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!

 

 

 

Isaiah 6

In this chapter Isaiah gets the call. It starts with a context in history: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” I found an explanation of this at Enduring Word:

i. Uzziah began his reign when he was only 16 years old, and he reigned 52 years. Overall, he was a good king, and 2 Kings 15:3 says, he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 2 Chronicles 28:5 says, He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

ii. Uzziah also led Israel in military victories over the Philistines and other neighboring nations, and he was a strong king. Uzziah was a energetic builder, planner, and general. 2 Chronicles 26:8 says, His fame spread as far as the entrance of Egypt, for he strengthened himself exceedingly.

iii. But Uzziah’s life ended tragically. 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. In response, God struck Uzziah with leprosy, and he was an isolated leper until his death.

iv. So, to say in the year King Uzziah died is to say a lot. It is to say, “In the year a great and wise king died.” But it is also to say, “In the year a great and wise king who had a tragic end died.” Isaiah had great reason to be discouraged and disillusioned at the death of King Uzziah, because a great king had passed away, and because his life ended tragically. Where was the Lord in all this?

That first verse says where he was: “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” No matter what happens, God is on his throne. Our God and king reigns over all, no matter what it looks like with just human eyes. In front of that throne magnificent angels cry aloud:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Three holy’s for our Triune God. And what does holy mean? Set apart, totally different than the mundane and human, exalted beyond all human comprehension. Yet, the angels declare the entire earth experiences his glory, his beauty, his radiance. At times it doesn’t exactly appear that way, and maybe given the historical situation Isaiah is confronted with he needs to hear that not only is God on his throne in heaven, but that the earth experiences his reign as well. Of course creation is the manifestation of his glory, and even though it is deeply marred, that glory is reflected, loudly, as we’re told throughout Scripture. What is Isaiah’s response to seeing and experiencing all this, something few human beings ever had or have?

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King,the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah’s sin is the first thing that comes to mind when confronted with the God of the universe. God’s holiness exposes our sin. We know instantly we are guilty and deserve punishment. Interesting that Isaiah mentions lips and not actions in general. Our sin is obvious in our speech? Obviously, but our lips are only an example of our total depravity, especially in contrast with the holy Triune God. And maybe this highlights the contrast with the angels who were calling to one another, Holy, holy, holy. They can see and rejoice in God’s holiness; for sinners, God’s holiness only invites terror. Until, that is, we are washed in the blood of the lamb. That is in effect what happens next, God in his mercy and grace takes care of Isaiah’s guilt:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Guilt before this holy God cannot be ignored; it must be addressed, either in judgment or atonement the price must be paid. We cannot work it away. The only answer for it is God’s grace and mercy, represented here by the live coal, the fire before the Lord, touching his lips. Instantly he’s forgiven, not unlike what happens for us when we believe.

Then Isaiah hears the Lord ask a question: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Interesting that the Lord doesn’t address him directly; it’s almost as if Isaiah overhears him say it. Now that he’s been cleansed, Isaiah must realize that he can be used of the Lord, again not unlike us. “Pick me, pick me!” How different than when we are aliens from God’s presence, enemies and dead in our sin; all we want to do is run and hide. Once cleansed, with confidence we ask God to use and transform us. This reminds me of what the writer to the Hebrews says (10) once we have a great priest over the house of God:

22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

What he has done for us is our hope and confidence; the one who could condemn us, saves us.

God’s assignment for Isaiah is not a pleasant one. He has to go tell the Lord’s people that they won’t listen to him, so he is going to send them into exile and destroy their land. You have to imagine they are not going to take this as good news. In fact, they will reject it until it’s too late and then they will know Isaiah is speaking the truth. I’m afraid this will be like many who reject the Lord Jesus. What judgement? I’m doing fine. I have a party or ballgame to go to. Quit bothering me. But the last verse is fascinating:

13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

The holy seed, pointing us all the way back to God’s promise to Genesis 3:15, and the seed that would crush Satan’s head. Even though God will execute judgment, he will never forget his covenant promise, the one he made in eternity and revealed to Adam and Eve and then his people. Israel would never ultimate listen, thus a type of human inability to achieve salvation through out own works. God would do what we can’t through his holy seed. He who promised is faithful indeed.

Isaiah 5

God compares Israel to a vineyard which he’s planted and tended, but it only yields bad fruit. So he will have to destroy it. It seems so harsh, but it’s only what he and they promised in covenant long before: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Of course, as soon as Moses goes up the Mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the people rebel. This covenant of works was never going to end well. Inability to obey God’s law is built into the cake of human nature, and the wages are God’s judgment, and ultimately that means death. The middle part of the chapter has God laying out the reasons his people will go into exile (various and sundry sins), but in verse 12 he says it is ultimately “for lack of understanding.” It isn’t so much what they do that is the problem, it’s that they do what they do because they don’t get it, they don’t realize or grasp or recognize why they should do right instead of wrong. Maybe Paul was thinking of just this chapter when he wrote this in Romans 1:21 in the context of God’s judgment against sin:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

This is who we all are in our fallen, pre-redeemed state. We live life solely based on what we want, what we think. In God’s economy that is inverted: God, others, self. These two verses say it all:

20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
    and clever in their own sight.

“Those” are people who are determined to live life based on their own lights, who refuse to accept God’s definition of things. All sin flows out of pride. In the midst of all this sin and judgment:

16 But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
    and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.

From what I can tell this is still the Lord speaking. Verse 9 starts: “The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing.” And the quotation marks stop after verse 19. Given there were no quotation marks in the Hebrew I wonder why they think God stops speaking just prior to the woes. But either way it’s all God’s word, and he is declaring himself to be just and holy, and that he will be exalted by it. There are only two options to existence: either we sit in judgment upon God, or he upon us. In our natural fallen state not only do we not see God as just or set apart, we declare him to be a liar and untrustworthy.

Because of this, that “they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel,” Therefore:

the Lord’s anger burns against his people;
    his hand is raised and he strikes them down.

And he will do this with armies from distant lands, pointing forward to the exile of his people. Keep in mind this was to happen some hundred years in the future. The northern kingdom has already been exiled by the Assyrians, and Isiah predicts here that the same will happen to Judah. God cannot let sin go unpunished, and ultimately he himself will take our punishment, as we’ll see later in the book. If not for this, for him paying the price we owe, we would exist in permanent exile, forever. He will not let that happen to his people. Praise the Lord!

Isaiah 3 & 4

Chapter 3 is all judgment. It’s so bad that the Lord says, “Youths oppress my people, women rule over them.” I love this because it is so counter to the egalitarianism of our day where anything that smacks of men being the natural leaders of a society is considered “patriarchy.” When men are not men, the youths cannot be controlled and women have to lead. When men are so weak or corrupted that women need to step up to rule, then things are not the way they are supposed to be. Take a look at black inner cities in America where men leading their households is almost non-existent. As George Gilder says in his book, Men and Marriage, throughout every society that anthropology can study, men are overwhelmingly in positions of leadership. It’s almost as if “nature” made it that way. You can count me a semi-egalitarian. After Jesus turned the ancient world upside down, I think he fulfilled what a healthy patriarchy could look like. Certainly women can hold positions of leadership in a society, but when men abdicate manhood, trouble happens.

Back to Isaiah. Out of nowhere it seems, in the middle of judgment something breaks in to bring salvation in chapter 4. Isaiah calls it the “Branch of the Lord.” It, or he? will be “beautiful and glorious.” It speaks of the survivors in Israel, so it does have some reference to the exiles to come, but Isaiah says the Lord will “wash away the filth,” and he will protect “all of Mount Zion” by a “cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night.” Clearly the Branch of the Lord is his presence, but if his presence is a branch, it can’t be him. This can only be a reference to the second person Triune God, and as we know from the rest of redemptive history, each member of the Trinity has a unique role to play in the salvation of God’s people, the Mount Zion where they dwell, which is his presence. Post resurrection, and post Pentecost, that would be us! He cleanses and protects us, guides and directs us. Heavy. All referenced obliquely here in Isaiah 4. Amazing.

 

 

Isaiah 2

This is a bottom line chapter, of promise and judgment. It is obviously eschatological, God giving us the end of the story, and all pretension to human autonomy will be exposed for what they are: futility. It starts with the “mountain of the Lord” being established, and “all the nations will stream to it.” What exactly is the “mountain of the Lord.” It’s first reference in the chapter add temple, so “mountain of the Lord’s temple.” What happens in the temple? Sacrifice, payment for sin. The first reference to such a mount happens in Genesis 22:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

As Abraham was preparing to sacrifice is son, his only son, whom he loved, God stayed his hand. Next he names the place:

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

It was on that same mountain that Moses encountered I Am and received the tablets of the law, and on that same mountain where Jesus was crucified so that God’s promise to Abram that all nations would be blessed would come true. And we further know this is when God’s kingdom reigns on earth because it won’t be like it is now:

They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Violence, evil and suffering will be no more. Yet before that day comes, there will be judgment. Jews in Jesus time were expecting a conquering Messiah, one who would judge the nations and secure Israel in the land, but Jesus came to die; he came in mercy and grace. Next time, Isaiah tells us, he will come in judgment:

12 The Lord Almighty has a day in store
    for all the proud and lofty,
for all that is exalted
    (and they will be humbled),

and

17 The arrogance of man will be brought low
    and human pride humbled;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18     and the idols will totally disappear.

Are there any more scary words in the Bible than, “and they will be humbled.” People think God is a joke, that he won’t judge them, that they’ll be fine; they’re not that bad anyway. On that day, man’s arrogance will melt into terror and panic:

19 Men will flee to caves in the rocks
    and to holes in the ground
from the fearful presence of the Lord
    and the splendor of his majesty,
    when he rises to shake the earth.

God will not be mocked. But those who are in Christ, those who dwell on the Mountain of the Lord, will be exalted with him.

Isaiah 1

Now on to the prophets. I’m glad to be getting back to some history, and there is a lot of it throughout the book of Isaiah. There are many overviews of this time period, and this “Introduction to Isaiah” is a good one. The first verse says his visions occurred during the reign of four kings of Judah, which would put him in the 700 BC range. It is estimated that his public ministry was over 50 years, (739 B.C. – 686 B.C.), and at a perilous time for Israel and Judah, although it may not have looked like it on the surface:

Isaiah ministered at a time when both Israel, under Jeroboam II, and Judah, under Hezekiah, had reached their zenith of prosperity and political power. Yet the seeds of destruction had germinated and almost reached maturity in both nations in the form of idolatry and its attendant vices, personal immorality and political corruption.

Assyria eventually takes out the northern Kingdom, Israel, and Babylon will do that to the southern or Judah down into the next century. Isiah, whose name means “salvation is of the Lord” is all about salvation and the Messiah. He speaks of these far more than any other prophet. It is no wonder that Isaiah is quoted more than any other book of the OT in the NT.

Appropriately enough knowing the whole story, the first chapter starts with Israel’s rebellion. Then the Lord tell them their religion, their sacrifices and offerings, the “evil assemblies” and feasts, “have become a burden to him.” I wonder why that would be. I think a hint comes from verses 16 and 17. Their lives don’t reflect any relationship with the living God. As James says, faith without works is dead, and they are stone cold dead. He encourages them to do right, but in the midst of this is a hint of what is to come:

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

Verses 19 and 20 seem to say that this state of affairs is based on their works, saying if they are “willing and obedient” they will be blessed in the land, and if they “resist and rebel” they will be “devoured by the sword.” But further on it becomes clear that it is God who will do the saving. Speaking of Jerusalem, in verse 25 we read:

   I will thoroughly purge away your dross
    and remove all your impurities.

And in 26:

Afterward you will be called
    the City of Righteousness,
    the Faithful City.

There is no way to understand this apart from Christ, and why Jesus said the whole OT is about him, and nothing is more about him than the book of Isaiah. We now know how he will take, and has taken, the sin that destroys upon himself, and purified us with his very own righteousness. Paul tells us in Romans 3:21 that, “now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known,” and is ours through faith in Christ. What looks impossible to us (in verse 21 speaking of Jerusalem, the city where God dwells, “the faithful city has become a harlot.”) will be accomplished by him. This reminds us yet again that Christianity is not about what we do, or try to, for God (as we see in the first part of this chapter), but what God in Christ has done for us: he has “thoroughly” purged away our dross, and removed all our “impurities.” Our hope is “in Christ” alone. Amen and amen!

 

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