Tagged: Lord

Isaiah 34: There will be Blood

Isaiah 34: Listen to the audio

Isaiah 34: Download notes and 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:

There is not sufficient information to know precisely when Isaiah delivers the prophetic messages of chapters 34-35. It is clear, however, that these prophecies anticipate the Day of the Lord, when He will judge the nations and deliver His people. Some commentators believe chapters 34-35 serve as an “eschatological conclusion” (an end-times wrap up) to the woe oracles of Isa. 28-33, which could place this message in the reign of Hezekiah.

Key verses:

Isa. 34:2 – The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies. He will set them apart for destruction, giving them over to slaughter.

Quick summary:

Isaiah describes the judgments of the Day of the Lord in detail, including miraculous wonders in the heavens. In all likelihood, Edom is symbolic of the world powers that have opposed Israel and now must face the Jewish people’s “Judge … lawgiver … and King” (Isa. 33:22). “In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated the Jews and exploited their land (Joel 3:1–17). ‘Zion’s cause’ may not get much support among the nations today, but God will come to their defense and make their cause succeed” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).

Take note:

Anyone who contends that Jesus is the consummate peace-love-and-joy hippie who taught “live and let live” and never spoke a harsh word or raised a hand in anger would do well to note how Isaiah, Jesus Himself and the New Testament writers depict the Messiah in both His first and second comings. Isaiah, for example, describes the Lord as “angry,” “furious,” setting the armies of the nations apart for “destruction” and “giving them over to slaughter.” The “stench of their corpses will rise,” the prophet reveals, and the mountains will “flow with their blood” (Isa. 34:2-3). Jesus often expresses anger, especially toward the religious leaders of His day, and twice he violently drives the money changers from the Temple. A reading of His “woes” against the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” in Matthew 23 reveals stinging rebukes against the religious elite of His day, and His parables of the kingdom of heaven lay out a tragic end for those who oppose Him (see, for example, Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 22:1-14) What’s more, His return will be violent and bloody as He punishes those who shake their fists toward heaven and fight against the rightful Heir to the world’s throne (see Rev. 19:11-21).

The Judgment of the Nations (Isa. 34:1-4)

The chapter opens with a call to the entire earth to “come here and listen.” No one is left out of this frightening message of God’s future judgment. He clearly beckons the “nations … peoples … earth … and all that fills it … the world and all that comes from it” (v. 1). What is so important that no one is exempted? “The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies” (v. 2).  In His wrath, Yahweh will slaughter countless evil soldiers, leaving their blood to flow in the valleys and their corpses to rot on the hillsides.

There will be wonders in the sky as well. “All the heavenly bodies will dissolve,” Isaiah writes. “The skies will roll up like a scroll, and their stars will all wither as leaves wither on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree” (v. 4). Catastrophic events in the heavens will accompany the Messiah’s return to earth to establish His kingdom (see Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Zech. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:29). However, it is difficult to know with certainty exactly when and how these prophecies will be fulfilled. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment: “Isaiah 34:4 may refer to the judgment of the sixth seal in the Tribulation (Rev. 6:12-13), or to the eternal state, after the Millennium, when the sun will not be needed (Rev. 21:1). Or perhaps Isaiah was speaking figuratively of a change in the whole power structure in the Millennium when human kings will be done away with and God alone will be in control” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1084).

The Judgment of Edom (Isa. 34:5-17)

Isaiah uses Edom as an example of the world, which will come under God’s judgment. The Edomites are descendents of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, and are perpetual enemies of Israel (cf. Ezek. 35; 36:5). As such, they are an appropriate representation of what the Lord will do to all nations that oppose His people. The Lord’s slaughter of Edom is depicted as “a sacrifice in Bozrah,” the capital city of Edom (v. 6). Modern-day Buseirah is located about 25 miles southeast of the Dead Sea and is a place animals in Isaiah’s day are slaughtered for sacrifice. The Jews’ practice is to offer sacrifices to God, but in this passage it is God offering the wicked as sacrifices. The Lord depicts His enemies as animals, who are sacrificed along with the fat (Lev. 3:9-11). These nations often slaughtered and sacrificed God’s people, so now the Lord sacrifices them.

Many Bible commentators believe this bloody scene depicts the battle of Armageddon in the last days. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be ‘as it was in the days of Lot’ (Luke 17:28). Tar running like streams and sulfur like dust will keep the fires of judgment burning (Gen. 14:10; 19:24). The description in Isaiah 34:10 reminds us of the fall of Babylon (Rev. 14:8-11; 19:3). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).

“Edom symbolizes in Scripture the ungodly (cf. Heb. 12:16) and the persecutor (cf. Ob. 10–14), the opposite and adversary of the church,” writes D.A. Carson. “The metaphor in vs 5–7 is a grim variant of the banquet scene (cf. 25:6), dwelling on the butchery behind the sacrificial feast and using [a] current idiom to show that the whole people, from ‘young bloods’ and leading citizens (7a) to the least and lowest (6), is doomed (cf. 63:1–6)” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 34:1).

As a result of God’s judgment, the land will seem to be ablaze – her streams turned to pitch (a flammable tar-like substance) and her soil to sulfur. The land will become desolate, inhabited only by creatures that seek out more solitary confines. Owls, ravens, jackals, ostriches, hyenas, wild goats and other animals will abound as the land becomes overgrown and uninhabitable for generations. Isaiah uses an interesting name in verse 14: The “night monster” (NASB) or “screech owl” (HCSB), literally Lilith, is noted in ancient mythology as a female night demon that inhabits desolate places. The imagery here is used to illustrate the total devastation of the heathen lands.

The theme of divine vengeance dominates chapters 34-35, prompting some people to withdraw from the “angry” and “vindictive” God of the Old Testament in favor of a kinder, gentler New Testament God. Some even argue the Bible cannot be true since it depicts two entirely different Gods in the Old and New Testaments. Yet God is immutable, or unchanging, as Scripture makes clear, and He alone is the rightful Author of vengeance. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm the truth that the Lord is the “God of vengeance” (Ps. 94:1). In Deut. 32:35 the Lord declares, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay.” Sometimes God’s vengeance is carried out through human agencies (cf. Num. 31:2-3; Josh. 10:13). “Yet no individual has God’s permission to take personal revenge,” writes Lawrence O. Richards. “The reason is that vengeance is a judicial concept. It is reserved for God, as moral and spiritual Judge of His universe, to punish those who persistently reject Him, abandon His ways, and oppress the righteous. Typically vengeance is reserved for history’s end (cf. Isa. 63:1–6), and any present time is marked by a divine forebearance that provides individuals and nations with every opportunity to repent and to believe” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 428).

In the New Testament, the doctrine of God’s vengeance is expressed in the Greek words dike and dikesis. The primary meaning is “justice” and communicates the fact that justice is a judicial function reserved for God alone (Rom. 12:19). As in the Old Testament, vengeance in the New Testament often looks toward the end of human history (Rom. 2:1-11) and is sometimes graphically described (2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 19:11-21). “The real wonder is not that God will certainly punish the unrepentant, but that He chose to vent His anger against sin on Christ rather than on us. Christ’s sufferings for us forever disprove the notion that a God of vengeance could not also be a God of love” (Richards, S. 428).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “As there is a day of the Lord’s patience, so there will be a day of his vengeance; for, though he bear long, he will not bear always…. There is a time prefixed in the divine counsels for the deliverance of the church and the destruction of her enemies, a year of the redeemed, which will come, a year of recompences [sic] for the controversy of Zion; and we must patiently wait till then, and judge nothing before the time” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 34:1).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips


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Isaiah 6: Holy, Holy, Holy

Listen to the audio file

Download a worksheet for further study (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 6 recounts an event in “the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1).

Key verse:

Isa. 6:3:  And one [seraphim] called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.

Quick summary:

Isaiah has a stunning vision of the Lord, who sends the prophet to keep preaching to the unrepentant Jews “until the land is ruined and desolate” (v. 11).

Take note:

This is the only place in Scripture where seraphim are mentioned by name. Apparently these creatures are among the highest order of angels and serve at the throne of God. Their name, which means “burning ones,” describes their role as proclaimers of God’s holiness. They also declare that man must be purged of sin’s moral defilement before he may stand before God and serve Him. Seraphim appear to have some human features since they are depicted as standing, having faces, and having feet. Yet they also have six wings each and are capable of flight. Their acts of worship are so intense that they cause the thresholds of the divine Temple to shake. They stand ready to serve God at a moment’s notice.

In comparison, cherubim have an extraordinary appearance with four faces – those of a man, lion, ox and eagle – four wings and the feet of calves. They guard the gate to the Garden of Eden, preventing sinful man from reentering (Gen. 3:24). They also are depicted as golden figures covering the mercy seat above the ark in the Holy of Holies (Ex. 25:17-22), and they attend the glory of God in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1).

However seraphim and cherubim are different, they appear to be some of God’s most powerful, intelligent, and beautiful creatures. Satan may have been an “anointed guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14) if Ezekiel 28 is a reference to him before his rebellion.

Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:1-7)

There is some debate as to whether this passage should be at the beginning of Isaiah rather than inserted here. But because much of what we’ve read so far – especially Isa. 2-5 – deals with events during Uzziah’s life, it seems clear that Isaiah’s vision in “the year of Uzziah’s death” (v. 1) is his inauguration into a new level of ministry. However, some argue that Uzziah’s “death” could mean the end of his civil service as king due to his leprosy. If that’s the case, Isaiah’s vision would have come many years before the king’s death. An interesting thought: Isaiah’s claim to have seen God may have been the pretext for his being sawed asunder under Manassah’s reign, according to tradition (see Heb. 11:37).

Isaiah’s vision of the Lord (Adonai in v. 1; Yahweh in v. 5) implies the Trinity in unity. Jesus is interpreted to be the one speaking in Isa. 6:10 according to John 12:41, while Paul attributes the words to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25-7). Also, the seraphims’ declaration of the Lord as “Holy, holy, holy” provides additional support to the notion that what Isaiah saw was a representation of the Triune Godhead if not God’s divine essence (see John 1:18). The Trinity is further implied later in verse 8, where God says, “… who will go for Us?” In any case, what Isaiah sees is different from the Shekinah glory that resides above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, for the Lord is seated here on a throne, attended by heavenly creatures, and His robe fills the Temple.

The seraphim have been discussed above, but Jamieson, Fausset and Brown provide some added insight. They say that while the term is used nowhere else in Scripture of God’s attending angels, it is used to describe the rapidly moving serpents the Lord sent to torment the Israelites (Num. 21:6). The commentators add, “Perhaps Satan’s form as a serpent (nachash) in his appearance to man has some connection with his original form as a seraph of flight” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Logos Research Systems, S. Is. 6:2).

Isaiah’s response to this vision of the Lord is consistent with the reaction of others in Scripture who encounter God after the Fall: fear and a realization of one’s complete

inadequacy in the presence of Almighty God. Isaiah’s words in verse 5 are instructive:

  • “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” Some translations say “undone” or “lost.” Isaiah is in good company when he gasps at being in the presence of the Lord. Gideon has a similar response (Judges 6:22). So do Manoah (Judges 13:22), Job (Job 42:5), Peter (Luke 5:8) and John (Rev. 1:17). Isaiah has pronounced woes on the inhabitants of Judah; now he declares that he, too, is subject to judgment.
  • “… because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.” John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment: “When seen next to the purity of God’s holiness, the impurity of human sin is all the more evident. The prophet’s unclean lips probably symbolized his attitudes and actions as well as his words, for a person’s words reflect his thinking and relate to his actions. Interestingly Isaiah identified with his people who also were sinful (a people of unclean lips)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1045).
  • “… and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Isaiah sees, not necessarily God in his full glory (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16), but a representation of His presence. The writer of Hebrews, for example, says Christ is “the exact expression of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), and John tells us the Word, who is God, “became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14).

In verses 6-7 one of the seraphim flies to Isaiah and touches his mouth with a glowing coal he has snatched with a tong from the altar. The heavenly creature declares that Isaiah’s wickedness is removed and his sin is atoned for. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown have an interesting perspective on this: “The mouth was touched because it was the part to be used by the prophet when inaugurated. So ‘tongues of fire’ rested on the disciples (Acts 2:3, 4) when they were being set apart to speak in various languages of Jesus” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, of the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 6:7).

Isaiah’s commission (Isa. 6:8-13)

The Lord’s self-reference to both “I” and “Us” strongly suggests the triune nature of the Godhead (see also Gen. 1:26; 11:7). The Lord’s questions – “Who should I send?” and “Who will go for Us?” – indicate that few are both willing and qualified to deliver the unwelcome message to the Jews, enduring hardship, rejection, and unbelief. Isaiah responds promptly to the call: “Here I am. Send me.” Eagerness for service is a sign of God’s purifying and enabling work in a believer’s life (see also 1 Sam. 3:10; Acts 9:6-8).

The Lord immediately lays out His challenging mission. Isaiah is to declare God’s truth, but it will only result in hardening of the people’s hearts. Judah’s rejection of Isaiah’s message, and the sovereign Lord who initiated it, are as certain is if they already have occurred. This passage, like many others throughout Scripture, illustrates the mystery of the parallel truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. This particular decree of hardening is repeated in full or in part six times in the New Testament (for example, Matt. 13:14-15; Acts 28:26-27), but it should be read in its entirety to see that God’s pending judgment will clear the ground for new national and spiritual growth.

D.A. Carson puts it well:

Isaiah fulfilled this mission to blind and deafen by proclaiming (not withholding) the truth. God here shares with the prophet the critical significance of his ministry. Sinful Israel has come to the point where one more rejection of the truth will finally confirm them for inevitable judgment. The dilemma of the prophet is that there is no way of saving the sinner but by the very truth whose rejection will condemn him utterly (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 6:1).

The Lord does not leave Isaiah or his beloved nation without hope, however. He assures the prophet that there will be a remnant, a “holy stump,” that will sprout again one day. Although Judah’s population would be almost totally wiped out, like a fallen and burned tree, God would preserve a remnant in the land. The Tyndale Bible Commentary says “there would be life in the roots of the stump from which the Messiah (‘the holy seed’) would grow again” (S 260).

Closing Thought

Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards comment:

Uzziah’s death was symbolic. He who had begun so well and had found prosperity in obedience had been struck by the dread disease of leprosy. An appearance of health and strength remained for a time, but the disease was at work within the body of the king; its marks became more and more visible as the ravages of that dread sickness took their toll. Finally, destroyed within and without, Uzziah died; his pride and his disobedience brought judgment on him. Isaiah pointed out that Judah was also diseased, just like her king, because she too had deserted the Lord (The Teacher’s Commentary, S 367).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 4: Zion’s Future Glory

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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

Isaiah 1: Judah on Trial

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Listen to part 2 of the audio

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