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.
This section of scripture is a large section and contains a great deal of prophecy and history. In fact, much of what we read in this section was given as prophecy by Isaiah that has been fulfilled and would now be presented as history. The miracle of God’s fulfillment of these prophecies must be remembered to fully appreciate the power of God and His communication of details of events many years before they happen.
The teaching throughout this section is characterized as “oracles against the nations” and of “judgments on the nations.” The former is the formal stating of God’s complaints against the nations mentioned while the latter records God’s judgments against the nations in response to their disobedience or refusal to honor God. God’s had given His chosen people the promised land as a nation of their own. He led them to annihilate the pagan nations who occupied these lands. But Israel had a rebellious heart and not only refused to honor Him as their God but tuned to the worship of false gods for their worship. Just like today, there was an abundance of gods or images worshipped by people who were exposed to the one true God. Some of them required human sacrifice in the form of the worshipper’s infant children.
Last week, we focused on the oracles and judgments on Israel and Judah. God gave warning after warmings to His people, but they did not repent. Now, they live in a divided nation of ten northern tribes and two southern tribes. But their disobedience and refusal to acknowledge Jehovah as their only God. God established oracles against them as warnings. After their continued refusal to repent after being completely aware of God’s discontent, He announced and caused severe judgments against them. Israel, the ten tribes of the north, would be defeated by Assyria in 722 BC and taken into captivity from which many of them would never return. Judah, the two tribes of the south would be defeated by Babylon in 586 BC. Much of Babylon’s captivity would return beginning in 455 BC (Neh 2:1-6). The pattern here is the same but set against other nation; the oracles come as warnings and the judgments come as results of refusal to heed the oracles.
Israel and Judah heard the prophecies of defeat and exile for their nations because they turned on God but continued as if they did not. This response seems to have set a model for other nations as well. After establishing oracles and judgments against several nations, many ignored the warnings and saw the same results. We saw Judah’s Ahaz express doubts that God could help against Assyria and paid dearly. Israel also ignored God’s warning and went into exile because of it. As they watched these happenings, they doubted how a prophecy of a Messianic Kingdom could possibly come to pass. In a culture of gods with territorial or national authority, they could not understand the universal nature of our God. Isaiah used this set of scripture proven the errors of these thoughts. He also drew attention to the total frustration of Babylon’s state of exaggeration and Tyre’s state of dependence on wealth. Only full dependence on God could have saved them.
The first seven verses of Isaiah chapter 23 are used to clearly document the prophesy of Tyre’s fall. As the people of these nations heard Isaiah’s prophesy, they wonder how this thing could possibly happen to such a strong and powerful nation. Verse 8 specifically asks who could have taken such action against Tyre, a nation of the crowning city whose salespeople are equal to princes, whose business travelers are among the most honorable on the planet?
Isaiah answers the question in verse 9. The One who had the power and authority to do these things to Tyre was none other than the Lord of Hosts, Jehovah Himself. God did these things to bring an ugly stain against those who held their reputation with such high pride and glory. The Lord was bringing into contempt all nations or entities that hold themselves to be above our God. He will embarrass and draw attention to their weaknesses as they exalt themselves above other nations. Their honor and respect will be taken from them for not holding God in His rightful place of honor.
In verse 10, God through Isaiah invites the armies of nations who once feared Tyre to come and invade Tyre and pass through them as easily as a river passes through a country, even a flooding river like the Nile. God says Tyre no longer possesses any strength at all, so they cannot. God stretched forth His hand to take this nation down and spoil any pride they might have had. He has personally given the commands from across the universe against the merchant city and destroy their strongholds. He goes on to warn them that there will be no further reason for rejoicing as a nation that oppressed young women. Rather, you will experience fear sufficient to drive you out of your cities that were once safe and try to find safety in nations outside your own boarders. Notice that God did these things – there is no escape from His justice.
Continuing the massive descriptions of what the Lord of Hosts has done, Isaiah presents another example. Look at land of Babylonia and see how Assyria eliminated the people and left it for a home of dessert animals. God brought to ruin anything that was built there. He has not been slow to act in history for His will to be achieved. Keep in mind that less than 200 years after He brought Babylonia down, He would use them to remove the Assyrian Empire and be the instrument of destruction to take Judah into captivity. These pieces of scripture show that God can raise up and take down nations depending on His will.
Verse 14 implores Tarshish to shed tears over the tremendous impact the bringing down of Assyria would bring on the gigantic shipping industry as the contracts with Assyria are reduced do nearly nothing. The strength of their city resulting from the shipping and natural resources of their land will be heavily impacted by the events of nearby nations. What was once their strength will be brought to weakness as the near nations change under God’s judgments.
Verses 23:15-18 finish up this section of ten chapters revealing God’s intent in documenting lists of charges against nations that do not honor Him and in executing His judgments against those nations which refuse to change their offending behaviors. He finishes the documentation with actions to make every warning He gives become real in history unless there is a strong move toward repentance.
The analogy he uses to illustrate what He is doing with Tyre is a little rough in our culture. He begins with announcing a seventy-year period of ignoring Tyre. Of course, that period of absence from the market would cause the customer list to empty as they had to look for other solutions for their needs while Tyre was no longer available. Once a customer switches to a new source for products, they are unlikely to move back again. Isaiah’s illustration of a harlot having to change her work after a seventy-year idol period is certainly realistic. Trying to keep that memory alive by switching to a singing career may not be as realistic. It appears that the Lord is saying that after the seventy years, Tyre will be washed up. She will not find success after the seventy-year absence.
This section of scripture is often referred to as the “Little Apocalypse.” The Greek word means “to reveal” or Revelation, like the last book in the Bible. This kind of literature is filled with figures, images, horrible visions, numerology, figures of speech, darkened sun, moon of blood, falling stars, strange looking beasts and the like. These chapters present scenes of God entering into His creation to take actions based on warnings of years before. In the Book of Revelation, Zechariah, Daniel and this section of Isaiah are used as quoted references.
Isaiah 24-27 fits perfectly after Chapters 13-23 with it oracles from God warning of possible punishment and destruction. Chapter 24 follow up on the warnings with actual destruction of the entire Earth. Last week, we studied God’s sovereignty over the nations of the Earth, this study looks more in the direction of God’s sovereignty over everything in the created order. In following up on His warning oracles, God once again proves that He is not the respecter of any specific individual. In God’s approach to rewards, punishment and destruction, the most holy priest of God has no advantage over the poorest common laborer on Earth. The view of Chapter 24 is disturbing in that is seems to present God as coming back to destroy or undo the entire creation.
Chapter 25 picks up with a season of praise for God in His victory of sin, shame and their results on the Earth. Some think the introduction of praise at this point seems like an out of place celebration over the massive destruction of Chapter 24.
26 the praise-worthy salvation of Judah and their associated prayers to the Lord, even with God’s full commitment to wreak havoc on the righteous and unrighteous, alike. Proving again God is no respecter of persons in destruction.
Singing Praises (Isaiah 25:1-5)
The words of the singer(s) of this song could be a person involved in the actual events of the story or it could be a representative of a group of people. After seeing all the destruction brought about by the Lord to apply His warnings and judgments, and remembering His promises that a remnant of His chosen people will always survive to keep the name of Israel alive, it is likely a representative voice of that remnant proclaiming the truth for all of them. These, unlike those described in God’s warnings of the spiritual adultery being committed by His people in general, are a people that recognize only Jehovah as their God. They accept Him personally as spoken by this singer but recognized Him in mass. Their opening commitment is to exalt Him high above and separate from all the false deities worshipped by the backslid Israel and Judah. They praise His name, specifically, and they submit the praises because of the great and wonderful things He has done and the fact of His counsels from long ago have proven to be both faithful and true.
What’s the evidence? Why should we believe in Jehovah-God? Simply because every warning and judgment He issued against the major powers and cities of this world have come to pass. In the general sense (specific cities no mentioned here), the Lord has warned cities and then reduced them to a mere heap of rubble. My mind goes back to Jericho here. Recall the citizens were secure. They saw the massive walls and the utter folly of the Israelites marching around the wals for 6 days as absolutely no threat whatsoever. But on that last day of marching, the shouts of Israel announced the awesome might of God and the walls were literally brought to a heap of rubble as Israel marched over them to conquer that city. If for no other reason, the enemies of Israel should fear Him simply because He has done these things in the past.
Singing Praises (Isaiah 25:1-5, Cont.)
The beginning of verse 3 signals a continuation after verse 2. THEREFORE, the strong (mentally) people, the people who have any sense at all, glorifies the God of Israel. He warns of actions which are not only feasible but proven by history that He can and has done.
Part of the success of the detent’ era during the cold war with the Soviet Union was the fact that the US had dropped the massive atomic bomb on an enemy nation. The historic evidence proves that there are real teeth in the warnings of the US. The terrible results can be seen. When enemy nations of Israel question the power of Israel’s God, the evidence remains. The heap of rubble that was once the impregnable, indestructible walls of Jericho remain a heap of rubble. So, the leaders of even the most terrible cities fear the God of Israel. Verse 4 reminds that while this awesome and mighty God has the power to do these extraordinary feats, He has also been the strength of the poor and the needy, a refuge or hiding place from the storms, a shadow or place of shade from the hot sun. When the blast of the terrible ones come against the walls, God will stand as salvation against them. He is the real source of power.
Verse 5 continues with the same thought, when the noise of the strangers comes, you will be able to bring it down just the heat in a dry climate is brought down by a cloud passing over. The attacking part of the enemy will be brought low by the power of the Lord.
Feasting Together (Isaiah 25:6-8)
Singing praises to the Lord is one typical form of intimacy with God. Another is joining Him at His table in feasting. The Law of Moses list several formal feast times in which Israel is required to join the Lord: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Feast of the Weeks (Pentecost), Feast of the Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of the Tabernacles (Booths).
Isaiah initiates this discussion by specifying the place where God wants to meet with His people to feast. The KJV says “And in this mountain” which is specifying Mount Zion as the meeting place. God is describing a feast that He is preparing for “all people.” He starts by making the feast attractive and full of delicacies for His people. The idea of “a feast of fat things” while somewhat repulsive to us in today’s world of healthy eating, was considered meal of the wealthy in those days. The fat of the meat was considered a delicacy in those days rather than waste in modern times. The best cuts of meat were those most fatty. The best cuts were always reserved for the Peace Offerings to the Lord and was considered a fellowship time or meal to celebrate the restoral of broken relationships. Some linked this celebration meal to Revelation’s Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:6-9).
Notice the introduction to Verses 7-8, “And he will destroy in this mountain.” The conjunction “And” intentionally joins the thought of this sentence to that of the previous sentence. The next three words speak of judgment and resulting destruction. The question of where the destruction must take place is answered by the last three words in the quote. The parallelism is designed to match the references to Mount Zion in Jerusalem so, the reader will understand the discussion has not moved from that holy mountain.
The thing being destroyed is described as a vail or facial covering that seems to be universal. Looking ahead to Verse 8 reveals the thing being destroyed is death itself. That defines the vail or facial covering as a death shroud. So, there will come a time on Mount Zion when the death shroud of all the dead shall be removed in Jerusalem and across all nations. Not only will he remove the death shroud but He will swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears of those who had been taken by its power. Notice the clear reference in Revelation 21:4 back to this Old Testament verse. Isaiah adds that He will also take away rebuke of sin from the whole Earth. He adds that the Lord, Himself is the one speaking this direction. Recall how Genesis 3 describes the Lord spoke everything into existence from nothing. In Revelation, God speaks and the cleansing of His people is sufficient and complete. In the creation story in Genesis,1-2 is replete with the words “And God said, let there be…” and what He called into existence was put in place and He called it good. In the end, God will speak into existence the removal of the curse and all associated penalties. Man will once again be sinless and God will call him good.
Vindicating Faithful (Isaiah 25:9-10a)
Isaiah then speaks of the response of the people in that day in recognizing the One who does this work is our God. He is the God of salvation that issues the final vindication of all those who are called righteous. Verses 9-10a are clearly summary verses. They identify the Lord through three names and functions mentioned earlier in the full set of verses under study. Isaiah says when that day comes (in that day), it shall be said, “Lo, this is our God.” Later in verse 9, Isaiah says, “this is our Lord.” And at the end of Verse 10a, he specifies that “the hand of the Lord rests” here.
The mission of the Lord in that day is “He will save us” and “we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” This is the salvation of this Lord that “we have waited for” and repeated again “we have waited for Him.” The repeated words of waiting implies a looking for Him in expectation of what He will bring with Him. The great celebration is that He brings salvation with Him (twice in verse 9), His hand will be rest on the mountain. The mention of the mountain repeated through the whole passage under study drills home the idea that we are not just talking about any mountain; no, it is the mountain of the Lord – Mount Zion. The Lord we have been waiting for is coming with our salvation in hand and He is coming to Jerusalem. In the annual worship of the Jewish Seter Meal, the Rabbi always has an empty chair at the distant head of the table. It is that chair saved for the Messiah. The Rabbi tips the fourth and last cup of wine in the direction of the empty chair and toasts, “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is the city of Mount Zion. One final point, recall that Jesus told the Apostles they would celebrate the Passover in a room prepared for them (Luke 22:1-13). In the Jewish seter they celebrated during that Passover meal, the four cups are God saying. “I will take you out of bondage, I will save you, I will redeem you and I will take you as a nation.” Jesus said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:17-18). We will drink that cup with the Lord when the Kingdom is formed. Our God saves!
The summary sentence repeats the mention of “this mountain” again. The focus is on Mount Zion. The focus is on the return to Jerusalem. The Book of Revelation shows the redeemed of all nations coming together under Jesus Christ, Our God with John saying, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 28:1-33:14)
The first words for study between Isaiah 28 and 33 announce a series of judgments on the nation of Ephraim. Ephraim is a substitute for Samaria which is the capitol city of Israel, the ten tribes of the North. According to Isaiah’s charges, they were guilty of pride or arrogance and drunkenness. The issue was that they had lost their dependence on the God of the Universe. They had forgotten how God had led them in taking the Promised Land for them. How He had won impossible victories for them. Now, they were a nation of pride and overindulgence. They believed they were invincible rather than the God of Israel being invincible. They began to rely on politics and international alliances rather than trusting in God.
In the specific case, Judah trusted Assyria to defeat Syria and Israel rather than trusting in God. Instead of seeing and understanding Israel’s turning from God to polytheism as the destructive force it was, they were following them in much the same ways. They lost their understanding that God not only wanted to be first in their hearts and minds, but He also demanded He would be their only God. Certainly, the Ten Commandments contained in Exodus 20 was easy to understand as they began, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:1-3, KJV). God is the source and focus of our salvation; national alliances are simply good interpersonal relations. When Jesus was asked to state the greatest of all commandments, He said, “The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:29-31). Love God and love your neighbor.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 28:1-33:14, Cont. )
Judah’s King Ahaz relied on Assyria to protect them from Syria and Israel instead of Jehovah God. They forgot that God offered blessings and prosperity with His protection while a nation from which they could buy protection would require a very high price for that protection. While Assyria attacked the Syria/Israel coalition for Judah, they also dominated Judah from the inside.
Assyria demanded very high monetary payments from Judah leaving them weakened against any further attack. When Hezekiah became king, he multiplied the error of seeking international alliances rather than turning to God. He sought a protective relationship with Egypt, the same country from which held the whole of Israel in total and cruel bandage just a few hundred years earlier. God brought Israel out for Egypt and King Hezekiah was placing them back under Egypt.
Isaiah tried to reason with Judah that the purpose of God’s recent judgments on them was focused on repentance, redemption and restoration. Israel would certainly fall and be taken into captivity in 722 BC, but Judah’s failure to repent and return to God caused them to face similar judgment in 586 BC. Israel’s exile to Assyria would see very little restoral in the Promised Land. Judah would begin her return to the Promised Land in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-6). The destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah was required to get her repentance, redemption and restoration.
False Hope (Isaiah 31:1-2)
Isaiah’s word from the Lord was clear and unambiguous, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many, and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord! (verse 31:1). Those who say they are a part of God’s chosen people have no reason to seek help from the very task masters God freed them from centuries earlier. Isaiah says it is strange indeed that they seek help from Egypt but will not ask for the much more powerful hand of their Lord and Holy One. Egypt made them slaves while the Lord set them free. This is the crux of the entire matter. Israel has so completely left and rejected the Lord that they will not even ask the question of Him. Measuring the magnitude of the separation here tells the whole story of the lack of quality in this relationship. So, what would be the response of the Lord to this utter and completed betrayal?
In verse 2, the Lord shows His wisdom in causing calamity to get the attention of the offenders in hope of returning their eyes to the only source of real safety, security and peace in the entire universe. “And will bring evil,” that is, the Lord will lift His hand of protection off Judah and will allow the evil already present, to impact Judah completely. Further, the Lord will not show mercy to Judah by repenting of His words and action against them once He sees the horror of their responses. And still further, God will oppose those who try to help ease the pain of His judgments against Judah.
False Hope (Isaiah 31:1-2)
Judah has totally rejected God, nor have they honored the name of the only real help they had available. Rather, they have turned to gods made with hands and unholy alliances which can offer no help at all. This is the judgment of God against the rejection of Him demonstrated by their actions. Just like the great danger of getting between the parties involved in a domestic squabble, only a fool would step between God and His righteous judgments against the sin of His chosen people. Judah sought help from the Egyptians. Not only will the help not be available, but the potential help givers will experience God’s wrath as well.
False Hope (Isaiah 31:3)
God continues by reminding Judah that Egypt is comprised of mortal men as their warriors, and as such, they are absolutely no match for God in Judah’s rebellion. No power has been delegated to Egypt at all. Judah is rejecting the very capable and readily available help from the God of the universe for the powerless and costly help of the completely out-classed mortals. So, the result is simple, When the Lord raises His hand against Judah, both Judah (the one being helped) and Egypt (the one providing help) will be taken down. In short, when God starts this judgment against Judah, both Judah and Egypt will fall together (Isaiah 31:3)
True Faithfulness (Isaiah 31:4-5)
Isaiah receives another powerful word from the Lord. He strikes an analogy of a mighty lion and his young one standing over their prey and roaring in victory as they do it. As they stand ready to devour their prey, the noises made by a crowd of shepherds nearby will not deter or hinder their full dedication to eating the meal they have caught and killed for their nourishment. Their focus will be solely on the that which now belongs to them. Likewise, the Lord will not lose focus on that mountain that belongs to Him. That City of God, Mount Zion will not be surrendered regardless of the judgments brought against Judah. Jerusalem is bigger than that, and when the Lord of Hosts enters a fight for something, there is only one winner regardless of the strength and viciousness of the opponent – the Creator is always greater than the created.
Verse 5 give us one more analogy: just like the birds will defend and save their nests and the contents thereof, will the Lord of the Armies fly over, defend, save and redeem that City of God. While Israel and Judah have forgotten whom their Lord is there is no doubt that the Jehovah is the Load God Almighty and that He cannot lose this battle. And it is the Lord, Himself who will defend, deliver, preserve His City, Jerusalem. Recall that we are the Lord’s, and He cannot lose the fight for us as long as time exists. It was Jesus who said, “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. 30 I and my Father are one” (John 10:27-30, KJV)
Repentance Demonstrated (Isaiah 31:6-9)
Those who have experienced salvation in Jesus Christ have first-hand knowledge of the idea of turning or repentance. We were lost and headed in a direction to keep us lost. Then somehow Jesus made us aware of His presence. He showed us as He showed Judah that the false teaching, false claims and false promises of the deceiver were thoroughly false. He revealed the opposing truth for every false claim we ever heard, and we turn in His direction, away from the darkness of the king of all lies into the bright light of the waiting Savior.
Repentance Demonstrated (Isaiah 31:6-9, Cont.)
Here, God is offering that opportunity again. Israel has already fell into the snares of Hell and was digging deeper. They would soon watch Assyria take them into a captivity from which most would never return (722 BC). When the reality of the deception is known, it will be too late. While the people will hurry to destroy all their gods of silver and gold, they will come face to face with the sin that separated them from the One who created them. Nevertheless, they will enter captivity.
“Then,” God says, “Assyria shall fall by the sword. (It was a very short time between Israel being taken captive and the Syrian Empire defeated the Assyrian Empire. Israel would remain in captivity far beyond the defeat of Assyria. The sword overtaking Assyria would not be that of a mass of super strong warriors or even average (mean) warriors. It would be the sword of the Lord. The Assyrian soldiers shall flee in defeat with such vigor that they will pass over their own strongholds to escape. The fear to escape the sword defeating them is so strong that they will run past the safety of their own fortresses. The army’s leaders (their princes) will run in fear of the more junior officers under them. Isaiah says this is what the Lord showed him. The same Lord who is the fire atop Mount Zion which is fueled by the furnace of the City of God, none other than Jerusalem.
The passage of deception and of repentance, redemption and restoration is not only some ancient tale of victory in some distant town far away from here. It is the battle for the souls of those all around us. If you are not already born anew, it is the story of the battle for your soul. It is a local story with a universal application. It was placed in the Bible so God could reach out still again with a hand of mercy saying simply, “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30, KJV).
Setting the context within which Chapter 34 exists is crucial to understanding how it fits into the overall discussion of the issues between God, Israel, Judah, and the various political leaders. Last time we found that God was issuing judgments against both Israel and Judah for trusting more in the support of their international agreements than in their God. Recall also that the covenant between God and Abraham was not isolated to Israel alone but included all other nations on Earth (Gen 12:3, 15:6, Rev 7:9). So, while we are studying what appears to be a local discussion concerning the history of the Jewish nation and their God; we are actually looking at the Universal God setting limits on behavior for His subjects across the universe and built of all peoples and nations everywhere.
After God published His distain for how His people had rejected Him by their disobedience to the Law and the worst applications of worshipping multiple gods (Polytheism) than anytime in history. Chapter 34 documents God’s application of those judgment in the form of righteous anger and appropriate justice upon the people of the Earth. Significant in God’s judgments in this case was that the impact was not limited to the chosen people. Rather, they were purposely placed on all of humankind, i.e., Israel, Judah, and all other nations. It is not unusual for judgments to result in some collateral damage. Even when a judgment against a specific nation is not intended for other nations, it may still have collateral impact on adjacent nations in the near proximity. Nations around Israel or Judah may have to be protected through supernatural actions to prevent unintended damage on them. Edom specifically received judgments intended for Israel and Judah because of they should have known better than to try to profit from God’s judgments on Israel and Judah. Therefore, they were punished with Israel. The judgment was instrumental in assuring Judah of God’s full control over His application of Judgments on their nation.
As is often true of the Lord’s relations with us, after speaking of the harsh realities of judgments on nations, He encouraged His people and others by showing hope, redemption, and restoration in Chapter 35. In each of these cases, judgments on Israel, Judah and Edom, God was quick to show with the judgment the length of time and when the repentance, redemption and restoration would be taking place. The result was and is that those who were (are) subjects of God’s judgment can still realize hope and encouragement in the face of their punishment.
Chapters 36-39 finish up this section of the study by documenting the impact of the transition between the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires on Israel and Judah. In the study of these chapters, the history of Chapters 38 and 39 took place prior to the history of Chapters 36 and 37. Scholars believe this happened because the writers dealt with the completion of the Assyrian Empire before starting on the Babylonian Empire.
God Listens (Isaiah 37:14-17)
The challenges Assyria levied against Judah and specifically against King Hezekiah were deadly serious and brought terror to the hearts of all. King Sennacherib of Assyria send his field general, Rabshakeh to Jerusalem to speak to the people directly, in their language and deliver two messages (Isa 36:5-10). As he stood ready to take the city of Jerusalem and kill or capture many of its people. The first was the foolishness of Hezekiah to trust Egypt for military support to defeat Assyrian armies. And the second was the foolishness of the people to believe that their God would help.
The response of Hezekiah to these threats marks the real difference between him and his father Ahaz. Yes, he had petitioned Egypt for military help against Assyria like his father did with Syria, but the similarities end right there. Isaiah 37:14 documents Hezekiah’s process that he received the letter documenting the threats and that he read it. But the next step shows the difference, Hezekiah went to the House of the Lord and laid out the threats before God. Hezekiah begins by acknowledging God and is power throughout the universe (15-16). Notice that Hezekiah addresses Him as “the God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims” (37:16). Either Hezekiah is seeing that vision from memory or he was so serious about this request that he personally entered the Holy of Holies and knelt looking at the Mercy Seat between the cherubim to go directly to God.
Either way, Hezekiah was not addressing God through an emissary or ambassador; this request was far too much of an emergency for that. He looked directly into that space where God promised to appear annually after the proper blood sacrifices to hear from the High Priest and deliver His message to His people.
In verse 17, he comes to the crux of the prayer by asking God to listen to his prayer and see Judah’s situation. In other words, Hezekiah was trusting in the Lord to deliver him and his country from the Assyrians as they stood just outside of Jerusalem prepared to take the city and butcher its people.
The Request (Isaiah 37:18-20)
Like us, Hezekiah knows that there is no need to explain to God the situation or his personal fear for himself, his country, and his city (the City of God). God sees all these things and has no need for information updates. But the reason we share these things with God is because we want Him to hear the heart and see the hurt of His leaders and the hurt of His people. In other words, we share to show God our feelings about the events, not to describe them.
Hezekiah begins with the truth that Assyria seems invincible. They have utterly wasted every nation they confronted (37:18). They have thrown all the gods those countries worshipped in the dust and destroyed them with fire. He mentions that he knows these gods had no power because they were simple statues made by the hands of men so, their destruction was meaningless. Addressing God directly he says, “Now, therefore, O Lord our God, save us” (37:20). Save us not only for our own sakes but so that every nation on Earth will see and “know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.” So, the request is “save us, Lord, for our sakes and for your own sake.”
The Sign (Isaiah 37:30-32)
The Lord responds directly in verse 29 saying that the Assyrians would be defeated, but here (verse 30) He lays out an agricultural timetable that provides three years of prophecy. In each of these three years, it shows Judah as being in their own country, farming their own fields. By the time of this sign from the Lord, Assyria had already taken several crops and either destroyed them or adapted them to use for their armies. They were now eying Jerusalem and stood at the gates with these new threats. Isaiah’s message from the Lord says Assyria will not take Jerusalem and will go back the way they came. In two and a half years, there will be no sign that you were ever here.
The prophecies of verses 31- 32 talk of a remnant out of Judah which will go out and return under the Lord’s leadership. While this speaks of the remnant of people remaining after this clash with the Assyrians, there is a second fulfillment of these words in 586 BC as Babylonia is successful in defeating Judah and takes them into captivity in Babylon. They will return beginning on March 14, 445 AD to rebuild and restore the City of God, Jerusalem (Neha 2:1-6). This fulfillment would be the beginning of Judah’s return from the Babylonian Exile. Again, the Remnant would return to Judah.
The Answer (Isaiah 37:33-35)
So, the answer from the Lord is given in verses. He lays out His personal denial of Assyrian advancement into Jerusalem. God says the King of Assyria “shall not come into this city (Jerusalem), nor shall he shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it” (37:33). With these words, God made General Rabshakeh’s denial of God’s power along with that of King Hezekiah. This was an open show of how God will not leave challenges to His authority and capability in the support of His people unanswered. Just as the General’s threats were clear and unambiguous, God’s response was equally as clear and unambiguous. The Lord God will not be mocked.
Verses 34 and 35 amplify Assyria’s denial of access to the city. God says of the retreat of Assyria’s troops that they shall return by the way they came but in no case shall they pass through His City. Last, He says that He pledges His personal defense of that city for His sake and the sake of His servant, King David. The title of this week’s study is “God Listens.” The evidence presented for consideration against that title are presented in the scriptures studied. The Assyrian General made statements challenging the King of Judah and the God of the universe. God made statement and gave fresh insight concerning the attacks against Judah and the City of Jerusalem. God closes His revelation to Isaiah with a short and straight-forward message to say the General and his king will be flatly denied their objectives because God has forbade it. End of discussion!
Looking at the entire Book of Isaiah for a moment, there is a great deal of difference between the segment we are beginning today (Chapters 40-66) and the previous study in Chapters 1-39. The earlier chapters deal with the judgments God brought upon Israel, Judah and other nations because of their clear rejection of Him. Assyria starts out as the dominant power on Earth and frequently serves as God’s instrument of judgment. Later, however, Assyria, itself becomes the target of God’s judgment.
In Chapters 40-66, Isaiah deals predominantly with the return of Judah from its exile in Babylon. Rather than the judgments of God in Chapters 1-39, these chapters are full of hope, redemption and restoral for Judah. They also differ in how they deal with the chronology of topics as they are written about the future rather than past or present events. We will see more prophecy here than before. The accuracy of Isaiah’s prophecies is so high that those claiming “Higher Criticism” suggest Isaiah may not have written these at all. Rather, the only way they could be so accurate would be for someone more contemporary to these events to have written about them. Of course, those of us who understand that these writings are the Word of God, understand that God was and is contemporary to all events across time. Specifically, Chapters 40 and 41 show the redemption and restoral of Israel and Judah after the penalty of their exiles have been completed.
The next slide presents evidence from Chapter 40 that God can accomplish what He said He would do with the exiles of these nations. The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah not only took place exactly how and when Isaiah prophesied it would happen, but it lasted exactly 70 years as the Prophet stated. This was the same 70-year period was written about by Jeremiah and interpreted by the Prophet Daniel.
Chapter 41 describes the future deliverance and redemption of Judah and how the execution of these events demonstrates God’s power on behalf of Israel and other nations across history. The fact that it involved many nations other than Israel fulfill the original calling of Abraham when the Lord said his calling would impact all the nations of the Earth (Gen 12:3). It also shows that God typically works His miracles and achieves His goals through existing institutions like governments, churches and synagogues. Sometimes the fulfillment of His promises involves miracles so uncanny that we might not recognize them as miracles.
Living (Isaiah 40:18-20
The earlier parts of Chapter 40 Describe the awesome nature of the Lord and His Messiah. Verses 3-8 talk of John the Baptist and the prophecy that he will make the way straight for the Messiah. Isaiah prophecies that the valleys will be lifted up, the mountains will be brought down, and the paths of the Lord made straight (Isa 40:3-5). These prophecies are quoted in the Gospels at Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3 and Luke 3:4-6 as being fulfilled. After giving all the clearly omnipotent qualities of the Lord’s Messiah and His front runner, Isaiah asks who can compare to the Lord. The question is clearly rhetorical, there is no comparison anywhere. But Isaiah goes on to describe the stark foolishness of the artist who tries to capture and thereby limit the likeness of the Lord with silver or gold and hang it on a chain from the neck (Isa 40:19). In verse 20, he continues the same exercise but switches to the best wood to create an image that cannot be moved.
When I read verse 20, I thought it sounded like what happened when the Philistines decided to hide the stolen Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Dagon (Baal). The next day they found the huge statue of Baal on its face in front of God’s Ark (1 Sam 5). The priests put the statue back on its feet, but the next day, they found the statue on the floor again. This time its head and arms were broken off and lying near the threshold of the Temple (as if trying to escape - my addition). First Samuel 5 documents many more of the problems the Philistines had regardless of where they tried to hide the Ark. Curses fell on the towns and people wherever the Ark was taken. They finally contacted Israel to come get the Ark, otherwise, they feared it would kill all of them.
Sovereign Creators (Isaiah 40:21-26)
The four questions of verse 21 are, of course, rhetorical. The answers are known by Isaiah, and the Hebrew background included answers to these questions from early in their relationships with God. Given affirmative answer to each of these questions, it is God, Himself who sits higher than the circle of the Earth. Compared to Him, the people of the Earth seem like little insects, not in terms of importance or consideration, but in terms of comparative roles. It is God who stretches out the heavens as a curtain or a tent to provide protection over all the people of the Earth. God judges the people and causes them to appear as insignificant in argument, defense or rebuttal of the results of God’s judgment. That is, whatever God decides from His judgment is fact. God cannot be wrong or in error. His judgments are correct.
So, this is the crux of the matter of God’s sovereignty, because you have known, because you have heard, because you were told and because you have fully understood from the earliest times, My judgments are totally accurate and completely fair. The quality of my judgments will bring the highest people in the Earth’s organizational structure down to same level as everyone else. There will be no impartiality.
Sovereign Creator (Isaiah 40:21-26)
Verse 40:24 is transitional. The pictures of God provide protective cover for all creation and judging with full transparency and righteousness are replaced by an agricultural example. Israel has been and remains an agricultural nation. Knowing this, God gives an example that resonates with the experiences of the people He is addressing. When one considers bringing in a crop, it is clear that the crop has to be planted, it has to be sown (tilled and fertilized), the actual results of the crop need time, nourishment and water to grow. If the wind comes and blows across the crop before it can get its roots in the soils, it will be blown away like the winds can separate the wheat and the chaff. So then, the timing of the judgment versus the maturity of the crop will have major roles in the results of the judgments.
Given these considerations, where can the subjects of the judgment turn for help? The answer begins in 40:25, “To whom then will you liken me or shall I be equal?” Another easy answer: there is no one equal to the Holy One of Israel. He is the God of the Universe and can do all that needs to be done. When we look into the skies and see the countless number of stars, can we acknowledge that our God knows each one of the by name and knows that each is present and accounted for? The God of the Universe is also the God of the most mundane detail of what He created. This tells us again, that the judgment will be fair, correct and indisputable.
Tireless Source (Isaiah 40:27-31)
So, how can Jacob say that God does not see his troubles? How can Israel say that God ignores his rights? Recall that when God uses the name “Jacob” for Israel, He is talking to the rebellious, deceptive personality of Israel. When He addresses Israel with the Israel name, He is addressing the righteousness, compliant one. How can either of these personalities believe that their judgment is somehow missed or over looked..
Back to the rhetorical questions: Does Israel not known or heard God’s requirements and expectations? Is she ignorant of all the corrections and frustration God has had with her over these centuries of time? God explains that He is everlasting. He is the Lord, God and Creator of everything. God never grows weak or weary. His understanding is limitless. He provides power to those who are weak and strength to those without power. Even the young and strong will become weak, tired and exhausted. But those who move their eyes from themselves to God will find new strength. They will feel like they can soar with the eagles. They will feel like they can run and never get tired; walk and never feel weak. All the power we had as youths will be returned and more. The source of it all will be our Lord and God.