By the time of King Uzziah’s death (740) the southern kingdom of Judah faced a major crisis. The empire of Assyria, dormant for almost 50 years, was now on the move again. Assyria’s conquests reached southwestward from its homeland in what is now northern Iraq toward its ultimate destination, Egypt. The small nations of the Mediterranean coast, including both Israel and Judah, stood in Assyria’s way. Assyria would only be satisfied with total control of Israel, Judah, and any other small nation in the area. While Judah’s King Uzziah was still alive, Judah’s was able to ignore the crisis. Overall Uzziah was a good and effective king. He had a strong army and his people hoped that he could somehow save the nation from the Assyrians. When Uzziah died, however, ungodly rulers succeeded him. During this crisis of leadership, God gave Isaiah the vision that launched his ministry and guided him for the next 40 years. In the meantime, Assyria pushed steadily southward along the coast of the Mediterranean, conquering one small nation after another. During this time, Judah’s policy on Assyria vacillated between confrontation and appeasement. Isaiah brought a much needed message: God is absolutely, 100% dependable and it is folly to trust in anything or anyone else. Sometimes people headed what Isaiah had to say and other times they ignored him. But the truth stayed the same, God is 100% dependable.
Isaiah was the son of Amoz and was quite possibly related to king Amaziah. His name means the Lord saves. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem. He was well educated and he had a deep insight into human nature. His ministry was long. Isaiah was both Judah’s political and religious counselor. He had access to kings and it appears that he was the official court historian. Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess and they had two sons. Isaiah opposed social and political evil at all levels. He censured fortune tellers and exhorted everyone to obey God’s covenant. He rebuked kings for their willfulness and indifference and he denounced wealthy, influential people who ignored their responsibilities. Isaiah opposed Canaanite idolatry and insincere religious observances, declaring that only a righteous remnant would survive. He foretold of the coming Messiah, the peaceful prince of God’s kingdom. The Messiah was an obedient, suffering servant. The Book of Isaiah has more New Testament overtones than any other book of the Old Testament, and this book is frequently cited by New Testament authors...95 times based on studies of the Greek New Testament. Isaiah is referenced 16 times in Romans, 15 times in Matthew, and 13 times in the short book of 1 Peter. Sometimes Isaiah is called the 5th gospel.
Perhaps the most striking account we have read so far in Isaiah is his call to ministry. We see a picture of the throne room of the Lord and we see seraphim. This word comes from the word saraph which means to burn with fire. These angelic creatures belong to the heavenly host and are mentioned only twice in scripture, both times in Isaiah chapter 6. It seems that these beings conduct the worship of God in heaven and are different from the cherubim, who are described in the Book of Revelation 4:6-8 as surrounding God’s throne instead of standing above it as described here. The relation of their name to burning may be due to their flaming appearance. But their name probably relates to their role in purification. Fire is a symbol for purity and one of these fiery beings purified Isaiah’s lips with a live coal. Yikes!
Here are some of the things God told Isaiah to prophecy about Jesus. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel.” (7:14).
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. For unto us as child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (9:2,6). There is also Isaiah 11:1-10…” There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” And there is the prophecy associated with John the Baptist’s announcement of the coming of the Lord. We find that in Isaiah 40:1-5. And this… “Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (53:4,5). Actually the bulk of chapter 53 describes the suffering servant that scholars identify as Jesus Christ. For being written hundreds of years before Jesus walked on the face of this earth, chapter 53 describes Jesus suffering as though Isaiah’s was standing there watching.
Isaiah preached to what seemed to be very religious people. They fasted, said prayers, celebrated holy days, and brought their sacrifices to Jerusalem. But God rejected these practices. Why? These acts had value. The Lord Himself had prescribed them. But the people’s worship was not from their hearts, and it wasn’t accompanied by the personal holiness and social justice that God requires. (See Leviticus 19:13-17). The people of Judah had fallen into the trap of religious hypocrisy. Religious hypocrisy can result from selective obedience, from lip service to God’s law without changes of heart and life to back it up. People who trade their piety for others to see often have little desire to truly obey God. Many years after Isaiah, Jesus confronted this kind of hypocrisy in the Pharisees. He challenged them to be better doers of God’s whole revelation rather than just the parts that brought them acclaim. (See Matthew 23:23). The apostles Paul and James also distinguished between mere religiosity and true spirituality. Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees also serves as a warning to us: we are not to be like them. Instead, Jesus calls us to be authentic before God and with others, to obey His entire Word, and to go beyond mere formalities and appearances in our devotion to God.
Isaiah’s prophecies primarily addressed the nation of Judah. In Isaiah’s time Judah had a historic commitment to the Lord but was well on its way to spiritual bankruptcy and moral degeneration. Throughout his prophecies, Isaiah called them back the Lord and warned them of the consequences of the crimes that they were committing. This list is not all inclusive, but close, and it spans the entire Book of Isaiah. Judah was turning away from the Lord. At the root of all of Judah’s crimes, they rejected God and His Word, refusing to trust the Lord or recognize His care. They employed sorcerers and mediums. The people of Judah looked to spirits for guidance instead of the Lord. They worshiped with empty ceremonies. They went through the motions of worship while trusting in everything but the Lord. God’s people committed murder and acts of violence. They took what they wanted through violence against their brothers. The people of Judah worshiped other gods. They worshiped things they had made with their own hands rather than the Creator of everything. They embraced vanity and pride. The people of Judah gloried in themselves and their accomplishments, rather than recognizing God’s blessings as the source of their strength. God’s people took bribes and payoffs. Judges favored those able to pay and disregarded those without means, making a mockery of justice. The people of Judah were afraid of other peoples. They were terrified when threatened with attack, because they didn’t trust the Lord to keep them safe. They allied with pagan nations. Judah looked to powerful nations around them for protection, rather than relying on the Lord for protection. They oppressed others. Those of Judah who had power and authority used their positions to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. The people of Judah reveled in excessive drinking. Rather than serve the Lord with sobriety and readiness, they abandoned themselves to the pleasures of the moment. Lastly, they trusted in human strength. They believed their security came from fortifications and weapons rather than from the Lord’s blessing.
Isaiah is a book that is very rich. It is rich in prophecy, in teaching about the coming Messiah, in promises and reassurances that God is always with us…Immanuel. We see the dedication of the first of the prophets in spite of being mocked and ignored. There are lessons for us today in this book. If you have a chance today, read Psalm 51 again and then read Isaiah 53. We see the confession of sin and the cost to give forgiveness in these two powerful chapters of scripture.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W