Isaiah 31 & 32

These chapters continue the theme of judgment and salvation in light of Egypt and Assyria. It starts with a warning:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.

But, four verses later he declares that he will shield, deliver, and rescue Jerusalem. Either the Lord is going to ignore those who rely on Egypt, or judge them and save them anyway. If we look at it in redemptive-historical terms, it must be the latter. God will eventually turn the hearts of his people back to him. Left to their own devices, as we would be to ours, there is no hope. We will always turn to Egypt. In the final verses the Lord declares he will provide victory over the Assyrians.

Chapter 32 again intersperses salvation with judgment with salvation, and this time it all appears ultimately eschatological, but also pointing to the Church age. It starts with this:

See, a king will reign in righteousness
    and rulers will rule with justice.

And goes directly to transformed people of God who will no longer be blind or deaf, and a place where wisdom will reign. The commentaries say this prophecy relates directly to Hezekiah, who came after the evil king Ahaz, but it certainly also refers typologically to Christ, especially with the reference to the blind and deaf. There is no doubt that later in the chapter these verses definitely point forward to not only Christ, but Pentecost, and eternity. The city will be laid waste:

15 till the Spirit is poured on us from on high,
    and the desert becomes a fertile field,
    and the fertile field seems like a forest.
16 The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,
    his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

In one sense, doing right, or righteousness, does bring peace. Conflict or tension, or other negative emotions and situations are avoided by doing, saying, or thinking the right things, and that’s all good and well. But this righteousness that Isaiah speaks of is a result of the Spirit being poured out on God’s people, which happened at Pentecost. And I believe the only righteousness that matters for us matters eternally, and is as Paul says in Romans 3, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It is only out of this righteousness, one we cannot earn in obedience to the law, that true righteousness, i.e. works pleasing to God, flows. And it is only in that righteousness, given to us by faith, do we experience “quietness and confidence” both now and forever.

 

Isaiah 30

Chapter 20 starts with “Woe to the obstinate children.” The historical context is that the Assyrians are coming, and instead of trusting the Lord, Israel is looking to Egypt to protect them. Ain’t gonna happen. He calls their help “useless” several times. I think the point given what’s been communicated for 29 chapters is that no matter what you do, you will not escape God’s judgment. Period, end of story. I think that’s the redemptive message: God’s judgment must come against sin. But . . . . Will you try to deny its reality, or find some other way of coping with it, deluding yourself that it’s not really God’s judgment, just some unfortunate circumstances.

To the last point, the wages of sin, as we know, is death, spiritual, and physical. And God reveals his judgment so he can at the same time declare his salvation to come. Through all of Israel’s dubious history God is pointing forward to a time when redemption would make all things new, and as we know from previous chapters that includes conquering death itself! This is why verse 15 is so profound:

15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.

The word for repentance is only used here the OT, and other versions have it translated as “returning.” That would be a coming back to where our salvation comes from after we’ve strayed. This relates specifically to the historical context of Israel’s fear of the Assyrians and reliance on Egypt, but as Jesus says, the OT is all about Him.

Think about the biblical significance of Egypt; it cannot be overstated. Even as the Lord is confirming his covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, he reveals that his descendants will be enslaved in “a country not their own.” The name Egypt isn’t stated, but we know that’s what it will be. Egypt is the ultimate metaphor for sin, for everything we put our trust in besides the Lord God Almighty.

The Patriarchs and the people of Israel had this kind of dialectic relationship with Egypt, even as we do with sin. It is important to keep in mind that sin is not necessarily or simply sinful actions, but idols of hope and significance and fulfillment and safety we look to apart from the Lord, which of course can never deliver, even as Egypt would be to Israel in this historical moment,

that unprofitable nation,
    to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless.
Therefore I call her
    Rahab the Do-Nothing.

It took a little digging, but I found this to help explain the last part of the sentence:

The noun “Rahab” indicates ferocity, haughtiness, boasting, insolence; and the name was doubtless given to Egypt on account of its insolence and pride. It is used here because Egypt would be full of self-confidence, and would boast that she could aid the suppliant Jews, and deliver them from the threatened invasion. The phrase rendered ‘to sit still,’ is a part of the name which the prophet gave to her. Though she boasted, yet would she sit still; she would be inefficient, and would do nothing; and the whole name, therefore, may be rendered, ‘I call her, the blusterer that sitteth still;’ that is, ‘they are courageous in talking; cowards in acting.’

That’s what all idols are; they talk a big game as if they could deliver the goods, but deliver nothing. Yet there is Israel again looking to Egypt to escape God’s judgment. You would think slavery would not be so appealing. But again and again, the Lord says even in their stubborn rebellion, he longs to have mercy on them because it almost seems to say, they can’t help it! Oh how like us! Nevertheless:

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for him!

He promises to open their eyes and ears, and the result?

22 Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

And he promises that blessings will overflow. God’s wrath as the final verses say, will come, his judgment fulfilled. The fulfillment of all of this? Jesus! And we are his redeemed people, blessed and longing to follow him, those who delight in honoring the name of the Lord. Though we are still temped by Egypt, he has once for all opened our eyes and ears, and we can never go back.

Isaiah 29

Another chapter paints a gloomy yet hopeful picture. How many more ways can Isaiah convey the judgment to come, followed by salvation to come. The City of David itself will be decimated, and the people continue to ignore Isaiah’s warnings. As he says, For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll.” Why would that be? Why do they ignore the obvious. Isaiah gives the answer:

13 The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

This reminds me of a temptation at the core of the sinful human heart: turning good things into ultimate things. The pastor at one of the churches we attend said something to this effect on Sunday: We don’t pursue a spiritual experience, we pursue a person. We also don’t reduce Jesus to good theology. He was preaching from 1 John 5, and here are the last two verses:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

If there is any doubt that the Apostles thought Jesus was God in human flesh, this verse puts that to rest. He is the person we pursue, and anything that comes before the person of Christ himself is an idol, even very good things. As the Lord says through Isaiah, he wants our hearts, our affection, our loyalty, our love. Christianity is not about doing religious stuff. It’s about sitting at the feet of Jesus, marveling at his greatness as our creator and savior God.

But God will not sit idly by while his people deny the very heart of existence, their creator, and thus he must become their redeemer. The final nine verses say this in a variety of ways, and the last few are beautiful:

22 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
23 For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

Our children are the work of his hands. Talk about generational faith! We can trust him to do it all.

Isaiah 28

Chapter 28 is another litany of judgments interspersed with promises of future salvation. It’s as if God has to keep reminding his people that there is a point to all their misery. In this chapter it’s the northern kingdom, called Ephraim, that gets it. God’s people have turned into a bunch of drunkards. Even the “Priests and the prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine,” and vomit and filth are everywhere. Not only that, their religion has become nothing more than moralism and legalism. This phrase is used twice of them:

10 For it is:
    Do and do, do and do,
    rule on rule, rule on rule
    a little here, a little there.

In the footnotes it gives the Hebrew as “probably meaningless sounds mimicking the prophet’s words.” Maybe, bla, bla, bla. The people have so squandered their inheritance, and act nothing like God’s people, that his words for them will become religious nonsense. He calls their leaders in Jerusalem, “scoffers.” How bad can it get. Then we read these fascinating words that are a testimony to man’s capacity of self-deception:

15 You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
    with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
    it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
    and falsehood our hiding place.”

Falsehood can also be interpreted as false gods. These people are so deceived and haughty that they think if it takes even death, God cannot get them there. They think they can escape his judgment in lies, although one doubts they think it is lies they believe in. Then the Lord goes right back to salvation with some of the most famous words in Isaiah:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts
    will never be dismayed.
17 I will make justice the measuring line
    and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
    and water will overflow your hiding place.
18 Your covenant with death will be annulled;
    your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.

That stone is Jesus! How powerful this is seen from this side of the resurrection, where the promise of death itself is exploded. Why would death be spoken of this way, as if the people had willingly made a covenant with it? Maybe the idea is that death is such a relentless reality, and that its inevitability is an ever present “promise” to us all our lives. But God says here, and elsewhere, it is not the end of the story. I found this commentary on verse 18:

Shall be disannulled – The word rendered ‘shall be disannulled,’ (וכפר vekupar from כפר kâphar), properly means “to cover, overlay;” then to pardon, forgive; then to make atonement, to expiate. It has the idea of blotting out, forgiving, and obliterating – because a writing in wax was obliterated or “covered” by passing the “stylus” over it. Hence, also, the idea of abolishing, or rendering nought, which is the idea here. “When the overflowing scourge”

Then ye shall be trodden down by it – There is in this verse a great intermingling of metaphor, not less than three figures being employed to denote the calamity. There is first the scourge, an instrument of punishment; there is then the idea of inundating waters or floods; then there is also the idea of a warrior or an invading army that treads down an enemy. All the images are designed to denote essentially the same thing, that the judgments of God would come upon the land, and that nothing in which they had trusted would constitute a refuge.

People delude themselves all their lives that they can avoid God’s judgment, that they will not experience punishment for their sin. It didn’t work for Israel, and it won’t work for them. Even death will not protect them; justice must be done. Then we read these fascinating words:

21 The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim,
    he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—
to do his work, his strange work,
    and perform his task, his alien task.

God isn’t rejoicing in his task to judge his people. If God is love, as John tells us, then he cannot delight in punishing sin. But it is demanded by his holiness. Then Isaiah goes into metaphor mode, and speaks of farms not just preparing to sow and plant, but actually doing it. God’s warnings will not last forever; the judgment will come. Then he ends with these words of praise to the character of God:

29 All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
    wonderful in counsel,
    magnificent in wisdom.

He cannot do wrong.

Isaiah 27

Chapter 27 uses the familiar phrase, “In that day, ” four times, with judgment and salvation woven throughout the chapter. The references mostly refer to the historical timeline Isaiah deals with, but the final one in the last verse certainly has eschatological overtones. God, ever in the midst of judgment is always assuring his people of their final destiny, which he will secure. In verse 3, the Lord tends the vineyard, which is Israel, and he enjoins them twice in verse 5 to make peace with him. In verse 6 we get a picture of the final state of the vineyard:

In days to come Jacob will take root,
    Israel will bud and blossom
    and fill all the world with fruit.

Israel will be established post exile, but one future day the promise to Abraham will “fill all the world,” and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him, and Jacob. Then Isaiah speaks of Israel’s guilt and atonement:

By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for,
    and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin:
When he makes all the altar stones
    to be like limestone crushed to pieces,
no Asherah poles or incense altars
    will be left standing.

It seems to say that by getting rid of their idols and idolatrous ways, they will be able to cover over their sin, but then it seems it is actually the fruit of a work of atonement. I think the latter makes more sense. Yet the very next two verses totally contradict this, and say they won’t do it at all, specifically verse 11:

For this is a people without understanding;
    so their Maker has no compassion on them,
    and their Creator shows them no favor.

They simply can’t pull it off. Maybe verse 9 is saying that if they could get rid of all their idols, it would prove their sin was covered and guilt washed away, but they can’t. Finally we get the strange picture of Israel’s enemies, “in that day,” coming to the very heart of Israel, Jerusalem, to worship the Lord:

13 And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

Even those the Lord uses to execute his judgment will be saved, which you can imagine must have been inconceivable to the people reading Isaiah’s words. It had to be strange to Isaiah himself. God’s promise of salvation was always universal in scope, not that everyone would be saved, but that people from every language and nation would be. In his mercy, the Lord is continually pointing his people to the big picture, so in the midst of their misery they can have hope. As can we, who live through the current tribulation, the already and the not yet, can rejoice in hope of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s precious promises to us in Christ. Our focus must ever be there and there alone.

Isaiah 26

Is every chapter better than the next in Isaiah, or what! No wonder the NT writers quote it more than any other book except the Psalms. The title put on this chapter is, “A Song of Praise.” It begins with with a familiar phrase, “In that day,” which is used 70 times in the prophets, and has a variety of meanings. From what I can tell it always refers either to God’s judgment or salvation, sometimes it is historical, sometimes it is eschatological. In this chapter I think you see both because “that day” is not clearly defined.

There is an initial reference to a “strong city,” and that “God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.” Isiah contrasts this with the “lofty city” that he lays low. It’s always such a stark, binary choice with the Lord; either you trust him, or you, no in between. Either he is your salvation, or you try to be your own. Either your confidence is in your works, or his. In between the depiction of the cities we read this:

You will keep in perfect peace
    him whose minds is steadfast,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

This kind of says it all. Perfect peace is possible for those who steadfastly trust in the Lord, forever. The eternal perspective is critical to peace now. The situation Isaiah was speaking into was anything but perfect. In fact it was traumatic, as we’ve seen in previous chapters, but God’s perfect peace is always ultimately eschatological. Either we ground ourselves in our imagination of what our circumstances might be in this life, or we ground ourselves in our imagination of God’s plans in fulfillment forever. That is, the banquet “on this mountain” Isaiah spoke about in the previous chapter. Only then will “perfect peace” be possible. But it takes steadfastness. In other words, it’s not easy. We are always tempted to take our eyes off forever, so we must always fight to keep them focused there.

This becomes easier when we have the attitude Isaiah describes here in v. 8, “your name and your renown are the desire of our hearts.” Where do we find our value? Our fulfillment? Our satisfaction? Ultimately? The Apostle Paul may have been thinking about this verse when he wrote these words in Philippians 2:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This is what God’s people long for. When life does its thing, when we have to trudge through the mire and the muck, the name of Jesus is our north star, and we thrill in the deepest part of our soul through any fear or doubt or misery because we know all of it is extremely temporary, a mist. What makes this all possible? Us? Laughable. No, as Isaiah says of the wicked in verse 11, “Let them see your zeal for your people, and be put to shame.” We saw the word zeal used previously by Isaiah for how God feels about “his people.” In Hebrew the word implies the kind of passion and jealousy and ardor a man has for a woman. God’s love for his people is emotional, passionate. It’s not theoretical or coolly calculating. Because of this we can rest in this:

12 Lord, you establish peace for us;
    all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

Can it be any more clear who does what in this whole salvation thing? It’s not some things we’ve done, some things God’s done. It’s all Him! And this clearly has historical and eschatological significance because of what we read to end the chapter. Isaiah admits Israel has “not brought salvation to the earth.” Then we get what I think is the first reference to the resurrection in the OT:

19 But your dead will live, Lord;
    their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
    wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
    the earth will give birth to her dead.

And this seems to happen in conjunction with God’s wrath come upon the people of the earth to “punish the people for their sins.” This is where history is going, either raised with him in Christ, or judgment and punishment for our sins. Praise be to God Jesus took ours!

 

Isaiah 25

Even amidst awesome and brutal judgment, there is hope, and chapter 25 gives us ultimate hope because it deals with our ultimate enemy, death. No more eloquent and hopeful words are found in all of Scripture than these:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

The reference to the mountain of the Lord has covenantal significance. In Genesis 22 we read the story of Abraham being tested, and God asking him to sacrifice his son, his only son, on a mountain in the region of Moriah. When God stays Abraham’s hand, he looks up, sees a ram caught in a thicket, and sacrifices it in place of his son. Abraham knew God could not lie, that he had promised that a great nation would come through Isaac, and so God would provide one way or the other. When he did, he called it, “The Lord will provide,” and the saying became famous among the Hebrews that, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” The focus is completely God and his faithfulness to accomplish what he has promised. And Psalm 48 must be added to our reading when we contemplate God’s Mountain revealed by Isaiah: Our confidence is not in us, but him!

The banquet has another covenantal reference in Exodus 24. God affirms the covenant of works with Israel with a meal after the people responded by saying, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” What a striking contrast to, “we trusted in him, and he saved us.” The problem with Israel’s determination, and ours, to do “everything the Lord has said,” is they didn’t, nor do we. The whole purpose of the covenant of works is to show us that we can’t do anything the Lord commands, let alone everything. The law will beat us down and crush us if we put our hope in our obedience to curry God’s favor. We will sup with him because of what he did for us, not what we do for him. Whatever good we do flows from the former.

The words in this chapter also echo those in Genesis 22, but here referring to Moses, “He got up early the next morning.” Instead of preparing to sacrifice his son, Moses prepared a sacrifice to confirm the covenant of works, which of course didn’t work. Yet, God celebrates with them. They actually “saw the God of Israel . . .  But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” This was a feast prepared by the people, while the feast we see in this chapter is prepared by the Lord. Ultimately, we will be guests at his table because of what he did for us, not him at ours because of what we did for him. How many ways can this be said!

And finally it points forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb we read about in Revelation 19. History is inexorably headed toward one of two conclusions: judgment or the wedding of God’s redeemed people. Praise our Savior God that we will be clothed “in that day” with Christ’s righteousness so that we will be prepared for his feast on his mountain. Amen!

 

 

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