Tagged: God’s dealings with Judah

Isaiah 50: A Case against God

Listen: A Case against God (mp3)

Read: A Case against God (pdf)


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 50 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 verse:

Isa. 50:8 – The One who justifies Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!

Quick summary:

This chapter is a contrast between two servants: faithless Israel and the faithful Messiah. Israel has failed God, not because He divorced the nation but because, in effect, the nation divorced Him. By contrast, the faithful Servant humbly learns from Yahweh and even endures persecution in carrying out His will. Ultimately, Israel must choose: The people can walk in God’s light or in the light of their own campfires, which already are only temporary comforts.

Take note:

The suffering of the Servant in verse 6 is a stunningly accurate portrait of Jesus’ physical torment at the hands of His Roman executioners. In obedience to the Father and for the sake of lost humanity, Jesus willingly endures flogging, scorn and spitting. Compare the elements of this verse with the New Testament fulfillments:

  • “I gave my back to those who beat Me …” (Matt. 27:26; Luke 22:63; John 19:1)
  • “My cheeks to those who tore out My beard” (while there is no specific reference to this in the Gospels, it is likely the Roman guards carried this out as a way to produce pain and humiliation; to pluck the hair is the highest insult against an Oriental)
  • “I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting” (Matt. 26:67; Mark 14:65, 15:19; John 19:3)
  • Yet the Servant does not strike back, knowing “the Lord God will help Me” (v. 7; see 1 Peter 2:22-23).

The Correction of Israel (Isa. 50:1-3)

Judah’s captivity in Babylon is a direct result of the people’s sins, and the Lord illustrates this truth in two ways. First, He compares the nation to a divorced woman. According to Mosaic Law, the husband could give his wife a divorce certificate detailing her faults and she would have to leave the home (Deut. 24:1). Judah has so transgressed its covenant relationship with Yahweh that He is compelled to send her away. Second, the Lord compares the Jews to children being sold into indentured servitude because of a great debt (see Ex. 21:7; 2 Kings 4:1; Neh. 5:5).

Yet there is another way of looking at these verses. Since Yahweh is posing two questions – “Where is your mother’s divorce certificate?” and “[W]ho were My creditors that I sold you to?” – it’s possible that He is assuring the people that He has not completely written them off or abandoned them because of their sins. In fact, this perspective is more in line with the whole of Isaiah. While the people have indulged in grievous sins and the nation has turned a cold shoulder to Yahweh, the Lord must discipline them as an act of love but will fulfill His promises to them. The Babylonian captivity is but for a time; it will not last forever.

In verse 2, the Lord reminds the people that their rejection of Him is unreasonable. He has sent the prophets and performed miracles among them, yet like an unfaithful wife the nation has preferred idolatry and social injustice. If only the people would call to Him in repentance. “Is My hand too short to redeem?” He asks, using Oriental imagery of weakness. “Or do I have no power to deliver?” Of course He does. He dries up the sea by his rebuke, a reference to His work in the exodus (Ex. 14:21). He turns rivers into wilderness, perhaps an indication of the coming disaster for Israel’s wealthy and powerful enemies. He causes the enemies’ fish to rot, a reminder of His judgment on the Egyptians (Ex. 7:18, 21). And He dresses the heavens in black, another of Yahweh’s judgments on the Egyptians (Ex. 10:21). In short, the people are responsible for their sins and deserve divine discipline, yet their gracious and all-powerful God will remain faithful to His promise never to forsake them.

The Obedient Servant (Isa. 50:4-9)

The Lord teaches the Servant to comfort the weary, and the Servant obediently carries out His will. From a New Testament perspective, we can see that Jesus, the Suffering Servant, comes to do the Father’s will (see, for example, Matt. 26:39, 42) and in His humanity learns obedience (Heb. 5:8). Jesus provides comfort through His teaching, miracles and physical presence among the outcast. He willingly endures hardship, including rejection, false trials, mocking, scourging, slapping and crucifixion. Undeserving of any of this, He walks through His ministry with His face set toward Jerusalem and a destiny with death. Ultimately, He knows He will be vindicated (through His resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand) and sit in judgment over those who have rejected Him.

Four times in this passage the Servant uses the name “Lord God.” Coming from the Hebrew Yahweh Adonai, this name may be translated “Sovereign Lord.” According to Robert B. Girdlestone, the name means that “God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that he consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all” (Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 34). So the emphasis in this passage is the Servant’s willing submission to the Lord in every aspect of His life and ministry.

Warren Wiersbe notes that the Servant’s mind and will are yielded to the Lord. His mind is submitted so that He may learn the Word and will of the Father. Everything Jesus says and does is taught to Him by the Father (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28). He prays to the Father for guidance and meditates on His Word (Mark 1:35; John 11:42). At the same time, His will is submitted so that those who see Him see the Father (John 14:9). The people of Judah in Isaiah’s day are neither willing nor obedient, but the Servant models perfect yieldedness to the Lord God even though His obedience results in severe persecution and even death (Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30-31).

Finally, it’s vital to remember that the Servant, though divine, operates on faith while ministering on earth. “Keep in mind that when Jesus Christ was ministering here on earth, He had to live by faith even as we must today. He did not use His divine powers selfishly for Himself but trusted God and depended on the power of the Spirit” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 50:4).

The Challenge to Israel (Isa. 50:10-11)

This chapter closes with an exhortation from the Servant to follow His example: “Who among you fears the Lord, listening to the voice of His servant?” Jesus lays down a similar challenge when He says, “Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Me” (John 5:23b; see also Luke 10:16b). The Servant reminds his listeners that even the godly sometimes face dark moments and must trust in the Lord. Consider Jesus who, while bearing our sin debt on the cross, cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46b). “[T]he servant of God is never wholly without ‘light.’ A godly man’s way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and light. A wicked man’s way may be bright, but his end shall be utter darkness (Ps 112:4; 97:11; 37:24)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. Is 50:10).

In contrast to the godly, the wicked face the darkness, not by trusting in God, but by trusting in themselves. They kindle fires and set ablaze firebrands (pieces of burning wood), walking in their manmade light that all too quickly becomes extinguished. Those who reject God’s light, preferring their own schemes, will “lie down in a place of torment” (v. 11). King Solomon once wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it is the way of death” (Prov. 16:7), and one day Jesus will tell even those who claim the name of Jesus but seek salvation their own way, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt. 7:23).

The stark yet simple truth is that salvation is found only in the Lord and His Servant. Jesus proclaims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter echoes this truth with these words, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). For those who reject the truth – and the Author of truth – there is a place of everlasting separation from God (Luke 16:23, 28; Rev. 20:13-15; 21:8).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with a fatal disappointment, which will be bitterness in the end. A godly man’s way may be melancholy, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man’s way may be pleasant, but his end and endless abode will be utter darkness” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume,  S. Is 50:10).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 18: Left for the Birds of Prey

Listen to an audio file (2.22.09)

Download two worksheets for further study: Worksheet No. 1; Worksheet No. 2


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:

The oracle in Chapter 18 likely occurs during the reign of Judah’s king Ahaz, or perhaps during the reign of his son Hezekiah. In any case, the oracle is given prior to Assyria’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 18:7 – At that time a gift will be brought to the Lord of Hosts from a people tall and smooth-skinned, a people feared near and far, a powerful nation with a strange language, whose land is divided by rivers-to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Quick summary:

The land of Cush is told not to move frantically by boat or other means to secure alliances against Assyria, for the Lord will deal directly with the Assyrians and leave their corpses to the birds of prey.

Take note:

Cush, or Ethiopia in many translations, consists of modern-day southern Egypt, the Sudan and northern Ethiopia. Isaiah calls it the “land of buzzing insect wings” (v. 1), not only because of the locusts and other insects that infest the land (like the tsetse fly and winged beetle), but because of the frantic diplomatic activity taking place as envoys from Cush seek alliances to protect them from Assyria. Cush rules Egypt from 715 – 663 B.C.

The Lord’s Message to Cush (Isa. 18:1-7)

In verse 2, Isaiah depicts the ambassadors of Cush making haste in their light, swift boats to seek alliances against Assyria. “Papyrus was used on the Nile for making boats,” according to Manners and Customs of the Bible. “Sometimes bundles of the plant were rudely bound together in the form of a raft. At other times the leaves were plaited like a basket and then coated with bitumen and tar after the boat was constructed. Similar boats were used on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The boats were circular in shape, and sometimes covered with leather instead of bitumen” (James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, S. 352).

Some commentators believe that at the time of this prophecy, envoys from Cush are in Jerusalem, seeking an alliance for mutual protection from Assyria. If so, Isaiah tells the diplomats to go home, and He invites the whole world to witness what God is about to do. No alliances among nations are sufficient to defeat the terrifying Assyrians, and none are needed, for the Lord is about to cut them down like ripened vines (v. 5).

The birds and wild beasts will feast on the corpses of the Assyrian soldiers for an extended period of time (v. 6). Keep in mind that the Assyrians first are used of God to punish the northern kingdom of Israel by taking the people captive. But once that is accomplished (in 722 B.C.), God turns His chastening rod against the proud Assyrians. On the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and about to sweep victoriously into the southern kingdom’s capital city, 185,000 Assyrians are struck down by God in a single night (Isa. 37:36). No army, and no alliance of nations, may take credit for this stunning turn of events; it is exclusively the work of the Lord of Hosts. See Rev. 19:17-21, where a similar image is used of end-time judgment.

After the Assyrian defeat, the Lord will prompt the people of Cush to bring gifts to the Lord on Mount Zion, where His name dwells (see Deut. 12:5). Whether this is immediately after the Assyrian defeat, or simply a preview of what will occur during the millennium, is not clear (see Zech. 14:16), but certainly the nations will stream to Mount Zion after Messiah establishes His kingdom on earth (Isa. 2:1-4).

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith writes in The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39 that this chapter features two theological principles that apply to every nation: “First, people should not allow their attention to be sidetracked to focus on human accomplishments, religious ritual, or man-made theological idols, for that will bring God’s judgment. Second, people should pay attention to God their Creator, remember that he is holy, is able to save them, and can protect them in times of trouble. No one today should repeat the mistakes of Israel and Judah, unless they want to suffer the same fate” (p. 352).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips