July 28th, 2021 - Isaiah 52-57
Chapter 52 brings the second call to wake up, the first being in 51:17. This call was in preparation for a glorious future. And this new city would be holy because her citizens would be holy. Now we see the city of Jerusalem set over and against the uncircumcised and unclean city of Babylon. Unclean things would no longer be allowed. Zion’s strength would be like beautiful garments that would adorn a queen. The arising and sitting down brings about the image of a queen ascending the throne and then sitting down. Now God’s people would be free and they would enjoy all the good things His blessing brings. He reminds them He was fully in control when He gave His people into the hands of their enemies. And because He remained fully in control He could redeem them when He chose to do so. Again they are reminded that the exodus from exile would resemble leaving captivity in Egypt. The oppressors would shout in exaltation because they believed they had not only conquered Israel but also her God. Little did they know! God’s name was being blasphemed but Israel’s oppressors had no idea who they were up against. The challenge is, many of the nations knew God by what His people did and the eyes of the world were watching. However, just as God did before the exodus, He would also reveal himself in the coming rescue from exile.
Verses 7-12 is a poetic description of God’s promise to rescue His people from the alienation their sin created. The picture is of a besieged city waiting for word that it’s hero has defeated the enemy armies. In Romans 10:15 Paul applies these words to the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This vision of the feet is of the one who runs from the scene of battle across mountains to the city that is waiting for good news. The glorious message of this runner is salvation, meaning glorious deliverance. This is good news, or good tidings. The idea appears in the New Testament as ‘to tell the good news’. The message Your God Reigns stands behind all history. The Lord controls every power on earth. The good news goes beyond proclaiming an end to the exile. It also points towards the peace and salvation of the age to come. The watchmen were stationed on top of the walls of Jerusalem. But this is also a picture of those who were looking for the news of Zion’s redemption, longing for salvation. When this happens, there will be a great celebration and people will break into song. This rescue from disgrace foreshadows an even greater victory when God will reign victoriously to the ends of the earth. The reference here to the Lord’s arm is a figure for a personal, active power. This says God lays bare His holy arm as He prepares to work. It would be like one of us saying we had to roll up our sleeves and get at things. Not only will God’s people leave physical captivity but now we see a call to leave captivity to sin as well. Not that we can ever be sinless but we can repent and leave the things that cause us to sin behind. The people are encouraged to purify themselves by turning away from all known sin. Remember these folks are carrying back home all the articles from the temple in Jerusalem and to carry them they need to be pure. At the exodus from Egypt the people left in a hurry but now they leave because they are allowed to leave. God will go with them, leading and following. Again we see the exodus and are reminded of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
The section from 52:13-53:12 is one of the greatest passages in the entire Bible. This is the ultimate suffering servant song. Right in the middle of a declaration of the Lord’s coming salvation, Isaiah places a portrait of the suffering servant. He is despised and rejected, wounded and bruised, unattractive and ordinary. This servant would know heartache and sorrow. The reason for His suffering was not because of the way He lived His life because He was blameless. He spoke only the truth. But this servant would be led to death for our sins. Philip used part of this song as a starting point with the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts 8:31-34. The Ethiopian asked him to explain the passage about the servant being led to slaughter like a lamb. Philip introduced him to Jesus, the One who was led to His death for the sins of all humanity.
Chapters 54-55 issues an invitation to participate in the restoration to God’s favor made possible through the ministry of the promised servant. The first 17 verses show that salvation flows from the vindication of the suffering servant. The promises mentioned here go beyond the return from Babylonian exile and apply to the coming of Jesus Christ, the extension of the kingdom to the church, the benefits of the second coming of Jesus Christ as the bridegroom of the church, and the new Jerusalem. Isaiah encourages Jerusalem, likened to a barren woman, to rejoice because her fate was rapidly changing. She would have so many children that she would outgrow her home. In the ancient world, perhaps even today, a woman who had never given birth after being married for a time would be ashamed. Isaiah compares Jerusalem to a barren woman who rejoices at the long awaited blessing of children. The people are encouraged to sing because of God’s blessings. In time Israel’s descendants would occupy other nations in fulfillment to God’s promises to Abraham and to Jacob. As desolation took place the people of God would inherit the earth and resettle the ruined cities. The Lord has committed Himself to the abandoned woman (His people in exile) as her maker and husband. The redeemer will transform misery into freedom and fulfillment. The pain of separation known as exile would be brief when compared to the depth of God’s renewal of love and compassion. The Lord abandoned Israel for a short while because of the people’s sins. However, the Lord is eternally committed to His people, making the 70 year punishment seem short indeed…in the scheme of things.
This exile was somewhat similar in both drama and trauma to the flood in the time of Noah. In both cases the people had sinned grievously against the Lord, but the Lord renewed His commitment to creation after the flood and to His people after the exile. We are reminded…all of us.. that God’s faithful love for His people endures despite their unfaithfulness. God’s covenant of blessing was the assurance of His presence, resulting in wholeness, blessing, and protection. That replaces the shame and disgrace of the exile. The rest of the chapter (11-17) is a vision of the renewed Jerusalem as a city under God’s protection and a place of peace and righteousness. It also forms the background for John’s vision of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-21). The Lord Himself would rebuild the city, and God reassures His people that no nation will defeat them. He has promised protection just as He did for Abraham regardless of weapon or place.
Chapter 55 is the final chapter of the prophecies of comfort. (40-55). This chapter summarizes themes we have encountered along the way; blessing, covenant, witness, Word, nations, glory, forgiveness and joy. The invitation to eat and drink is similar to what we read in Proverbs 9:5, wisdom’s call. This image promises the satisfying of thirst not only by water but also wine and milk which are more costly items. John applied a similar theme to Jesus. All of this is free because our reconciliation with God has no cost. Thirst can also refer to what satisfies a persons spirit, and wine and milk are symbols of complete satisfaction. Responding positively to God satisfies our spiritual, social, and physical being, and those who respond obediently to God’s Word will find eternal life. God promised king David a special covenant, to preserve his kingly lineage. David’s dynasty was eternally confirmed in the kingship of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Isaiah calls for a response when the time is right. While you can find Him reminds us that when God graciously extends an invitation to salvation we are called to respond. Those who choose not to respond do not know when the invitation will be issued again. Turning to the Lord means that a true conversion demands a change in how we live in regards to God’s laws and commandments. God does have mercy. His compassion reaches out to the needy and finds them where they are. Most importantly, God forgives. That is the foundation of redemption.
We are reminded that God’s plans are marvelous and none of His created beings, human, animal, or angel will ever fully understand His thoughts. But His revelation through His messengers gives us great insight and knowledge of some of the things He will do. God word is like rainfall, it’s produces fruit. And His written Word, an expression of His plan, accomplishes His purposes.God succeeds in whatever He does. Joy is found in being redeemed from bondage and His people experience an inner peace not known to the wicked. Even creation participates in the freedom of God’s people and join in the celebration. The rejoicing of the people at Gods salvation will be so full that it will seem like mountains, hills, and trees are joining in. Redemption will be like transforming the desert to a forest and God’s glory will be more and more visible to humanity as His redemption takes effect.
The last major division of the Book of Isaiah brings together themes from chapters 1-39 ( sin, justice, righteousness, responsibility, vengeance, and vindication) and chapters 40-55 (salvation and the age to come). Chapter 56 begins with an invitation to outcasts to participate in God’s redemption. One of the keys in the first 39 chapters is the call for justice in relationships, both with others and with God. True godliness comes only through having character this is shaped by the character of God. And that happens when we spend time in His Word and in prayer. The reminder that He is coming soon, which we also see in the Book of Revelation, summarized the message in 40-55 that the Lord is creating a world of harmony, peace, restoration, vindication, and the removal of enemies. God’s people are blessed to have the sabbath as a sign of the covenant and a gift to all of His people, even until today. This blessing will be for everybody, eunuchs and Gentiles as well. This invitation is brought to the forefront when Jesus lives here on earth. It is for anyone who commits themselves to the Lord and become full participants in the covenant community. Prior to Jesus, Gentiles, eunuchs, and foreigners were not allowed full participation in things of the Lord. Now everyone has a place. Having a memorial and a name means that everlasting existence is way better than the blessing of physical descendants. The essential ingredient for covenant fellowship Is love for God and when we keep the sabbath it is a sign of keeping God’s covenant.
It is interesting to note that there was a point where God rejected Israel’s burnt offerings and sacrifices because of their sin, but He would now welcome offerings from righteous Gentiles and foreigners. One’s nationality is worth very little without piety. God has promised to open the doors of His house to everyone as a house of prayer. If you recall, Jesus rebuked the people for desecrating the temple and preventing it from functioning as a house of prayer. The outcasts of Israel here were those who had been dispersed from the nations as the result of the exile. Verses 9-14 speak of Israel’s irresponsible leaders. The ravenous beasts are the foreign nations summoned to attack the ungodly community. In the ancient Near East demons and spirits were often believed to appear as animals. Israel’s leaders, the watchmen, were ignorant shepherds. They did not know how to rule in a godly way and the ones who were to watch and warn the city of danger, danger being the approaching prophets, did not fear the Lord. Everyone was doing their own thing. They had no concern or regard for God or His standards of godly leadership.
The lament that begins chapter 57 is for the righteous who suffer in a wicked society. God will protect them from the wicked and the wicked would not be able to Rest In Peace. Again we see the disdain for those who worship idols. Th Baal religion that flourished in Israel before the exile included many undesirable practices and the wicked mocked the righteous by their insults, including sticking out their tongues. Often groves of trees were used for places of pagan worship because everybody knew that God could not see you worship idols under a tree! Some of the pagan practices included the detestable practices of sacrificing children in fire. Liquid and grain offerings were believed to satisfy the basic needs of the gods and thus earn their favor. Even worse, many of these pagan religions had a commitment to fertility gods where worship involved a variety of sexual activities as part of their rituals. None of this honored God, not even a little bit. And the people were living in fear of false gods way more than they feared the Lord. Isaiah reminded the people that idols were weak and had no power. Even a puff of wind could known them over, while the Lord was the one who created the wind. But God will forgive the repentant and be present with the humble; to heal them and grant them His peace. This promise is extended to all the citizens of Zion, Jews and Gentiles alike. God comes to the humble with an all inclusive offer of salvation, while He deals justly with the wicked. How amazing that even though God is the high and lofty one, He promises to dwell with the humble. And we see His grace in their healing and salvation. This results in praise to the Lord, from near and far, from Jews and Gentiles. However, those who live in opposition to God are like the restless sea, they will never know peace…not in their lives and not with God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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