Category Archives: Isaiah

Isaiah 66 – The Inevitable Fulfillment of God’s Promises

The juxtaposition between the promise of judgment and the promise of hope continues right to the end of the book of Isaiah, and the first two verses represent the contrast starkly:

This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

One type of person thinks they can build a life, like a house or temple, where God can dwell. It’s as if God needs them. They believe, whether they could articulate it or not, that God owes them, that he can be put in their debt. What they fail to take into account is the He is the Creator, their Creator, that he calls the shots, that he sets up the rules of the game, that he defines the things that are, and the things that are not.

The Lord affirms that he is the Creator, over and over and over again in the OT. It’s like he’s saying, don’t you get it? I’m God and you’re not! Paul may have been thinking of Isaiah when he spoke these words before the pagan philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

That pretty much covers it all. We are contingent beings in every sense of the word, dependent on God for everything every moment of our existence. The contrast to human pride is humility and contrition. This second type of person knows they are unworthy.

These verses remind me of the first time I really heard the gospel, and it was in our Catholic church in Hacienda Heights when I was probably 15 or 16 before I was “born again.” The homily was on Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. As Luke says, the parable was told because of those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” They were obviously not familiar with Isaiah 66! While at the temple two man were praying in exactly opposite ways, in Isaiah 66:1 and 2 ways. The Pharisee boasts about all he does and gives, while the (hated among the Jews of the day) tax collector “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” I remember thinking at the time, “Hey, I can do that!” Little did I realize at the time that this is the very essence, the very heart of the gospel, the good news! We can never, ever measure up, so our confidence before a perfectly holy God is built into our contrition, our “repentance and rest,” on which our salvation is grounded. Our confidence is not in our performance, but solely in what God has done for us, not whatever we do or don’t do. How freeing are the words, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” because we know he will!

The rest of the chapter takes these two mentalities to their logical and ultimate conclusion. The Lord uses pregnancy as a metaphor for that final eschatological fulfillment of his promises. We may wonder if this will ever actually happen; we’ve been waiting thousands of years, after all. But the Lord says:

Do I bring to the moment of birth
    and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
    when I bring to delivery?” says your God.

(Funny, but Ironic aside on these verses. On my wife’s 19th birthday, a little less than three years before I was to meet here, I wrote these words in the margins: “v9 Promise from God regarding possible future mate 10/23/83). I say funny because these words were not written to me! My hermeneutical principals were a bit Fundy at the time. And ironic because it was her birthday!”)

There is a certain kind of frantic inevitability near the time of birth. Nothing can stop this baby from coming! That’s the kind of inevitability the Lord wants us to realize for his coming, for his making all things right. This is going to happen! And Isaiah ends with people from “all the nations” gathered before the Lord in the new heavens and new earth. But it doesn’t end happily for those who rebelled against Yahweh. The saved

will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

A bit of a harsh way to end the book, but the Lord is letting his people know that justice will be done. However things may appear to us, all who proclaim the name of the Lord, proclaim loudly with Moses:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

Amen!

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Isaiah 65 – A New Heavens and A New Earth

Yet another chapter delineating Israel’s rebellion. The Lord starts by telling us of his attempt to reveal himself to these people:

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
    to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
    pursuing their own imaginations—

But he does this, and lays out their sins and judgment to come in the next several verses, to reveal his mercy. He “will not destroy them all.” They will be as he calls them in verse nine, his “chosen people.” He compares these chosen ones to those who did not answer when he called, and did not listen. They did evil in his sight, and chose what displeases him. Not so those whom he calls his “servants.” It’s all a stark presentation, with two very different types of people doing two very different types of things.

It is important to read this in light of the whole testimony of Scripture. There are two types of people in the world: God’s enemies and God’s people. This is the harsh reality that awaits those who are not his:

15 You will leave your name
    for my chosen ones to use in their curses;
the Sovereign Lord will put you to death,
    but to his servants he will give another name.

These are difficult truths to accept. And the only way we can accept them is if we believe God is perfectly just. He always does what is right, and we cannot challenge his judgment simply because it appears wrong to us. The reason we can do this is because of what is declared in the next verse, something that has not been said about God in the OT yet:

16 Whoever invokes a blessing in the land
    will do so by the God of truth;
whoever takes an oath in the land
    will swear by the God of truth.
For the past troubles will be forgotten
    and hidden from my eyes.

The new NIV translates this as “the one true God,” but every other translation has it this way, and the Hebrew confirms that. In Hebrew it is literally in·Elohim-of amen. This God is truth, not just the true God. By definition he cannot do what is un-truth, or lie. So we trust him, even when it is hard. But notice even in judgment he declares his mercy. All of the mess of our lives lived in a fallen world will be wiped from his memory, and he gives us a vision of where this is all heading:

17 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

We read practically these same words in Revelation 21, where we read that, “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Which itself harkens back to Isaiah 25:8:

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.

As we look at all the pain and suffering and sorrow throughout the world, especially during this Christmas season, we long for this new heavens and earth. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Μαρανα θα! (Maranatha)

 

Isaiah 64 – God Our Father and Our Righteousness

Isaiah’s doubts in the previous chapter turns to hope in this one, and a plea for mercy and grace from the Lord, whom he calls their “Father.” This moniker for God is rare in the OT. The word or a variation (like fatherless) is used 753 times in the OT, so I can’t go back and check every one, but I’m pretty sure calling God Father happens for the first time in chapter 63, where it was done twice. We remember in Isaiah 9:6 the child to be born would be called “Everlasting Father,” among other names, but these two references are different. God is seen as a Father, maybe not the abba father of Jesus, but a father nonetheless. The hope of Israel comes in the form of a God who they see as paternal, which means “showing a kindness and care associated with a father.” Here are the references in chapter 63:

16 But you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us
    or Israel acknowledge us;
you, Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.

And then 64:

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

God spent 1500 plus years giving humanity the longest object lesson ever: we are dependent on God’s mercy and grace, on his kindnesses as a Father for our salvation, not on our obedience to the law. God takes unworthy, unrepentant sinners (by birth we are his avowed enemies) and turns them into repentant sinners (the Lord tells us in a previous chapter that “In repentance and rest is your salvation”) made worthy of his acceptance by Christ’s obedience unto death on a cross. We are saved in spite of what we do and who we are, as even a cursory look at Israel’s history shows us. Jesus tells us how this is done in John 3:

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

In Numbers 21:18 we read these words:

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

How are we saved? We look UP! To Jesus! Not down, to ourselves, to the muck and mire in which we so often live. We do not look to our works, good or bad, or to our generosity or kindness to others, nor to our piety or religiosity, or our remorse for our sin. We look up to Jesus.

And notice what the Lord has Moses put up on the pole—a snake! In the Garden it was a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to rebellion. and the human race has had to endure the curse of sin and death ever since. Jesus is tell Nicodemus, and us, that he will be lifted up, and will himself become that curse for us!

And as Isaiah says, this will be work of his hand (not ours), as does Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21):

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are in him the very righteousness of God. That’s so hard to fathom and accept at times. But if we look at Israel we know why this had to be the only way it could be done. That’s what the object lesson is for. Just prior to the Father verse Isaiah leaves no doubt that our righteousness had to come from somewhere, someone else:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Even our “righteous acts” are not good enough, as I implied above. Compared with the righteousness of God they are like filthy rags (and as many know, in Hebrew those refer to menstrual rags that make a person ceremonially unclean).  This is why the gospel is good news. We can now trust God to provide what we are unable to that we might have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe. Not a bad deal.

 

Isaiah 63 – The Battle Hymn of Salvation

I’ve been reading about the first six verses of this chapter, six startling verses, and how they are interpreted depends on how one views the Old Testament. Is it a divine or human document? It is about Christ, or is it an historical record of a Middle Eastern people? I’ll go with the former in both cases, but in Almighty God’s ingenious fashion it is also the latter, both divine and human, both about Christ and historical record. But its humanity and history have one purpose: to point to and give context to the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of the Savior of the world.

Some scholars, the critical ones of course, believe the end of chapter 62 and the beginning of 63 are written by different authors. The military metaphors of those first six verses seem to them to make this about a different topic. I think they flow perfectly. In 62 we read of God’s Holy people, the Redeemed of the Lord, and the first verses of this chapter tell us how this is done:

Who is this coming from Edom,
    from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendor,
    striding forward in the greatness of his strength?

“It is I, proclaiming victory,
    mighty to save.”

Why are your garments red,
    like those of one treading the winepress?

They are red with the blood of the nations that God has trampled in his wrath. This is gory stuff. There is another gory chapter in the NT that refers back to this one. In Revelation 19 in the context of Jesus (not named directly in the chapter) going to war against the beast and the kings of the earth, we read:

He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

It also says:

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

As we saw above, in Isiah this one’s garments are stained crimson. Clearly more is going on here than a vision of zillions of dead people, although God always takes vengeance on the enemies of his people, here the nation state of Israel and Babylon, in Revelation the devil and the kings of the earth. All these represent sin and death, and as Paul says, it is the last enemy to be destroyed.

These verses tell us, as Christ tells us, it is ultimately about redemption and salvation:

It was for me the day of vengeance;
    the year for me to redeem had come.
I looked, but there was no one to help,
    I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm achieved salvation for me,
    and my own wrath sustained me.

In redemption and salvation his wrath was poured out on Christ. These are verses that not many modern Evangelicals are familiar with. God’s wrath, if it is talked about at all, is certainly not talked about in these terms. God is all lovey dovey in 21st Century America. Without a God of wrath, salvation from sin is meaningless. God’s nature, his holiness, demands a punishment for sin. He promised as much to Adam and Eve.

The transition from verse 6 to 7 is stark. We go from the blood of the nations on the ground because of God’s wrath to the kindnesses of the Lord:

I trampled the nations in my anger;
    in my wrath I made them drunk
    and poured their blood on the ground.”

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
    he has done for Israel,
    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

I guess you don’t want to get on the Lord’s bad side! I can see why skeptics would think these are two different writers. But they don’t know that God’s wrath can’t be separated from his kindness. A just God has to punish sin, but a just God doesn’t have to save anyone! However, in his kindness and love, his mercy and grace, he is saving zillion, every single one of them, unworthy. I would call that kindness.

In the rest of the chapter Isaiah seems to be trying to figure out from Israel’s history and present what’s going on. Look, he says, what the Lord has done for Israel, bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, to all the times he has saved them. Will you not save us, he asks, again? The salvation to come will be far greater than he can imagine.

Isaiah 62 – God’s Efficacious Love

I couldn’t help think while reading this chapter that God’s love is sovereign. How many verses have we read in the previous 61 chapters of Israel’s sin and rebellion? That would be an interesting study, to come up with a percentage. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 50%, maybe well over. Whatever it is, their sin and rebellion has been relentless, and yet we read these verses to start this chapter:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

There is only one reason that the Lord has placed his favor on Zion, on the city of Jerusalem: he wants to! It has absolutely nothing to do with what they have done. In fact, he grants his favor in spite of what they have done. That’s the message of the OT, is it not?So many Christians intuitively believe, and from human reasoning it is logical, that our acceptance before God is based on our response to what he has done. God presents his case, we respond affirmatively, he places his love upon us. This has it, as I’ve said numerous times previously in these posts, exactly backward.

I’m reminded of a phrase I learned from Steve Kennedy way back when I first learned about Reformed Theology: God’s love is efficacious. Most Christians are under the mistaken notion that God loves indiscriminately, that he loves everyone (which is what they interpret “For God so loved the world” to mean), and those who respond to that love become his followers, etc. That’s why I thought for the first six years of my Christian life, and when Steve shared with me this idea of God’s efficacious love, it took me a while to accept it. For six years I’d been taught, and I assumed, and it just made sense to me that it was all up to me; God presented the opportunity and I had to take it. If I didn’t, too bad, so sad.

But Christianity isn’t like every other religion on the face of the earth. It’s not about me and what I do or don’t do, but about what God has done for me in Christ. Even that phrase can be misunderstood to put the person at the center of the deal. When I use it, what I mean is that I, Mike D’Virgilio, as hard as it is to fathom, was actually, literally, in Christ on that Cross on Golgatha 2000 years ago. He died for me, not some undifferentiated mass of humanity. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for so many Christians to accept. Paul says in Romans 5:8:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The dying “for us” wasn’t a potential dying. An actual transaction took place on the cross: the penalty for my sin was paid for. As Isaiah says in chapter 53, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” By definition, redemption cannot be a potential state. The word redeem means: to gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment.” If there is no exchange, there is no redemption. The Reformed tradition has called the definite or limited atonement. If Christ dies for every single individual who ever lived, then ever single individual must be saved. Nobody believes that. It’s comforting to know that it wasn’t my decision that made the atonement work, but God’s efficacious love poured out for me in Christ. The last verse in this chapter puts it well:

12 They will be called the Holy People,
    the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
    the City No Longer Deserted.

There is definitely some historical reference in this chapter, as there is all through Isaiah, but after 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, this City can only be a spiritual city. We are Holy People because we were Redeemed by the Lord, purchased by him, in Christ, on a Roman cross. We are holy because of what he did for us. Period. End of story. Whatever feeble attempts we make at personal holiness come from the fact that we are already holy. Talk about comforting.

Isaiah 61 – Our Sovereign Horticulturalist Lord

The first verses of Isaiah 61 are the same verses that Jesus reads in his hometown synagogue as he kicks off his ministry:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

It is not insignificant that Jesus stops with the first half of chapter 2. His first coming is to proclaim, and accomplish, salvation for his people (as Matthew tells us, his name will be Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.”). The second half of the verse tells us what will happen at his second coming: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Another realistic interpretation is that this vengeance spoken of is that which was poured out on Christ for our sin. One commentary I read said that when God saves his people, he takes vengeance on their enemies. Our ultimate enemy is sin and death, and God gave us victory over those in Christ’s death and resurrection.

I also notice that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is not the same as Jesus, a hint that the Triune God is active in salvation. And notice to whom Jesus was sent:

  • The poor
  • The brokenhearted
  • The captives
  • The prisoners

These are people who realize they have a problem, a very bad problem. Those who pride themselves on their own self-sufficiency have no place in God’s kingdom. The Lord, this anointed one, Jesus the Messiah, is the who accomplishes the great reversal in our lives. Also notice who does the acting in salvation. Jesus will:

  • Preach good news
  • Bind up the brokenhearted
  • Proclaim freedom
  • Release from darkness

And the final words of verse 3 leave no doubt that it isn’t about us:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Next to this verse I have Matt. 15:13 written in my Bible, which makes it even more emphatically about what God does for us. Jesus tells his disciples:

Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.

Calvin and his followers are the only Christian tradition that embraces this without reservation or qualification. And anytime that righteousness is addressed in terms of salvation, it must always be interpreted by Romans 3, the righteousness of God given to us by faith. It is not a righteousness earned by obedience to the law. Verse 10 is a perfect compliment to Paul’s understanding of how we come to participate in this righteousness:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness

There is some question as to who the “I” is in this verse. It seems as if it could be the one who begins the chapter, which would be Christ. But he is our salvation and our righteousness, so this must be his people, those he came to redeem. The final verse says it is the Sovereign Lord who will “make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” This is what God has done in us, for us, to us, and through us, and it will all reflect His glory. His Church, the Body of his Son, His called out ones, these will reflect as a mirror his very person in a fallen world among people in rebellion to their maker. 

Isaiah 60 – For My Dispensational Friends: The Land Isn’t Land!

I read some commentaries on this chapter, and there are actually scholars and Bible commentators who believe it is about Israel! In some sense it obviously is about Israel, but as we’ve seen, texts in Isaiah often have historical and eschatological meaning simultaneously. But Jesus gave us the ultimate hermeneutical rubric for the OT in Luke 24:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

and

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

It’s all about him! This contradicts the hermeneutical rubric of dispensationalism, which doesn’t see any continuity between Israel and the Church. One commentator used the term, always done in a pejorative sense, “replacement theology,” as if the church replaced Israel. The Church doesn’t replace Israel because Israel is the Church! What is the Church? The body of Christ! And Jesus is the new or the true Israel! And this understanding of the OT makes Isaiah 60 all the more powerful.

The first few verses are the answer to these verses in chapter 59:

So justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
    for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,
    feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
    among the strong, we are like the dead.

Wandering around in darkness is a result of the state of the human soul without God. He says in verse 2, that our sins have separated us from our God. The answer comes from God’s sovereign grace:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Notice the sheep and the goats. There are those who are God’s people, those he has chosen on whom to place his glory, and the rest of the peoples of the earth over whom “thick darkness” reigns. Either you are one of his, or you are not, and he determines which is which.

Some of the chapter definitely relates to historical Israel that will be rebuilt, but references to forever are the clue that this is no physical salvation that Israel is looking forward to. This eternal and ultimately salvific proclamation starts in verse 14 and goes to the end of the chapter, which leads to the verses (the beginning of chapter 61) that Jesus read when he announced his ministry at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.

In verse 14 he refers to these nations coming to bow down before the “City of the Lord,” where God himself dwells. Verse 15, this becomes a place of “everlasting pride, and the joy of all generations.” I’m sorry, my dispensational friends, these words do not refer to the nation of Israel, the physical plot of land in the Middle East. In verse 16 the Lord refers to himself as Israel’s Redeemer, the purchase of which he secured through his Suffering Servant we read about in Isaiah 52 and 53. There has to be a transaction to establish The City of the Lord. He speaks of peace and righteousness ruling this city in verse 17. Salvation and praise will be its gates, verse 18 tells us, and there will be no violence or destruction there. Sounds eschatological to me! In verse 19, it will not need the sun or the moon because the Lord himself will be its “everlasting light,” and God its glory. He reiterates this in verse 20. And he tops it off with something that only makes sense in light of the New Testament:

21 Then all your people will be righteous
    and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
    the work of my hands,
    for the display of my splendor.

This, of course, seals it. No “land” can last forever, but his eternal kingdom can. And no human being can be “righteous” without the imputed righteousness of Christ, which can only be had by faith! And the final verse says he will “do this swiftly,” and that lots and lots of people will participate and become a “mighty nation.” Thousands of years doesn’t seem swift to us, but this all actually happened in a matter of days two thousand years ago, and the mighty nation has been growing ever sense.