Tagged: Bible study

Isaiah: Download the free commentary

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).

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 writings have a strong 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).

The attached commentary on the Book of Isaiah is free and downloadable in pdf format. For accompanying work sheets and podcasts, click here. Please feel free to share these documents and links with others and use them any way you like as long as you do not charge for their use or alter their contents.
Isaiah Introduction and Chapters 1-35

Isaiah 36-66

Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant

LISTEN: Isaiah 53 – The Suffering Servant – Part 1 (mp3)

READ: Isaiah 53 – The Suffering Servant (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 53 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.

Key verses:

Isa. 53:5-6 – But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment   for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.  We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.

Quick summary:

Isa. 52:13 – 53:12 make up the fourth Servant Song in which the Servant dies in the place of the guilty to satisfy God’s judgment of sin. Warren Wiersbe (Be Comforted, S. Is 52:13) sees this song unfolding in five parts:

  1. Exaltation – the shocking Servant (Isa. 52:13-15)
  2. Humiliation – the sorrowing Servant (Isa. 53:1-3)
  3. Expiation – the smitten Servant (Isa. 53:4-6)
  4. Resignation – the silent Servant (Isa. 53:7-9)
  5. Vindication – the satisfied Servant (Isa. 53:10-12)

Take note:

Many Jews today reject the notion that Isaiah 53 is a Messianic prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. Instead, they say, this chapter is a reference to the nation of Israel, which has suffered great violence throughout history – in Isaiah’s day at the hands of the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, and more recently by the Nazis and the Arab nations that surround modern Israel. But this interpretation is fraught with problems, as Robert B. Hughes and Carl J. Laney explain: “Early Jewish interpretation of this passage understood the ‘servant’ (52:13) to refer to the Messiah. This also was the interpretation by the early church (cf. Acts 8:30–35). Not until the twelfth century was it suggested that the ‘servant’ of Isaiah 53 was the nation of Israel. But the nation of Israel has not suffered innocently (53:9) or willingly (53:7). Nor did Israel’s suffering provide substitutionary atonement (53:5)” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, S. 267).

As we will see, this passage is naturally and wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Despised and Rejected (Isa. 53:1-3)

The chapter opens with a depiction of the Servant as a nondescript “young plant” shooting up out of “dry ground.” When Jesus appears seven centuries later, He is not the Messiah the Jews are expecting – handsome, charismatic, flush with political and military designs for the oppressed nation of Israel. Rather, He is poor and plain, a Galilean carpenter with seemingly little interest in the Romans, who says His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Although His words and works attract great crowds, His appearance does not distinguish Him from other Jewish men. Further, His religious views are at odds with those of the Jewish leaders, and His refusal to be declared king infuriates the political zealots of His day. He is, indeed, a young sprout in barren soil. Warren Wiersbe summarizes Isaiah’s use of horticultural imagery to describe Jesus: “Messiah is the Branch of the Lord (4:2); the remnant is like the stumps of trees chopped down (6:13); the proud nations will be hewn down like trees, but out of David’s seemingly dead stump, the ‘rod of Jesse’ will come (10:33–11:1). Because Jesus Christ is God, He is the ‘root of David’; but because He is man, He is the ‘offspring of David’ (Rev. 22:16)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 53:1).

So how do the people respond to this unlikely Servant? They treat Him as a common slave. They despise Him, reject Him, put a cheap price on His head, and look the other way when he passes by. The apostle John puts it this way: “He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11). This Servant does not value the same things the people of His day – or ours – value: wealth (Luke 16:14), prestige (Luke 14:7-14), self-reliance (Luke 18:9-14), and self-indulgence (Matt. 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-27).

But what does the phrase “a man of suffering who knew what sickness was” mean? While it could refer to a sickly person, or one who experiences much pain and illness, more likely it describes the Great Physician who gives Himself to those who are suffering for the purpose of providing relief. This is how Matthew sees it, quoting from Isa. 53:4 in Matt. 8:16-17: “When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick,  so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: He Himself took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.”

Struck Down by God (Isa. 53:4-6)

These verses capture the essence of the sacrificial system and point us to the heart of the gospel: the innocent dying for the guilty for the remission of sins. Just as the blood of spotless animals atone for people’s sins under the Old Covenant, the blood of the sinless Servant, who fulfills the Law, takes away the sin the world (John 1:29). Jesus bears our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), but He also addresses the consequences of Adam’s sin by ministering to people in need. Matthew 8:14-17 applies Isaiah 53:4 to Jesus’ healing ministry, not to His death. Those who apply this passage today and teach that healing from all sickness is a “right” of the believer fail to understand Isaiah’s prophecy and Matthew’s application of it. It is true that the effects of the fall, including illness, will be reversed in our bodies in resurrection and glorification (1 Cor. 15:51-57), as well as in creation in the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13: Rev. 21-22). But until these promises are fulfilled, believers must understand that we continue to live in this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) in a world that groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:18-22).

All that the Servant suffers is our fault, and for our benefit: He bears our sicknesses, carries our pains, is pierced for our transgressions, is crushed for our iniquities and heals us by His wounds. Yet we regard Him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted (vv. 4-5). Note the graphic depiction of the Servant’s suffering. He is “pierced because of our transgressions.” Nails pierce His hands and feet (Ps. 22:16; Luke 24:39-40), and a spear pierces His side (Zech. 12:10; John 19:31-27; Rev. 1:7). This is not a Jewish form of execution. Isaiah foresees a Roman crucifixion centuries before it is introduced. The Servant also is “crushed,” not physically because not a bone of Jesus is broken, but in His soul and spirit as He who knows no sin becomes sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He is punished for our peace. The only way a lawbreaker may be at peace with the law is to be innocent or to pay the penalty the law requires. Jesus is innocent, yet pays the penalty for our sins so that we may stand blameless before God (see Rom. 5:1, 8:1). Finally, the Servant heals our wounds. The reference to healing in verse 5 concerns sin, as Peter makes clear (1 Peter 2:24). Sin is sometimes compared to sickness that only God can cure (Isa. 1:4-6; Jer. 30:12; Nahum 3:19).

Isaiah refers to our sin as “transgression” and “iniquity.” Transgression means rebellion against God, deliberately crossing the line He has established. “Iniquity” refers to our sin nature, our natural tendency to live independently of God. In other words, the prophet understands that we are sinners by nature and by choice. In verse 6, he compares us to sheep that are prone to wander. “By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18)” (Wiersbe, S. Is 53:4).

Silent as a Lamb (Isa. 53:7-9)

As a slave is silent before his master, even though wrongly accused, the Servant does not speak in His own defense. This is fulfilled beautifully in Jesus, who is silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod (Luke 23:9). He holds his tongue while Roman soldiers mock and beat him (1 Peter 2:21–23). This humble endurance intrigues the Ethiopian eunuch as he reads the account in Isaiah (Acts 8:26–40). Is the Servant powerless? Is He somehow deserving of this treatment? Has He nothing to say in His own defense? Couldn’t He argue the unfairness – the illegality – of this judicial charade? What has He done? He has done no violence, nor has He spoken deceitfully (v. 9). So why does He remain silent in the face of this monstrous injustice? Perhaps Jesus answers it best: “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Anything He says in His own defense could lead to the release Pilate is inclined to grant. But escaping the cross negates His very mission. Therefore, His silence secures His death, for which He came into the world. “He was willingly led to death because He knew it would benefit those who would believe” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1108).

The Servant is compared to a lamb, a frequent symbol of the Savior in Scripture. A lamb dies at Passover for the sins of the household (Ex. 12:1-13). The Servant dies for His people, the nation of Israel (v. 8). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Nearly 30 times in Revelation alone, Jesus is called the Lamb.

A victim of execution on a cross knows his corpse most likely will be left unburied. Yet the Romans release Jesus’ body to Joseph and Nicodemus, who bury Him nearby. There are two key facts to note here. First, the Romans never would have given Joseph Jesus’ body if the Servant were not dead (Mark 15:42-47; John 19:38-42). Second, Joseph, a wealthy man, never would have chosen an execution site for his own burial, especially when he lived so far away. What’s the explanation? The Lord planned it this way and gave us a unique prophecy through Isaiah that is fulfilled magnificently in Christ.

Joyful in Submission (Isa. 53:10-12)

The last three verses of this chapter reveal the cross from God’s perspective. Even though wicked men crucify Jesus, God planned His death long ago for the redemption of mankind (Acts 2:22-23; Rev. 13:8). There is a secret to the Servant’s death that Isaiah reveals: It pleases the Lord. “[T]he Lord was pleased to crush Him,” reads verse 10, and we later learn the Messiah is pleased to be crushed. He comes to do the Father’s will, not His own (John 6:38; Heb. 10:7, 9), and “for the joy that lay before Him” endures the cross (Heb. 12:2). In addition, the Lord makes the Servant sick, meaning He not only bears our sins but partakes in sin’s consequences. This seems unreasonable to the unbeliever, but it is an essential truth that spurs deep gratitude in the hearts of those who trust in Christ.

But even better news than the Servant’s death is that the Lord “will prolong His days” (v. 10), meaning He will be raised from the dead and live forever. Jesus’ words in John 11:25 prove the value of this truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.” Jesus is obedient to the point of death, and in His obedience defeats Satan and his works, claims the spoils and is highly exalted by the Father (Eph. 1:19-23; Phil. 2:8-10). His obedience also results in a spiritual family: “He will see His seed … My righteous servant will justify many … I will give Him the many as a portion” (vv. 10-12).

There also is satisfaction in these verses. The Servant’s obedience satisfies the heart of the Father. But even more, His sacrificial death satisfies the law of God. Warren Wiersbe explains: “The theological term for this is ‘propitiation’ (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). In pagan religions, the word meant ‘to offer a sacrifice to placate an angry god’; but the Christian meaning is much richer. God is angry at sin because it offends His holiness and violates His holy Law. In His holiness, He must judge sinners; but in His love, He desires to forgive them. God cannot ignore sin or compromise with it, for that would be contrary to His own nature and Law. How did God solve the problem? The Judge took the place of the criminals and met the just demands of His own holy Law! ‘He was numbered with the transgressors’ and even prayed for them (Isa. 53:12; Luke 22:37; 23:33–34). The Law has been satisfied, and God can now graciously forgive all who will receive His Son” (S. Is 53:10).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes: “When men brought bulls and goats as sacrifices for sin they made them offerings, for they had an interest in them, God having put them under the feet of man. But Christ made himself an offering; it was his own act and deed. We could not put him in our stead, but he put himself, and said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 53:10).

The Great Impostor

This article first appeared in Baptist Press.

He was known as “The Great Impostor” and inspired a 1961 film by the same name.

Ferdinand Waldo Demara impersonated everyone from physicians to monks and thus achieved notoriety. He began his nefarious career during World War II by borrowing his Army buddy’s name, going AWOL and faking his suicide. A string of pseudo careers followed. He was, among other things, a sheriff’s deputy, a doctor of applied psychology, a lawyer and a child-care expert.

He was best known for masquerading as a surgeon aboard a Canadian Navy destroyer during the Korean War, successfully completing a string of operations. His final gig: serving as a Baptist minister.

Demara’s life is a fascinating but sad story of one man’s quest for respectability. His success as an impostor also exposes the soft underbelly of a society whose people are easily duped by one who talks smoothly and claims to serve the greater good.

For Christians, Demara’s story is a warning to be on guard against those who disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15). But how can we know a religious impostor when we see one? The apostle Paul gives us three clear markers in 2 Cor. 11:4. False teachers proclaim “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel.”

To illustrate, let’s look briefly at three of the largest and most successful religious systems in the world today: Islam, Mormonism, and the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) – all of which are growing worldwide and teach unbiblical doctrines concerning Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the gospel.

Islam

Jesus. Muslims say Jesus was one of God’s greatest prophets but inferior to Muhammad, who brought Allah’s final revelation to man (the Koran). The Koran denies that Jesus is the Son of God, and any Muslim who believes in the deity of Jesus has committed the unpardonable sin called shirk – a sin that will send that person to hell. Muslims believe Jesus is the Messiah, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and is coming back one day – but only to establish Islam throughout the earth. They do not believe He died on the cross but was called to heaven by Allah before His death and was perhaps replaced by Judas Iscariot or someone else who looked like Jesus.

Holy Spirit. Islam denies the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit, whom the Koran describes as “the angel which brought revelation,” according to Mualana Muhammad Ali in The Holy Koran with English Translation and Commentary. The Koran also calls the Holy Spirit “Gabriel” (2:97) and the “Faithful Spirit” (26:193).

The gospel. Islam teaches that Christ was neither crucified for our sins nor resurrected; therefore salvation cannot possibly be attained through faith in Christ. In fact, sin is not man’s problem. Man is sinful by act only, not by nature. Original sin is viewed as a “lapse” by Adam. People are not really fallen in their nature; they are merely weak and forgetful. Sin is thought of in terms of rejecting right guidance. It can be forgiven through repentance. No atonement is necessary. Salvation in Islam is a combination of works and fate. Muslims pursue the five Pillars of Religion and hope Allah is kindly disposed toward them.

Mormonism

Jesus. Jesus preexisted in heaven as a spirit child of Heavenly Father (Ehohim) and one of his goddess wives (as did Lucifer and all pre-existent human beings). He then took on a human body through sexual relations between Heavenly Father and Mary. Jesus is one of three gods in the Mormon godhead, although Mormonism recognizes the Trinity only as one in “purpose,” arguing instead for a multitude of gods.

Holy Spirit. Mormon.org says the Holy Spirit “witnesses, or testifies of the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and reveals and teaches truth.” Sounds orthodox, but historically Mormon leaders have offered more disturbing views of the Holy Spirit. For example, founder Joseph Smith taught that:

  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit “constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”
  • “The Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Saviour did or as the gods before them took bodies.”

The gospel. Jesus’ atonement secured “salvation” (meaning resurrection) for nearly all people, but “men will be punished for their own sins” (Article of Faith #2 by Joseph Smith). People may earn “eternal life” (godhood) by “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel,” meaning works (Article of Faith #3 by Joseph Smith).

Godhood is the goal of Mormonism. According to fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

The Watchtower

Jesus. According to Watchtower teachings, Jesus was the first and direct creation of Jehovah God. Jesus then created all “other” things (Col. 1:16 New World Translation). Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity, speaking of Jesus as “a god” or “mighty god” but not divine. They deny His incarnation, death on the cross (he died on a “torture stake”) and physical resurrection. Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and is working today to overthrow Satan’s kingdom.

Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that “holy spirit” (always lower case) is the invisible active force of God that moves His servants to do His will. They deny the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming such beliefs to be inspired by Satan.

The gospel. Salvation in the Watchtower is a combination of faith and works, but there is no eternal security and virtually no hope of today’s Witnesses ever entering heaven, which is reserved for the 144,000 in the “anointed class.” The “other sheep” may, through faithfulness to Watchtower teachings and hard work, be brought back to life after an indefinite period of soul sleep and populate Paradise Earth. Jesus’ death is seen as a ransom paid to Jehovah that removed the effects of Adam’s sin on his offspring and laid the foundation of the New World of righteousness.

In each of his roles, Ferdinand Waldo Demara, “The Great Impostor,” was confronted with the truth – in some cases by the persons whose identity he had stolen – and exposed as a fraud. For Christians who encounter an array of false teachings today, our best defense is the truth of God’s Word.

The writer of Hebrews put it best: “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him  to whom we must give an account” (4:12-13).

Isaiah 5: Worthless Grapes

Listen to the audio file

Download worksheet for more in-depth study (pdf)

Download chart: Kings of Judah and Key Events During Isaiah’s Ministry (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Most of chapters 2-12 likely was written during the reign of King Uzziah.

Key verse:

Isa. 5:5:  Now I will tell you what I am about to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will tear down its wall, and it will be trampled.

Quick summary:

Isaiah uses a parable to foretell judgment on Judah, and then pronounces six woes on the people as he catalogues their sins.

Take note:

The parable of the vineyard in verses 1-7 is similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44. At the same time, the woes pronounced on the wicked in verses 8-30 have a familiar ring. Jesus’ woes on the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 23 are aimed at their arrogance, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. There appears to be a good reason Jesus quotes Isaiah so often: Just as the prophet foretells pending judgment on Judah for its sins, the Messiah foretells judgment on Israel for its vapid spiritual life. 

Parable of the vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7)

This parable foretelling judgment on Judah is eerily similar to the parable of the vineyard owner Jesus tells in Matt. 21:33-44, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel that occurs in 70 A.D. with the most notable consequence being the temporary setting aside of God’s spiritual blessings on Israel in favor of the church. In Isaiah, the pending judgment is national and focused mainly on the leaders’ social injustice. In Matthew, the pending judgment also is national but centers on the leaders’ spiritual coldness – particularly their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

D.A. Carson summarizes the parable in Isaiah 5: “The parable brings home, as nothing else could, the sheer unreason and indefensibility of sin – we find ourselves searching for some cause of the vine’s failure and there is none. Only humans could be as capricious as that” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Section Isaiah 5:1).

There is no mistaking the meaning of this parable. The vineyard is “the house of Israel” and the fruitless vine “the men of Judah” (v. 7). Like a wise, experienced, and caring husbandman, God has done everything necessary to make Judah a shining testimony of His greatness. He plans the vineyard, setting it on “a very fertile hill” (v. 1); prepares the soil, breaking it up and clearing it of stones (v. 2); plants it “with the finest vines” (v. 2); operates and watches over it, building a tower in the middle of the vineyard (v. 2); anticipates its fruitfulness, hewing out a winepress (v. 2); and expects it to “yield good grapes” (v. 2). So when the vineyard “yielded worthless grapes” (v. 2), God could legitimately ask, “What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?” (v. 4).

God has blessed Israel and given her advantages no other nation on earth has ever experienced. Centuries later, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and before God revisits judgment on Israel through the destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora, the apostle Paul reminds his Jewish readers of their special place in God’s heart (Rom. 9:4-5). Nevertheless, Isaiah warns his fellow countrymen what God is about to do. He will remove His hedge of protection so it will be consumed (v. 5); tear down its wall so wild beasts and human plunderers will trample it (v. 5); abandon its care so that “thorns and briers will grow up” (v. 6); and even withhold rain so that it becomes a “wasteland” (v. 6).  In practical terms, God is going to give up his special care of Israel so invaders will destroy it. He will even withhold the “rain,” likely a reference to the heaven-sent teachings of the prophets.

There is an interesting play on words in verse 7. Good looks for “justice” (mishpat) but finds “oppression / injustice” (mispach); He looks for “righteousness” (tzedakah) but hears “cries” (tzedkah) of wretchedness (The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge). 

Woes for the wicked (Isa. 5:8-30)

Isaiah notes six distinct types of sin resulting in woes from the Lord. As D.A. Carson summarizes in the New Bible Commentary, “The attack has all the bite of personal portraiture. Here are the great, for all to see; they emerge as extortioners (8-10), playboys (11-12; cf. 22-23) and scoffers, whose only predictable values are cash ones (18-23)” (Section Isaiah 5:1). Specifically, the sins are:

  • Disregarding Jubilee. “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room, So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!” (v. 8). The jubilee restoration of land every 50 years is designed to protect against greed, but the inhabitants of Judah are selfishly hoarding property (see Lev. 25:13; Micah 2:2). As a result, God will cause many houses to become desolate and the land to yield its fruit grudgingly (vv. 9-10).
  • Drunkenness. “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink …” (vv. 11-12). God’s people are indulging in strong drink and revelry without regard for the Creator and Provider of their food and drink. Their parties begin early, when it is especially shameful to drink (see Acts 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:7) and continue into the night. In verse 12, Isaiah refers to the tambourine among other musical instruments that are part of the reveling. The Hebrew word is tophet, and the tambourine are used to drown out the cries of children sacrificed to Moloch. Therefore, God will punish His people for their reckless living by sending them into exile, where they will suffer hunger and thirst – a stark contrast to the gluttonous food and drink found at their banquet tables (v. 13). Sheol, the abode of the dead, has “enlarged its throat” to accommodate the number of Jews who will die in exile (v. 14). In addition, the splendor of Jerusalem will be taken away, the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased (v. 15). But “the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment” (v. 16).
  • Obstinate perseverance in sin. “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes” (v. 18). The rabbis used to say, “An evil inclination is at first like a fine hair-string, but the finishing like a cart-rope.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “The antithesis is between the slender cords of sophistry, like the spider’s web (Is 59:5; Job 8:14), with which one sin draws on another, until they at last bind themselves with great guilt as with a cart-rope. They strain every nerve in sin” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Isa. 5:18). While buried up to their necks in sin, the Jewish people seem to be questioning whether God is really in control of the nation, and they challenge them to show Himself by delivering them despite their obstinacy (v. 19).
  • Perverted values. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness …” (v. 20). Matthew Henry writes that such people “not only live in the omission of that which is good, but condemn it, argue against it, and, because they will not practise it themselves, run it down in others, and fasten invidious epithets upon it-not only do that which is evil, but justify it, and applaud it, and recommend it to others as safe and good” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 5:18).
  • Arrogance. “Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight” (v. 21). Many in Judah think they know better than the prophet and therefore disregard the Word of God through Isaiah. The New Bible Commentary calls them “calmly omniscient.”
  • Alcoholic excess and perversion of justice. “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine … who deprive the innocent of justice” (vv. 22-23). They know the value of money, but little more. The judges in particular bankroll their self-indulgence with bribes that favor the rich and deny justice to the innocent. They mix their drinks, not with water, but with spices for intoxication (Prov. 9:2, 5; Song of Sol. 8:2).

As a result of these sins, the people of Judah would be burned like dry grass, and their beauty vanquished like a flower turned to dust. When God’s judgment comes, He will use Egypt and Assyria, and later Babylon, as His rod of punishment. These ferocious powers descend on Judah as if God has raised a banner and called people from “the ends of the earth” to war (v. 26). While these violent conquerors are to be feared like a growling lioness or the roaring sea, they are under the sovereign hand of God and do as He pleases. This chapter ends darkly, with nothing but pending judgment, like storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “These woes assure the reader that God will judge sin severely. The lament conveys the truth that God is terribly saddened when his people reject him or his revealed instructions. Nevertheless, in the end he will hold all people accountable for their actions, especially his own privileged people” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 182).

 

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 4: Zion’s Future Glory

Listen to the audio file

Download chart: Kings of Judah and Key Events During Isaiah’s Ministry (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapters 2-12 likely were written during the reign of King Uzziah.

Key verse:

Isa. 4:2: On that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel’s survivors.

Quick summary:

Israel’s present pride and God’s pending judgment will not defeat the Lord’s ultimate plan to establish His future kingdom on earth.

Take note:

The name Zion is used three times in consecutive verses:

  • “Whoever remains in Zion … will be called holy” (v. 3).
  • “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (v. 4)
  • “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion” (v. 5).

The word Zion is a Hebrew word whose precise meaning may not be known. It may mean citadel or fortress, but generally it refers to aspects of Jerusalem. The terms Zion, Jerusalem, and City of David often are used synonymously in the Old Testament. The Temple Mount is referred to as Zion as well. Zion is called “His holy mountain” (Ps. 48:1). Zion is used as a metaphor for security and protection (Ps. 125). The New Testament continues this imagery, using the term “heavenly Jerusalem” or Zion in reference to the church (Heb. 12:22), the gospel message (1 Peter 2:6), and the place of God’s dwelling (Rev. 14:1).

The branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2)

Isaiah closes out this lengthy message (Isa. 2:1 – 4:6) by returning to the same positive themes with which he opened it (Isa. 2:1-5). Both the beginning and the end of Isaiah’s prophecy describe what will happen in the last days when God gathers His special people to Zion. Unlike the beginning, however, which focuses on the coming of the Gentile nations to learn from God, these closing words describe God’s work of purifying His holy remnant in Jerusalem.

Commentators differ in opinion as to whether the term “branch” is a reference to the “fruit of the land” or to the Messiah. The Aramaic Targum, which translates or paraphrases Old Testament passages into Aramaic, translates this verse as “Messiah of the Lord,” indicating that early Jewish interpreters thought this was a messianic passage. In addition, Isaiah later uses a different Hebrew word but says of the Messiah, “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isa. 11:1, 10). Jeremiah refers to the “righteous branch of David” (Jer. 23:5; see also 33:15), and Zechariah uses the term “Branch” with connections to the Messiah (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

Gary V. Smith suggests that Isaiah’s reference to “branch” in 4:2 refers to two parallel acts of God that will transform Zion: “God will (a) cause his messianic Branch to spring forth, and also (b) bring marvelous fertility to the produce of the field. This interpretation shows how God will reverse the situation in 2:6 – 4:1. He will (a) replace the proud leaders of his people and give them a new leader, the Branch of the Lord, and (b) replace the ruin, devastation, and shame of the destroyed land with lush crops that will have great fertility” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 156).

Isaiah’s frequent use of the term “on that day” (or “in that day”) in chapters 2-4 illustrates that God’s work of punishing His people for their sins and establishing His kingdom for His glory are complementary acts of carrying out His covenant promise to Israel. Purification involves intense heat and pressure to burn off the dross and perfect the precious metal. In the end the purged metal radiates with beauty and testifies to the skillful hand of the refiner. Verses 2-6 stand in stark contrast to Isa. 2:6 – 4:1.

A cloud by day and a flaming fire by night (Isa. 4:3-6)

God will cleanse those left in Zion of their sin and transform them into a holy people. The word holy (qados) is a reminder of God’s original plan to make Israel His “own possession,” “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). The emphasis here is on what God will do, not on anything His people will do to merit God’s favor. Holiness means being set apart for God alone. The holiness God will give this remnant makes them fit for His kingdom and it stands in stark contrast to the sinfulness of the present generation in Zion (2:6 – 4:1).

In verse 4, Isaiah uses a different metaphor than in 1:25 to describe the purifying work of God. Instead of purification through smelting, God will “wash away” filth and “cleanse” bloodguilt; this is more of a reference to sacrificial work than to refining. The prophet also refers to “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning” as the means by which cleansing is accomplished. This seems to describe God’s purification of Zion by destroying the remaining wicked people of the city. But it also could describe the work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the human heart. Matthew Henry comments: “By the judgment of God’s providence, sinners were destroyed and consumed; but by the Spirit of grace they are reformed and converted. The Spirit herein acts as a Spirit of judgment, enlightening the mind, convincing the conscience; also as a Spirit of burning, quickening and strengthening the affections, and making men zealously affected in a good work” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 4:4).

After Zion is purified, God will “create” something new. The word “create” (bara) is a divine activity of making something new, either by transforming something that already exists or by bringing into existence something new. What is God going to create? A “cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night.” This appears to be a reference to God’s special act of re-creating the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). God’s glorious presence will be the central feature of this new kingdom. The cloud by day and fire by night are drawn from the Exodus tradition, in which God’s presence in the cloud and fire led the Israelites out of Egypt and ultimately resided in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 40:34; Deut. 1:33; 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10-11). This divine presence demonstrates God’s acceptance of His holy people. “The surprising difference is that God’s presence will not be limited to a temple building; it will be like a canopy over the whole of Zion (cf. 60:1-2; 62:2; Ezek. 39:25-29), because all of Zion and its people will be holy” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 158).

Closing thought

It is clear from Isaiah’s writings that God is at the center of all promises regarding the future of Israel and the world. Gary V. Smith comments: “God will wash away sin and make it possible for people to be holy. God is the one who writes people’s names in his book (4:3-4). God will create a new world order over Mt. Zion, and his glorious presence there will bring protection for his people. He will make the messianic Branch beautiful and he will increase the productivity of the earth. God is the one people can trust and he is the one to exalt. The future of this world is completely dependent on God” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 159).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips