The prophet Isaiah was a man with a mission. The Lord had shown him a glimpse of his glorious throne and placed a call on his life. As a prophet, isaiah spoke God’s words. For the most part they were words of confrontation, exhortation, and warning. They were words that made him extremely unpopular. But even when he faced opposition Isaiah continued to stand up for the truth. The Lord called Isaiah to warn the people of their headlong rush into disaster. This book records these prophetic words of warning, but, it also records Isaiah’s words of promise and hope. One day a Messiah would come who would save, comfort, and bless His people. Many people refer to the Book of Isaiah as the Old Testament gospel. But the book was also written under the presumption that Judah was doomed. This conviction was the very foundation of Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah dated his ministry to the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This places Isaiah’s ministry between 740-700 B.C. His primary ministry was to the people of Judah, who were failing miserably living according to the requirements of God’s law. But he prophesied judgement not only upon Judah but also Israel and the surrounding nations. He also delivered a stirring message of repentance and salvation for anyone who would turn to God.
Here are some things to look for as you read. Isaiah has a very polished literary style. His vocabulary is rich. He makes beautiful and varied uses of poetry. His phraseology is distinctive, often using the phrase “The Holy One of Israel” and “my servant”. Several times Isaiah uses fire imagery to represent punishment. He uses the symbolism of the vineyard, the wine press, and the cup of God’s wrath repeatedly. Chapters 24-27 are the apocalyptic section of the book, focusing on the last days. One of his favorite devices is personification. In chapters 41-54 Isaiah develops the theme of a servant, often referred to as as suffering servant. There are four servant songs; 42:1-9, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12 that describe the coming king. The Messianic King is called ‘my servant’ in chapters 42-53. The suffering servant would bring justice and salvation…not just for Israel but for the Gentiles as well. The New Testament identifies this suffering servant as Jesus Christ. This book contains a rich array of genres as far as Isaiah’s writing. There are judgement speeches, prophecies of woe, parables, trial speeches, salvation prophecies, hymns of praise, prophecies against foreign nations, prophecies of a coming King, the Messiah, servant songs, and narratives.
One scholar describes today’s writing as the “great arraignment”. Like many of Isaiah’s utterances, this section of the book combines dire threatenings with urgent calls to repentance and gracious offers of forgiveness and blessing. The beginning of chapter 2:1-5 promises world redemption. This is followed by a series of threatening passages, including a detailed description of the finery of the women of Jerusalem. This serves as an illustration of the sinful frivolity of the people as a whole. The land is likened to an unfruitful vineyard, which will soon become desolate. The indictment against Judah has two parts. First Isaiah summons heaven and earth as witnesses to the trial and then the Lord indicts Judah, here called Israel. God’s relationship with His people is personal but here He likens Judah to ungrateful children who rebel. In other words they have refused to submit to His authority. And that is the heart of the problem, and what will bring ultimate disaster down upon Judah. God’s people have refused to listen to Him, obey His commands, or worship Him exclusively. The whole nation is sinful, led by the priests and other leaders who have fallen away from God as well. In fact, many of them led the people astray.
Chapter 1:9-17 is an invitation to repent and it comes in three parts. First is Isaiah’s appeal to the rebellious rulers and people of Jerusalem to hear the Lord’s instruction. Next came the Lord’s scathing indictment and rejection of the people’s external, formalistic worship. Third is the Lord’s invitation to the people to repent and do justice in order to save themselves from death. The title Lord of Hosts describes God as ruler over all powers in heaven and on earth through His command of His angelic armies. This title is a favorite of Isaiah’s for the Lord. It speaks of God’s holiness and sovereignty. And ultimately, Judah’s survival had nothing to do with the enemies weakness but with God’s strength. One of the things we will see several times is a reference to bad worship. This is worship that does not honor God. It is people going through the motions, people coming to worship the Lord and then going to worship idols. It is also God’s people celebrating pagan festivals like they were really worshiping Him. But 1:18 has a stunning promise. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” God was not declaring His people innocent of wickedness. He was prepared to pardon their sins if they would repent and turn to him. This same forgiveness is offered to you and me. God does not deny our sinfulness. Instead He can forgive us based on the payment for sin in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of God is evident when conflict and violence end, and it is always characterized by peace. God will judge between the nations. They will submit to divine arbitration rather than go to war. When this happens, war will cease and the nations will turn their weapons of war into agricultural tools. This will be possible only because of the reign of the Prince of Peace, whose name is Jesus. When the day of the Lord comes people will seek refuge against His wrath in caves in the rocks. Everyone will look for protection against His judgement. Isaiah tells us that on that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and gold. These animals lead a shadowy, subterranean existence. Those who worship idols will become like them in attempting to escape the Lord’s judgement.
Because of the Lord’s judgement on Judah, the shrewd, ungodly leaders will be replaced by children and youth, meaning inexperienced and incompetent leaders, and Jerusalem and Judah will parade their sins and defiance against God like the people of Sodom did centuries before. Chapter 3:16-4:1 speaks of the arrogance of the people of Jerusalem, personified by the women dressed in their finery. We see Isaiah’s scorn for their pretense and flagrant display. It beginning in 4:2 there is a prophecy of salvation and hope, promised cleansing, consecration, and the renewal of God’s presence with the remnant, described as a branch. The reading ends with a picture right out of Israel’s wilderness wandering…a cloud of smoke by day and fire by night to remind the people of God’s presence among them.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W