Isaiah 21-24

God’s wrath is an awesome and scary thing. These chapters are pure judgment, and no one can escape it. This is one of many reasons that Christians need to be familiar with, indeed steeped in, the Old Testament. Without the OT, the cross makes no sense. But God’s wrath poured out on his Son for his people is only part of the story. Sin must be paid for, and for those not in Christ, there will be judgment. I think these chapters speak to this final judgment, as well as to the judgment against the nations that are the enemy of Israel. Likely speaking of both, Isaiah says gives us the ultimate reason for God’s judgment in chapter 23:

The Lord Almighty planned it,
    to bring low the pride of all glory
    and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.

The bottom line is that the Living God will never allow anybody else to “be like God,” Satan’s lie to all of fallen humanity. In our hubris we think we can take God’s place, as absurd as that is, and we try to do this in myriad ways that show just how pathetic we are. Yet God prompts his people to humble themselves, so he will not have to humble them. Only his people, on those he has chosen to have mercy, to those on whom he has bestowed saving grace, glory in him alone. We lay our pride at the foot of the cross.

But these verses that begin chapter 24 tell us what’s in store for those who take pride in their own glory:

See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth
    and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
    and scatter its inhabitants—
it will be the same
    for priest as for people,
    for the master as for his servant,
    for the mistress as for her servant,
    for seller as for buyer,
    for borrower as for lender,
    for debtor as for creditor.
The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers,
    the heavens languish with the earth.
The earth is defiled by its people;
    they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
    and broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
    its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
    and very few are left.

The wages of sin . . . . must be paid. Sin is serious business. Many people in our day would read these chapters and think, surely this is overkill. Can’t God just overlook sin and wrongdoing? Well, no more than we can. When we are wronged, we feel very strongly that a price must be paid. When the state is wrong, a price must be paid. Justice, and the longing and need for it, is woven throughout human existence. Why would we think it any different with the God from whom justice gets its ultimate meaning.

As the rest of the chapter explains, there is rebellion, which brings guilt, which brings punishment. In the end, “the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.” We know now that this points forward to the cross, that the Lord will reign through a redemption that he will secure, and as the last word in the chapter says, “gloriously.” In that day, there will be no doubt, every knee will bow, and as Paul says in Philippians 2, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. Amen!

Isaiah 15-20

It’s arbitrary to put these chapter together in that the Lord’s judgment against these nations goes on through chapter 24, but there are some interesting tidbits among these chapters that reveal the nature of God’s redemptive purposes. In chapter 16 seemingly out of nowhere we read these words:

5 In love a throne will be established,
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it–
    one from the house of David–
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Right in the middle of verses about judgment. Just a little reminder from the Lord that in spite of all the horror to come, that he’s got a plan. And it will come to pass. And who establishes a throne, a rule, in love? How counter intuitive is that! Despite all the judgment to come that will reveal and prove God’s power, it will not be power that establishes his throne. It will be love, and we know how that will be displayed: For God so loved the world . . . It is the king giving himself in exchange for his enemies that they might become his subjects, and obviously more than that, adopted into the royal family. Amazing grace, indeed!

Again in the middle of all this judgement we read this from chapter 17:

In that day people will look to their Maker
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
They will not look to the altars,
    the work of their hands,
and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles
    and the incense altars their fingers have made.

This is in context of judgment against Damascus. Out of the blue we’re told of a day when these people God is judging will look to their judge as their God. They will acknowledge who their maker is, and that it is Israel’s God who will be their God. This future is confirmed yet again at the end of chapter 19:

22 The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

There’s that phrase again, “In that day.” All throughout the OT, God is pointing forward to let us know that judgment is not the end of the story, that there will come a time when even Israel’s enemies will become part of the family. Our God is a God who heals, who listens to the pleas of his people, who makes his people his “handiwork.” We, his people, from every tribe and language and nation, are the work of his hands. There will be left no doubt who it is who does the saving.

 

Isaiah 14

These and the following chapters, up through 24 I think, are prophecies against the nations. The Lord has judged Israel, but that doesn’t mean the nations surrounding it, the ones he uses, are not guilty as well. The first couple verses of 14 are fascinating:

The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
    once again he will choose Israel
    and will settle them in their own land.
Foreigners will join them
    and unite with the descendants of Jacob.
Nations will take them
    and bring them to their own place.
And Israel will take possession of the nations
    and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land.
They will make captives of their captors
    and rule over their oppressors.

There seems to be an eschatological vision here with the prophecy. Again, references are made to those beyond Israel, as salvation was always intended, and to God’s peoples’ own land, and the Lord’s land. The former could be in the Middle East, the latter in eternity. Either way, God will turn things upside down, or right side up actually, for his chosen people. Since the following verses predict the downfall of Babylon, and spectacularly so, the reference to ruling over their oppressors must relate to their Babylonian captors. Keep in mind this wouldn’t happen for another 100 years. Then we read something that must refer to a king of Babylon literally, but Satan figuratively:

12 How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;

and

16 Those who see you stare at you,
    they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth
    and made kingdoms tremble,
17 the man who made the world a wilderness,
    who overthrew its cities
    and would not let his captives go home?”

There is disagreement among the commentators about whether this is just referring to the literal king of Babylon, or to both he and Satan. I think the latter. It’s not a coincidence I think that the phrase “morning star” is otherwise translated as Lucifer. Either way, anyone who thinks they can set themselves above God’s throne will be brought low. In this case, Babylon’s destruction will be total. Then there are prophecies against Assyria and the Philistines, and there are two verse that speak powerfully to God’s providence:

24 The Lord Almighty has sworn,

“Surely, as I have planned, so it will be,
    and as I have purposed, so it will happen.

and

27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

Do not mess with him! There are no accidents, no coincidences, no chance happenings in human existence. Why some some Christians want to believe that human beings have a free will that is independent of God’s will I have no idea. I only know that my God, as the Scripture reveals him, is a providentially purposing God who moves history for his specifically redemptive purposes, all ultimately for his glory, and the good of those he determined to redeem from before the foundations of the world were even laid. How he does it in keeping with our freedom and accountability I have no idea, but I’m very grateful he does.

Isaiah 10-12

In chapter 10 the theme of judgment against Israel continues for the first four verses; they do evil, and it must be punished. Then God says the Assyrians will be judged as well, even though he used them for his punishments against Israel. The Assyrians’ pride must meet its own punishment. The last 14 verses speak of a remnant that will return to the land. Even though they have been crushed, the Lord declares that, “Very soon my anger against you will end,” and his wrath redirected at the Assyrians. Then in chapter 11 we are introduced to a Branch from Jesse. It starts as a shoot that will come from the stump of Jesse, and from his root a Branch will arise that will “bear fruit.” Jesse, remember, is David’s father.

I think it’s important to recognize this is all happening in the context of God’s judgment and punishment for the sins of his people. The point of God’s revelation in history is that sin, it’s guilt and punishment, must be dealt with, and this Branch referred to here is the one to do it. This is the fundamental purpose of the Messiah, and the Jews completely missed it, instead opting for a political/temporal Messiah.

The rest of chapter 11 is a full on eschatological vision of what he will do. No wonder the Jews of Jesus day preferred to see their Messianic hope in an Isaiah chapter 7 Messiah rather than an Isaiah 53 one. This one kick’s ass and takes names! He is so powerful that even the animals will lie down in peace together. What a vision we get of the one who will make all this happen:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The disciples got to experience some of this. Jesus was a very different man, only they didn’t fully realize how different until he rose from the dead. It is so interesting that this Branch will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” I see this as another veiled referenced to the Trinity. Even the Spirit of the Lord resting on him is Trinitarian, looking forward to Jesus baptism by John the Baptist. After the eschatological peace the Branch ushers in–“the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”–these words bring us back to the covenant the Lord made with Abram in Genesis 12 and 15:

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

It seems to have been completely missed by the Jews that salvation was always universal in scope. Jesus came not to defeat the Romans, but to save them! At least some of them. Then the text comes back to the present day with predictions about the nations and Israel.

Chapter 12 is a short declaration of praise that will happen “in that day,” which refers to our day, and then ultimately the day when Jesus will return to physically establish the kingdom of God on earth. And out of what does this praise spring forth? God’s anger has turned away, and he “has become my salvation.” No one at the time could have imagined how literal this was, that God himself in the second person of the Trinity would take on himself the wrath due us! Crazy. Even though everything in the OT pointed to this, it still had to be inconceivable to any good Jew raised on the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: the Lour God, the LORD is one.” Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 1:30 that God himself put us in Christ, who has become for us “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” And our response now, and forever:

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Amen!

Isaiah 9

“To us a child is born . . . ” Have there been any more profound and comforting words in the history of mankind, or any more history altering? Nope. The Lord declares judgment in chapter 8, even unto “utter darkness,” its last words. Then there is hope; chapter 9 starts with “nevertheless.” This hope in the future will come out of “Galilee of the Gentiles.” We know this refers to Jesus because Matthew tells us in chapter 4 of his gospel that after Jesus withstood the Devil’s temptations, he began his ministry in Galilee. I learned that after Assyria conquered the northern kingdoms (here and in Matthew, Zebulun and Naphtali), the land was resettled by Gentiles, and they were intermingled there up into Jesus’ day. Matthew was writing to Jews, so he felt the need to justify that Jesus ministry was conducted in such a place. To Jews this may have seemed odd, but not in light of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, and God’s promise to Abram to that “all peoples of the earth” would be blessed through him.

Isaiah speaks of a great victory for the people of God in the future, and this verse introduces that victory:

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

To the NT writers, Jesus was the light of the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. Isaiah tells us what this light will be:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Some of the most profound, mind-blowing words in all of Scripture. That Jews, and Muslims for that matter, cannot see the incarnation in these verses is sheer willful blindness. God will become a man! This forever, sinless, kingdom will be established by this child, this son. The word “zeal” in the last part of verse 7 stood out to me. Why does the Lord Almighty have this zeal, this “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective,” for establishing this son’s reign over his kingdom? I looked at a concordance to see what the Hebrew tells us about that word, and was amazed, but not surprised by what I found. The short definition is jealously. Let me quote from some of it:

ardour, zeal, jealousy (from colour produced in face by deep emotion); — absolute ׳ק Numbers 5:14 +; construct קִנְאַת Isaiah 9:6; suffix קִנְאָתִי Numbers 25:11 +, etc.; plural קְנָאֹת Numbers 5:15,18,25,29;

1 ardour of jealousy of husband Proverbs 6:34; Proverbs 27:4; ׳רוּחַ ק jealous disposition. Numbers 5:14 (twice in verse); Numbers 5:30 (P); offering for jealousy, ׳מנחת ק Numbers 5:15.18.25 (P); ׳תּוֺרַת הק Numbers 5:29 (P); of rivalry Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Ephraim against Judah Isaiah 11:13; ardent love, “” אחכה Songs 8:6.

God is as passionate as the most ardent lover for the salvation of his people! Somehow, someway, for some reason he loves us that much! I don’t understand it, but I have to accept it. The foundation of our confidence in Christ, in our salvation, in our acceptance before a holy God is in that passion, not in us! How many exclamation points one could use! God is jealous for us, and he will have us. He already does!

But a very interesting juxtaposition takes place right after these verses. God’s judgment against Israel is not quenched. Remember, this salvation Isaiah is referring to is in the future. For now we read this phrase in the remaining 14 verses three times:

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

This imagery comes from the ancient gods who declare war; the upraised hand means the battle must go on, that destruction is the goal. Why in this case is the Lord’s hand upraised? In verse 19 we read the answer: “the wrath of the Lord Almighty.” Israel will continue to do evil, and does as it is described here. Sin will always have its way with the human race unless God himself accomplished salvation from it. And the salvation we read of in the first part of the chapter, will be an eternal salvation from this inevitable wrath. Sin must be judged. Matthew gives us the context, that in Jesus withstanding the temptations of the Devil, as the first Adam couldn’t do, that the victory will be spiritual and eternal because God’s judgment against sin will finally be satisfied in him. That’s why the juxtaposition in this chapter is so powerful. The historical context points forward to the eternal context, where judgment for sin will finally be satisfied by God himself. Infinite exclamation points!

 

Isaiah 8

Isaiah is commanded by the Lord to again use a son of his as a walking prophecy. The only problem is that he doesn’t exist yet. So Isaiah goes and does with his wife what produces babies, and she conceives and gives birth to a son. Prior to this (at least 9 months), he told Isaiah to write something on a scroll that a priest and another prophet (Zechariah) would be a witness to: “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” This was to be a very public warning, and would become his son’s name. It’s important to read the historical context in 2 Kings 18 and 19. Isaiah plays a big role in chapter 19. Assyria comes close to destroying Judah, but the king pays them off, and they are spared, but only because they trusted in the Lord, and not an earthly king.

Then we get, in 8:13 to the crux of the issue. The people are freaking out, and the Lord says don’t listen to them. Don’t fear what they fear. Then he points forward to a Messiah who will himself be “The Lord Almighty”:

13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear,
    he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a sanctuary;
    for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.

If there was ever a question about the deity of Christ, this should put it to rest. The stone and the rock here is “The Lord Almighty.” Both Paul and Peter confirm this, and as both say, this stone is what they were destined for, but they rejected it, or him. They were to put their trust in him, not their own works or the law, but in him. But they won’t, as Isaiah makes clear in the ending of the chapter. They prefer any word, as long as it is not the Word. Yet Isaiah warns them:

20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.

Does this perfectly describe the human condition or what. We don’t listen to God, we stumble around in the darkness, suffering for our sin, then we curse God. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. The human condition is as predictable as the rising sun, and we learn about the dynamics of it right here in God’s word, just another indication that it is God’s word and not man’s invention. The final words of the chapter even seem to intimate the eternal consequences of this rejection: “they will be thrust into utter darkness.”

Thankfully God has not left his people in their sin, but the temptation is always there to do the same thing. The blame God temptation never leaves us, but God in his mercy and grace (I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.”), and power and wisdom and love, turns us from God blaming creatures to God trusting creatures. That really is the heart of sanctification. It’s not so much that I do more of the right things and less of the bad things, although that’s obviously part of it. It’s more relational than moral. God is our Father now and he wants us to trust him. Every event in our lives we would naturally want to blame him for becomes an opportunity to trust him with. We live in the moment; we don’t extrapolate disaster. We know his intentions toward us are pure benevolence a la Romans 8:28 and Matthew 7:11. The Lord was encouraging Judah in the face of looming disaster to trust him. How could we not trust him given disaster rarely looms for us. We can!

Isaiah 7

This chapter can possibly be titled, “To Trust The Lord, or Not?” Ahaz, King of Judah, is the subject, and he was a bad, bad man. In 2 Kings 16 we read:

In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations theLord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

I’m not sure they got much worse than this, yet the Lord is still trying to help keep him and Judah from destruction by the northern kingdom. By this time in Judah’s history the country had undergone calamities, and now this threat had them scared out of their minds.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

This is fascinating. Notice the name of Isaiah’s son. In Hebrew it means, “a remnant will return.” God has Isaiah name his son a walking prophecy! And he makes sure to have him at this meeting so all will know that Ahaz is not going to listen to the Lord, that exile will happen eventually, and God will be faithful to bring a remnant of his people back to the land, regardless. Even though Ahaz doesn’t deserve it, the Lord will fight for him and their enemies will be like wood that’s smoking, no fire, nothing. He promises the threat will not come to pass. In the middle of all this we read a wonderful verse that applies to all God’s people in all places in all times, and it comes directly from the mouth of the Lord:

If you do not stand firm in your faith,
    you will not stand at all.

Our faith is trust in his goodness and love for us, and his sovereign power as Lord of the universe to care for us. What have we to ever worry about? Then something strange happens. The Lord commands Ahaz to ask him for a sign. I found this piece that gives some exhaustive historical background and context for what’s happening here. God is challenging Ahaz to ask for a sign so when it’s given there will be no doubt what God will do for Judah, and Ahaz will have to trust him. But Ahaz is evil and he doesn’t want to do that, so he disingenuously says for a religious reason he won’t do it: he “won’t put the Lord to the test.” That sounds all nice and deferential, but it’s not. He prefers to trust in the King of Assyria rather then the Lord. Of course it will not end well for him, or Judah.

Then Isaiah says even if Ahaz will not ask for a sign, the Lord will give him one anyway:

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and[will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

There is a lot going on in this prophecy. As I read somewhere, prophecy is often complicated by having multiple meanings. We know without a doubt from Matthew 1 that this reference to a child being given the name, “God with us,” refers to Jesus. Why this specific prophecy in this specific context? From what I read there is likely an historical meaning for that time and place, but clearly the most important meaning is eternally salvific. The salvation of God’s people will happen because he himself will be with us. From everything we know about the gospels, we now know definitively Immanuel means not only God with us, but God himself will become one of us!

In the rest of chapter 7 the Lord gives Judah bad news: the land will be laid to waste. His chosen instrument, Assyria, is the same empire that Ahaz will choose to trust instead of the Lord. Kind of ironic. The things we choose to trust instead of the Lord become the means for our destruction. That is why Immanuel is so important, and why God was insistent that he give Ahaz, and Judah, and by extension us, a sign. Something we could hold on to. Something where there could be no doubt about who was doing the saving here. Our confidence is in him alone, not our performance or works or things or other human beings or accomplishments. I’m so grateful God rescued me from the man-centered theology I was born-again into. It’s comforting to know it’s all on him, our God whose ways and purposes and promises and covenant can never fail!

 

 

 

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