Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Links to observations drawn from other books of the Bible
Isaiah received a vision of God and was called to speak God's Word in Isaiah 6.
Isaiah's writings pointed often to the coming of the Messiah, as in Isaiah 53.
Background: Isaiah was born (c. 740-680 BC) into an influential, upper-class family with access to decision makers of Judah. The northern 10 tribes of Israel had drifted into paganism and were overcome by Assyria's incursion from the north in 722 BC. The southern tribe of Judah was in danger of the same outcome. Isaiah urged a return to the Lord but most of the kings during Isaiah's lifetime rejected his call and sought alliances with Egypt instead. Isaiah also challenged the social ills of his day but not simply out of a desire for needed social reforms but because he saw social abuses as symptomatic of spiritual decline and without a return to a right relationship with God ethical standards cannot exist for long.
Isaiah is often called "the evangelical prophet" because he speaks more than any other about the redemptive work of the Messiah, e.g. Isaiah 53. Tradition indicates Isaiah was martyred during the reign of Manasseh (696-642 BC) for his unpopular message by being sawed in two inside a hollow log (cf. Hebrews 11:37). For a map of Isaiah's time, please click on the image, right; for further historical detail, please click here.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Isaiah (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively, taking personal notes, before reading observations below):
God's indictment of sin (v.2-15) and invitation to new life (v.16-20): God's indictment of sin is not because He doesn't like us but because He does loves us and doesn't want to see us destroy ourselves through bad choices.
Nature and root of sin: Sin begins with turning against and then loosing sight of God (v.2-3). This loss of vision results in "missing the mark" of God's righteousness (the meaning of sin in v.4), perversion from the verb 'to bend or twist' (the meaning of iniquity in v. 4), becoming a generation of evildoers (from the verb 'to be harmful, injurious' in v.4) and in the end to putrefy (the meaning of 'act corruptly' in v.4). The world is weighed down (v.4) and suffers from all these symptoms but doesn't know (v.3) the cause of its loss.
Invitation to New Life: God invites those who have rejected His covenant to reason with Him (v.18) and turn to a new life (v.17) made possible by turning to His grace and forgiveness (v.16). The stakes of the decision are high (v.19-20). The consequences of the wrong decision are seen in history to this day. v.18: "Come now, let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool."
Social experiments without God: Efforts at social transformation are shallow and short-lived when the reality of God and His call is not taken with utter seriousness. Utopian experiments without God (Marxism, fascism) invariably turn into brutal totalitarianism in which the head of state demands respect and obedience due only to God, radically missing the mark of the social transformation they claim to desire.
Personal Application: I will love the Father in heaven who created and reared me (v.2) and seek to know His ways. I will repent quickly when I become aware of any of the evidences of sin (v.4) in my life. I will take the side of the oppressed (v.17) calling for the justice (right relationship) of God.
My Prayer: Father, I seek your face and heart and ways with all my heart. You alone bring life and grace and justice to the world. I turn to you again today and every hour, abiding in you, drawing from you, rejoicing in you as the source of our only hope.
The Day of Reckoning: The day of reckoning (v12) - when God removes the proud and haughty (v.17-21) - will leave justice and peace throughout the earth (v.2-4). False idols will be cast aside (v.8,20) and Yahweh alone will be exalted (v.11,17). Those who set themselves up over against their creator will tremble and hide from the splendor of his majesty (v.10,19).
The Day of Reckoning brought by Babylon's conquest of Judah is similar to events before the second coming of Christ (cf. Isaiah 2:10,19 and Rev. 6:15). We have opportunity to "fear the Lord" rightly (i.e. awe, respect) before the day of reckoning or in the way described in these verses on the day of reckoning.
In the Interim: The time and means of judgment is the Lord's. My role is to proclaim the Gospel, show compassion and invite the world to respond to the wooings of her King. Except as an expression of worship to the Lord (Psalm 8), man is not to be esteemed (v.22) but only the Lord. Even kings are not to think highly of themselves, stockpiling wealth (v.7; Deut. 17:16-17).
Personal Application: I will honor the Lord gladly, living in the joy of His presence, moving with Him in sensitivity to the promptings of His ways. I will speak to those who seek utopian goals through human engineering (which have always resulted in totalitarianism) of the results of walking in His paths (v.2-4). v. 5: Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
My Prayer: Father, how good and wonderful are your ways and what joy is to those who walk in them. Let me not fear the coming day of reckoning but call the nations to you that they may not suffer irrecoverable loss.
God is not unjust in His judgments, i.e. God is just in His judgements: His people bring evil upon themselves (v.9) with a pride (v.16) that does not even attempt to hide their sin and rebellion against the One who loves them (v.8-9. When the privileged disrespect the poor (v.14-15), the Lord places those not worthy to rule (v.4-5), over those who have ruled badly. To rule over a people under judgment is no privilege (v.6-7).
Personal Application: To live in a setting where people are bringing evil upon themselves is difficult but our mission does not change. We call people back from their rebellion and often suffer the consequences of their rebellion with them. In it all we point people to their creator and redeemer and intercede for them with Christ (Hebrews 7:25). I will challenge those who do evil in an effort to avert judgment. I will walk with those suffering the consequences of their rebellion, loving and wooing them to repentance.
My Prayer: Father, your grief must know no bounds even when your patience has been stretched to breaking. Our grief, even when we walk with those under judgment, is but a pale reflection of Yours. Give me grace to love even then.
Constrasting God's goodness and man's rebellion: The contrast between the results of rebellion and God's good purposes could not be more dramatic. Judah's men had been decimated though war and other judgements, but rejection of the Lord would cause conditions to deteriorate further (v.1). God's call to Judah and to us is that we turn rather to the Messiah (Branch, v.2) and choose life, holiness (v.3), cleansing (v.4), shelter, refuge and protection (v. 6). God's goodness is unspeakably better than man's independence which leads to death.
Trust and Distrust: Man's desire for independence, beginning with independence from God and extending to independence from those around him, is rooted in distrust and leads to war and death. Man thinks he will have security when he is in charge - but the result is conflict with others who also want independence. God invites us rather to "lean into" Him in trust and dependence and to invite others to do the same. Leaning into the Lord removes the distrust and competition among humanity also.
Personal Application: Until Christ's return I will be a remnant in exile but I will look to Him who is my hope and "lean into" Him. Though as unpopular as Isaiah for doing so, I will call those who desire independence from the Lord to return in trust to Him.
My Prayer: Thank you Lord that You are good and trustworthy; forgive me for having sought independence. I "lean into" You with trust and confidence whatever the storm around me.
The Vinedresser Seeking Good Fruit: Isaiah compares Israel to a vineyard, planted and nurtured in love (v.1). God looks for good fruit but finds only bad (v.2), looks for justice but finds bloodshed, righteousness but hears the cry of the oppressed (v.7). Israel calls evil good and good evil (v.20).
What will God do? God will remove Israel's privileged place of protection, remove its wall and hedge (v.5) and she will become fruitless (v.10) and go into exile (v.13) Those who turn from the Lord, reject His moral principles and despise His Word, will find their root and blossom fail, ultimately perishing like dry grass into the flame (v.24).
The parallel to Jesus's symbolic action in the New Testament rejecting the fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:12ff), describing the Owner of the vineyard seeking fruit of His people but finding only rebellion (Mark 12) and calling His disciples to abiding and fruitfulness (John 15) is to be seen in the context of Isaiah 5.
It is to this fruitless people that Isaiah is called in chapter 6. Likewise, it is to those who lack knowledge of the Lord (not simply intellectual - the mind often follows after - but heart knowledge, relational knowledge v.13) whom we too serve; those who are falling into Sheol, the nether world, perishing (v.14).
Personal Application: So well tended by His grace (v.1-2), I will be His fruitful vineyard; yielding daily by His mercy, righteousness and justice (v.7), attentiveness to the Lord's ways (v.12) word and law (v.24), clear discernment and moral perspective (v.20), and His wisdom (v.21) in every practical and relational matter. I will call those the Vinedresser (cf. John 15:1) has well tended also but who resist the Vinedressers purposes to return thanks with fruitfulness, abiding in Christ the True Vine (John 15:5).
My Prayer: Father, how it grieves you to see your people unfruitful wild vines. How you are exalted in the discernment we call judgement (v.16). May we abide in the True Vine bearing fruit reflecting your character for eternity.
God's Call Changes Everything: Isaiah's call
a) came from Yahweh, the holy LORD of glory (v.3), the same God who called also Moses from the burning bush,
b) required a cleansed vessel. God provided cleansing with the coal from the alter. Scripture speaks often of burning away dross (e.g. Malachi 3:3). When we repent deeply we often feel what can best be described as a burning within. I expect this will be our experience also as we stand before the final judgement seat, with Christ as our advocate, forgiven and cleansed as we enter eternity.
(Scripture mentions several kinds of angels including Seraphim (v.2). The word is from the verb "to burn" suggesting the work of cleansing appropriate to God's holiness).
c) can be God's response to an invitation to volunteer (v.8). Moses did not volunteer but his excuses were of no avail.
d) Isaiah's call was not to guaranteed success but rather to obedience proclaiming God's Word to those whose hearts were increasingly hardened, as was the case of Pharaoh's heart in response to Moses.
God's Purpose is Accomplished, Whether or Not We are Successful: God's purpose of cleansing His people, even through exile and "burning" (v.13), will yield the Holy Seed of the Messiah born from the stump of the remnant. Isaiah needed to focus solely on carrying out God's calling fully and completely. As we do the same it may sometimes yield success in my our eyes or in the eyes of others, sometimes not. Ours is not to evaluate this - either to be proud of apparent success or to berate ourselves for apparent failure - but to know that God will evaluate on His own terms (Matthew 25) and will bring about His redeeming purpose (v.13).
Personal Application: I will be faithful to God's call. I will see the whole earth as full of His glory (v.3), even where distorted or defaced by evil, because God's glory is the more foundational reality. I will not be discouraged by apparent rejection of God's invitation to wholeness.
My Prayer: Father, how your call and glory holds steady my heart when evil distorts and hearts are led astray.
Historical background of chapters 7-39: The northern 10 tribes (Israel or Ephraim) and Syria (Aram) are under Assyrian subjection. The northern tribes form an alliance with Syria to throw off the yoke but need Judah's help to increase chances of success. Ahaz king of Judah refuses and appeals instead for Assyria's help against the 10 tribes and Syria when they seek to force Judah into their alliance. In this crisis Isaiah challenges King Ahaz's decision to rely on Assyria rather than God. Isaiah seeks to convince Ahaz this misplaced trust will end badly, but instead to trust Yahweh alone for help.
In Crisis, God's Peace: Trust in the God who alone is trustworthy brings peace, even in crisis. Isaiah says in essence (in a play on words), "if you are sure of God, you will be secure" (v.9). In trust God enables us to be calm, harbour no fear and rise above faintheartedness (v.4).
A Sign to Encourage Faith: Isaiah knows Ahaz is unconvinced so calls him to ask God for a sign to strengthen his faith (v.11). Though Ahaz refuses both a the reason for faith (a sign) and the God who gives the reason (v.12), God gives both unilaterally (v.14-16). Before a child to be born reached the age of moral discernment (traditionally 12 years of age, v.16), the kings of Aram and the 10 tribes would be vanquished (v.16).
Two Fulfillments: In Isaiah's day the virgin who would give birth was a virgin at the time of the promise of the child; in the NT the virgin remained so through the day of fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. (The virgin of Isaiah's day may have been the woman he married after the death of Shear-jashub (v.3). Some think it was a subsequent wife taken by Ahaz.)
Isaiah spoke to Ahaz in about 735 BC. The two "firebrands" (v.4) were extinguished before the prophesized child was 12 years of age: Aram was destroyed in 732 BC and Israel in 722 BC.
Ahaz chose not to trust the Lord in this crisis and vv. 17-25 prophesized the kind of friend Assyria, in contrast to the Lord, would prove to be to Ahaz's Judah. Forced "shaving" (v.20) was humiliating; "curds and honey" (v.22) was the food of nomads.
Personal Application: I will trust and be secure in the Lord. In times of crisis I will set my heart on the Lord and be calm, harbour not fear or be fainthearted (v.4). When faith is weak I will not be afraid to ask for a sign when the Lord encourages (v.11), even as Jesus performed many signs to encourage faith of the people in Him. Those who "will" to not believe (v.9) will not accept signs, even those who rejected the signs of Jesus, even His resurrection.
My Prayer: Father, as I hold to You I will not be shaken. You alone are secure in the storms of a fallen world.
Trustworthy Trust: Judah's decision to seek Assyria's help against Syria and the 10 tribes of Israel rather than rely on Yahweh was like preferring the Euphrates River (v.7) which would overwhelm Judah (as did Sennacherib in 701BC), to the gentle Shiloah River (v.6) which gave Jerusalem the water of life.
Isaiah's call to trust the LORD rather than Assyria was viewed as treason (conspiracy, v.12) and efforts were made to destroy the message causing Isaiah to urge his disciples to protect it (v.16) against those who preferred to consult mediums and spiritists (v.19-22).
Reinforcing the Message: Isaiah, in addition to his own name which means "Yahweh is salvation" chose to use the names of children (v.18) to give longevity to his life-and-death message. In chapter 7 he gave the name Immanuel (v.14) to emphasize "God is with us" and to his sons Shear-jashub "a remnant will return" (7:3) to emphasize God's faithfulness despite punishment, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz "swift to plunder and quick to carry away" (8:1-4) to speak of Assyria's destruction of Judah for trusting untrustworthy Assyria rather than trustworthy Yahweh.
Personal Application: Whatever the appearances, only Yahweh is worthy of our trust in peace or in crisis. Whatever the opposition to our call to trust the Lord alone, we must remain faithful to the Lord and our call to the wavering to trust Him alone for salvation. I will not be as those who "have no dawn" (v.20) and will be "driven into darkness" (v. 22), but I will "look eagerly for Him" (v.17) regardless of what others do.
v.12-14: ...You are not to fear what they fear or to be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy and He shall be your fear, and he shall be your dread. Then He shall became a sanctuary...
My Prayer: Father, I hold to You whatever comes and whatever those around me do. In hope and in tribulation, in life and in death, I hold to You.
Messiah: In this remarkable prophesy the Messiah to come from Galilee (v.1) will bring hope (v.2), sufficiency overcoming want (v.3), freedom from bondage (v.4), peace from war (v.5), justice and righteousness (v.7). This messiah, born a child among us (v.6), will reflect God's wisdom (Wonderful Counsellor, unlike the counsellors who led Judah astray), be in nature fully Divine (Mighty God), eternally a Father to his people, guarding, caring and supplying, and the full Shalom of peace, wholeness and tranquility.
Arrogance: Remarkably, in the face of this promise, Israel nevertheless re-asserted pride and arrogance, calling down on themselves the consequences of rejecting Yahweh's promise, rule and care (9:8-10:4). In their proud confidence, Israel declared in the face of judgement it would replace what was lost with more valuable items (v.10).
This is the arrogance of secularism also. Yet of the increase of His government there will be no end (v.7).
Personal Application: I will turn to the Lord, rather than away from him, every time I am conscious of my need for hope, joy, provision, freedom or peace. v. 2: The people who walk in darkness will see a great light...
My Prayer: Thank you Lord that you dispel gloom with your reign of righteous justice, light, love and hope.
God Punishes those who Refuse His Patience: God uses the means and timing of His choosing to discipline or, as in this case through Assyria, punish His people who refuse His patience and grace. In it all God's moral law remains straight and strong. Assyria should not boast that God used it as a rod against Israel (v.15). Nor should Israel resent the fact God used Assyria, the people Israel relied on instead of God, to punish it for its idolatry. Israel and Assyria were both 100% deserving of what they experienced, having rejected the Lord at every turn.
God's Final Purpose: When God's judgement is complete a remnant will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel (v.20). In this God will do what is needed, though painful, to cleanse an unrighteous people, bring repentance and holiness.
Personal Application: I will not be shocked when tumultuous events (judgement in history) overtake those who flaunt God's holiness; the violent, idolaters and unrighteousness. I will trust the Lord to return a remnant to Himself to continue His redemptive mission to final and complete victory. v. 20: Now it will come about in that day that the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
My Prayer: Father, as difficult as it is for those who deserve your righteous judgement, so much more difficult it has been for You to see the evil which has demanded Your judgment. Thank you that righteous judgement is not your final action but it is rather the salvation of a remnant and, through them, the salvation of great numbers of those who do not know their right hand from their left.
Is God Right to be Angry? (v.1-4) I'm often surprised with the disappointment people express with the fact that God has emotions like we do, including anger. If God didn't experience anger, He wouldn't in fact be the source of justice and we wouldn't in fact live in a moral universe. God is right to be angry when "unjust judges ... issue unfair laws," the poor and needy are deprived of just rights, and when the powerless, widows and orphans are ignored or preyed on. In fact, we should be too; if we are not, we are at that point not reflecting the characteristics of His children. To bring justice to the world, God - sometimes in history and always after history - always brings the unjust and uncaring to justice and this is in fact a strong reason for our hope that all will finally be made right.
The Unseen Hand Behind History (v.5-19) These verses point out that even though God used an ungodly political power (Assyria) to bring justice to His people in Jerusalem, no superficial conclusion should be drawn about God's ultimate purpose. God's use of an ungodly political power, resulting in it's apparent 'success' in the eyes of the world, at any point in history is not to be interpreted as God's blessing on that nation or movement; rather simply His use of it for a higher purpose. God always acts to refine His people to greater holiness, reliance on Him and commitment to His redemptive purpose and will use whatever instruments needed to regain the attention of His people.
God Works with a Faithful Remnant v.20-32): When God has refined both His people and the nation or movement He has chosen to use as part of that refinement of His people, God continues to shape His people for their redemptive purpose. When God's people were unfaithful in the wilderness following the Exodus, God considered starting over with Moses descendants but chose not to. When the Northern and Southern Kingdoms following Solomon fell into the worship of false gods, God sent them into exile in 586 BC from which only a small remnant returned. When this remnant rejected Jesus, God used the Roman army to set aside Jerusalem in 70 AD. He then welcomed a remnant of those who followed Christ and in grafted Gentiles to form a Christian movement which He has continued to refine to be in co-mission with Christ's redemptive work to bless the nations.
The Coming Messiah: The Kingdom of Israel broke up after Solomon's rule and King David's dynasty virtually ceased during the Exile. Yet from this broken "stump" (v.1) God would bring a "shoot" - the promised Messiah. The Messiah would be characterized by the fullness of the Holy Spirit (v.2), absolute integrity and justice (v.3-5) and harmony in all creation (v.6-9).
The Knowledge of the Lord: At that time the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD (v.9). The earth is already filled with the glory of the Lord for those with eyes to see, but then it will be filled with the universal knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
The Gathering of the Peoples: In that day also God will gather the nations to His holy mountain (v.9) in Jerusalem, and gather the remnant of His people (v.11) from the four corners of the earth (v.12). Much speculation has risen since the founding of the nation-state of Israel in 1948, but caution is advised. We await the 'parousia' of Christ's return.
Personal Application: We anticipate the Messiah's rule and the restoration of all things. To that end we follow Him and pursue the Great Commission and Great Commandment. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Till then also I will greet strangers with friendly eye contact, a nod and a word - in anticipation of the restoration of all things. I will introduce the Messiah to those I am able.
My Prayer: Father, what joy we anticipate and how eagerly we anticipate it. Thank you for certain hope in the vicissitudes of history.
v.9: They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the water cover the sea.
Hope and anticipation: Isaiah's expression of praise reminds us that even when we cannot rejoice in the present we can rejoice in what we are certain will come. God will forgive and comfort (v.1). God will give victory (v.2). We will drink deeply from unending supply of salvation (v.3). We will give thanks to the Lord (v.4) and tell all the nations of the earth of His excellence (v.4-5).
Our confidence in God's grace is our impetus to tell our neighbours and the nations of the greatness and excellence of the Holy One of Israel in our midst (v.4-6).
Personal Application: I will look to the future when my eyes do not see victory in the present. I will revel in the goodness of the Lord whether I see His excellence more clearly in the present or in the future. I will tune my eyes and heart to seek and see His grace in the present, in greater and smaller expressions and manifestations.
My Prayer: Father, I praise you for holding salvation history in your hands. Thank you for your promises and greatness in our midst in our journey to the consummation and renewal of all things.
The Day of the Lord: For many chapters (13-23) Isaiah speaks of the Day of the Lord in which God will sovereignly establish His Kingdom by cleansing the earth of evildoers. Israel's calling as God's people will not, in and of itself, protect them from God's punishment when they sin as the other nations do.
"Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah" (v.19). Famous for its cruelty, Babylon would be overrun by equally cruel armies (v.14-16), as indeed took place when the Medes from NW Iran joined Persian King Cyrus in 539 BC. Afterwards even nomadic Arabs (v.20) considered camping in the desecrated land an ill omen.
Babylon as symbol of all evil empires - often represents idolatry, immorality, imperialism and oppression in Scripture. Even as in history past God fulfilled this prophetic word, ultimately in history future also God will cause every cruel and oppressive expression of "Babylon the Great" (Rev 18) to fall.
Personal Application: Every horror of evil will be swept away. Because of God's character and this promise we have hope and the strongest reason to resist wicked and arrogant nations. In this countercultural role we are "salt and light" proclaiming with our lives the coming Kingdom of God. I will therefore never lose hope - not due to what I see in any circumstance - but due to hope in the God of promise. In Him I will shine as do stars in the dark night sky.
My Prayer: Father, bring justice and righteousness quickly; bring joy and hope to the nations. Restore, we pray, a new heaven and a new earth.
God's Victory over Babylon: Following Israel's exile God will judge Babylon and will return His people to their land (v.1) and they will have rest from those who oppressed them (v.1-3). Those who had been afflicted shall find refuge in Zion (v.32). The king of Babylon who had ruled with merciless strength (v.4-6) will at his death leave the world at rest and rejoicing (v.7).
Sheol: Even in the realm of the dead the king of Babylon will have no rest, nor respect from any of other king of the nations (v.18-20).
The Root of Tyranny: Babylon's pride, ambition and fall (vs. 12-14) are parallel to that of Satan in whom all those who are like him find their evil root (v.29). The same root is in Assyria (v.24-27) and Philistia (v.28-31) and will likewise be destroyed.
Personal Application: History is littered with tyrants like Babylon and Assyria, through the centuries on into the present day. To be ignorant of history is to be more vulnerable to their deception. We would be therefore unwise to assume there will not be more tyrants to come before Christ's return.
Therefore in our redemptive mission, like Christ, we must be humble and gentle, always displaying traits opposite those rooted in the spirit of Babylon. We, like God's people before us, must never make alliances (as Philistia later invited Hezekiah to do) with those who reject Yahweh as Lord , but seek refuge only in Him (v.32).
I will examine my heart to be sure I am ambitious only for the Lord's honor, not my own (vs. v.13-14). I will enjoy rest as God's gift of salvation from evil (v.7). I will make no alliances with those who seek not to honor Yahweh.
My Prayer: Father, what insight into the heart of those who set themselves up against You (v.13-14). Keep me far from pride and ambition, eager only for Your Kingdom and glory.
Isaiah 15 and 16
Reflections on Isaiah's vision of the destruction of Moab (who descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, after his deliverance from Sodom - Genesis 19):
God sees, judges and shows mercy: God saw the hearts of the Moabites as they were: proud, arrogant and when offended, full of fury (16:6). Judgement would come quickly "in a night" (15:1) leaving survivors weeping before their false gods at the high places (v.2) and shaving their heads in humiliation. So severe would be the plight of Moab at the hand of Assyria [within 3 years (16:14)] that the remnant would come to Judah with a tribute lamb (16:1) asking refuge (v.2-4). The response of Judah would be positive (v.6-12) anticipating the righteous throne of the Messiah when all oppression will cease (v.4-5).
16:5: "A throne will be established in lovingkindness, and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; moreover, he will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness." (NASV)
Personal Application: How the kindness of God to the remnant of Moab, despite their inexcusable pride, is of encouragement, despite our equally groundless pride, to us. And how this kindness gives ground and confidence to our invitation to both the proud and the oppressed in this world to the loving, faithful, just and righteous throne of the Messiah (16:5).
I will ask the Lord to reveal pride and arrogance in me when it surfaces and tread it into the dust.
I will look to invite someone today who is proud or oppressed to the throne of the Savior.
I will welcome refugees in the name of the Lord.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that even to the remnant of the descendants of Lot who strayed into Sodom and retained their pride - though You judge rightly - You are merciful. Lord, I will honor your judgements and show your mercy.
Reflections on Isaiah's vision of the destruction of Aram (Syria) who since the time of David had been frequent enemies of Israel and now banded with the northern 10 tribes against Judah. Both would fall:
Ringleader and follower: Though Damascus (Aram - Hebrew for Syria) initiated the alliance with Northern Israel against Judah (Isaiah 7) both would be destroyed by Assyria [led by Tiglath-pileser III in 732BC]. God's people have no favored place when they reject God like their neighbours.
Verses1-3 warn Syria and vs. 3-11 warn Northern Israel, neither of whom heeded. When judgment-in-history had come Syrian cities would be empty (v.2), and Israel's harvest look like mere gleanings (v.6). Israel's worship of the Canaanite gods (Asherim, v.8; in the thickets, v.9 where like the Canaanites they worshipped the fertility goddess) would be fruitless and leave them forsaken and ill (v.10).
God's patience is great and His warnings are many: and when ignored, His judgments may seem (to those who have been willfully blind) unexpected and sudden. Yet it is unloving not to do, as Isaiah did, and warn those who could by turning avert the consequences of their rebellion against God.
If not? As Northern Israel was being deported, some of Yahweh's people (v.7) would remember their Maker, the Holy One of Israel. In this human upending and turmoil, like that of the sea (v.12-13), the day would come when, as sudden as the terror of the Assyrian invasion came, so sudden would be their punisher's departure, leaving a small chastened remnant: "In that day man will have regard for his Maker and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel" (v.7).
Personal Application: I will remember the God of my salvation, the rock of my refuge (v.10). I will heed His covenant and respond to the warning He speaks. I will warn those who heed him not. I will rejoice when they turn and grieve when they refuse and suffer the consequence.
My Prayer: Father, you are the Holy One of Israel and you call us to holiness. Thank you for your covenant love and patience with us. Make our hearts quick to turn and our feet quick to run to you when we stray.
From Attacker to Giver of Gifts: God warns Cush (modern Ethiopia, who ruled Egypt at the time) not to attack God's people. Though powerful and widely feared, God would bring their expansionist plans to nothing (v.6). God is untroubled by human plans, watches quietly, and acts when He chooses (v.4-5). Ethiopia, rather than gain victory over Zion, will bring gifts to the God of Israel (v.7).
God is in Control: Though evil threatens and sometimes appears to hold an upper hand for a season, God allows evil no permanent victory. Temporarily, "God allows evil only so as to make something better result from it" (Thomas Aquinas); something which accomplishes God's higher purposes.
Personal Application: I will speak God's Word with confidence knowing He will fulfill it at the moment of His choosing. I will be peaceful as He is, watching unafraid, knowing He is in control.
My Prayer: Father, let me drink deeply of the peace which flows from Your sovereignty, Your grace and victory over the scheming of men.
Inevitable loss awaits those rejecting the Lover of our Souls: Just as Israel should trust Yahweh rather than rely on external political alliances to defend itself, Egypt also will fall (vs. 1-17) if it rejects Him. After that fall, if Egypt calls on Him, God will send a Savior and Egypt too will know the Lord (vs.20-21). Lacking this Egypt will suffer civil war (v.2) and cruel occupiers (v.4) [Esarhaddon of Assyria conquered Egypt's capital Memphis in 671BC and Ashurbanipal destroyed Thebes in 663 BC]. Likewise rejecting the Lord, Ashdod, a Philistine stronghold, would be overcome by Sargon of Assyria (20:2).
Only those who trust in the Lord are safe. Would that modern nations understood this also and yielded wholeheartedly. The Lord rejects a generic or superficial "In God we Trust" or allegiance to a man-made, new age or political god. He is God only of those nations who fully yield to Him obediently with joy on His terms without ulterior motive or self-interest.
Personal Application: As Isaiah warned Egypt and Cush (20:2ff) I will warn of lesser gods, distinguishing between the paltry gods of nationalism and the One True Living Creator and Redeemer God of the universe. Without the One True God where will be no peace on earth.
My Prayer: Father, we pray for the day when Israel, Egypt and Syria (19:23-25) will be one in worship of You. What a miracle that will be! And all the world will know it!
Babylon: the archetypical 'city of man' born of the arrogance of Babel (Gen. 11) - with it's ziggurat pyramid symbol to this day - is the deceiving pride (Hebrew = "confuse") which is physically impressive but spiritually a desert. (vs.1-2).
Groaning: Babylon represents all the ungodly power structures of this world, all that opposes God. Babylon had attacked and enslaved many nations causing terror (v.1) and almost endless groaning (v.2). Judah too would be 'threshed and winnowed' by Babylon (v.10) as would God's people until Christ's return (Rev. 18).
Patience and Endurance: Suffering under oppression feels like a long night (v.11-12). As we walk in love and obedience, opposed by all that stands against God and His Kingdom, we often feel we are swimming against the current. Yet there can be no compromise with Babylon. Rather we need the Lord's strength and refreshment and in turn always be ready to meet the fugitives from oppression with water and bread (v.14).
Personal Application: I will endure and not compromise. "We should not seek and worship God for the sake of the passing cloud of this mortal life, but for the sake of that happy life which cannot be other than everlasting." - Augustine, City of God.
I will help refugees and internally displaced persons as one who shares the personal knowledge of the oppressive spirit of Babylon. I will help the spiritually oppressed and the economically oppressed on the same basis. v.14: "Bring water for the thirsty, meet the fugitives with bread."
My Prayer: Father, our spirits long with the yearning of the night watchman for the dawning of Your Shalom. We revel in the oasis of each quiet time, Sabbath and encounter with Your gracious, healing, restoring Spirit. We pray for the full and final coming of your Kingdom.
God is trustworthy and desires we depend on Him who made us to enjoy Him (v11). Jerusalem chose rather to trust Baals and other gods, who were but demons. Israel fortified the city wall against invasion and Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:30) took steps to ensure their water supply (v.11); trusting their own hand rather than calling on the Lord.
In our world too, some follow the example of Shebna and some of Eliahim: Isaiah 22:15-25 contrasts two officials in Hezekiah's court - Shebna and Eliakim (2 Kgs 18:18; 19:2) in this era.
Shebna, who trusted Egypt to rescue Israel from invaders, would not lie in the magnificent tomb monument to himself he had constructed (v.16) but die in exile (v.17-18).
Eliakim, a Godly father-figure (v.21) and firm (v.23) in reflecting God's glory would point God's wayward children to Him, even to the end. Of Eliakim God said: "I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, when he opens no one will shut, when he shuts no one will open" (v.22) - reflecting Eliakim's power to make decisions that stand. Even so, Israel would reject his testimony and exile would come.
Standing fast: Whether or not the world around God's people accept their testimony, whether or not the consequences of rejection come quickly or are delayed, we will yet trust the Lord, live for Him, seek to reflect the glory of our Father's house, and testify to His grace and coming judgement.
Personal Application: In a world of conflicting truth claims, violence and confusion I will look to, trust and reflect Yahweh's grace and glory - which has been made flesh in Jesus Christ.
My Prayer: Father, those who testify to your grace and glory have patience as the consequence of rejection comes - sometimes slowly, sometimes more suddenly. But You have greater patience still, eagerly desiring that none should perish but all turn and enter eternal life in Christ.
True Security: The illusion of security which rests in wealth (v.3) and it's pride (v.9) is, as illusion, temporary. In contrast dependence on the Lord is eternal and true blessing.
Tyre's Error and Fall: Tyre was one of the most famous trading centers of the world in its day (like London, NY, Hong Kong). Like a harlot (v.16ff) Tyre was willing to buy or sell anything. In the end Tyre's unrighteous wealth will be the Lord's (v.18). The report of Tyre's fall would reach her mariners in Cyprus (v.1) and Egypt (v.5). In history Tyre was attacked and lost ground to the Assyrians, Babylonians and Macedonians. It's last remaining island fortress fell to Alexander the Great in 322BC and is largely forgotten today.
v.18 (Tyre's) gain and her harlot's wages will be set apart to the Lord; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her gain will become sufficient food and choice attire for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord.
Wealth and Power: In our mission for God's glory we must not seek or be intimidated by earthly wealth or power. It is temporary. We stand rather with the Lord alone; his grace, his provision, his Kingdom and his eternal salvation.
Personal Application: I will not be surprised when powerful and ruthless contemporary early kingdoms fall suddenly after years of rejecting the Lord's call and grace.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for your call to the nations and your great patience, earnestly desiring their turning to know your covenant, grace and mercy. Thank you for your call also to us. Father, we presume not on your patience. We turn to you again with whole hearts, now.
Chapters 24-27 (Isaiah's "Little Apocalypse") has similarities to Revelation making it difficult to assign events to precise historical situations but is consistent with NT teaching of the future age breaking into and overlapping with the present evil age (2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4).
Apocalypse: Judgments on specific nations (cf. chapters 13-23) will be extended to the entire earth (vs.1-4) in response to the moral pollution flowing from rejecting God's covenant (v.5f). The city of chaos (termed "City of Man" by Augustine) (v.10) reels to and fro, totters and falls under it's own weight (v.20), as does anything not built on the moral character of the true, living God (cf. Matt 7:24ff).
Though the question of the duration of the consequences of rejecting God's covenant is not directly answered, it appears prison precedes punishment (v. 22). Regardless, the sun and moon will pale in comparison as the glory of the Lord is revealed (v.23). Our motivation for mission is increased as we see the future.
The Rejoicing of Believers: Though believers are exposed to the judgments of God alongside unbelievers - and are inevitably affected as the 'wheat grows up with the tares' (Matt 13:24ff) - God's people rejoice (v.14-16) that God is dealing with evil at last. The Lord of Hosts will reign over all the earth (v.23).
Personal Application: In our personal pilgrimage and in our mission to the world, as we pass through the 'city of chaos' (v.10) the truth remains: "though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet" (from the hymn, This is My Father's World). In this we rejoice. In Him we hope. In Him we glory. I will not be shaken (when swept up in the consequences of the sins of others). I will rejoice in the Lord (v.14-16). I will take the long-view.
My Prayer: Father, I trust you to come in power and glory, in righteousness and judgment to call the earth to account at the time which best suits your purposes and glorifies you eternally. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Even so, Holy Spirit, send laborers into the harvest that all will have opportunity to be ready to receive you with joy!
Victory! In the end God's salvation will display His character as all will see His power, planning (v.1) grace and justice (v.2). He will be honored by many who had previously opposed Him (v.3), show Himself strong and compassionate in behalf of the oppressed (v.4-5), lavishly generous to His people (v.6), overcoming death itself (v.8). God's people will be vindicated in their long-suffering (v.9) and those relentless in their opposition to God (symbolized by Moab), laid low (v.10-12).
Patience (rather than force): Yahweh's salvation and victory is sure, though patience is required of God's people throughout history in the face of hostility from those opposed to God's righteous rule. The difference between the Judeo-Christian tradition and divergent faiths is that we use invitation to all and patience awaiting (v.9), rather than force to initiate, God's Kingdom. In this way the final outcome will be the City of God rather than the city of man ("chaos" 24:10 NASB).
Personal Application: I will praise God now for His full salvation in the future. I will be patient in endurance and full of hope when I read the inevitable 'bad news' in the media today. Further, each time I read it, I will be renewed in my yearning for God's coming Kingdom. I will 'work with and pray for' its coming and invite the lost to embrace the Messiah, welcoming, with all who are willing, our wondrous King.
My Prayer: Father, may your Kingdom come! How I yearn for the day of Your Shalom! Lord, hasten its coming!
The Day of Redemption will bring joy as the righteous who remain faithful (v.2) enter the City of God in complete security (v.1) and peace (v.3). Those opposed to God in their pride will be brought down (v.5-6) allowing the oppressed to walk over the ruins of their arrogance. For God's redemption we have waited long and yearned eagerly (v.8) while, sadly, the wicked learn nothing from the Lord's grace and patience (v.10).
Living Under Ungodly Rulers: Often we live our lives and pursue our mission under rulers who do not acknowledge the Lord. Some of these intervene harshly while others do not. Regardless we will confess the name of the Lord our God (v.13). There is no expectation in Isaiah's 'Little Apocalypse' of a period in which God's people will be in the majority or live without opposition.
Personal Application: I will look to the Lord for strength to confess His name in seasons of opposition and to not grow less fervent in comparatively brief seasons of peace. I will yearn for the Lord's coming in righteousness night and day. O Lord our God, other masters besides You have ruled us; but through You alone we confess Your name. (v.13)
My Prayer: Father, thank you that it is You who establishes peace for us (v.12) and bring forth the very things impossible for us to produce (v.18). Thank you that Your intervention extends to the rising from the dead of those who are Yours.
OT preview of Bodily Resurrection: Isaiah envisions no life for the departed wicked (v.14) but v.19 is one of three OT passages (Job 19:26 and Dan. 12:2) anticipating the bodily resurrection of those who trust the Lord. (V.21 hints also at an opening of the graves of the wicked in which their hidden injustices will be revealed and judged.)
The Blossoming of the World after the End of Satan: The day will come when God destroys the serpent dragon, Satan, the enemy of his people (v.1). In that day God will tend his joyful vineyard in peace (v.2), no longer be angry with His people (v.4), and fill the earth with fruit (v.6). In anticipation God invites his people to be reconciled with him (v.5). On that day God's people will abandon all idolatry (v.9) and there will be no more need for fortified cities (v.10). God's people will be restored to Him from exile in joy and worship in Zion (v.13).
Who does what? God's role and ours: Shalom comes as God acts (v.1,3) and God's people respond in repentance and joy (v.5,13). Hope is faith that God will do has he has promised. Faith is aligning ourselves now with the unswerving purpose of God. We cannot bring into being God's promise; to use an extreme example, by military action in the Middle East. God will act and bring glory to himself. Our role is faith, yes sometimes suffering, patience and always joyful alignment with God's mission on the earth.
Personal Application: I will wait on the Lord. I will be at peace in him (v.5) in the tumult of the world, and by His grace blossom and be fruitful in his vineyard anticipating paradise (v.6). I will set my eyes and heart on the glorious end he has purposed and be filled with hope.
My Prayer: Father, many of your children feel themselves to be in captivity and exile in our fallen world, ravished in war and persecution by the serpent. Father, give faith, endurance and hope in Christ for the complete fulfillment of your purpose. Cause us to be fruitful in your presence and vineyard by faith anticipating the glorious day to come!
Isaiah 28-33 warns Israel (ch 28) and Judah (chs 29-33) of the consequence of refusing repentance.
The Responsibility of Leaders: God's warning and rebuke is first to the leaders of the largest northern tribe; prophets and priests (v.7-8), who are drunk, unable to discern God's direction for his people. Likewise the leaders of the largest southern tribe (v.14) will be replaced by a worthy cornerstone, the Messiah (v.16; 1 Peter 2:6) because they are spiritually like a foolish farmer who doesn't know when to plant or how to harvest (v.24-28).
The Foolishness of "Knowing Better": Because these leaders mock God's word of warning (v.10), God will speak by actions; his people hear - having rejected the words of God's prophets - the unintelligible words of their captors (Assyria in 722BC) while being taken captive (v.13). Judah's "covenant with death / Sheol" (v.15) could refer to the inevitability of their rejection of God leading to death or to a more formal agreement with Mot, the Canaanite god of death, preferring a demon's protection to the Lord's.
Even so, God will seek out a faithful remnant and will be their crown and joy, giving wisdom to their leaders and strength against their enemies (v.5-6).
False Trust: In our day also many of our ruling elite place false trust in education, science, evolution or secret police to save us from ourselves. Though mocked like Isaiah we point to the cornerstone, firmly placed (v.16) and the Lord whose counsel is wonderful and wisdom great (v.29). In him alone must we trust in times when judgement sweeps away false human refuges and hiding places (v.17).
Personal Application: I will call the church to prayer for revival that we might serve boldly and shine brightly to the Lord glory. I will trust the Lord and seek wisdom from him in tumultuous times. I will not be silent though mocked. I will be moderate with wine.
My Prayer: Father, teach and empower me to pray with great faith and power. Enable me to put everything on the table - You are owner, not I - and serve You and Your Kingdom without holding back. Father, turn the hearts of your complacent church and those with stiff necks. Save our land.
Symbol and Reality: Judah continued to observe the form of feasts [Ariel (v.1-2) means "altar of God" or by extension, Jerusalem], but only by rote tradition (v.13). The Lord wants rather personal relationship from passionate hearts (v.13).
Settling for the symbol only, even those who should have been prophets have fallen asleep spiritually (v.10) and, having lost it's wellspring in God's holiness, morality disintegrates with the help of lawyers (v.21). Refusing to be under God, Judah in reality sets itself up over God, reversing the role of the potter and clay (v.16):
"You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered equal to the clay, that who is made should say to its maker, "he did not make me"; or what is formed say to him who formed it, "he has no understanding"?
Celebrations, such as the church calendar, can serve to remind God's people of God's goodness and invite heart-felt thanksgiving, worship and joyful obedience. But scheduled feasts (v.2) are only pointers to that authentic relationship for which we on our part also have responsibility.
The Cost of Refusing to Hear, God will punish (v.6) Judah. As in this case, evil is sometimes punished by another evil (e.g. Assyria, v.20) but in the end God will punish and remove also the second evil (v.7-8).
The Assyrian Empire ended when, after the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC, three rival claimants brought multiple self-destroying civil wars.
Personal Application: I will meditate deeply on the truths 'holy days' (holidays) point to, lest they be emptied of praise to God and benefit to me. I will be careful with all my words, including those directed to God (v.13), self-talk, and ways in which I may be tempted to justify myself to others in failing to live up to God's holiness and justice (v.21).
The chapter is a condemnation of cheap, thin words, both those directed towards God (v.13) and those with which we attempt to justify passive or active disobedience in which we do not fulfill our responsibility to others, particularly the weak. (v.21).
My Prayer: Father, you are the potter, I am the clay - and by Your grace, so unspeakably much more! You make us with capacity to know and love you, to rejoice in You, to be overwhelmed in joyful worship eternally. How blessed You are! How small we are when we settle for external 'form' rather then rich 'content.'
Fear, not trust, drives us in wrong directions: Out of fear of Assyria, Hezekiah sends ambassadors (v.4) needlessly through the dangerous Negev desert (v.6) with treasures to buy an alliance with Egypt (v.2b) who itself is a weak and declining culture. Rather then engage in frantic negotiations with Egypt - while pleasant words are demanded of Judah's prophets rather than truth (v.9-11) which will result in falling like a high bulging wall (v.13) - Judah should repent, trust the Lord and find in Him quietness, trust and strength (v.15).
Repentance brings blessing because the Lord longs to give compassion (v.18) and daily guidance in the straight path (v.21) which leads to life. God himself will deal with Assyria in judgement (v.27-33), including burning Topheth (v.33) "the place of burning" where child sacrifices were offered Molech, the demon worshiped by the Ammonites.
Our political relation with those who reject Christ: God's people are not to make political alliances with one worldly power against another worldly power. Rather, God may use an evil power to bring down another evil power as He did with Egypt and Assyria. Our trust is in the Lord alone against all (visible) odds.
My tentative conclusion is that if God's people agree with those who don't acknowledge Christ, for instance, to lobby government for righteous legislation, we must do so separately from them, rather than form a single organization for that purpose, or to depend in the process on the other organization in any substantive way.
Personal Application: I will scatter every personal idol (v.22) and find rest and strength for my soul only in quiet trust in the Lord (v.15). I will listen for God's voice daily (v.21) for He keeps me on the straight path.
My Prayer: Father, our trust is in You alone. You will judge the nations and call obedient nations to yourself for rest and blessing. Lord help me work with You to that end.
False Foundations: God, not Egypt or any human alliance, will protect His people. To rely on an alliance with an earthly power which prides itself on rejecting God (Egypt) against another earthly power which prides itself on rejecting God (Assyria)- is utterly futile, both will fall (v.3c).
The One who is Greater: In fact spirit is greater than flesh (v.3) and God is greater than all, as a lion is greater than the shepherds who are powerless against it (v.4). We may experience fear or anxiety as we wait on the Lord alone but courage stands fast - without visible means of support - in spite of fear.
Without a visible hand, God struck down Sennacherib's troops (cf. 37:36-37), then Sennacherib himself at the hand of his own sons.
Personal Application: I will be ruled by God rather than fear. I will not look for help from one evil against another (either physical or spiritual alliances, e.g. shamanism, magic etc.). I will call on the Lord when in danger.
My Prayer: Father, give me courage overcoming fear as I trust in You alone.
v.3: "Now the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit."
Peace on Earth: Anticipating the Messiah's coming rule on earth this chapter honors all righteous government, a desperate need in our day as in Isaiah's. The Righteous King and his princes (v.1) bring protection and refreshment to God's people (v.2; cf. 25:4). Further, the Messiah gives his people clear eyes, the ability to hear his wise counsel, discerning minds and the ability to speak accurately and precisely (v.3-4).
In contrast, the world is easily taken in by "fools and rogues", speaking error and delivering affliction (v.5-7). Isaiah's warning against complacency with high standards of living and low standards of morality (v.9-14) would see fulfillment "within a year" (v.10) in the form of Sennacherib's invasion (701 BC) which laid the country waste, though Jerusalem was 'spared' until Babylon removed what was left.
The Promise of the Spirit: comes from heaven bringing God's gifts of restoration and flourishing (v.15), justice, righteousness and the peace which brings security (vs.16-18), "quietness and confidence forever" (v.17).
Many Biblical passages anticipate the "new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13) for which we deeply yearn, pray and work in anticipation. In the service of that end, even now we may expect of the Lord clear eyes/insight, the ability to hear His direction, discerning minds and the ability to speak effectively.
Personal Application: We may pray with confidence and expect the increase of each of these gifts in His service. I will devise and not be turned aside from noble plans (v.8); in addition, I can aim to implement one small new noble plan each day (Phil 4:8). Each time I'm tempted to criticize a government or leader, I ask to be reminded to pray for them.
My Prayer: Father, for Jesus we praise you and for righteous government we plead!
Isaiah 33 (Assyria isn't mentioned by name but the events of 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 seem to be in view.)
Where is our hope in the face of evil powers? Violent, deceptive nations like Assyria (v.1) have wreaked havoc and suffering throughout history. Isaiah points in two directions:
The Lord is our stability (v.6) in times of distress (v.2). It is to the Lord Isaiah prays in vs.2-9; the Lord who is a wealth of salvation (v.6) and strength to His people every morning (v.2). The Lord will be exalted (v.10) and fill the land with justice and righteousness (v.5). The Lord alone and finally is our lawgiver, judge and king (v.22).
In undisturbed times (v.20) and in times of tumult (v.3) we are to live uprightly (v.15-16) and keep our eyes on the beauty of the King (v.17) looking forward to the day of wholeness and forgiveness (v.24).
Our Unchanging Mission: Our mission - to shine in the darkness reflecting His glory - is undiminished in evil days or when we are a minority pressed to the margins. We are called to be faithful even when it seems we can make little difference or are utterly rejected. "Lord, we cry out to You!"
Personal Application: I will not dwell on, listen to, or even look at evil (v.15c). I will set my eyes, rather and alone, on the King in His beauty (v.17). I will walk righteously, but not self-righteously, in unrighteous days because my righteousness is not in me but from Him alone.
My Prayer: O Lord be gracious to us; we have waited for You (v.2). Lord, I've experienced so little of the suffering of your people under evil regimes but ask You make me, and them, faithful in our unfailing hope on You. "Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet."
The Day of the Lord: is the day when all human hearts and social structures will come under God's holy scrutiny, when wicked men are righteously judged, and God alone will be exalted. Edom (v.5) is here singled out as Moab was in chapter 25; together they symbolize not only the estranged relatives of Israel but all those estranged from God.
Smoke will rise forever (v.10): This destruction is so complete (v. 5b) the resulting 'desolation and emptiness' (v.11b) are words used together only in Gen 1:2 'formless and void' before creation. Many images from this chapter are found in the description of judgment in Revelation.
Personal Application: Patience is the posture of the Lord's people as we turn the other cheek and wait on the Lord with faith in the 'future grace' (Piper) of God's righteous judgment. I will never seek or take revenge since judgment is the prerogative of God alone. I will wait for grace and justice in the Day of the Lord.
My Prayer: Father, I cannot conceive of such a complete and final justice but I trust You alone for it; the Day when all history will make sense and be made right.
The Refreshment and Joy of Salvation: God is always the source of life, in creation and in redemption. In the Lord's coming (v.4) the desert is watered and becomes fruitful (v.1), the weak and anxious are restored (v.3-4) and healed (v.5-6). Joy and glory abounds (v.2, 6, 10).
The Highway of the Redeemed brings the ransomed of the Lord (v.10) safely to Jerusalem to worship the God of our salvation. It is not for us to remove the "unclean" or "fools" (v.8), God will ensure that none but His will travel on it.
This highway is prefigured by God's earlier provision of safe crossing to escape bondage through the Red Sea for the promised land. While our journey can be very difficult (v.3-4) God will come and will save us (v.4), therefore we may "take courage, fear not" (v.3).
Personal Application: I will encourage a weary fellow-traveler today: "take courage, fear not" (v.4); I will remind myself, when in a melancholy moment, that all "sorrow and signing will flee away" (v.10).
My Prayer: Father, thank you for this great promise and hope (v.10). I turn my eyes and heart with trust to Your present and future grace:
"The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away" (v.10).
Background: Ahab foolishly called Assyria to help him against Syria and Israel (2 Kgs 16:7-10), so bringing Judah under the control of Assyria. When Sennacherib came to the throne (704 BC), Hezekiah and other vassal kings stopped sending tribute ("rebelled," v.5). In 701 BC Sennacherib came to re-assert control (v.1). Sennacherib's records claimed forty-six fortified cities conquered and 200,146 captives to this point.
Assyria's Taunt and Offer: Rabshakeh (vs.4-20) offered exile (v.17) to those who surrendered. He rightly saw Egypt as irrelevant (v.6) and Judah without the ability to use Egypt's latest military technology of a mounted cavalry (v.8,9).
Misunderstandings: Rabshakeh however wrongly saw Hezekiah as without the help of his God, thinking Hezekiah had angered Yahweh with the removal of high places (v.7). The opposite was true: Hezekiah's intent was to turn Judah from Canaanite gods on the high places to Yahweh in Solomon's temple. Interestingly also, Rabshakeh viewed the battle as between Sennacherib and Yahweh (v.15), rather than between Assyria's gods and Yahweh or as between Sennacherib and Hezekiah.
Yahweh however, alone, is greater than Sennacherib and the Assyrian gods.
Parallel Strategies: Bluster and intimidation, false promises and fear are likewise the methods of Satan, starting with promises, then turning to attack. We must recognize the strategies of Satan, whether direct, or in the hands and mouths of those under his influence.
Personal Application: I will not listen to Satan's promises or respond to his intimidation but turn immediately to call on the LORD. I will not fear the evil strong men of our age, rather live quietly, trusting the LORD.
My Prayer: Father, help me trust You in evil days. Help me turn aside the taunts and lies of those who deny You. Show me when to remain silent, if I-in-You am to absorb it, and when to speak, You giving me the words of trust and testimony, to Your honor.
Deepest Distress: Hezekiah takes his distress to the Lord in the temple (v.1) and to the Lord's prophet Isaiah, asking him to join in prayer for survival (v.2-4).
God's Multi-stage Response: Isaiah prophesies (v.7) exactly what will take place: 1.) Sennacherib's loss of heart for battle causing him to withdraw from Jerusalem, and 20 years later (681 BC), 2.) his assassination by his own sons in the temple of his own god (v.36-38).
First however, the king of Cush (Ethiopia) - who ruled Egypt at the time and knew Sennacherib's attack on Israel was only a delay on Sennacherib's attack on Egypt - took the initiative while he could (v.9). The news distracted Sennacherib from his focus on Jerusalem. Before departing Sennacherib warned Hezekiah in a letter (v.10-13) that he would return to finish what he had started.
Hezekiah took Sennacherib's letter to the Lord asking final deliverance (v.18-20). Isaiah responded with a message from the Lord, prophesying against Assyria (v.21-35) declaring Sennacherib would never enter Jerusalem (v.34). Though the enemy may seem insurmountable, Yahweh is the only Lord of the Kingdoms of the earth (v.16); greater than them all. Therefore no enemy is in fact insurmountable and we may never act as if this were not so.
Personal Application: I will not fear the enemies of the Lord, though they may be many, haughty or powerful. He alone will bring them to their end.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that You were greater than Sennacherib and are always greater than every evil power that sets itself up against you. Thank you that 'fear not' is your most frequent command to your children, both because of our weakness and because of your great salvation.
v.16: "O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth.
The anguish of facing death in the prime of life (v.10): Hezekiah's sorrow is deep, poured out in prayer and bitter tears (v.3,14). Death is hard both for the loss of opportunity for enjoyment of life (v.10,11) and because of the OT (pre-messiah) expectation of a dark shadowy place without blessing or praise of God (v.18).
The miraculous sign: God adjusts time with ease (v.7-8) as He did in battle earlier (Joshua 10:13). Only in our minds is this sign greater than the healing of v.21 allowing Hezekiah a return to the temple or the gift of an additional 15 years of life. Just as Hezekiah received additional years, Jerusalem received additional time before the exile and the exile itself would give way to a new opportunity serve the Lord.
God gives new opportunities as gifts of grace within His purposes. Others have cried out for longer life without extension; God has purpose for this also which we must accept likewise. As long as He gives me, I receive thankfully, and use joyfully for His purposes and praise.
Hezekiah's father Ahaz had rejected God's sign (7:11). As such Ahaz and Hezekiah were opposites in responding to God. For that reason Ahaz brought disaster on his people; Hezekiah was a channel of the Lord's rescue, at least during his reign.
Personal Application: I will cry out to the Lord for that which is in my heart. It is not wrong to plead or reason with the Lord as He reasons with us (Isa. 1:18). I will enjoy this day and each day He gives me. I will live purposefully for His Kingdom and Glory every day until the last day. I will tell our children of His faithfulness (v.19).
"The living, the living - they praise you as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness." (v.19)
My Prayer: Father, you are the creator and giver of life and of eternal life in Christ. Therefore my praise is greater than that of Hezekiah for he knew only your praise in this life and I also in the life to come. Thank you Lord for this day, this gift; I give you praise, live it deeply with enjoyment and for Your glory.
Death is not always tragic if the full picture is known. Ironically, it would have been better if Hezekiah had died (38:1) rather than given an additional 15 years (38:5): Manasseh (2 Kings 21) would not have been born and Hezekiah would not have invited Babylon into his trust. Babylon's 'friendly' visit (39:1-2) took place while Babylon was still a vassal state of Assyria, seeking Judah's support against Assyria (712 BC). After Babylon was successful against Assyria (612BC), it turned on Judah and, using techniques similar to the Assyrians, dispersed Judah as a potential threat into exile (588 BC).
Trust must not be given to all who ask for it: Wisdom is needed. Shared values must be discerned. Worthy character must be in evidence. Pride seems to have motivated Hezekiah's foolishness. Hezekiah seemed to care only about his own welfare, not future outcomes affecting others (v.8).
Personal Application: I will try to live in such a way that good outcomes will come from my words and actions, not only today, but also when they no longer affect me but others only; I will care about their long-term good. I will not "show-off" (goods, achievements, or telling 'part of' a story to leave only a positive impression). I will trust the Lord to show me to whom to give trust. I will grieve death but not assume all death is counter to God's good plan and purpose.
My Prayer: Father give me a heart of wisdom to know when (not) to trust. Show me the long-term effects of my words and actions that I might do good to generations yet to come.
The second half of Isaiah provides a message of comfort and a revelation of God's character and his purposes for Israel (NLT). Chs. 40-48 promise restoration to the land following exile, chs. 49-57 speak of the coming Messiah, and chs 58-66 speak of the blessings of Messianic rule (Ryrie).
Comforting Shepherd: God comforts after punishment (v.1-2), coming joyously to His people (v.3-5) with a Word which stands forever (v.8): He is present (v.9) and though mighty and just (v.10) will tend his people like a caring shepherd (v.11).
This amazing God who has no counselor (v.13) or teacher (v.14) holds the heavens in the 'span' (v.12) of his hand between thumb and little finger [9 inches, 1/2 a cubit]. He rules nations (v.15-17), the globe (v.22-24) and the stars (v.26). Stars, contrary to the Babylonian belief that they are gods, are creations of God. Idols (v.19-20), rulers and judges (v.23-24) cannot be compared to Him.
Yet God is not too great to care (v.27) but restores and gives strength to His people (v.28-31).
Personal Application: This wonderful, amazing God strengthens me in the mission given us: heralding the Messiah Jesus. I will be stable as a deep-hulled boat in the swirl of life-challenges, worldviews and propaganda around me. I will look to the Lord for strength when weary. I will joy in His comfort.
My Prayer: Father, what comfort these words would have been to Israel in exile. What strength, majesty and grandeur You are to us.
Who Else Could do This? God calls the nations to trial (v1) demanding essentially: "Show me - which of your idols could raise up a king from the east (v.2) to deliver Israel from exile?" Who could predict this - and then do it?
"No one, only I am he" (v.4). The idols cannot do this. God taunts them (v.22-24) and declares His victory over them. It is God who brings Cyrus from Persia to punish Babylon, just as He brought Babylon to punish Assyria previously. (Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539BC and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.)
God Will Accomplish His Purposes: God has not forgotten Israel but has chosen them for his purposes and will strengthen them to accomplish his will (v.8-10). Israel the worm (v.14) will become a threshing sledge (v.15). Fear not! (v.10,14).
God will accomplish His purposes; therefore we need not fear or be intimidated by those who oppose Him but cannot stand before him (v.24) - be they human or idols or ideologies. God alone can predict what he will do and then do it.
Personal Application: I will not be anxious when appearances are overwhelming. I will "be still and know that He is God." I will take the long view; though an earthly power appears to have the upper hand at one moment, I will look further with confidence knowing the Lord will do as He has declared, v. 10: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
My Prayer: Mighty God, forgive me when I am fearful. Turn my eyes and heart to you in trust and confidence. You will do what you have declared you will do.
Isaiah contrasts two servants of the Lord: His people Israel (v.18-22) who remained blind and deaf in spite of all God's efforts to communicate with them through the prophets and to discipline them through foreign armies - and His Servant Messiah (v.1-17) in whom Yahweh delights (v.1).
This righteous servant is filled with God's Spirit (v.1) and will bring justice - not only to Israel but to all the nations of the earth (v.1,3,4). Yahweh's righteous servant will be gentle with the weak (v.3), bring freedom to the bound (v.7) and sight to those spiritually, and even physically, blind (v.7,16) - including his servant nation Israel, soon to return from just punishment in exile.
The Messiah will bring an entirely new era, passionate as a warrior (v.13) and singularly focused as a woman in labour (v.14-15).
The difference between Israel as God's unfaithful servant people who had largely missed their calling to be a light to the nations, and the Messiah as God's faithful servant, righteous and just bringing God's light to all the nations, is profound and sobering.
Personal Application: I will seek to be faithful to God's call as Jesus is faithful and to serve as He serves - "Lord, fill me with your Spirit (v.1), enabling me." I will bring Gospel light both to neighbours and to nations, as the Lord enables. My life is His.
My Prayer: Father, how high a calling and how easy to point out where Israel missed or disobeyed Your calling. But Lord, the Church. How often we have missed or disobeyed Your high calling to the nations. How often I have. Lord, have mercy. Lord, give clear vision and open ears. Lord, pour out Your Spirit upon me/us.
His alone: God has formed us, both in creation and in redemption (v.1-7) so we are, doubly (if that were possible), His alone.
He has Formed us: Israel was formed by God's call to Abraham, God's call out of slavery in Egypt and by His call out of exile. Israel, despite its waywardness and frequent need of discipline, was called into being and formed for God's glory (v.7) and praise (v.21).
He Saves us: As His unique possession, God protects Israel from danger, fire and water (v.2, 16), images of the Exodus. God's grace ransoming His people from slavery is finalized in the Cross but fully evident in the OT sacrificial system and here as in vs. 3-4. In this there is no Savior beside the Lord (v.11).
Note, not 'no Savior like the Lord' which might suggest other gods save in less effective ways. No, rather God makes clear none of those pretending to be gods save to any degree. They do not save but enslave.
Utterly Sovereign; Entirely With us: No one can hold back God's salvation (v.11), nor can anyone hold back God's judgement (v.13). God alone is God, utterly and uniquely so from eternity to eternity, wholly 'other' (as liberals point out correctly, at least in part). However God is not only wholly 'other' but also fully engaged and reflected in His creation and salvation. We are created in His image. He is Emmanuel. So we stand before Him both acknowledging mystery and the fullness of love and justice, in worship.
Personal Application: I will trust the Lord - whose I am - who makes a path (v.16) and does a new thing (v.19) to accomplish His purposes. When challenged, from within or from without, I will look up to Him with confidence.
My Prayer: Father, there is no one like You, no Savior, Helper or Friend. How I love and trust You, You alone. How I worship You from eternity to eternity.
Idols - how foolish!: God has no equal (v.6-8). God alone creates (v.2,21,24), blesses (v.3), forgives, redeems (v.22,23), intervenes in history (v.27,28) and declares it in advance (v.7,8, 26-28.
How foolish then to bow down and pray (v.17) to a block of wood which God caused to grow (14), is shaped by frail and finite men (v.12), is inert sitting in a room from which it cannot move (v.13), and which will return to ashes (v.20)? How blind, dull and uncomprehending (v.18) is the deceived heart (v.20) which sees not that an idol has less value than the log God caused to grow which is burned for warmth or to bake bread (v.15-16).
The idol is like the person who worships it, without eyes to see or hearts to comprehend the truth.
God - how great and worthy! The only (v.8) true God, on the contrary, is the maker of all things without the aid of anyone (v.24, unlike the idol which cannot form itself or form anything by itself). God alone is the source of memory (v.21), forgiveness (v.22) exuberant joy and glory worthy of worship (v.23)! It is this God who brings forth Cyrus (v.28, ch. 45) and restores His people from exile to Jerusalem.
Today: Many are deceived to think something (be it a totem pole or an unborn child) has value because they have given it value rather than recognizing it is the reverse: things have value because God bestows value. Our society likewise builds a car or house or computer and worships it. And the kingdom of the world (Rev.11:15) gives itself credit for bringing forth surveillance technology and robots to enforce submission to the Babylon it has made.
Personal Application: The contrast could not be more stark or the stakes higher. It is God alone who is, true, trustworthy and worthy of worship! I will not worship what God has made (be it stars, nature, or the raw materials of technology) nor human rulers who set themselves up as gods. I will worship and rejoice in the Lord of Glory, and Him alone. In Him is my joy and praise (v.20-21) and security.
My Prayer: Father, we live under many earthly rulers who know you not and among many others who worship only nature, things and themselves. We are unshaken and undeterred, knowing You, rejoicing in You, and making You known.
Instrument Unaware: Who could set free weak and broken Israel from captivity and exile in Babylon? Yahweh alone - by the sovereign means of His inscrutable choosing. What was God's chosen means? Though Cyrus (v.1) king of Persia (Iran) did not know God, God knew his name (v4) and, before he was born, called and anointed him to conquer Babylon and release Israel so that all men globally (v.6) may know the only true God and be saved (v.22).
God's ultimate purpose in choosing Cyrus is revealed in v. 23: "To me every know will bow, every tongue will swear (allegiance)", which is applied to Jesus in Philippians 2:10-11 revealing in turn also the Father's incarnation and anointing.
God anointed Cyrus (v.1) [the only time God anointed anyone outside of Israel] making Cyrus's way to victory smooth (v.13) so that he would be God's agent of release to captive Israel and rebuild for her Jerusalem (v.14).
To those tempted to question God's use of a pagan Gentile instrument, in His hand, for good, God responds with warning (v.9-10). God will work in the way of His choosing so that salvation will be available to all and all will bow and be blessed before Him (v.23).
Application Today: Today also God can and will use a Putin or Khomeini, Trump or any person He chooses to accomplish His purposes for good, even if the person He uses is not 'good' by the standards of God's holiness, even if that person doesn't acknowledge Him as only true God. So we can be at peace as Kingdoms rise and fall (v.7) for His good purpose.
Personal Application: I will watch God at work on the stage of world history, amazed, and not presuming to know God's purposes or attempting to direct His hand. Rather I will pray for all leaders that they will not resist God's hand even if they don't yet know Him.
My Prayer: Father, how great are your ways and how greatly to be praised You are forever. How slow we are to learn and how patient You are with the peoples of the earth. Father, bring quickly the day righteousness drips down from heaven and righteousness springs up from the earth (v.8).
Isaiah 46 & 47
Babylon - in history and symbol: Isaiah 46-47 focuses on the Babylonian empire of history. In scripture this empire is also a symbol of organized humanity in rebellion against God. Both expressions of Babylon are characterized by pride and arrogance (47:7), dependence on their false gods who are no gods, Bel (Baal) and Nebo (learning) (46:1), astrology and sorcery (47:12-13), and enforce their power by enslaving the weak to heap up wealth for the powerful (47:6c). All are false, and false hopes for those who trust them. None of these will save Babylon.
The true God brings down Babylon: God does so in Israel's day through Cyrus of Persia (47:11a) and He will bring down the pride of this world by Jesus Christ who will come even more swiftly and suddenly then did Cyrus of his day. Babylon's gods could not save them from Persia, they were loaded on animals and themselves hauled off to captivity (46:2). Nor will the pride of the world save it in the day of Jesus Christ.
Eternal Contrast: Yahweh is not carried by His people, as the idols need to be carried by their worshipers, but Yahweh carries His people from their birth (46:3); both carrying and delivering them (46:4). There is no one like Yahweh who plans the end from the beginning (46:10), speaks and brings His good purpose to pass (v.11). This God brings righteousness to a people who has none (v.13) and calls His people His "heritage" (47:6). As such, He will fulfill His purposes through us. He plans with us in mind. And amazingly, we will, by His grace, bring Him glory.
Personal Application: I will not be seduced by the world which sets itself up as god and against God. I will trust and obey Him who carries me from birth and delivers me from evil.
My Prayer: Father, how good and how great You are! How cheap and empty are the whispers of the deceiver, from the garden to this day. Thank you that you have called us, carried us, and delivered us to be Your heritage. Empower us to live worthily in Your high call and blessing.
Second Chances: God had warned Israel many times, who for centuries invoked God's name but not in truth or righteousness (v.1) - then acted suddenly (v.3) taking Israel into the refining furnace of exile (v.10). Israel had survived Babylon only for the praise of the glory of God's name, not being willing to cut Israel off entirely, though they had deserved it, because God had made covenant with them (v.9,11).
Now, having sent Cyrus (v.14-15) to deliver, Israel must not be obstinate again (v.4) refusing God's call to flee Babylon (v.20). God will supply this deliverance also as He had in the wilderness following Egypt (v.21). To refuse God again and remain in Babylon will be to loose God's peace forever (v.22).
God's Glory: God gives an amazing number of 'second chances' - ultimately not for anything in us but for the glory of His own character. The ultimate glory of this character expressed in the Trinity is glimpsed in v.16 where it appears the pre-incarnate Christ speaks of the Father who sent him and the Spirit.
Personal Application: I will call on His name in truth and righteousness (v.1). I will with joy jump at a second chance God gives me by His grace for the sake of His glory (v.11).
v.20: Go forth from Babylon! Flee the Chaldeans! Declare with the sound of joyful shouting, proclaim this, send it out to the end of the earth; Say, "the LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob."
My Prayer: Father, that You would punish in affliction through exile to refine, and deliver again from that affliction, is each time only Your grace. How great and good You are. How greatly I desire to be pure and holy, even, if need be, through Your refining process. But Lord enable me to hear Your word and respond fully each time, the first time, and completely - that purity of heart would come without avoidable brokenness.
God's Righteous Servant (2nd Servant Song): is called by God from the womb of his mother (v.1) as Jeremiah was (Jer. 1:5ff), and called out of the womb, so to speak, of exiled Israel, who had failed at God's calling and continues to complain about His righteous judgement (v.4, 14).
True Israel: God's Righteous Servant is true Israel (v.3) through whom God will show His glory (v.3), restoring fallen Israel to Himself (v.5) and extending His salvation to the end of the earth (v.6). To His Righteous Servant, despised and abhorred by the world, kings will bow down (v.7, 23) when He rescues captives from their tyrant (v.24-25), demonstrating to all that God alone saves (v.26).
True Hope: Though history is long and God's often-failing people complain (v.4,14) - both of unrighteous suffering brought upon them by others and of suffering brought upon themselves by their own sin - God's promise is sure: "Those who wait for Me in hopeful expectation will not be put to shame."(v.23).
Personal Application: I will not complain of hardship. I will live in hope and shout for joy at the Lord's comfort and compassion (v.13) at all times (v.15).
My Prayer: Father, how gracious You are to your often-failing
people, bringing salvation out of Yourself to us through Your Righteous Servant
Jesus. Thank you that hopeful expectation of You is always the right thing,
leaving no shame but in due course always joy.
The Consequence of Israel's faithlessness: Israel has only itself to blame for its estrangement from God in exile (v.1). Repeatedly God had called through the prophets but Israel did not answer (v.2).
The Faithful Servant - Model and Restorer of Israel: In contrast with faithless Israel - and to restore her - God would send His Faithful Servant, the Messiah who sustains the weak and causes His people to hear God's voice (v.4), himself obedient to God in a way Israel had refused to be (v.5-6), setting his face "like flint" (v.7) when obedience leads to suffering.
God's faithful servant knows that God will vindicate those who suffer for doing His will (v.8). This confidence bolsters the faith of those who suffer unjustly (v.8-9). These verses underlie the foundations of Romans 8.
Living as Faithful Remnant: True servants of the Lord hear and obey the voice of His Faithful Servant (v.10). Those who refuse the light of God try rather to make their own artificial light, (it's hard not to think of the self-proclaimed "enlightenment") but this will end badly (v.11).
True and False Light: The individual is created in the image of God and as such has great value, but placing oneself as the centre of meaning, as the "enlightenment" does, is false light. Reason has great (but not final) value in understanding the physical world, but using reason as a weapon to fend off God is not light but folly.
As we live as a remnant or minority culture it appears higher levels of obedience are called for than when we live in a complacent majority culture but this is not so. In both settings the costly obedience modeled by the Faithful Servant is required.
Personal Application: I will not try to make my own light but walk in the light the Lord gives. The Lord alone is the source of all true light. I will listen to Him morning by morning (v.4). I will sustain the weary with a word (v.4).
My Prayer: Father, give me an ear to listen to You morning by morning (v.4). Enable me to sustain the weary with a true word (v.4). Strengthen me to trust You to vindicate me when experiencing injustice.
In process...please come again...