Tagged: Hezekiah

Isaiah 27: Jacob’s Iniquity Will be Purged

Isaiah 27: Listen to an audio file

Isaiah 27: Download a worksheet for further study

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 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which this prophecy is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 27:9 – Therefore Jacob’s iniquity will be purged in this way, and the result of the removal of his sin will be this: when he makes all the altar stones like crushed bits of chalk, no Asherah poles or incense altars will remain standing.

Quick summary:

Isaiah looks ahead to the destiny of God’s ancient people. The Lord again will tend to His vineyard (see Isa. 5:1-5; 27:2-4), purge the people’s sins and return them to their land. Isaiah’s use of the ancestral name “Jacob” is a reference to all Jewish people.

Take note:

Isaiah refers to “leviathan” in verse 1 and calls him the “fleeing serpent … the twisting serpent … the monster that is in the sea.” The name means “twisting one” and is a mythological sea serpent or dragon associated with the chaos at creation. Sometimes the name is used of an animal such as the crocodile. “Leviathan” is referenced in other Old Testament passages – Job 3:8, 41:1; Ps. 74:14, 104:26 – and the context must help determine its meaning.

But why would Isaiah tell us God will “bring judgment” on this creature if he is only a mythological figure or an animal? In Ezek. 29:3, 32:2, Rev. 12:3 and elsewhere, wicked human leaders hostile to Israel are similarly described; “antitypically and ultimately Satan is intended (Rev 20:10)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 27:1). If these earthly leaders personify Satan and his evil intent toward mankind in general and Israel in particular, then both the human leaders and Satan ultimately will experience the wrath of God.

John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck provide deeper insight into Isaiah’s use of this word:

In Ugaritic literature (of Ugarit, a city-state in North Syria) reference is made to a similar seven-headed creature. Isaiah, though not believing this ancient Semitic myth, simply referred to Leviathan to convey his point (cf. Job 3:8). Leviathan, the twisting monster of the sea, was viewed in Ugaritic literature as an enemy of order in Creation. But the Lord can stop this chaotic state and establish order on the earth and in people’s hearts. When God’s judgment comes in that day, when He slays the wicked at the end of the Tribulation, it will be like His slaying the chaotic dragon Leviathan. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1075).

The Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 27:2-6)

Isaiah employs the phrase “on that day” four times in this chapter to highlight the Lord’s future dealings with Israel and her enemies. Yahweh will “bring judgment on Leviathan” (v. 1; cf. Rev. 20:1-3, 10); cause Israel to “blossom and bloom” (v. 6); gather His people (v. 12); and enable them to worship Him in Jerusalem (v. 13).

The vineyard in verses 2-6 symbolizes Israel, and there is an interesting contrast between the songs of the vineyard in Isa. 5:1-7 and Isa. 27:2-6. In the first song, Isaiah laments the destruction of the vineyard for its unfruitfulness. The second song, however, rejoices over the prospect of God’s protection and the vineyard’s ultimate abundance. Isaiah makes the point that the covenant-keeping Lord will do whatever is necessary to make Israel the nation through which He will bless the world (see Gen. 12:3). If the nation produces “thorns and briers” He will “burn it to the ground” (v. 4); surely His judgments against the northern kingdom at the hands of Assyria and the southern kingdom at the hands of Babylon are clear examples of the vineyard owner’s pruning capabilities. On the other hand, if His people “take hold of My strength” and “make peace with Me” (v. 5), He will cause Israel to “fill the whole world with fruit” (v. 6).

Warren Wiersbe offers this insight: “In Isaiah’s day, the vineyard was producing wild grapes; but in the future kingdom, Israel will be fruitful and flourishing…. The Bible speaks of three vines: the people of Israel (Isa. 5; 27), Christ and His church (John 15), and godless Gentile society, “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18). The vineyard of Israel is not bearing fruit, the “vine of the earth” is filling the world with poisonous fruit, and God’s people must be faithful branches in the Vine and produce fruit that glorifies God’s name” (Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).

Looking at this passage from a New Testament perspective, we can see how Jesus the Messiah blessed the whole world through His work on the cross (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), and how, in His second coming, He will judge His enemies and gather before Him redeemed people of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

The Coming Judgment (Isa. 27:7-11)

Because the Lord loves His people He will punish them and purify them so they are fruitful. While judgment is about to fall on Judah, the Lord promises not to deal as harshly with her as he does with her enemies. He will use warfare and exile (Isa. 27:8) – certainly warfare with Assyria, and later warfare with and exile to Babylon. But if the result is that Judah relinquishes her idolatry, her hardship is not in vain. The terms “His severe storm” and “the east wind” (Isa. 27:8) may refer figuratively to Babylon, which lay to the east and would destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. “The Exile would help purify Judah so that she would not worship foreign gods and goddesses” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1076).

Israel would be driven out of her land because of her disobedience to the Law (Deut. 28:15-16, 25, 49-52). Evidence of her repentance would be the pulverizing of altar stones dedicated to false gods, and the removal of Asherah poles, wooden symbols of the Canaanite goddess of fertility. None of these pagan gods would be able to spare God’s people from seeing their nation defeated, their capital city ruined, and their land left desolate. Hungry calves would graze among Jerusalem’s rubble, stripping bark off trees for food. Women would cut off tree branches and use them to build fires. All of these are to be signs that the Lord is judging His people by temporarily withdrawing His compassion (v. 11).

The Regathering of Israel (Isa. 27:12-13)

But God’s anger will not burn forever against His people. He promises “on that day” to regather the Jews in their homeland. He will “thresh grain from the Euphrates River as far as the Wadi of Egypt” (v. 12). This probably means he will bring judgment upon these far-flung regions – Assyria, Babylon and Egypt – and draw His people back to Jerusalem and its surroundings. Verse 13 also may include Gentiles among the “lost” and “dispersed.” Certainly within a few generations of this prophecy, the Jews are released from captivity in Babylon. And in our generation we have witnessed the birth of the modern state of Israel. But the ultimate promise is that when Messiah returns to sit on the throne of David, Israel’s borders will be widened and all believers will dwell in the land God promised Abraham.

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “This prophecy describes how God can make something beautiful and productive (the vineyard in 27:2-6) out of something that was quite hopeless (the vineyard in 5:1-7). The credit goes to God who cares and protects his vineyard, but the choice to produce good or sour grapes was the choice of the vines, the people of Israel. This second song reminds the reader that God has the ability to transform people into beautiful blossoming plants in spits of their former rebellion. He does not give up on rebellious people but loves them and by his grace gathers them to worship together at his temple (27:12-13). His wonderful grace is still available to those who remain in rebellion against him” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 465-66).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 16: An Object of Contempt

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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 16 is a continuation of the prophecy against Moab that begins in chapter 15. It likely takes place during the reign of Hezekiah when the Assyrians are trying to gain control of the countries around Judah; however, some scholars place this earlier, about three years prior to Assyria’s invasion in 732 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 16:14  And now the Lord says, “In three years, as a hired worker counts years, Moab’s splendor will become an object of contempt, in spite of a very large population. And those who are left will be few and weak.”

Quick summary:

Arriving in Edom, the Moabite refugees should turn to God through their neighbor Israel, but in pride they refuse to do so. As a result, the fruitfulness of their land will cease.

Take note:

Isaiah provides a three-year time frame for fulfillment of this prophecy. Whether this is Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B.C. or an earlier invasion is not clear. However, Isaiah’s listeners throughout Judah and Moab are able to see the fulfillment of his prophecy and confirm that he is speaking the word of the Lord. If the short-term prophecies come to pass, Isaiah’s credibility is enhanced as he foretells Judah’s judgment, the virgin birth of the Messiah, and the Messiah’s reign on the throne of David.

The Plea of Moab (Isa. 16:1-5)

The one place the Assyrians cannot conquer is Jerusalem, although they have tried (see Isa. 36-37). But rather than flee to Mt. Zion, the Moabite refugees flee south to the fords of the Arnon River and the rock city of Sela (Petra) in Edom. From there, they send a request for asylum to the king of Judah, along with sheep as a form of tribute (see 2 Kings 3:4).

Isaiah is not impressed with their plea. He calls the Moabites extortionists, spoilers and oppressors, and says the nation is destined to be destroyed. Why so harsh? Because the Moabites want Judah’s protection but not Judah’s God. Verse 5 is messianic, pointing to the day when the Messiah will sit on the throne of David and reign in righteousness and mercy. 

The Pride of Moab (Isa. 16:6-14)

Warren Wiersbe’s comments on these verses are instructive:

We can understand the pride of a city like Babylon (14:12-14), but what did the tiny nation of Moab have to boast about? Their pride kept them from submitting to Judah, and this led to their defeat. Their boasting would turn into wailing and their songs into funeral dirges. Moab would become like a vineyard trampled down and a fruitful field left unharvested. Isaiah 16:9-11 describes the prophet’s grief-and the Lord’s grief-over the destruction of Moab. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11). Isaiah could have rejoiced at the destruction of an old enemy, but instead, he wept (Prov. 24:17-18)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 15:1).

Moab’s pride (v. 6) is perhaps best understood in light of her idolatry (v. 12). Although on the run from the Assyrians and facing certain defeat, the Moabites reject Israel’s God and cling instead to the idol Chemosh on Mt. Nebo. There, Isaiah points out, the Moabites will become fatigued with burdensome and empty rituals, and their prayers will not prevail.

Chemosh is the national god of the Moabites, known as the destroyer, subduer, or fish-god. In Scripture, the Moabites are called the “people of Chemosh” (Num. 21:29; Jer. 48:7, 13, 46). Solomon, under the influence of his idolatrous wives, introduced the Israelites to the worship of Chemosh. He built a high place in the mount before Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7), but Josiah abolished this idolatrous worship (2 Kings 23:13).

The Moabites have always had close ties with Israel (see Gen. 19:30-38; Ruth 4:10, 18-22) but oppose them spiritually and politically (see Num. 25; Judges 3:12-14; 1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:2, 11-12; 2 Kings 3). The Lord makes it clear that her day of reckoning will come within three years. Whether Assyria’s invasion in 732 B.C. or 701 B.C. is in view – it is difficult to set this chapter specifically in either time frame – most people who hear this prophecy live to see it fulfilled and learn that the God of Israel, unlike the idol Chemosh, is true and trustworthy.

Final Thought

The prophecy concerning Moab makes several key theological points, according to Gary V. Smith: “First, God controls what is happening to all the people on earth and he understands why they wail and suffer pain and ruin…. Second, God’s message and his relationship with people is one of identification with the pain of the sufferer (15:5; 16:9)…. Third, God warns people about the future and then confronts them with their errors (particularly pride) for two reasons: (a) so that they will have some comprehension of why they will suffer (16:6), and (b) so that they will have an opportunity to choose a different path” (New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 338).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 13: Babylon’s Time is Almost Up

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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 13 likely takes place at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign.

Key verse:

Isa. 13:13:  Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, on the day of His burning anger.

Quick summary:

The Lord, who uses Babylon as an instrument of judgment against Judah, will punish the Babylonians for their wickedness. The instrument of God’s wrath will become the object of it.

Take note:

Isaiah’s warning about the brutality of the Medes raises questions about God’s justice. If God is using the Medes to punish the Babylonian leaders and their army, why does Isaiah warn that the “children will be smashed [to death] … and their wives raped” (v. 16)? We will address this issue in the notes that follow.

Prophecies about Babylon (Isa. 13:1-5)

Isaiah plunges headlong into a description of battle complete with banners, cries, and hand signals. While the immediate context of chapter 13 concerns Babylon, Isaiah seems to foreshadow the day in which God will judge the whole earth (see vv. 6-16). Verse 3 illustrates God’s sovereignty. The Lord speaks of “My chosen ones” and “My warriors” who will “exult in My triumph” and “execute My wrath.” These soldiers are serving God and His purposes, whether they know it or not. As D.A. Carson points out, the reference to these warriors is non-moral and does not seek to describe believers (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 13:1). The “army” of verse 4 is that of Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus, who conquers Babylon in 539 B.C.

It is clear that the Lord of Hosts is in command. Matthew Henry writes:

He raises them, brings them together, puts them in order, reviews them, has an exact account of them in his muster-roll, sees that they be all in their respective posts, and gives them their necessary orders…. All the hosts of war are under the command of the Lord of hosts; and that which makes them truly formidable is that, when they come against Babylon, the Lord comes, and brings them with him as the weapons of his indignation, v. 5. Note, Great princes and armies are but tools in God’s hand, weapons that he is pleased to make use of in doing his work, and it is his wrath that arms them and gives them success (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 13:1).

Judgment on the Day of the Lord (Isa. 13:6-16)

In these 11 verses, Isaiah uses the term “the day of the Lord” twice and the phrase “the day of His burning anger” once. Surely, God will use the Medes to destroy the Babylonians. Yet there is a longer view in mind here – perhaps, as some commentators suggest, a foreshadowing of the tribulation that precedes Christ’s return. “Sometimes when a historical day of the Lord was being described, the writer included some references to future end-time judgment and blessing,” according to Robert B. Hughes and Carl J. Laney. “The events described in 13:10-13 go beyond the historical judgment on Babylon in 539 b.c. and suggest the end-time judgments of the Tribulation” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, S. 262).

But why make Babylon the focus of current and future judgment? Perhaps because Babylon has long been a rallying point of activity against God, beginning with the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Throughout the centuries, as various dynasties ruled that part of the world, it was viewed as a center of animosity toward God. Even in the tribulation, this will be so, although some consider the apostle John’s references to Babylon to be figurative rather than literal (see Rev. 17-18).

But now we come to a most thorny issue: If what is about to happen to Babylon is from the Lord, and if what is to come about at the time of Christ’s return is from the Lord, then how can a loving God act in a way that results in human horror, pain and agony (v. 8)? How can the Day of the Lord be described as “cruel, with rage and burning anger” (v. 9)? How can the children of the wicked be “smashed [to death]” and “their wives raped” (v. 16)?

There are several observations to be made:

  • Man is sinful. His heart is “more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23).
  • Sin has consequences. All human suffering may be traced to the Fall, including suffering as a result of natural disasters (Rom. 8:22). Even more, the “wages of sin is death,” wrote the apostle Paul (Rom. 6:23). Our rebellion against God leads to spiritual and physical death. In the case of Babylon, the wickedness of its rulers would lead to terrible acts of brutality against her women and children at the hands of the Medes and Persians.
  • God judges sin. Because He is holy, God does not even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13).
  • God’s judgment may be directed against individuals, families, nations and even the whole world.
  • God’s judgment takes on many forms. He may act directly, through angels, through human agents, through armies of wicked men, or even through nature itself. In Isaiah 13, God is going to use the Medes and Persians to judge the Babylonians for their arrogance and wicked acts against His people.
  • God gives ample time for repentance before He wields judgment. The Amorites had more than 400 years to repent before God destroyed them (Gen. 15:16).
  • God takes no pleasure in the death of evil people (Ez. 33:11).
  • God judged our sin in His own Son so that we can be forgiven by God’s grace (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Those who reject God’s goodness and persist in evil bring judgment upon themselves.
  • The acts of brutality about to be visited upon the Babylonians are the full responsibility of the Medes and Persians, but God will use their sinfulness to bring judgment on the Babylonians.
  • God judges from an eternal perspective. All people will stand before Christ in final judgment one day (John 5:28-29). He will reward and punish based on His holiness and knowledge of all things, including the thoughts and intents of the heart. We have every reason to believe that the truly innocent – babies, for example – will be compensated in eternity for what was taken from them in time.

Gary V. Smith writes that the horrors about to befall Babylon – and later, the world – are best understood as “the immoral pit that sin will eventually lead this violent world to wallow in.” He adds: “The picture is more horrible than what anyone can imagine or describe. The earth will be in disarray as the dependable forces of nature will disintegrate and people will turn to a savage form of debased animal existence. Government, respect, civility, kindness, and hope will totally disappear. The vile evil of sin and its horrible consequences will be in full view, but God will finally eradicate it all from the face of the earth” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 302).

Babylon Will Fall to the Medes (Isa. 13:17-22)

Isaiah now takes the principle that God will destroy proud sinners on “the day of the Lord” and applies it to the kingdom of Babylon in the near term. The reference to the Medes as God’s instrument of judgment is parallel to God’s use of Assyria to punish the northern kingdom (Isa. 10:5) and His sending Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Judah (Jer. 25:1, 9). In each case, God directs the course of history through His use of powerful armies.

The Medes are described as determined soldiers who cannot be bribed with gold or silver (v. 17). They will ferociously destroy their enemies with “no compassion on little ones” or “pity on children” (v. 18). Isaiah likens the destruction of Babylon to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were not rebuilt. Since prophets like Isaiah usually do not know the date of the fulfillment of their prophecies, it’s impossible to know with certainly whether God is speaking through him about Assyria’s defeat of Babylon in 689 B.C. or Babylon’s defeat at the hands of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, in 539 B.C. It is true that following Assyria’s attack in 689 B.C., King Sennacherib tore down Babylon’s walls, flooded the area, depopulated the city, and turned the city into a meadow.

Closing Thought

J. Vernon McGee comments: “The future Babylon will become a great center on earth. The man of sin, the willful king, called the Antichrist, will reign in that place. It will be destroyed just as the ancient Babylon was destroyed. Babylon is a memorial to the fact of the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy and a testimony to the fact that God will also judge the future Babylon” (Isaiah: Vol. 1, p. 122).

 Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 1: Judah on Trial

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Prologue

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.

Key verse:

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).

Quick summary:

“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).

Take note:

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).

Closing thought

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

An Introduction to Isaiah

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His name

Isaiah means “salvation of the Lord.”

His ministry

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.

His themes

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).

His impact

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.

Ahaz

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

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