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.
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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.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 5:1-6:13)
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.
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.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 24:1-23)
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.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 25:1-27:13)
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).
Understand the Context (Isaiah 34:1-39:8)
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 40:18-20The 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 40:21-23)
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 40:24-26)
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.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 42:1-25)The repentance God was looking for never came from Judah. They would not put away their false gods. They would not give the God of universe the honor due Him. Rather than learning from the fate of Israel and turning around, Judah followed the same narrative. The judgment of God to remove them from the land He promised to them had to be done. The nation could not be brought to redemption without separating the sin from the land. yet would take for granted. They stopped giving God the appropriate honor and showing the proper gratitude due. The instrument of the exile would be the rapidly growing Babylonian Empire. The timing was in the years 587 to 586 BC. Now, Isaiah started his prophetic ministry in 740 BC. Talking about things that would occur in 586 BC is far to distant for him to experience. He was truly inspired by God to speak accurately of things hundreds of years in the future. Of course, the people could not believe God was in control as these things began to take place. How could God not act against these constant rejections?
Chapters 42 to 48 document God’s plan as His final messages of hope for the redemption of Judah for the sake of His faithful servant, King David. The first of these chapters, in fact, introduces the term, Servant of the Lord.” Backing up to Chapter 41, verse 8 identifies the servant as Israel. Chapter 42 does not follow up nor expand on the identification, but rather, describes more of the closeness of the relationship between him and the Lord. Jesus solves the mystery by quoting this entire passage in Matthew12:17-21. The Pharisees were planning to take the life of Jesus, but when He knew it, He moved away from there with a large number of people following Him (Matt 12: 14-15). Jesus healed all the ailments of the multitude but told them not to tell anyone of Whom He was. Matthew introduces Isaiah 42:1-7 in verse 17 with the words, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying…” Jesus thereby identifies Himself as the fulfillment at that point.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 42:1-25, Cont.)
Back in Chapter 42 of Isaiah, the prophet seems to oscillate between the Servant of the Lord being either Israel or the Messiah. Likely, Isaiah uses Israel for the near-term fulfillment and the Messiah for the longer-term fulfillment. The reference is not used exclusively for either of these; that is, Cyrus of Persia was referenced as the Servant of the Lord (Isa 44:26-28). In verse 42:10, the Lord tells Israel to sing a new song which celebrates the redemption of the world, not just Israel. This further identifies the power of the Lord to fulfill His promise to Abraham concerning the redemption of all Israel.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 43:1-48:22) Chapters 43 thru 45 specify the redemption of Israel out of Babylon where Judah was taken captive. Cyrus, the Persian king is mentioned again in this context. He is listed as the one who accomplishes these things for the Lord. Persia overcame Babylon as the instrument of Judah’s exile. Judah’s return from exile was granted by Artaxerxes for Persia in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-6).
Chapters 46 thru 48 provides encouragement for all of us who believe in the Lord and trust Him. While Chapter 46 delivers the message that God will be faithful to execute His plan for all of us who believe and trust in Him, 47 shows the final days of Babylon and their fall. Babylon was publicly shamed through the defeat of its forces and its way of life. Chapter 48 tells the bad news of Israel’s continued stubbornness. In addition, however, it also shows how God is even more stubborn to keep the promises He made to Israel and all the nations of the world. And His promises continue to echo throughout the entire creation, “Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). His redemption is sure and near.
The True God (Isaiah 46:3-5)
Notice here again that God uses the birth name and the covenant name for His people. He called them Jacob to remind them of their deceptive and rebellious nature. How they have rejected every strong gift and moves toward redemption He has made for them. Their staunch lack of gratitude marks that rebellious nature. Alternatively, God calls them by their covenant name, Israel when He wants to remind them of their position as His chosen people. They are the covenant people and He will not abandon His promises to them regardless of their response to Him. This is a characteristic of our God that we should keep close to our hearts. While we reject God’s forgiveness and redemption, He continues to offer long after anyone else would have given up. God is relentless in His offer of salvation for us.
Here, God reminds Jacob (the rebellious son) and the remnant of Israel (the faithful few) that they were born by Him from the belly which carried them from the womb. This reference sounds more like a Messianic statement than the Old Testament declaration. Recall that we only have one God; He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8); and He lives in all time dimensions at once. While He looked at the captivity of Judah, He had Mary on His mind.
The True God (Isaiah 46:6-7)
He asks Jacob and Israel who can compare to how He has dealt with them? After all these years of rejection, “I am still He” (46:4). God says He is the One who will still be there to carry him when his hair turns white, He made you and will keep you. And will be there to hear, carry, and deliver. Who else would do the things I have done for you? There is no one like Me.
The True God (Isaiah 46:6-7)
Artisans may be able to pour out the gold, weigh out the silver and fashion objects into false gods for you, but those gods will fall down and become worshippers rather than the worshipped. These kinds of gods are carried on the shoulder, they place him where they want to and he will stand there and have no ability to move. Some may approach these gods and cry loudly to them but they will never answer, neither can they save the worshipper from their problems. They are useless!
The Trustworthy One (Isaiah 46:8-11)
But remember this, show it around to each other and bring it into your minds again and again, you who commits evil and treason against me. Remember what you were taught decades ago: “I am God. There are no other gods around and there is certainly none like me.” God says He is the only one who can tell what the end is even before the beginning of it and forecast events from deep history which have not yet happened. God’s statements and advice will persevere whatever He choses to do. Whether He is calling an animal from far away to action or a man to carry out His commands; what He says He will make happen and what He has purposed will happen. Our God is the Trustworthy One!
The Just One (Isaiah 46:12-13)
God has no problem seeing that this is a stubborn people. Their hearts are too fat to be moved toward righteousness because they are deeply engrossed in their habits of sin. God says He offers them HIS righteousness. It is close to them and His salvation from their sin will not be slow in coming to them. And the sake of Israel, His glory, He will offer up salvation to Zion (Jerusalem and Israel).
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 49:1-50:11)
Our study in Chapter 42 centered around the use of the phrase, “Servant of the Lord.” Isaiah referred to the nation of Israel part of the time but to an individual at other times. For example, the discussion of 42:1-4 used a person while in 42:18-20, he used the nation. Our study this time (Chapters 49 and 50) fades out of the Servant being the nation and into the Servant being an individual. Specifically, in Verses 49:1-13 the Servant takes on the characteristics we find in Jesus, the Christ.
The people of the captivity seemed to doubt whether God had been beaten by Babylonia along with its beating of Judah. The thought process in those days was that the gods a nation worshipped followed them into their wars. They believed the victor of the war would also win over the gods of the beaten nation and they would cease to exist. Some members of the captivity wondered if that might have been the case with Israel’s God and that He was beaten along with Judah. Verse 49:14 seems to say the people thought that God had stopped caring about or for Israel (Judah) at the point that Babylon defeated Judah.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 49:1-50:11, Cont.)In 49:15, however, God reassured the people of the captivity that He had not been defeated by the Babylonian gods, nor had He left Judah after the defeat of the people. God knew far ahead of time that the completion of the exile would generate thoughts of God’s restoration of Israel (Judah). And this, in turn would cause many nations to envy Israel or be jealous of their God. This study focuses on the need for all people to continuously trust God regardless of the apparent circumstances. God sees into the future and the associated victories to provide abundant evidence of His care and involvement in the redemption of the chosen people. As a people of this century, we have the evidence of history to see the same evidence of God’s hand in leading Israel to numerous victories in the post-exilic period.
Included (Isaiah 49:1-4)In verse 49:1, the Lord speaks through Isaiah to call attention to His redemption of His people far beyond the small group contained within the captivity or even the captors. The coasts and the isles are beyond any reasonable description of Israel in their current situation. But as the Lord takes action to lead them out of that situation, He insists that the wider world listen and pay close attention to what is about to happen. As the obvious question forms regarding these events, the first is who will lead this effort? Isaiah begins to describe the Servant God has prepared for this feat. God called this Servant before he was born; that is, he was sill in the womb; in the depths of his mother’s being when the Lord mentioned his name. The characteristics of the Servant in verse 2 are equally supernatural. God made his mouth like a sharp sword – every word could cut to the bone. And the protection God offered was as if the Servant was resting in the very shadow of his hand. The Lord speaks of His redeemed in Christendom as those who are in the hand of the Father and no man is able to pluck them out (John 10:29-30). Here, it is that same level of impossible strength that protects the Servant as he is hid in the shadow of the Master’s hand. He had made this arrow a polished shaft and in God’s quiver he can be found. He is one of the tools of the lord for freeing Israel and releasing them back to the promised land.
Included (Isaiah 49:1-4, Cont.)
But now as He calls the Servant forth, he no longer sounds like a person but more like a nation again (49:3). The Lord said to the Servant, “Thou art my servant, oh Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Can a nation ever be seen in such unity that it can be as one? Above we see that the power of his sword and arrow are hidden in God’s hand. Extending that thought, the new union of Israel that has been freshly born in fully unified strength is the rest of the secret weapon coming out of captivity and hidden in the all-powerful hand of God. As God considers what is hid in His hand, he is glorified ahead of time because He alone knows the full strength of what He holds.
But as the Servant makes the mistake of examining the awesome creation that God has made and hides in His hand, the self once again enters his heart. He says, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain” (verse 4a). Nevertheless, in mid-sentence he corrects himself to recognize that what is in God’s hand is more than sufficient for any task at hand. His judgment is in the hands of the Master, as is ours. And his work, whatever it is, will be more than sufficient when it is in the full control of the Master. Yes, it is Israel that will come forth out of the filthy grave of captivity, just as Jesus called forth Lazarus and was careful to specifically mention his name lest all the death would respond to His call. Now we see the power of what God has done using the instrument of the captivity. But what will Israel do with it?
Called (Isaiah 49:5-7)
Regardless of how awesome the weapon is, it is of no real value until it is used. While it may serve as a deterrent against attack, Israel was not home, rather he was in exile. So, he must be called forth in order to bring glory to the Lord. So, it is the Lord who formed Israel from the womb to be His Servant that will call him forward. But the name He calls is Jacob and not Israel. It is Jacob that He calls forth because he has not yet proved himself worthy to be called Israel again. Finishing out verse 5, the Servant realizes that while it is not Israel that is called forth, he will be no less glorified because his worth, like ours, is only valued in the eyes of the Redeemer. It is by His judgment we shall rise or fall. There is no other opinion or assessment that even matters. The Servant acquiesces that it is only in God’s eyes that his true strength is found.
And it is not just God who profits from the great value of the Servant, but Israel, the Gentiles and the entire world profits as well (verse 6). The Lord speaks to Jacob that his frustration is ill-informed. He says, it is no small thing that he has been selected as the Servant who brings the tribes of Jacob out of the captivity that they might be restored as the renewed Israel that God intended. This same light will be so sufficiently strong under the Lord’s application that it will influence the Gentiles and lead the presentation of the Gospel of salvation of the entire world.
Verse 7 is the lengthy but glorious summary of the whole idea of calling the strengthened Jacob out of captivity. The Lord appropriately names Himself the Redeemer of Israel. Note that He adds “and his Holy One.” It is the Holy One who is despised by men and abhorred by the nation. The theme is all too familiar to us. Recall it was also Isaiah who used the words “despised and rejected of men” to describe the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53.3. It was there that he spoke of the Lord, Jesus Christ near the close of His earthly assignment. We have full recall of the emotions the whole description of that Servant left in us. Here it is once again used in reference to the Holy One who helps take Israel out of captivity. The will of God is often brought into contempt by mankind through the work of Satan. The whole idea is to severely discourage and humiliate the Servant so that He loses His effectiveness in delivering salvation from the Father to mankind. Here, the Holy One is temporarily relegated to being a servant of the rulers. Yet, Satan has failed repeatedly to silence or diminish the role of the Servant to deliver for the Father.
Called (Isaiah 49:5-7, Cont.)
To the contrary, the work of the Redeemer of Israel, and the Holy One, shall persevere and prevail to achieve God’s intent to deliver forgiveness and redemption. In this context, it means to complete the mission of bringing the tribes of Jacob out of captivity. And the kings shall see and arise in respect of them. The princes shall worship the Lord because of His faithfulness. And the Holy One of Israel shall choose you for blessing, forgiveness and restoral – “Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Vindicated (Isaiah 49:8-10)
“Thus sayest the Lord” is the signal that it is God who is speaking in this section of scripture. He begins His lengthy sentence with two questions for the Servant. The first of these ask if when the time was right, did He not hear your voice? This one sounds almost identical to how the letter to the Hebrews begins, “1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2, KJV). Both say that God injects Himself into the specific business of mankind when the time is right. He does not simply create mankind and turn them loose to fend for themselves. He remains active in every detail of the created’s life!
The Lord continues His introduction in Isaiah 49:8 by asking if “in the day of salvation, did He not help thee; and preserve thee?” God’s support of the Servant included establishing Him as a covenant for the people, in turn establishing a day of restoral as in the Day of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-55). On that day, slaves are freed, land is returned to original tribal owners, debts are forgiven. The scripture under study at Isaiah 49:8-9 appears to be referring to this time of Jubilee. The celebration on this scale is what we have in the birth, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Verse 10 briefly describes a few of the characteristics promised.
Vindicated (Isaiah 49:11-13)
Verses 49:11-13 talk to Judah as they face the captivity in Babylon. They need to know that while God is punishing them for their infidelity, He has no intention of making that captivity eternal. There will be a time of restoral coming for His people to return from captivity and return to the land promised to Israel. Recall also that God (unlike us) forgives and forgets. We may forgive one another for all kinds of sin, but the breach in our relationships will always be remembered. As soon as a new disagreement or problem comes up, we want to return to the breach and remember what happened. God alone has the capability to forgive us and forget what we did. That is good news for each of us whether our sins are great or small.
So, God promises here that He will eliminate the barriers we see as blockages to restoring our relationships with Him. Many of those barriers seem like mountains blocking our way. There seems to be no way we can scale the mountains to restoral. He promises to turn those mountains into easily negotiable superhighways. The barriers are not only removed, but in their places are erected ways to rush or run back to him. It makes me think of the father running to his prodigal at the end of the lane to welcome him back and restoring his ring of family relationship, putting new shoes on his feet and ordering the fatted calf to be roasted for a banquet. The father said, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24). While the prodigal came home willing to accept whatever punishment the father deemed appropriate, the father totally pardoned his son’s guilt, forgave his sin and restored all relationships. This is what God has in store for Israel (Judah) when they return from captivity. Verse 13 captures the mood of the future restoral and it looks a lot like the prodigal coming home. The Lord commands (through Isaiah) that heavens sing, the earth be joyful and the mountains break forth into singing. What is the reason for all this rejoicing? It is because the Lord has comforted His people and will have mercy on His afflicted (verse 13).
There is never any greater joy than to be brought back into full relationship with God. They (and we) can enjoy a relationship wiped clean from any sin as far as the east is from the west. At the point of repentance, God will forgive completely. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Right standing with God is just one confession away!
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 51:1-57:21)
All the earlier chapters of Isaiah build toward the depiction of Jesus Christ we find here in Chapter 53. In past chapters, the Servant has been represented as a nation (such as Israel) or represented as a person (such as the general unnamed person). The specific person’s name varied but always represented a person like Israel (Jacob), Abraham or someone else being applied as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12 or 15.
Chapters 51 and 52 provide welcomed information that God’s punishments of Israel and Judah through exile in Assyria (722 BC) and Babylon (586 BC), respectively, were temporary and not permanent. Further, each punishment was accompanied by messages of hope, forgiveness and eventual restoral. The earliest example after the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant was that of Egypt. Israel first entered Egypt as God’s deliverance from the famine of the Near East in those days. But after they were saved from starvation, they accepted the gift of continual residence in Egypt. Eventually, however, their number began to grow faster than those of Egypt and became a threat to Egyptian leadership. That led to slavery and required God’s hand to get them out of Egypt. God gave hope and promise of restoral while in Egypt and set Israel free from that bondage after they left. The promised restoral was in their own land, a Promised Land only about seventeen days away.
Israel was then punished for rejecting God’s provision of a new homeland by having them walk for forty years in the wilderness. Nevertheless, God gave them hope by promising to care for them during those forty years and to offer them the Promised Land after victorious purging of the pagans currently occupying the land through war. Israel rebelled against the person of God as they did not fully purge the land as they took it. Instead they rebelled against the warnings Moses gave them in the sermons of Deuteronomy as he prepared them to enter the Promised Land. So, they intermarried with the pagans and began to worship their gods rather than the God of Israel just as Moses warned. That, of course, led to their current predicament in exile.
Chapter 53 gets as specific as possible concerning whom the Servant of the Lord would be. He was to be the Suffering Servant, the Messiah of God, the Savior of Israel, and the multinational leader who would introduce God through Israel as promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. Now, we see the Gospel of Jesus Christ in God’s provision of His Son to suffer and die to pay the price for the sin of all mankind forever, whether past, present or future.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 51:1-57:21, Cont.)
In Chapter 54, Isaiah describes a vision of the City of God, Jerusalem, in the form of a barren widow or women. The Lord promises to put away her barren years and have her give birth to a great nation. He tells her there is no need for her to feel ashamed or confounded any longer for her hope is great, and He will deliver her from her present situation. He says He is “the Lord, thy Redeemer” and promises the mountains will depart and hills will be removed, and that His kindness will not depart from her, Her future blessings would see her blessed, restored and living as a city with jeweled walls.
Chapter 55 expands the plentiful blessing bestowed on the widow to be more general to encourage all people who trust in the Lord and believe in God’s provisions. Everything needed will not only be available, in abundant supply and at a lower cost than ever before.
Chapter 56 follows through to show how widespread the results of such trust was. That trust showed that righteousness came to people across the spectrum behavior types. It came to eunuchs and foreigners, alike. That is, righteousness came to those closest to God as well as those most distant from God. Whether they accepted or not became their personal issue, while the results of their acceptance or rejection remained God’s issue. Recall the R. G. Lee sermon, “Payday Someday.” Our choice to make and our future to deal with.
Chapter 57 then moves to God reminding Israel of its historic problem with sin against Him. In spite of that, He continuously refreshes His offer for them to repent, so they could be forgiven, reinstated, and restored to a right-standing with God.
Despised (Isaiah 53:1-3)
Turning to the specific study for today, Isaiah introduces the Suffering Servant in Chapter 53, and describes the work He did to bring salvation to the entire world. The opening verse in the chapter sets the whole purpose for the chapter. Isaiah ask the question about who might believe this report we are delivering, and to whom shall the full strength of the Lord be focused? As Isaiah sees it, the Servant grew up in the same environment as the rest of us. He is not recognized as the Savior because He simply looks like the common man. He was born in Israel (Bethlehem) and raised in Israel (Nazareth). Because of these beginnings and how common they are to us He doesn’t seem unusual. It was difficult for those who saw Jesus as a baby or young child to see that person as the Savior of the world. They were far too familiar with Him to recognize Him that way. Recall when He was preaching in Nazareth as an adult. The Pharisees asked, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:3).
Despised (Isaiah 53:1-3)
Verse 2 continues that there was really nothing impressive or even notable about Jesus as He appeared in birth, childhood nor all the way through His 20s. Consider the one story we have of an impressive time He spent with the Pharisees and Rabbis at age 12. “46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:41-52). I would have thought that some of those leaders would have researched this boy who was full of such knowledge and understanding of Scripture at such a young age but evidently not. It seems that His entry on the scene at age 30 to begin His preaching endeavors was met with just as much disbelief and rejection (Luke 3:23 & Mark 6:3). There was still nothing about His appearance that set Him aside as someone special.
Verse 3 starts the revelation that He was despised and hated. His wisdom among the masses was not recognized or endorsed by leadership. They accused and questioned Him as He taught. They repeatedly tried to catch Him up or snare Him into speaking against the Sanhedrin, the Scriptures or the Roman or Hebrew governors. They evidently believed if they could get Him to speak either heresy, blasphemy or treason, they could bring charges against Him, but He was very careful to make statements like “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him” (Mark 12:17). When questioned about charges that He said he was a king, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36). The crowds of people accepted His teaching and reacted with changed lives and healed diseases while the leadership condemned Him and rejected His teachings. Those who wanted to keep their positions were forced to join them in rejecting Jesus. Recall that Nicodemus went to talk with Jesus under the cover of night (John 3:1-21). At the end of Jesus’ life, Nicodemus, joined by another leader, Joseph of Arimathaea, to request permission to remove Jesus’ dead body from the cross and bury Him before the Passover (John 19:38). They were much more brave in His death than while He lived. The common men and women lauded His words and sought opportunity to hear more. The leaders despised Him and had no respect or esteem for Him. He felt the deep sorrow of knowing He was the only provision for saving all men from eternity in Hell, yet His message was blocked and prevented. John the Baptist knew the right answer when he said, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Would that message get out?
Substitute (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Jesus carried the sin weight of the entire world. It was certainly no surprise that He was called a man of sorrows. After considering the guilt each of us carry everyday even after knowing that Christ paid for all of them and they are forgiven forever, we still remember them and Satan is quick to remind us of each time we were inconsistent with being the disciples of Christ we should have been. Truly, “There is none righteous, no, not even one” (Romans 3:10). But Jesus carried the combined sin of all of us throughout history. The leaders wanted Jesus beaten and so Jesus “was smitten of God and afflicted” (verse 4).
Verse 5 lists the Servant’s response to every kind of sin we commit. “He was wounded for our transgressions” tells us that His abuse was for the open rebellion we have committed against His Law and stated directions. “Bruised for out iniquities” says that He was broken or crushed for our mischief. “Chastisement of our peace was upon Him” means Satan’s attempts to take away our peace was laid upon Him. “With His stripes we are healed” expresses the full substitution or propitiation of His person for ours. Put simply, Jesus (God the Son) took our place in receiving all punishment rightfully due to us.
Look for a moment at the key element of the Old Testament sacrificial system that was ended at Christ’s crucifixion. Hebrews 9-10 reminds us of the ritual of the Day of Atonement. The focus of the blood sacrifice was on the Ark of the Covenant. On the top of the Ark was a mercy seat and at its head and foot were cherubim with outstretched wings toward each other. Their heads were looking down at the mercy seat. Inside the Ark were the second set of Ten Commandments representing our rejection of God’s Law; the pot of manna representing our rejection of God’s provision; and Aaron’s rod representing our rejection of God’s appointed leadership. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of a perfect bull for himself and a goat for the congregation on the mercy seat. God said He would not see the representations of our sin through the perfect blood on the mercy seat, and that He would appear in a cloud over the mercy seat to speak to Israel through the High Priest.
Only the High Priest could enter the most holy place where the Ark was stored, but when Christ finished His atonement for our sin, the veil separating the most holy place from the congregation was torn from the top to the bottom making Christ’s atonement the final offering for sin forever (Matt 27:51 ,Mark 15:38 & Luke 23:45). The writer of Hebrews draws specific attention to the fact that while the priests offer for sin frequently, Jesus entered once and the penalty for sin was destroyed forever, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb 9:12). As verse 6 states it, we have all sinned, but the one punishment for all time was placed upon Jesus as He paid the price of our freedom from the penalty of sin (Romans 8:1).
Willing (Isaiah 53:7-9)
Verses 7-9 capture the Savior’s willingness to pay that price. John 19:30 captures the completion of the sacrifice with some of Jesus’ last words while on the cross, “It is finished.” The English translation fails to capture the significance of Jesus’ words. The Greek word used here was tetelestai. The root word was telos and meant “Paid in Full.” It was used frequently in Jesus’ time to document that the debt had been paid in full. The longer word included the past, present and future tenses of being paid in full to proclaim that He had completed paying for all man’s sin throughout eternity past, present and future. There is no additional payment due for those who have accepted Jesus’ death as applied to their account (Romans 8:1 again).
Verse 7 – 9 uses the words “yet He opened not His mouth’ three times signifying that Christ did not make a move to defend Himself or to limit His payment for man’s sin. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth.” “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” Our Lord stated, “17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18). When Peter drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear to prevent His arrest in the Garden, Jesus said, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
Verse 8 continues with the Lord’s submission to the mission the Father had set for Him. It talks of how He was taken from the prison and from judgment, He was cut off from the living and paid the price for the rebellion of all mankind. Isaiah asks the question, “Who shall declare His generation?” In other words, “No one cared that He died without descendants. His life was cut short in midstream” (Isaiah 53:8, NLT). (Recall these words when asked about the false teachings of the recent “Angels and Demons.”)
Verse 9 announces an astonishing prophecy that is documented as fulfilled in the Gospel stories of the crucifixion. The grave where Jesus was laid was in the graveyard near Calvary. Many wicked were buried there and certainly He was in the company of wicked men at His death (consider the other two men crucified near Him that day). Yet, He would be laid to rest in a tomb never used before. This fulfilled the dual prophecy that He was with the rich and the wicked at His death. Seldom did a person get buried in a new grave. Typically, the graves were used over and over. Once the body of one person decayed (about one year), relatives would transfer his remains to a bone box and reuse the grave or tomb for other family members. (Recall the reports in 2002 that the bone box of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Christ” was discovered.
This verse also contains the final statement concerning the absence of violence or deceit in Jesus’ mouth during His murder. While He could have done or said any number of things take get immediate revenge, He took no action against the religious nor the secular leaders. Once again, Jesus did not open His mouth against the murderers.
Sacrificed (Isaiah 53:10-12)
It is difficult to align the English translation of verse 10 with all the other verses in the Scripture that describe the attributes of the Lord. The words chosen almost sound like God got some kind of contentment or joy out of seeing His Son treated the way He was treated. It is even more disturbing to know that the person on the cross was God in flesh, so in a very real way, the verse seems to say that God was pleased with what He was allowing to be done to Himself.
The better understanding might be available by dividing this scene into its two real events. First, there is the secular truth that the horrible death by crucifixion was what happened to those who were disobedient to Roman law in those days. Jesus’ life was being taken from Him by the standard way it was taken in the context of the civilization at that time in that place. While His beating and treatment during the hours prior to the crucifixion were far more severe than either of His two fellow prisoners, it was still the way thousands of people met their death in that context.
Second was the fact that something far greater than a prisoner dying for his disobedience, sedition or treason. It was the event that settled the sin debt of mankind forever. The person on the cross was not just another criminal receiving his just end. No, it was God in flesh, the Messiah, the King, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus was exactly as John described Him, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus was obedient to death; even the death of the cross (Phil 2:8). This death was deemed sufficient for the payment required for all the sin of mankind from its beginning in the Garden to its end at the final resurrection. Death by the cross was revealed to King David as he wrote Psalm 22 containing the same words Jesus said from the cross, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Psa 22:1, Matt 27:46 & Mark 15:34). David described the death by crucifixion in verses 22:11-21 including the words, “They pierced my hands and my feet, I may tell all my bones, they parted my garments and cast lots for my vesture” (Psa 22:16-18). Crucifixion would not be used anywhere for hundreds of years, but David described it perfectly a thousand year before it happened.
So, God did not watch from Heaven with an evil smile while twisting His mustache. No, He suffered at the pain and humiliation of Jesus because He was on the cross as well! The seven cries of Jesus while on the cross pieced the heart of our Creator. When Jesus said the word tetelestai, God was allowed a new view of all those who trusted Him as Savior and Lord. He saw them just like He promised to look at the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant when the innocent blood covered it and blocked His view of the sin of His people. He saw Jesus’ blood on their (our) heads and could no longer see their sin. He ripped the veil of the Temple separating the Holy of Holies from the worshippers from the top to the bottom. God could hear us yell in unison, “He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven; Heaven’s gates are opened wide!” God finally had a part of His creation made holy and worthy to stand with Him in Heaven. The remnant of Israel was finally a reality! THERE is the joy that God saw in the crucifixion. Not any joy or pleasure in Jesus’ travail, but rather the ecstasy of the results of His Son’s obedience to death; even the death of the cross. Just as the prodigal’s father saw his son returning home, God saw us freed from sin and wearing the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. His arms remain opened wide because of what Jesus did and God was satisfied.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 58:1-60:22)
The three chapters included in this study look back to the pre-exilic period to examine the boisterous statements and fasting practices of Israel compared to their actual performance. The pre-exilic period for Israel (the 10 northern tribes) would be prior to 722 BC and for Judah (the 2 southern tribes) prior to 586 BC. Some of Isaiah’s writings are hard to understand without setting the mood for exactly what Isaiah is trying to show. Here he uses sarcasm and heckling to highlight the great disparity between what Israel is saying they believe about God and how dedicated they are to Him, and their practices in polytheism and blatant sin.
Chapter 58 is the focus of today’s study, so I will just touch lightly on it here. It concentrates on Israel’s attitudes and dedication to God based on their observances of Feasts and associated celebrations. Isaiah’s example relates to the practice of fasting as detailed in Nehemiah 9. In sorrow for their sins and those of their fathers, they would rend their clothes and wear sackcloth (burlap) and toss ashes in the air to fall on their heads. The deep sorrow for their sin was demonstrated by Jacob as he fasted, wore sackcloth and sat in ashes upon learning of his son, Joseph’s reported death by his ten brothers. As Israel fasted in pre-exilic times, it was a sham and created a facade of sorrow, but their attitudes for God was far from contrition or repentance. They continued to openly demonstrate their rejection of God and acceptance of the gods of the pagans by their open display of representative idols in their highest places or centers of worship.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 58:1-60:22)
Chapter 59, Isaiah explains how the sin of Israel affects their relationship with God. Instead of living in the harmonious, loving worship of God, their cities have turn into centers of chaos. Instead of loving one another, there was no justice among the people. Life was full of bloodshed and common disregard for even the most basic human behaviors between the people. Isaiah uses the word “empty” in 59:4 (Hebrew tohu) to describe what they have become. This was the same word used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the state of Earth before God brought order to it. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes with total lack of concern for one another. Israel was living in complete rejection of the God that gave them the country they once appreciated. They rejected any form of leadership by their attitudes and action against them (59:14-15). Going through the motions of worship or practicing any of God’s Feasts or celebrations was wasted. God required that those coming to Him should “put on the full armor of the Lord” as discussed by Paul in his letter to Ephesus at 6:14-17. God could bring order by giving Israel the power to conquer enemies and restore justice and leadership. God gave hope by promising to redeem the repentant and restore their positions with the Lord. Jeremiah penned the promise of a new covenant in verses 31:31-34. Paul quotes this in Romans 11:26-27 and the writer of Hebrews in 10:16-18 saying, “34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34). How great is the hope that God will forgive our iniquity and remember our sin no more!
In Chapter 60, Isaiah tells Israel what the Lord says about His redeeming work. God continues to use Zion as the name for Jerusalem, the City of God, and Israel, God’s chosen people. God delivers the words for Isaiah to prophecy concerning the future for the repentant Israel. He says that Zion would be elevated in status among the nations of the world and the impact of God’s chosen would once again be felt across the entire globe (Isaiah 60:3). In turn, Israel’s impact would be felt and the people experiencing that impact would recognize Israel as having a unique relationship with Him. But God reiterates that Israel must return to God in a way that far exceeds the insincere fasts of the day before any of that could happen. There would have to be real contrition, real sorrow and real repentance before the Lord would allow any blessings. They would have to soften their sin-hardened hearts and return to being sensitive to God’s voice, the leadership of His Spirit, and the warnings of the prophets.
True State (Isaiah 58:1-5)
So, what is the starting point? It has been clear for years that Israel had turned its back on the Lord. Further, it was clear that there had ceased to be anything about Israel that other nations would want to emulate. They were at odds with their creator and that damaged their relationship with Him and resulted in the absence of any blessings they might have had otherwise. The repentance starts with Israel recognizing their transgressions, iniquities and sins against their God. This is not only true for Israel’s repentance, but for ours as well. All people begin their paths back to God by personally acknowledging the depth of their individual rejection of God and His leadership. Transgression is blatant disregard for God’s law. Iniquity is living life without the discipline of being the person God expects us to be and sin is casual disobedience to God’s will.
Isaiah takes the first step by telling Israel’s heralds to cry out loudly, to lift their voices like loud trumpets and to make the noise impossible to ignore. The people had become so hardened to sin that they had to be made aware they were even sinning. We know the process: we do something we know to be sin, the Spirit makes it obvious that we are committing sin through the severe discomfort only God can cause. But we explain it away by following the thoughts of the world. We say to ourselves that the godly life is passe; that is not the way things are anymore; it’s antiquated to think that way anymore. So, we commit the sin again, but this time it is easier; the sting of sin is diminished somewhat. And this process continues until we cannot even recognize that sin is sin anymore. Our hearts have become hardened to it. We must be reminded that what we are doing is sin against God, and it has near-term and long-term penalties. Near-term we lose the power associated with the Holy Spirit. He does not leave us because we cannot lose Him, but our effectiveness as Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit is no longer there. Our prayer lives are in shambles, God does not seem to answer prayers any longer, we pray healing prayers but no one gets healed. We pray prayers of help, but no one is helped. We have become a CINO – a Christian in name only. People cannot tell the difference between us and the lost people standing next us. No power, no peace, no presence. We have become CINOs.
Nevertheless, Isaiah continues, you say you seek My face, you really want to know My ways. You want people to see you as a righteous nation; one who had never forsaken the Lord nor His ordinances. They want to be the people others ask about God, justice and righteousness. They are delighted when they look like they are close to God. In short, they want the honor of being Christians without being honorable.
True State (Isaiah 58:1-5)
Verse 3 begins to explain to the hard-hearted Christian this way. When you ask why you fast and no one notices; how you afflict your soul but no one acknowledges it. It is because people can see a fake for miles away. The world is full of people claiming to be something they are not. When we fast to be noticed, we have lost our reward. Verse 4 shows the person fasting for the sake of strife or debate; an opportunity beat one’s fist on the table to make a point. “But is this the kind of fast I want” asks the Lord (verse 5). Is it a day when you afflict your soul? A day when you can bow down low to the ground, to put on sackcloth and spread ashes all over you? Isaiah asks, “If this is what you will call a fast and an acceptable day of the Lord? The appearance of what you are doing has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of the act. It is like the Christian who is asked to pray for healing of a person while visiting in the hospital, but he must delay because he left his vial of oil at home. The oil has no more healing power than the sackcloth and ashes have repenting power. The power of healing comes from the dedicated servant of God speaking through the Spirit of God within him or her to the God of the universe, the Creator of all that exists and asking Him to do exactly what He has told us to ask. We see healings and conversions and miracles because of a right heart with God and a personal humility to know that the servant is not the special one, but the One he serves certainly is. We can do nothing in ourselves, but if we will yield ourselves to Him, He will do everything He wills through us. We cannot DO things, but we can ALLOW Him to do things through us!
True Worship (Isaiah 58:6-10)
Now (vss. 6-10) God explain what real worship through fasting is. He starts by asking if this is not the fasting He has directed. He describes it as releasing the bands of wickedness, breaking the bonds of heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free and breaking every yoke upon their necks. He continues that true fasting has to do with feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked and taking care of those of your own house.
On the next slide, Isaiah picks up with Verses 8-10. God says if you will do these things, your light will begin to shine with the brilliance of the new day’s sun, your personal health will prosper, your righteousness will be obvious and you will understand that bringing glory to the Lord is the real reward for the servant. But the rest of the rewards are equally amazing: when you call upon the Lord (pray) He will answer, when you weep the Lord will show you His presence (“Here am I”).
True Worship (Isaiah 58:6-10, Cont.)
The final part of True Worship starts at 58:9b with the words, “If thou take away from the midst of thee.” In other words, these are the things God wants taken away from the servant’s life; if you have any of these, thrown them away from you. The first is the yoke. The servant who is tasked with releasing yokes cannot bring his own yoke. So, do not be a yoke deliverer, but be a yoke releaser. “Putting forth of the finger” is a judgmental or blameful attitude. People will not be drawn to you for help if you have a reputation for blaming them for their pain or loss. They already know they have made some poor choices. No need to drive the stake in any farther. They also will not respond to you if you are a bragger or boaster. Those in need do not want to hear about how great you have it. Your success does not make them feel better about their poverty. So, operate in humility, out of a pure heart to feed the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul (hurting) and you will see your light rise out of obscurity and your darkness appear as bright as the sun at noon.
True Satisfaction (Isaiah 58:11-12)
So, what impact will that have on the servant, personally? Verses 58:11-12 presents that answer next. The first reward is that the Lord will guide you continually. Put more simply, when the Lord discovers you are a useful resource for His kingdom, He will use you more often. He will lead you into opportunities to serve. Further, the Lord will lift your soul even in tough times. He will enrich your bones, keep your gardens fresh and watered, keep you overflowing in whatever service you provide. He says that those come from us, whether as results of our ministries or as offspring, will rebuild in areas once thought to be wastelands which will lead to many generations of help resulting from the initial help. And last, the name you will get as a result of your service for the Lord will be, “repairer of the breach and restorer of the paths for dwelling.” I think those are pretty good titles to work toward.
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 61:1-66:24)
This is our last study in the Bible book of Isaiah. Next week (Dec 6th) we switch to the Gospel of Luke. I have enjoyed the study in Isaiah but would have liked to cover some of the chapters between our formal studies. Some of the “Understanding the Context” pieces of our studies quelled that need. Closing out the study of Isaiah means we need to look at Chapters 61 through 66. Isaiah finishes the book with a bit of a summary including some repetition of earlier points. Chapter 61 mentions several of the earlier themes of judgment, rescue, renewal and restoral. It is important to catch the fact that God never gives up on reaching His people and returning them to Himself. Like our Earthly fathers, God may be greatly disappointed in our performance, but His love transcends our due punishment in favor of His never-ending willingness to receive the repentant back to Himself. For those enjoying a relationship with Him, that is great news. For those without that relationship, His continuous reaching out seems like judging and invasion of personal space. Ask yourself how God could have gotten your attention in any other way than He did. Love means never giving up on those you love.
Chapter 61 also gets into the coming of Jesus the Messiah to the Earth. While Jesus is here, He will also present His ministry to the poor and examples of His delivery of salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal and restoral to those who respond to His offer. His ministry will also show how foreigners are counted among His people, completely fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant.
Recall that the Old Testament delivers a view of prophecy which blends the future into a singular event. That is, it sees the future, whether it is 1,000 years or 3,000 years, as blurred into a single future happening. In contrast, we now know that only about 350 of the more than 550 prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament were fulfilled by Jesus in His first coming to the Earth as the infant in Bethlehem. Isaiah 61:1-2 was quoted by Jesus as He taught in the synagogue and claimed that the fulfillment of those verses was in Him (Luke 4:16-21). While He was here, He promised to come again. He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). But when He comes to take us with Him at that time; i.e., the Rapture of the Saints, He will not come all the way to the Earth (1 Thess 4:13-18, 1 Cor 15:51-58 and Rev 4:1). Paul provides a great view of the schedule when he says describes the First Resurrection as “22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:22-24). So, Jesus is clearly the first part of the First Resurrection (“firstfruits”).
Understanding the Context (Isaiah 61:1-66:24, Cont.)
The second part of the First Resurrection will be “they that are Christ’s.” That is the Rapture of the Saints as described below. The final part of the First Resurrection, Paul calls “Then cometh the end.” John helps us see the final part of the First Resurrection when he says “This is the first resurrection” in Revelations 20:5. It should be clear John’s “First Resurrection” is not the First Resurrection of all because Jesus was the first of all First Resurrections, but this is certainly the conclusion of the First Resurrection.
After the Rapture, there will be a seven-year Tribulation period also called the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. It is during that time that many of the prophecies related to God’s promises to the Jewish nation will be fulfilled. So, there remains His coming back to the Earth on the white horse (Rev 19:11 ff) to send the beast and the false prophet to the Lake of Fire forever, restrain Satan and sets up His Thousand Year Reign on the Earth. Next, the rest of the dead will be raised, and He will conduct the Great White Throne Judgment of those who never responded to Christ’s offer of eternal life. They will join Satan, the False Prophet, and the Beast in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev 20:11-15). Then the New Jerusalem shall come down out of Heaven and we shall live with the Lord forever (Rev 21-22). Chapter 62 depicts the love God has for His people as the love of a groom for His bride. Further, it reveals God’s desire that those He loved would love Him in return. Sadly, God’s experience was that He would be rejected by many of those He invited and frequently dishonored by those who accepted Him.
Chapters 63 and 64 present the prophecy of how God will conduct the judgment of the nations in that final time. With each description of judgment comes the hope that all people rejecting or humiliating Him would turn from their wicked ways to a new life of forgiveness and unity with Him. He reminds us that peace can never be the rule as long as we chose rebellion. Throughout the history of the kings of Israel and Judah we see the words, “And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did that which right in his own eyes.” Seldom do we read, “And he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord.” God stated it correctly when He called them a “stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9). Yet, while the people were stubborn and reluctant to turn; God’s love for them and attempts to reach them persisted even more strongly. This section of the Scripture continues into the first 16 verses of Chapter 65 showing the same themes of judgment and hope. Judgment against sin must be exercised, but the availability of permanent forgiveness and a lasting peace was also there for all who asked.
The book closes as it began with the mixture of judgment and hope. Zion, the City of God, Jerusalem is judged as it deserved, but it would be saved and restored along with the multitudes of nations promised in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12-15).
A Place of Joy (Isaiah 65:17-20)
So, Isaiah begins this discussion of joy buy providing what would become the lead off sentence for Revelation 21 regarding the New Heaven and New Earth. Of course, John’s comment there came nearly 1,000 years later. John tells us that the New Jerusalem will come down from God out of the New Heaven because the first Heaven and Earth were passed away. Isaiah says the former will be remembered no more. The people will rejoice in the New Jerusalem and experience joy rather than sorrow. Even more, they will be glad and rejoice forever. God will join His people in rejoicing and there will be no more weeping or crying there. Again, John endorses those comments by quoting Isaiah 65:17-20 in Revelation 21:1-8 and adding that “God, Himself would wipe away their tears.”
The promises of being there with God and with Jesus is more than enough of a vision for most people, but Isaiah adds the ideas of a past that ceases to matter, total forgiveness and forgetfulness, Further, that we “will not remember what came before nor will it come to mind” are blessings far more than we can imagine.
I think of Peter as he saw the Savior on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection (John 21:15-17). Peter had full knowledge of the Savior’s complete forgiveness of his sin of denying Him three times. Still, the personal shame of letting down a dear friend in His final hour of need would last for years. This personal discussion with Jesus reminded Peter of his terrible error in judgment and lapse of dedication. He was voluntarily separated from the other apostles. I can empathize with his personal feelings of unworthiness. Jesus offers total forgiveness. Recall the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and its repetition at Hebrews 8:10-12 both contain the words “and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.” If only we could find a way to forgive ourselves the way God has forgiven us!
A Place of Prosperity (Isaiah 65:21-23)
Here we can see a part of the prophecy Isaiah gives us from the Lord is flavored with words more easily understood here than in Heaven. When Israel and Judah return from exile, they will, in fact, build house for themselves that will not end up being indwelt by someone else. The crops will be their own. They will not build or plant for others. The meaning of these guarantees is that we will not be overcome again. The length of Israel’s survival will be as long as the life of a tree, i.e., virtually endless. This is the promise of eternal life when seen as a prophecy of our part in the eternal Kingdom of God. Notice the mention of “the elect” in 22. The elect is that group of people who will be with the Lord in His future Kingdom. They are the entirety of the saved of Jesus Christ who will join Him in the New Heaven and the new Earth.
In verse 23, the Lord promises that His people will no longer labor in vain, “for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring after them.” Recall the curse the Lord levied on the land when Adam and Eve caused sin to enter the world through the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3.17-19 provide the details of the trouble mankind would have trying to live off his labors on the ground. God said, “17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen 3:17-19a). Returning to Isaiah 65:23, the prophet says the Lord has released that curse from His people, so they will no longer receive only trouble for their labor. They would now receive prosperity for their labors instead.
A Place of Peace (Isaiah 65:24-25)
And God strengthens the promise of prosperity by adding the promise of rapid response to the prayers of His people. He says, “And it will come to pass, that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (vs 24). It is no surprise that God knows our desires before we can formulate the sentence to make a request for help, but here, God promises Israel He will answer even before they can ask. Think of the tremendous contrast between God’s relationship with His people prior to the exile and the relationship He promises as He brings them back. Further, do not lose track of the long-term fulfillment of this prophecy, when God establishes us in His New Jerusalem, He will hear and respond to our prayers even before we can formulate the language of the request!
The content of verse 25 is almost certainly directed to this longer-term fulfillment, that is, in the New Jerusalem. The current natural order of survival of the most fit will be set aside. The ravenous wolf will sit alongside the lamb (his natural prey) and feed together. Instead of the lion surviving on the flesh of its kills, it will eat straw like the bull. In the New Jerusalem, the natural order is completely different than before. The only exception will be the cursed serpent (from the curse in the Garden of Eden). He will continue to slither along the dirt and the dust of it will be his food. In general, God say those who by nature once chose to kill, hurt and destroy will no longer do it in His Kingdom. In that land, we will live in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. I like the way John finishes the Book of Revelation, “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
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