart of man. As He watched the performance of the leaders of Israel and Judah and their lack of response to Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Obadiah, Joel and Micah, the Lord decided the ten tribes of the North would be defeated by Assyria and taken into captivity in 722 BC. Most will not return.
God's Persistence (Isaiah 6:11-13)
The depressing and totally discouraging prophecy of the previous point seems to be given without an end to it all. Would God really give up on Israel and leave them without a chance of redemption? We know that God has no end to His patience and His heart for His chosen. Nevertheless, the look of the provinces of Samaria and Galilee will match completely with God’s announcement. Isaiah asks how long this will last. God answers him by saying that it will last until the cities are wasted and there is no inhabitant of them left. The houses that remain standing will not have a man in them (vs 11). And the land will be completely desolate. When Assyria wasted Israel in 722 BC, they took all the best males out of the country to Assyria or some area previously captured by the Assyrian Empire and were wasted like Israel. In Samaria, they took all the able-bodied men to other countries and brought in men taken from Gentile countries they also ravaged. The intermarriages between the Jewish women and the Gentile men defiled the Jewish women resulting in Judah’s rejection of the half-breed families. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 ff), we see an injured Jewish man left wounded in the street and passed over by a Levite and a Priest but helped by a Samaritan. The parable gained immediate attention because the Jews still looked down on the Samaritans during Jesus’ time on Earth dating back directly to the “half-breed” comment above.
Verse 12 talks of the Lord moving the men far away and the resulting lack of attention to farming the land left behind. But the Lord gives Isaiah a vision of a tenth which will return. Here, it appears that God might be looking at the Assyrian captivity of Israel and the Babylonian captivity of Judah together. First, the mention of the ten percent could be seen as the southern part of Israeli nation comprised of Judah and Benjamin. It could be seen as tenth percent of the original 12 tribes. So, when Assyria would get victory over Israel, a remnant of the 12 tribes of Israel would still remain. Israel (the 10 tribes of the north) would be taken into captivity but Judah (the 2 tribes of the south) would remain. Add that Babylon takes Judah in 586 BC but they start returning in 455 BC, and much of the prophesy listed in Isaiah 6:11-13 would be fulfilled. The “Holy Seed” would be contained in that return of Judah.
The more near-term application of this section of God’s Word is to see that God shares His Word openly to multitudes in this world and is patient to try many times to reach His chosen and others from nation across the entire Earth. But just as He has a limit to that patience with Israel and Judah, His patience with the lack of obedience of current believers and the rejection of His message by potential believers have limits. We know that our very design as human beings contains a free will. Adam and Eve had all they needed while in the Garden of Eden, but they chose to disobey God and introduce sin into mankind. That same rebellious attitude lives in all of us and shows up as unbelievers rejecting the Gospel message and the believers refusing to remain active and productive. In either case, the Bible study above shows us that God has a limited level of toleration. Further as above, we have a hardened heart issue; that is, each time we reject the Gospel or reject growth as Christians, our heart is hardened. So, the next time God calls you to surrender, it is somewhat easier to reject His will.
It takes very little imagination to understand that there is a point where the heart will be sufficiently hardened that we can routinely reject God and have little to no remorse in doing so. Wouldn’t it make sense to say yes to God before we let our heart harden to that point. Eventually, we reach a “now or never” solution for our personal salvation equation. Clearly, we need to make a choice in God’s direction while we still hear His invitation. God tells us if we believe in our hearts and say so with our voice, we shall be saved (Rom 10:9-10). If you are not a believer, taking spiritual death for sin away from yourself is just a heart-felt statement to God away. “Lord Jesus, I believe that you paid for all my sin on your cross, and that God showed His acceptance of that payment by raising you from the dead. Lord, I surrender to your call for my salvation.” Simply telling a Christian leader that you have made that confession will help you get to the next steps in your following of Jesus Christ. If you are already a Christian but have been running from obedience to God, you need only to acknowledge your disobedience to Him and recommit to following Him. Do it today; tomorrow might never be.
The historic setting was a time when Israel (10 tribes of the north) and Aram (Syria) joined forces to resist arrack by the rapidly growing Assyrian Empire. Of course, Israel knew that it would take most of its forces to battle Assyria on their northeastern border and that might leave their southern border weakened and susceptible to attack from Judah. Their strategy to defend against that possibility was to ask Judah to join forces with them and Aram against Assyria. The old adage says, “the enemies of my enemies must be my friends.” Judah, on the other hand, was more concerned about the reaction of Assyria to such an allegiance and refused to join Israel and Aram against them. So, another plan to mitigate the threat from Judah was for Israel and Aram to attack Judah directly.
Meantime, God called Isaiah to go to King Ahaz of Judah with an encouraging message regarding Judah’s future. But Ahaz rejected God’s message and chose to move forward on his personal judgment rather than God’s advice. Of course, his decision and accompanying lack of faith in God forced him to take full responsibility for the results. The Assyrian armies would not only deal very harshly with Israel and Aram, but with Judah as well. The impact was so great that God told Isaiah to name his newly born son Maher-shalal-hash-baz meaning “speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil.” What King Ahaz failed to recognize was that the only hope for salvation from annihilation was in God, Himself (Isa 8:13).
Chapter 9 formally presents Judah’s two-level hope for future survival. Frist, God promised justice against the Assyrians in the very near future. Second, God would send a special child to Judah. He would be called the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace and would be both God and human.
The prophecy of this deliverer at this point raises questions for some interpreters. It is clear from the references in Matthew 1:22-23 and Luke 1:27 that the specific fulfillment of this prophecy at verse 14 was in the Messiah’s virgin birth. But it is not unusual for a prophecy to have a dual fulfillment, one with a current context and another in a future context. Here, the prophecy has to have some relationship to the situation with Ahaz’ lack of trust in the Lord and the need for a near-term deliverer. Verse 15 references the child that Isaiah holds in his arms. The word for virgin here is the Hebrew alma used only seven times in the OT and four of them are translated “virgin.” The other three times it is interpreted “maid” or “damsel.” This leaves sufficient ambiguity for 7:14 and 7:15 to speak of the same child (Isaiah’s son) while 7:14 looks forward to the “virgin” giving birth to the Messiah while never having known a man. Of course, the latter interpretation could not be applied to Isaiah’s son because his wife had a child earlier than the subject son. Further, it seems that Isaiah’s son was used more for the timing of the prophecy (the 2 to 4 year fulfillment) than being the powerful deliverer. So, the current fulfillment seems be Isaiah’s son while the future fulfillment has to be Jesus Christ.
Chapter 10 reveals the Assyrians would be used by God to destroy Israel and take them into captivity in 722 BC. Most of this captivity would never return. But God promised a remnant of His chosen would be saved and would return to the Holy Land. Judah would be taken captive by Babylon in 586 BC and represent a remnant of the chosen people. They would begin coming back to the Promised Land in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-6) fulfilling all that is said here.
Chapters 11 and 12 documents the prophesy that all of Israel will be restored in a kingdom similar to the Garden of Eden. Note the use of words restoring Israel and referring to “nations” rather than Israel alone. The new kingdom would have the redeemed from all nations, tongues and people.
God Intervenes (Isaiah 7:7-9)
The first thought God communicated to Isaiah for Judah and King Ahaz is not to worry or be afraid because all the threats and hype coming their way simply will not happen. As a matter of fact, it will not stand or continue to exist as a statement, nor will it come to pass as an action (Isa 7:7). Of course, the first thought Ahaz must have had was how can that be? He may have thought, “These are great people with mighty armies, and they are moving south to attack Judah so they can move forward with their greater agenda to initiate battles with Assyria” (author edit).
The Lord provides the following details to Ahaz through Isaiah: Syria’s strength is in Damascus and the strength of Damascus is in King Rezin, but in 65 years, Israel (Ephraim) will be destroyed from being a people and no longer any threat to Judah or Assyria. Further, the strength of Ephraim is in Samaria and its strength is in King Pekah, the son of Remaliah. This will all be overtaken and of no impact on Judah or King Ahaz. Aram would meet its end within 4 years after the prophecy. So, Isaiah says if Ahaz will not believe and take relief from this information then Ahaz will not be established as a part in it.
God Expects (Isaiah 7:10-13)
The Lord has expectations of His people especially when He provides detailed information on how He will save. Here, King Ahaz already received enough information to know that the fear he feels for the planned attack from Israel and Aram will not take place. Nevertheless, God speaks to Ahaz and tells him to ask Him (God) for a sign. But Ahaz in his self-reliance and arrogance says to the Lord, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” This is no small infraction because it is God, Himself giving Ahaz permission to ask Him for a sign. So, he is actually refusing to do the thing God has given him specific permission to do. I can understand that Ahaz is under deep stress because of the threatened attack, but God is saying it just is not going to happen and, if you will ask for a sign, I will give it.
So, the Lord responds to Ahaz’ rejection by calling him by his formal ancestry “O house of David.” That is, you who represents the heritage of the man who was closest to my own heart, must understand that while it is a small thing for a man to confront another man to the point of frustration, no man is right in confronting God that way. There will be a price to pay.
God Announces (Isaiah 714-15)
So here, Isaiah knew from the Lord that He wanted to offer a solution to the king’s paradox. God speaks the sign of the prophecy will be that a virgin will conceive and bear a son (14). She will name him Immanuel and he will eat butter and honey (that is when the boy will be roughly 3 years old) and he will know to reject evil and accept good at that young age.
Repeating from the “Understanding the Context” remarks above, both Matthew and Luke provide New Testament evidence that this Old Testament prophecy is a specific Messianic prophecy. Therefore, there is no doubt that the long-term fulfillment of this prophecy is in Jesus Christ. But it is not unusual, more often it is a rule, that long-term prophecies have shorter-term fulfillments that fit the context of when the prophecy was made. Here, God promises (and Isaiah testifies) of this child that will be delivered to save Judah from being overcome at this time. One can usually tell when a short-term prophecy has a long-term fulfilment by the fact that some parts of the prophecy are not fulfilled in the shorter-term context. Here, the virgin birth is certainly not fulfilled in Isaiah’s wife. She already had a child. Jesus was the only fulfillment of the virgin birth prophecy as Matthew and Luke point out.
But recall also that Judah did not change its ways but continued to worship strange gods instead of the Lord. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC but Judah fell to Babylon roughly a century and a half later in 586 BC. When God blesses, He is well within His rights to expect a change.
God Judges (Isaiah 7:16-17)
As introduced above, God has a right to expect changes in the behaviors of the people He warns against doing what they were doing. Specifically, God warned Israel and Judah to walk away from their false gods and return to the worship of the only true God in obedience to the Law given to Moses. This is called repentance, that is, to turn from going in one direction to go in an opposite direction. The conversion experience under Jesus Christ includes His power in the form of the Holy Spirit, which we received at the instant of salvation, to empower us in that repentance. What we could not have done on our own, the Holy Spirit provides in power only available through Him.
In verses 16 & 17, Isaiah continues by saying that before the child reaches the prophesied age of 2 to 4 years, the domain of these two kings (King of Israel and King of Aram) would have their lands abandoned. This was nearly immediate for Rezin of Aram but years later (722 BC) for Pekah of Israel. So, while the two kings were still reigning, Isaiah delivered the message that sometime within the next few years, both would be taken out of office, overthrown, or killed and their lands abandoned.
It might be interesting to remember that sometime about 2 years after the birth of Christ, the wise men asked King Herod where the new king was born and when. Herod heard from his Jewish Bible scholars that it was 2 years earlier in Bethlehem. Herod ordered the execution of all the boy babies, 2 years old or younger in that area. Joseph received a word from the Lord and took his family to Egypt. They stayed there until Herod died about 2 years later. This is a deposed king as in Isaiah’s prophecy when Jesus was 4 years old. At that point, Joseph was told it was clear to return to Israel and they began living in Nazareth. Notice, the long-term fulfillment has elements that match the original prophecy.
But Judah refused to believe God and that He would protect them from Israel and Syria. Instead, Ahaz went to Assyria for protection from Israel and Aram. Assyria agreed to help Judah, but it took the form of years of plunder taken as payments for the Assyria’s protection. This suffering of Judah was brought as a punishment for lack of faith in the Lord. The punishment would be worse than anything Judah had experienced since the time Israel separated from Judah. Judah had invited a Jaguar into their home to protect it against the wild dogs outside.