Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Some commentators believe this chapter was written during the reign of Jotham or Ahaz because of the description of Judah in verses 6-8. But it may be better to consider King Uzziah’s reign, which was noted for its prosperity, power and pride. More specifically, Isaiah’s sermons in chapters 2-12 likely happened some time after the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-32 B.C. In any case, this prophecy was given during the early years of Isaiah’s ministry.
Isa. 2:12: For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. (NASB)
The Lord will establish His kingdom on earth in “the last days,” and will executive judgment in a “day of reckoning.”
It’s clear that chapter 2 addresses the future, particularly the last days. Note how Isaiah identifies this time:
- “the last days” (v. 2)
- “on that day” (v. 11)
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts is [coming]” (HCSB) / “the Lord of Hosts will have a day of reckoning” (NASB) (v. 12)
- “the Lord alone will be exalted on that day” (v. 17)
- “On that day” (v. 20)
- “when He rises to terrify the earth” (v. 21)
The city of peace (Isa. 2:1-4)
The first four verses of this chapter describe a future day in which a final and lasting peace comes to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. At least two things are clear: God is the One who establishes and maintains this lasting peace, and He does it in “the last days,” or, from a New Testament perspective, in the days encompassing the first and second comings of Christ.
The term “last days” is used at least 13 times in the Bible (HCSB) and describes the final period of the world as we know it. In the Old Testament, the last days are anticipated as the age of Messianic fulfillment (Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1), while the New Testament writers consider themselves living in the last days – the era of the gospel (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). “The last days, then, are the days of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are preliminary to and preparatory for the last day of final judgment of unbelievers and the dawn of eternal glory for believers” (Tyndale Bible Dictionary, p. 800).
Gary V. Smith adds a cautionary note: “The phrase ‘in the last days’ cannot be associated with the millennium or with the church age in Isaiah’s thinking, because such concepts were not known to the prophet. He is simply talking about the last events in human history, when the kingdom of God would begin. New Testament readers must be careful not to read later NT information back into earlier texts and make them say things that God did not reveal to the prophets” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 129).
The plural use of “days” implies a sustained length of time. While those living in Old Testament times may have viewed the coming Messianic age as singular and continuous, New Testament revelation shows us that the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are to be fulfilled in two stages. First, Messiah will come as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), or Lamb of God (John 1:29). Then He will return one day as the Lion of Judah to defeat the wicked and establish His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:11 – 20:6).
Isaiah’s reference to the “mountain of the Lord” (v. 2) points to His kingdom, authority or rule. One day the kingdoms of men will become the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24). Isaiah also draws an analogy between the kingdom of God and the Temple on Mount Moriah, which towers above the countryside in Isaiah’s day. The kingdom of God will rise above, overshadow, and nullify the arrogant, warring and fleeting kingdoms of men. The prophet Daniel makes reference to these days when interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue, which symbolized earthly kingdoms: “Then the iron, the fired clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were shattered and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35; emphasis mine).
The Lord Himself will settle disputes between nations. Ruling in majesty, power, justice and wisdom, He will so change the nature of worldly authority that people will “turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives” … “and they will never again train for war” (v. 4). These opening verses of chapter 2 are almost identical to Micah 4:1-5.
The Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:5-22)
Verse 12 warns that a day of reckoning is coming. Various translations describe it as:
- “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts” (HCSB)
- “the day of the Lord” (KJV)
- “a day of reckoning” (NASB)
- “a day against all that is proud and lofty” (ESV)
- “a day in store” (NIV)
“The day of the Lord” is different from the previous reference to “the last days.” Specifically, it refers to God’s supernatural intervention in human history, usually with reference to events that will take place at the end of time. “Most often,” according to Wilmington’s Bible Handbook, “it relates to the Tribulation preceding the return of Christ” (Isa. 2:12).
Isaiah catalogues the reasons God has abandoned His people:
- They have adopted religious superstitions from their neighbors (v. 6).
- They have formed national alliances for strength rather than relying on God (v.6).
- They have accumulated wealth and built up huge armaments rather than trusting God for their provision (v. 7).
- And they have embraced idolatry, worshiping the creature rather than Creator (v. 8; see also Rom. 1:25).
Since Israel has made itself look and act like the heathen nations around it, God will judge Israel in a manner appropriate for the heathen. It’s likely that Isaiah does not see the lengthy time frame of repeated judgment, stretching out more than two millennia into the future, yet he is clear that Judah has been sufficiently rebellious to attract God’s wrath now. “The Lord alone,” he proclaims, “will be exalted on that day” (v. 11). He will break down the arrogance of all people, specifically:
- “cedars” and “oaks” – a reference to haughty nobles and princes (v. 13; see also Amos 2:9; Zech. 11:2).
- “high mountains” and “lofty hills” – an image of government and society (v. 14).
- “every high tower” and “every fortified wall” – a picture of military might (v. 15).
- “every ship of Tarshish” and “every splendid sea vessel” – a reference to commerce (v. 16).
- “human pride” and “the loftiness of men” (v. 17).
- “idols” (v. 18).
While these appear to be figurative references, it’s probable that the people of Judah in Uzziah’s day literally took pride in their fortified cities, tall towers, large ships and beautiful trees.
There is a parallel in Rev. 6:15-17 to how the wicked are seen responding to God’s wrath in Isa. 2:19-21: “Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?'” Just as God will bring judgment on His people for their rebellion in Isaiah’s day – through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires – the Lord Himself will execute judgment directly on the whole earth on “the last day.”
There is hope for Judah in Isaiah’s day, as there is for us today. “Come and let us walk in the Lord’s light,” the prophet urges in verse 5, adding in verse 22, “Put no more trust in man, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth?”
Gary V. Smith summarizes: “This sermon provides two unmistakable theological choices to any reader/listener. One can follow the path of proud leaders like Uzziah, or a person can ‘stop trusting in man’ now and exalt God alone. The theological choice is clear and presented as two opposite alternatives with two opposite consequences: life with God in his glorious kingdom (2:1-5), or frightful humiliation and destruction (2:6-22). There is no middle ground for people to hide” (Smith, p. 142).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment (Chapters 1-35)
When this takes place:
Opinions vary, but it appears that Chapter 1 is written near the end of Isaiah’s ministry and is placed at the start of the book as both an introduction and a summary. “This introduction is also a motivational attempt to convince [Isaiah’s] readers to acknowledge what God says and repent so that their sins can be forgiven” (Gary V. Smith, New American Commentary, Isaiah 1-39, p. 93). Possibly, this chapter is written some time after the 701 B.C. attack by the Assyrians.
Isa. 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (NASB).
“Chapter 1 is God’s solemn call to the universe to come into the courtroom to hear God’s charge against the nation Israel” (J. Vernon McGee, Isaiah Vol. 1, p. 17).
Although Isaiah is identified as the prophet (v. 1), God is the source of the message. Note how God speaks throughout the chapter:
- “the Lord has spoken” (v. 2).
- “Hear the word of the Lord … listen to the instruction of our God” (v. 10).
- “‘What are your sacrifices to Me?’ asks the Lord” (v. 11).
- “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (v. 18).
- “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (v. 20).
- “Therefore the Lord God of Hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, declares” (v. 24).
God’s case against Judah (Isa. 1:1-9)
Isaiah begins by telling us what we are about to encounter: one vision, concerning two locations (Judah and Jerusalem), delivered during the time of four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah). A powerful new nation has arisen to the north. Assyria is about to take the northern kingdom of Israel captive, and does so in 722. B.C. Later, God asserts that the brutal Assyrian invaders will not take Judah. Rather, He is raising up another kingdom, Babylon, to judge the southern kingdom, but until then He is giving Judah one more chance to repent. Isaiah’s book is called a vision, suggesting that the prophet “saw” mentally and spiritually as well as heard what God communicated to him. The word “vision” also introduces the prophecies of Obadiah, Micah, and Nahum. The term “vision” (hazon) frequently refers to the general reception of a divine revelation, without accompanying visual imagery; Isaiah’s use of the word “vision” implies that what he is about to say comes from God.
God calls heaven and earth into the courtroom to hear His case against Judah. The language in verse 2 is similar to the way Deut. 32 begins. Having delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage, the Lord laid down the conditions under which His people would inhabit the Promised Land and called heaven and earth as witnesses. If they failed to obey God, especially by engaging in the worship of false gods, then Yahweh had the right to chasten them even to the point of removing them from the land. It was happening to Israel. Judah was next.
The Lord uses satire in verse 3. He tells the Jews that two of the dumber beasts of burden, oxen and donkeys, know their masters and understand who feeds them, but the Jews live in oblivion to the Lord’s providential care.
Verse 4 lays out God’s description of who the Jews are and what they have done. They are a sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, and depraved children. They have abandoned the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, and turned their backs on God.
God has been chastening Judah according to Deut. 28-29 and asks, “Why do you want more beatings? Why do you keep on rebelling?” (v. 5). Despite the Lord’s correction and gracious invitation to return to Him, the Jews will not repent, so the time for expulsion from the land is drawing nigh.
“Isaiah first used the figure of a person who had been beaten and was bruised over his entire body (Isa. 1:5-6). Though these untreated wounds … welts, and open sores characterized the nation’s spiritual condition, Isaiah was also speaking of her condition militarily. They were beset on all sides by hostile forces and were losing some of their territory to foreign nations (v. 7). They should have realized that these terrible problems had come because of their spiritual condition” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).
Isaiah depicts Jerusalem’s inhabitants as being like a shelter in a vineyard or a shack in a cucumber field – temporary structures built to shade the sun from persons hired to guard the crops against animals and thieves. Such huts were solitary and easily attacked. If not for a remnant of faithful Jews, Isaiah says, Judah already would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, totally devastated.
“I have had enough …” (Isa. 1:10-17)
From a human perspective, the Lord’s words in these verses convey exasperation with His people’s empty religious rituals. D.A. Carson comments, “Of all prophetic outbursts at religious unreality …this is the most powerful and sustained. Its vehemence is unsurpassed, even in Amos, and the form and content build up together. First, the offerings are rejected, then the offerers (11-12); but while God’s tone sharpens from distaste to revulsion, his specific accusation is held back to the lurid end of v 15: Your hands are full of blood” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Section Is. 1:10).
The Lord is not abolishing, or even minimizing the importance of, the sacrificial system or the feasts by which His people could approach Him and enjoy His fellowship; rather, He is refuting their assumption that sacrifices and religious observances, without pure motives and repentant hearts, could atone for their sins.
Immediately following this thunderous rebuke are nine calls to repentance (vv. 16-17):
- Wash yourselves.
- Cleanse yourselves.
- Remove your evil deeds from My sight.
- Stop doing evil.
- Learn to do what is good.
- Seek justice.
- Correct the oppressor.
- Defend the rights of the fatherless.
- Plead the widow’s cause.
J. Vernon McGee comments: “God has spelled out His charge against them. They are guilty of spiritual apostasy. It led to moral awfulness and to political anarchy in the nation. God has called Israel into court and has proved His charge against them. Israel is like a prisoner standing at the bar waiting for the sentence of judgment. God can now move in to judge them” (McGee, p. 25).
“Let us reason …” (Isa. 1:18-20)
While some see chapter 1 as a courtroom setting, it’s probably more accurate to see it as an arraignment, where the Lord states His case against His people, anticipates their defense and refutes it. Essentially, He tells Judah as well as all who witness His words that there is overwhelming evidence to secure a conviction. But rather than go through with a trial, conviction and sentencing, God gives the Jews a chance to settle their case out of court.
The term “let us reason” is sometimes rendered “enter a lawsuit” or “let us test each other,” but the basic meaning of the term is “to determine what is right.” Some translators favor the term “to settle out of court.” There is graciousness here on God’s part, as well as an opportunity for the Jewish people to “reach a settlement quickly” with their adversary (Matt. 5:25). The blessings of repentance and the curses of rebellion are clearly laid out: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (vv. 19-20).
God’s use of the word “scarlet” is significant. The Hebrew word means “double-dyed,” emphasizing the deep-fixed permanency of sin in the people’s hearts. But there is hope. The color of Jesus’ robe when bearing our sins was scarlet (see Matt. 27:28). So was the color of the cord that spared the life of Rahab and her family (Josh. 2:18), as was the color of the thread tied to the scapegoat. The rabbis say that after the high priest confessed his sins and the people’s sins over the scapegoat, the thread turned white. The miracle ceased, they say, 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, coinciding with the crucifixion of Christ (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Isaiah 1:18).
“I … will burn away your dross” (Isa. 1:21-31)
Verses 21-26 describe a theological cycle for Jerusalem. First, the city was faithful (v. 21a). Now it is in rebellion (vv. 21b-23). God will purge the evil from Jerusalem with His refining fire (vv. 24-25). Finally, the city will return to its faithfulness (v. 26). God compares Jerusalem in its faithfulness to silver and wine but says the silver is now dross and the wine is diluted with water. Sin has been welcomed into the city and into the hearts of its inhabitants and has corrupted both. The Lord spares no rebuke when he calls the leaders rebels, friends of thieves, and lovers of graft (v. 23).
Therefore, God is determined to purify the city. He will satisfy His holiness (v. 24b), remove impurity (v. 25), and restore His city (v. 26). His promise to Jerusalem is an encouragement to faithful believers everywhere and at all times when they suffer through life at the hands of sinful and selfish leaders. Gary V. Smith writes, “A day will soon come when God will transform this world, remove all sin, replace all evil leaders, and rule his kingdom in righteousness and justice. This passage is also a warning to every leader. You will be held accountable for how you lead the people God has called you to serve” (p. 114).
Isaiah argues that God deals with sin in one of two ways. He removes the stain of sin if His people repent (1:18-19), or he removes the sinner with His refining fire so His nation is purified (1:25-27). Does Judah repent? No, and as a result, she is carried away into Babylonian captivity a century later. Will we as God’s people repent of our sins or face chastisement? That is the fundamental question that nations and people must continue to answer.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Isaiah means “salvation of the Lord.”
Isaiah prophesied in Judah during the reigns of four kings, a period of about 60-70 years during which Samaria was captured, Israel was carried away (722 – 721 B.C.), and Judah was invaded (701 B.C.). He was a contemporary of Hosea and Micah.
Isaiah’s messages hearken back to the eternal counsels of God and the creation of the universe (see 42:5) and gaze forward to God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22). While there are many important prophecies concerning Jerusalem, Israel and Judah, Isaiah’s predictions encompass all the nations of the earth (see 2:4; 5:26; 14:6, 26; 40:15, 17, 22; 66:18).
His Messianic focus
Isaiah foretells the Messiah’s birth (7:14; 9:6); His deity (9:6-7); His ministry (9:1-2; 42:1-7; 61:1-2); His death (52:1 – 53:12); and His future reign on earth (chaps 2; 11; 65).
Isaiah “was the greatest of the writing prophets,” according to The New Scofield Study Bible. “No other prophet has written with such majestic eloquence about the glory of God…. Of all the O.T. prophets, Isaiah is the most comprehensive in range. No prophet is more fully occupied with the redemptive work of Christ. In no other place, in the Scriptures written under the law, is there so clear a view of grace” (p. 924).
The kings of Judah
Chronologies for the Hebrew kings vary between one and 10 years depending on the source consulted. Here are the dates according to E.R. Thiele in The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983): Uzziah/Azariah – 792-740 B.C.; Jotham (co-regent until Uzziah’s death) – 750-732 B.C.; Ahaz – 735-716 B.C.; Hezekiah – 716-687 B.C.
Uzziah and Jotham
Isa. 1:1 tells us the prophet’s ministry began during the time of Uzziah and his son Jotham. It is likely that Isaiah began late in Uzziah’s reign, after he had attained substantial wealth and military success, perhaps between 750-740 B.C. At this time Jotham was coregent and running the country because Uzziah was leprous and therefore secluded. Uzziah’s success early in his kingship was due to his willingness to listen to the prophet Zechariah, who taught him God’s ways. As a result, Uzziah is listed as one of Judah’s kings who “did what was right in the Lord’s sight” (2 Chron. 26:4-5). But his legacy began a downward spiral when he arrogantly entered the temple in Jerusalem and burned incense to God, despite warnings from 80 priests. As a result, God struck Uzziah with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-20) and his son Jotham ruled as coregent for about 10 years until Uzziah died around 740 B.C.
Religious life in Judah deteriorated significantly during the reign of Azah, who “did not do what was right in the Lord’s sight … he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and made cast images of the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of Hinnom and burned his children in the fire, imitating the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites” (2 Chron. 28:1-3). His lack of faith in God was illustrated graphically when he failed to trust God despite the promise of military victory (Isa. 7:1-9).
Hezekiah was a great religious reformer, a man of faith who led his armies to trust in God for deliverance (2 Chron. 32:6-8), and who did so himself when he asked God to deliver the Jews from the Assyrians (2 Chron. 32:20-21). In the first year of his reign, he repaired the temple, consecrated priests, renewed the nation’s covenant with God, removed pagan elements his father brought into the temple area, and restored worship (see 2 Chron. 29:3-11, 15-36). Although he later was puffed up with pride for a time, he quickly repented, and God blessed him with great riches (2 Chron. 32:27-29).
The prophet Isaiah
It’s difficult to get a full picture of the prophet because his writings reveal very little about his personal life. We do know that Isaiah identifies his father as Amoz, who may have been a scribe in the king’s court. Jewish tradition suggests that Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah, the father of Uzziah, but there is no way to substantiate this. Isaiah’s wife is called a prophetess (8:3), but there is no record of her prophetic messages, so it’s possible the term simply identifies her with Isaiah. Isaiah and his wife have at least two sons (7:3; 8:3), but little is known of them.
A high point in Isaiah’s ministry comes in chapter 6 when he meets with God. He despises his uncleanness and confesses his sinfulness as he catches a glimpse of the glory of God (6:1-4). He then confesses the sins of the people of Judah and responds to the divine call to take God’s message to the people (6:6-8). Gary V. Smith comments, “Isaiah did not know the nature of the mission God designed for the one being sent, the length of the responsibility, where this person must go, the message that must be spoken, or the difficulty of the task that must be accomplished. Nevertheless, Isaiah immediately volunteered. He did not make excuses or question God’s plan like Moses or Jeremiah (Exod. 3:11; 4:1, 10; Jer. 1:6) but gladly offered to serve God” (The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Isaiah 1-36, p. 36).
It is important to note that Isaiah is sent to bring hardness to the hearts of the people of Judah (6:9-10). The Lord states plainly that the future is dark for His people, but there is hope (6:11-13). This is illustrated in Isaiah’s encounter with Ahaz in chapter 7. God instructs Isaiah to bring the wicked and wildly outnumbered king hope of God’s deliverance in the upcoming Syro-Ephraimite War. Rather than trusting God, however, Ahaz hardens his heart and refuses to invite God to grant a sign (7:10-13).
Isaiah obediently serves the Lord even when the assignments seem bizarre. For example, he is told to go naked in public for parts of three years (20:2). This symbolizes what would happen to the inhabitants of Judah if taken captive in war; normally, war captives are stripped in shame. It isn’t known whether Isaiah explains his behavior to anyone in self defense, but the Lord calls Isaiah “my servant,” “a sign,” and “portent.” The impact of Isaiah’s ministry is felt far beyond the scope of his lifetime. He is quoted directly in the New Testament more than 65 times, far more than any other Old Testament prophet, and is mentioned by name more than 20 times.
Through a literary device known as “prophetic foreshortening,” Isaiah predicts future events without laying down exact sequences of the events or the time intervals separating them. For example, as John MacArthur writes, “nothing in Isaiah reveals the extended period separating the two comings of the Messiah (cf. Is. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-22). Also, he does not provide as clear a distinction between the future temporal kingdom and the eternal kingdom as John does in Revelation 20:1-10; 21:1-22:5. In God’s program of progressive revelation, details of these relationships awaited a prophetic spokesman in a later time” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 757).
In summary, Isaiah the person is known primarily through what he says, not what he does. His speeches focus on Judah’s wrong political policies as reflections of their lack of trust in God. In ways similar to Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum and Zephaniah, Isaiah offers little biographical information about the prophet. Many of the Lord’s prophets seem intentionally to downplay themselves in order to lift of God and His message.
Tradition has it that Isaiah met his death under King Manasseh by being cut in two with a wooden saw (see Heb. 11:37).
An outline of study
Commentators approach the book of Isaiah in different ways, but generally we will pursue this simple outline:
- I. Judgment: Chapters 1-35
- II. Historical Interlude: Chapters 36-39
- III. Salvation: Chapters 40-66