Study On The Book Of Isaiah
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Isaiah 12:1-6 The Lord praised in Zion

The praise in this chapter is to be in response to the blessings anticipated in chapter 11. The final salvation of God’s people is described at the end of chapter 11 as a second or new exodus. The singing in chapter 12 then follows in the same way that the song of Exodus 15 followed the original exodus. But chapter 12 has a much more wide-ranging function within the book than this. The text to this point has consisted of units which are closely related to one another in a more or less obvious fashion. But the oracle against Babylon in chapter 13 introduces a block of material which is so distinct from what precedes as to indicate that a major new departure in the internal development of the book begins at that point. Chapter 12, then, stands at the end of the first major part of the book, and its content indicates that it is not merely the end but the climax.
 
These two songs is one of personal thanksgiving. It begins with a declaration of intention (I will praise you), followed by a reason (your anger has turned away and you have comforted me), and it concludes with a confession of faith (God is my salvation). But it’s clear from what immediately precedes (and what follows) that it is not a solitary individual who is in view here, but a collection of individuals: “the remnant of [the Lord’s] people”. The first song (12:1-2) looks forward to the time when final judgment has taken place, and every survivor will have learned at last that salvation is to be found in no-one and nothing else but the Lord, and will thankfully and gladly confess that fact.
 
The second song (12:4-6) is a communal hymn in which the worshipers exhort one another to give thanks to the Lord, to declare His deeds to the nations, and to praise Him joyfully and loudly. Two reasons are given for the responses that are called for: the Lord’s glorious deeds (v. 5a), and His presence in Zion (v. 6b). The second of these is a consequence of the first. It’s the Lord’s glorious deeds in judgment and salvation that have established His presence in Zion and the great and Holy One. But as chapter 2:1-4 has made clear, the final establishment of the Lord’s rule in Zion will have implications for the nations, and this is why the second song in particular places such stress on worldwide proclamation. The two songs of this chapter celebrate good news which, in the end, cannot be contained. It must be proclaimed far and wide, for only as the nations hear of the Lord’s glorious deeds will they be able to recognize at last that He alone is God, and come to Zion to learn of His ways. Thankfulness and praise overflow, as they always must, into evangelism.
 
Isaiah 12:1-6 Reflection Questions:
What is the second exodus depicted in chapter 11?
Which gospel do you find verse 3 having relevance?
Does your thankfulness and praise for the Lord overflow into evangelism? How?
 

Isaiah 11:1-16 The Glorious Hope

Here for the second time, Isaiah extends to the remnant the hope of the royal Messiah. Again, it is specifically a word of assurance for the dark day of the Assyrian threat but contains in itself clear indications that its fulfillment is for time yet to come. Updated hope is a living, ever-present assurance for God’s people, and it is at this point that the passage speaks as much to the church of today as in Isaiah’s time. Clearly the two major sections of this chapter (vv. 1-9, 10-16) belong together. They both concern the rule of the shoot or Root of Jesse (vv. 1 & 10). But what is first presented in general and symbolic terms in verses 1-9 is then reduced to concrete particulars in verses 10-16.
 
The movement from the overthrow of the human kingdom (represented by Assyria) to the setting up of the kingdom of God (represented by the Messiah) is a natural one theologically, even though it involves a dramatically shortened view of the historical processes involved. Notice also the movement from the felling of a forest at the end of chapter 10 to the emergence of a shoot from a stump at the beginning of this one. However this is only a surface view. The deeper reality involves a sharp contrast. Assyria is felled never to grow again; Judah is felled only to have new life emerge from its stump. This is not the first time in the book that the transition from judgment to salvation has been depicted as the springing up of a plant, but clearly there is a more particular application of that imagery here.
 
The expression the stump of Jesse indicates his humble origins, bypassing all the luxurious display of the Davidic house. His fitness to rule will consist essentially in his endowment with the spirit, giving him true wisdom, grounded in the fear of the Lord. The fundamental characteristic of his rule will be righteousness, which in practical terms will mean justice for the poor and meek, something which the current kings had failed to bring about. And he will be in a position to execute perfect justice because he will be possessed of perfect knowledge. The effect of his rule will be universal peace, an ideal described here in symbolic language which recalls the paradise of Eden. It’s a picture of the whole of creation put back into joint. The entire earth, not just Jerusalem/Zion, will be the Lord’s holy mountain. In other words, he will be known, and his rule will be experienced everywhere. Here Isaiah looks beyond the disappointments of his own age to the coming of the one who, in the last analysis, can only be God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
The opening words of verse 10 make it clear that this unit has the same end-time focus as verses 1-9, and in view of this the many particular nations mentioned must be understood in a figurative rather than literal sense. Collectively they represent the enemies, great and small, of God’s people.
 
There are three things that should be noted in verses 11-16. First, the remnant in view of these verses comprises, in one sense, simply the survivors, the people of Israel and Judah who will still be alive, although scattered, when the Messiah comes (v. 12). Secondly, because of the end-time focus of the unit as a whole, the gathering of the scattered people of God here cannot be seen as fulfilled in the later return of the exiles from Babylon, even though both are depicted as a second or new exodus. Thirdly, as Christians it is important to recognize that the nationalistic categories of a prophecy like this are transcended in the New Testament’s vision of the end. In New Testament terms the scattered people of God are all those, Jew and Gentile alike, who gladly acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Messiah). These are the ones who will finally be gathered from every nation to share in Christ’s rule over those who will only reluctantly bow the knee on the final day. As we see, however, this expansion of the remnant concept to include Gentiles as well as believing Jews is already anticipated within the book of Isaiah itself.
 
Isaiah 11:1-16 Reflection Questions:
How do these verses encourage you as you go through your struggles here on earth?
Where in the New Testament is it said that Christ was endowed with the Holy Spirit?
Where in the New Testament does Isaiah 11:3 come into play?
 

Isaiah 10:5-34 The Lord’s Anger Redirected

In one sense the unity of this passage is very clear; it deals from beginning to end with the future downfall of Assyria. Its message also is clear: neither fear nor rely on Assyria; she is merely a tool in the Lord’s hand and her time, too, will come.
 
Verse 12 alerts us to the fact that, while the northern kingdom has not been lost to view entirely, the focus has shifted back to the south and to Jerusalem/Zion in particular. The Assyrian “flood” which overwhelmed the north eventually swept on into Judah as well. It was at Jerusalem that the Lord finished all His work of judging the two kingdoms. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Lord should then, as verse 12 tells us; redirect His anger towards arrogant Assyria. For chapter 2 has already put on record God’s abhorrence of arrogance and His intention to judge it, not only among His own people, but also in the world at large. Of course the judgment on Assyria here, like that on Israel and Judah, is envisioned as taking place within history rather than on the final day, but it is nevertheless entirely in keeping with the character of God as revealed in the earlier chapters. What is surprising is that the Lord should have chosen to use such a proud, pagan nation at all, especially against His own people. But two things are strongly affirmed. First, the Lord did in fact do so (vv. 5-6), and second, this did not absolve Assyria of moral accountability (vv. 7-11, 15). It’s not that Assyria resisted her calling (she was not even aware of it), but that she sinned in the matter in which she fulfilled it (arrogantly, v. 15). The twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are held together in a fine tension here, as they are in Scripture as a whole.
 
When Assyria is reduced to a remnant (v. 19), the remnant of Israel will no longer lean on her, but will lean upon the Lord (v. 20). Israel in verse 20 is not just the northern kingdom, but the whole twelve tribes, as the repetition of the name Jacob in verses 20 and 21 confirms. The whole land, both north and south, will be devastated, and only then will Assyria herself be dealt with (vv. 25-27).
 
Essentially, the choice that Isaiah and his compatriots faced was whether to respond to the circumstances that threatened them with calm reliance on God or with a frenzy of self-help, using whatever means the wisdom of the age deemed most likely to succeed. And since the world is always with us, and has the same basic character from age to age, it is an issue which always faces people of God in a multitude of ways small and great. In the book of Isaiah the issues of faith and unbelief are constantly related to the very pressing and practical business of political, national and personal survival, and this has a most important lesson to teach us. Faith is more than a means of justification; it is also a practical approach to the challenges of daily life, just as much for us as it was for those who faced the Assyrian threat. We are not only saved by faith; we are to live by it!
 
While God may use evil people to accomplish His purposes, this does not in any way diminish their accountability. We are in touch here with something we will not fully understand this side of heaven; it is part of the mysterious interplay between divine sovereignty and human freedom. We should, however, grasp it firmly and be profoundly grateful for it, for it will preserve us from either denying the reality of evil or fearing that it will ultimately triumph. Wicked men served God’s purpose by nailing Jesus to the cross, but the resurrection lays on them, and on all of us, the urgent need for repentance.
 
Isaiah 10:5-34 Reflection Questions:
What lessons do we learn with how God used Assyria concerning our Christian walk?
How do you respond to any difficult circumstances that threatened you, with calm reliance on God or with a frenzy of self-help?
What does it mean to you “to live by faith?”
 

Isaiah 9:8-10:4 The Lord’s Anger against Israel

We are at another of those points in the book where the focus returns suddenly to present realities, in this case the sad condition of the northern kingdom (Israel) and its imminent demise. It’s remarkable to see a southerner (from Judah) like Isaiah so even-handed in his assessment of the two kingdoms. But he understands that “Israel” in a theological sense is one people (north and south together) ruled by the Lord, so what happens in the north is just as significant for him as what happens in the south. But Judah was already infected with the same evils.
 
This four stanza poem is a classic of biblical social analysis, impressive in its logic, and frightening in its inevitability. The Word which the Lord has sent has fallen on deaf ears and from this easily dismissed beginning everything else follows as certainly as night follows day. The poem is either a prophetic forecast of events or a prophetic meditation bringing out the significance of events which have already taken place. The same issue faced Israel as Judah: would they accept and live by the Word of the Lord? The whole logic of Isaiah’s social analysis stems from this question. The Bible insists large scale national and international consequences follow from spiritual causes. There is no escape from the Word. All the people will know it. The word spoken and refused becomes the same message turned to chastisement. Their pride will not protect them against the coming fulfillment of the word.
 
In verse 10, the bricks falling down could refer to the earthquake which took place in the reign of Jeroboam II (786 – 746 BC). It was the voice of God, but they took it as a challenge to rise to the occasion: they were equal to it! On the other hand, the words may be metaphorical, indicating an awareness that things are falling apart met by a spirit of self-confidence towards the future, never stopping to read the lessons of the past. Not only will the set-back be overcome but the future will outshine the past as dressed stone and cedars surpass (mud) bricks and (common sycamore) fig trees. Pride made Israel think it would recover and rebuild in its own strength. Even though God made the people of Israel a nation and gave them the land they occupied, they put their trust in themselves rather than in Him. Too often we take pride in our accomplishments, forgetting that it is God who has given us our resources and abilities. We may even become proud of our unique status as Christians. God is not pleased with any pride or trust in ourselves because it cuts off our contact with Him.
 
The bricks have fallen, now the leaders fall (vv, 13-17). The consequences of rejecting the Lord’s Word unfold. Refusing revealed truth and therefore relying on unaided human wisdom, they find that it’s not enough. Their leaders become misleaders and everyone comes off the worse; from young men in their prime, who might be thought able to look after themselves, to the defenseless fatherless and widows, who are in any case without resource. Even the virtues which the Lord loves cannot be had without commitment to the Lord. When the Word is rejected every grace is subject to erosion. Under deficient leadership the door is opened to unchecked self-seeking. Verses 18-21 expose the betrayal of brotherliness, the essential barrenness of the acquisitive life and the breakdown of social cohesiveness. All this is attributed to a twofold cause: it’s the natural progress of wickedness but it’s also the implementation of the Lord’s wrath.
 
The fourth stanza (10:1-4) returns to the topic of leadership but not in the same way as verses 13-17. There the charge was general – inept, misleading leaders. Here the charge is of blatant misrule, the willful making of decrees in the interest of class-division and personal advantage. In the end, social unruliness (vv. 13-21) resolves itself into the dominance of an unscrupulous clique who write laws for their own ends.
 
Isaiah 9:8-10:4 Reflection Questions:
Does God feel distant to you? Could it be your pride and trust in yourself?
Can you remember of a time when you used human wisdom and found that it wasn’t enough? What was the outcome?
How does this study impact your leadership with family, job, church, etc?
What did Jesus have to say about those who used laws to their own ends?
 

Isaiah 8:1-9:7 From Darkness to Light

This unit deals with the same events as chapter 7, and the fact that the name Immanuel occurs in 8:8 and is alluded to again in 8:10 suggests that, in general, what we have here is the further outworking of the word spoken to Ahaz in 7:14. That word was a doubled-edged involving both judgment and salvation. Its outworking is now depicted in terms of darkness and light. In the short term it means gathering darkness (judgment), but in the long term brilliant light (the coming of the Messiah and the drawing of a new age). The passage as a whole consists of four oracles, in which Isaiah delivers messages given to him directly by the Lord, and two brief reflections on their significance by the prophet himself.
 
The verses 8:1-10 are strikingly reminiscent of 7:14-17. Like Ahaz in chapter 7, the people as a whole are being given a last chance to abandon their faithless scheming and rely entirely on the Lord as their deliverer, for the sign does not speak of judgment on Judah, but rather of the destruction of her two northern enemies (v. 4). King and people alike have rejected the Lord’s help (compared to the gently flowing waters of the Shiloh spring in Jerusalem) and preferred the help of Assyria (likened to the water of the mighty Euphrates). But if they thought that the river, once in flood stage, would stop at their own borders, they were mistaken. It will sweep on into Judah, all but engulfing it (v. 8). For all that however, the clever schemes of the nations (whether they be Israel, Syria, or Assyria) are, in the final analysis of no consequence. It’s what the Lord has purposed, not what they have planned, that will ultimately be achieved (vv. 9-10).
 
The verses in 8:11-15 have a logical connection with what has gone before. The schemes of the nations will come to nothing because they stem from the fear of mere humans. Isaiah and his followers are to have nothing to do with such schemes. Instead, they are to fear the Lord alone. To those who do this the Lord will be a sanctuary (He will protect them), but to those who do not He will be like a great stone in their path, over which they will stumble and fall (vv. 14-15). The bottom line is that the Lord cannot be ignored. Whether He is experienced as Savior or as Judge depends on how we respond to Him.
 
In verses 8:16-22 Isaiah, at times, appears to be addressing an unspecified individual (v. 16) or his disciples collectively (v. 19), but the mixed speech forms are in reality an indication of his inner turmoil as he reflects on the preceding words and their implications. Those who have rejected the clear message he has brought from God will turn in their lostness to the occult, and in so doing plunge themselves into ever deeper darkness and ruin (vv. 19, 21-22). Isaiah therefore sees the urgency of committing his teaching to his disciples. They will need it to turn to as the darkness closes about them (v. 20), and they will preserve it for a future generation who may be more willing to hear. But if Isaiah has hope in this dark moment (and he does), it is not grounded finally in the disciples but in the Lord. Even the disciples may fail to live up to the expectations Isaiah has of them, but the Lord Himself will never let him down.
 
Verse 9:1 introduces a sharp contrast (Nevertheless…) which prepares the way for what follows in verses 9:2-7. The change of mood from fearful gloom to no more gloom is possible only because of Isaiah’s confidence in the Lord. With his gaze once more fixed on the future, the time of fulfillment, the imminent devastation of the northern kingdom by Assyria is relegated to the past. By faith he sees a glorious reversal that will one day be effected by God’s grace. Devastation will give way to glory. The dawn will break in the very region that was the first to experience God’s judgment. No wonder Matthew draws our attention to the fact that it was in these northern parts, with their mixed population, that Jesus first proclaimed the gospel.
 
The theme of salvation is clearly the climax of the whole movement from darkness to light in verses 8:1-9:7. At the same time it represents the final reversal of the situation in chapter 7 where the Davidic house, represented by Ahaz, was rejected. The logical structure is signaled by the threefold “for” of verses 4, 5, and 6 (RSV). The rejoicing of verse 3 is occasioned by release from oppression (v. 4), cessation of war (v. 5), and the birth of an ideal ruler (v. 6). That which is plainly future spoken of as already accomplished, for the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (v. 7c). Finally the language of verse 6 can apply only to one who is God incarnate. There can be little doubt, then, that this oracle points directly to the coming of the Messiah, the great Son of David and the true Light.
 
Isaiah 8:1-9:7 Reflection Questions:
Are you bringing the Lord into all your major decisions or are you doing acting alone?
What Scriptures in the New Testament refer to Jesus as the true Light?
In what ways are you daily reflecting His light?
What lesson is God showing you with this study?
 

Isaiah 7:1-25 Ahaz at the Crossroads

The question mark put against the doctrine of hope by chapter 5 was erased by Isaiah’s own experience. His sin was as the sin of the people (6:5). If the Lord dealt with Isaiah’s sin, will He not deal with theirs? Hope is restored (6:13b). Isaiah proceeds now to work this out. First, the moment of decision has come. Isaiah found himself faced with the Word of God and the challenge to respond (6:8); so it would be for the people. For them the point of no return had arrived. Secondly, membership of the people of the Lord must now be evidenced by personal decision and commitment. It’s not a matter of nationality. In these chapters (7:1-11:16) the doctrine of the believing remnant flowers. Thirdly, the dying kingship of Uzziah provides the foil for the hope to come: David’s house is sinking fast but the promised King will come.
 
The setting this encounter between Isaiah and Ahaz is briefly sketched in verses 1-2. A resurgent Assyria has begun to push west and south into Palestine. The kings of Israel and Syria have formed an anti-Assyrian pact and are determined to force Judah to join them by deposing Ahaz and installing a puppet king in his place (v. 6). Ahaz is torn between two fears. He is panic-stricken in the face of the invasion by Syria and Israel (v. 2), but he is even more fearful of joining them against Assyria. When Isaiah confronts him he appears to have already decided to try to hold out in the hope of finding security through submission to Assyria. Isaiah offers him a radical alternative: forswear all alliances and trust wholly in the Lord (vv. 7-9). In view of Ahaz’s refusal to do this (vv. 10-11), Isaiah announces that Judah will soon be overrun and devastated by that very Assyria that Ahaz has foolishly decided to turn to for help (vv. 17-20).
 
Verses 13-16 are clearly the theological key to the chapter. The encounter with Ahaz in verses 1-12 leads up to them, and verses 17-25 which follow are an extended commentary on them. It’s certain that verse 14 finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, but what is its meaning here in its immediate context? In chapter 6:9-10 Isaiah was told to make the ears of the rebellious people dull and to close their eyes. Here in chapter 7 we see Isaiah doing this to Ahaz. Ahaz has rejected the clear word of the prophet (vv. 7-9) and the offer of a clear sign to confirm it (vv. 10-12). Therefore Ahaz is given a sign which is veiled, a sign which he cannot understand (vv. 13-16).
 
But the sign is not meaningless. It can be understood, but only from the perspective of faith, and again chapter 6 provides the key. The final verse of that chapter spoke of a righteous remnant, a “holy seed” that would survive the coming judgment. At the beginning of chapter 7 Isaiah is pointedly told to take his son Shear-Jashub with him as he goes to meet Ahaz. “Shear-Jashub” means ‘a remnant shall return’ or ‘a remnant shall repent’. Both are possible, but since the immediate context here is one of faith verses unbelief rather than exile and return, the latter meaning is almost certainly the primary one. Isaiah comes to challenge Ahaz to repent and join the remnant who believes, but he refuses. The Immanuel saying of verse 14 is therefore given to Ahaz as a veiled message of judgment.
 
Two important themes from the previous chapters are strongly developed here in chapter 7. The first is the Lord’s supreme, universal sovereignty, which was so forcibly set before us in 6:1-3. Here in chapter 7 we see Him exercising that sovereignty as He summons the nations to do His bidding. The second theme is closely related to the first, namely, the absolute necessity of wholehearted reliance upon the Lord. In chapter 2 the alternative to such trust was reliance upon man; here that general notion is developed in terms of trusting in the nations (especially Assyria) for protection instead of the Lord. The choice is put squarely to Ahaz in verse 9b: “If you will not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Whatever we rely on instead of trusting in God will eventually turn and devour us.
 
Isaiah 7:1-25 Reflection Questions:
Have you ever been in a situation similar to Ahaz and to put all your trust in the Lord?
What would be some of today’s examples of “Assyria” and “Syria & Israel” that we face?
Are you receiving signs (dreams & visions) or Words from God that you are ignoring?
What are you relying on instead of God that you might need to repent from?
 

Isaiah 6:1-13 Isaiah’s Cleansing and Call

Chapter 6 towers like a majestic peak over the surrounding terrain and is clearly of central importance for the message of the book. It was in this encounter with the Lord that Isaiah’s understanding of both God and his own mission was crystallized. It stands centrally within chapters 1-12 and is intimately related to both what precedes and what follows. Chapters 1-5 as a whole have posed a bigger problem than the corruption that affluence bred and the judgment that this must entail. It is the question of how spiritual renewal can be affected, so that Israel may become the center of world blessing that it is destined to be (2:1-5). Chapter 6 moves from a vision of God (vv. 1-4), to confession of sin (v. 5), to cleansing (vv. 6-7) and finally to commissioning (vv. 8-13); that’s the path by which Isaiah enters into his servanthood, and it’s the path Israel must also take. Isaiah’s experience in this chapter shows them the way. Isaiah’s identification with the sinful nation is made clear by his confession in verse 5.
 
We see in the first four verses (vv. 1-4) an implied contrast between King Uzziah and “the King, the Lord Almighty” (v.5), and we are taken at once to the central theme of the chapter (divine kingship) and the root problem underlying Israel’s failure (trust in mere humans rather than trust in the Lord). As so often is the case, increased wealth had brought a diminished view of God, so that people felt secure in their sins as long as they performed the appropriate rituals. But Isaiah sees the Lord as He is, high and exalted, beyond manipulation, seated on His judgment throne. The time of reckoning has come. Heaven and earth merge in this blinding vision of the One who is above all Holy (v. 3), a term which includes transcendence and righteousness. The seraphs, by their words and actions, show that the appropriate response is reverence, service and praise.
 
In verse 5, the vision of God produces not rapture but sheer terror in the prophet. He knows himself to be utterly ruined, for two reasons: he is unclean and he has seen God. The belief that no-one could see God and live has its roots in the encounter with God at Sinai. A privileged few, both then and at other times had been permitted to see God. Isaiah is not proud at being admitted to the inner circle. He is aware only of being unclean, like his fellows. In the presence of God degrees of sin become irrelevant. It is the holiness of God which reveals to us our true condition, not comparison with others. Paradoxically, Isaiah’s confession of being unclean like his fellows has set him apart from them, for he, unlike them, has been willing to acknowledge his condition.
 
In verses 6-7, the altar from which the burning coal is taken by the seraphs to cleanse Isaiah is not named. But it doesn’t matter. The altar, whatever its identity, symbolizes the entire provision which God had made in the temple and its services for the sins of His people. Isaiah is cleansed, not by his own efforts, but purely by the grace of God. The same grace was available to Israel as a whole but by their arrogance they had cut themselves off from it.
 
It now becomes apparent why the ‘lips’ and ‘mouth’ have been so prominent in verses 5-7. The Lord seeks a messenger, and Isaiah, now cleansed, is ready and willing to be his mouthpiece. Verses 9-13 reveal that his message is to be essentially one of judgment, but it is described more in terms of its effects than its content: it will harden hearts (vv. 9-10) and lead to devastation of both land and people (vv. 11-12). There is a thread of hope however. Verse 13 likens the land and its people to a tree whose stump remains in the earth after it is felled, and speaks of a righteous remnant (holy seed) within the nation. The closing words of this chapter are a promise rather than a threat. The righteous remnant will not be destroyed, but survive and grow into a new people of God. As we shall see in chapters 7 and 8, Isaiah himself is the nucleus around which this righteous remnant begins to gather.
 
As well as giving us an awesome view of God, this chapter provides us with a succinct portrait of his servant Isaiah. He was a man with a big vision of God (v. 1), a deep awareness of his own sinfulness (v. 5), a profound experience of the grace of God (v. 7), and a willingness to spend and be spent in His service, whatever the cost (v. 8). May God help us to be more like him.
 
Isaiah 6:1-13 Reflection Questions:
Do you feel secure in your sins because of your spiritual rituals?
Do you put more trust in yourself and others than trusting in the Lord?
How willing are you to spend and be spent in God’s service, whatever the cost?
 

Isaiah 5:1-30 A Worthless Vineyard

In this last section of his preface Isaiah faces the seeming inevitability of divine judgment. The choice of the vineyard metaphor is significant. In 1:8 the vineyard reference pointed to a remnant which the Lord preserved; in 3:12-4:1, when the vineyard was plundered, the Lord intervened to pass judgment on its behalf and against its plunderers. Now, however, the vineyard is the place where total destruction must be pronounced (vv. 1-7). The future seems like a great question mark, for even the Lord has come to the point where He asks what more is there that can be done (v. 4). In 1:2-31 though sin blighted life yet a bright hope was sketched in 1:26-27 for the future; in 2:1-4:6 though sin marred life’s highest purposes yet cleansing and new creation was held in view (4:2-6); but now sin takes even hope away and nothing is left but the gathering darkness (v. 30).
 
Isaiah lives always with the tension between what will be and what is; between the glorious destiny which beckons Israel and the awful reality of its present condition. It’s a tension which ultimately only the Lord can resolve. Here, once again, as in 2:6, we plunge from the heights to the depths as the prophet returns to the thankless task of exposing the sins of his fellows and warning of judgment to come. But it will not be easy for him to gain a hearing for such an unpleasant message.
 
According to Ezekiel 15:2-5 a vine is either good for fruit or good for nothing and since the Lord’s people are His vine, the same truth applies. By the Feast of Tabernacles the vintage would be gathered in. It may have been on such an occasion that Isaiah invited the crowd to hear him sing, first of his friend (vv. 1-2), then as his friend (vv. 3-4), then revealing who his friend is (vv. 5-6) and finally revealing who the vineyard is (v. 7). Skillfully he draws his hearers on to the point where they can only utter a condemnation and discover that they have condemned themselves.
 
Item by item Isaiah penetrates the façade and gathers the offensive fruit from the Lord’s vine and pronounces a woe on each in turn (vv. 8, 11, 18, 20-22). The structure of the passage is interesting and important. The first two ‘woes’ (vv. 8-12), dealing with abuse of the material benefits of life, are followed by two ‘therefores’ (vv. 13-17); the final four ‘woes’ (vv. 18-23), dealing with failure in the moral and spiritual obligations of life, are likewise followed by two ‘therefores’ (vv. 24-30). The ‘therefores’ match each other. In each case the shorter of them (vv. 13 & 24) explain how the judgment is suited to the foregoing sin, and the longer (14-17 & 25-30) describe an act of God in total judgment. At the center of Isaiah’s ‘anatomy of Judah’ lie his exposure of sin and the reversal of moral values (vv. 18-20). When life consists of the following of sin, denial of the living God and rewriting the moral code, there is no stopping place short of complete devotion to self-pleasing.
 
The destroyer of the Lord’s vineyard is to be a foreign invader, and he is to come at the Lord’s express command (v. 26). It was the message of Isaiah and other prophets that it was the Lord, not these nations, who called the tune. It’s a biblical revelation about how history has always worked and still does today. The first Christians, in their time of testing, cried out to God in full confidence that the worldly powers ranged against them, both Jewish and Gentile, could do nothing but what God, by His power and will, had decided beforehand should happen. Even Herod and Pontius Pilate, in conspiring to bring about the death of Jesus, had merely played roles that God had scripted for them. “The authorities that exist”, Paul tells us, “have been established by God” (Rom 13:1), and the book of Revelation points us with complete confidence to the day when God’s lordship over the nations will be manifested in final judgment (Rev. 11:15). Isaiah was absolutely certain of the Lord’s sovereignty over history; He was using the nations to accomplish His purposes and would continue to do so. It’s a theme that will be developed more fully as the book proceeds.
 
Isaiah 5:1-30 Reflection Questions:
Has your religion become passionless? How passionate are you about sharing the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?
After studying these verses, do you hear God speaking to you about your life?
Do you see God using nations and people groups today for His purposes? What about how God is using you or the people in your life?
 

Isaiah 4:2-6 Beyond Judgment – Glory!

The expression “in that day” has run like a refrain through the whole preceding judgment section, from 2:6 to 4:1. But now here in 4:2 the expression is used climatically as Isaiah’s attention is fixed again on the very end of history, the goal towards which everything is moving under God. The great and final day of the Lord, then has a double aspect. It’s both terrible (2:6-22) and glorious (4:2-6). But the way the text refers to glory as the climax reminds us that God’s ultimate purpose for His people is not destruction but salvation, a truth confirmed by the apostle Paul with resounding clarity (1 Thess. 5:9). Peter is no less definite (1 Pet. 1:5). That salvation which will be fully realized when Christ returns to draw history to its triumphant conclusion is represented here under four images.
 
The Branch of the Lord (4:2a): The Branch of the Lord or simply ‘the Branch’ is used as a technical term for the Messiah, and the motif of a ‘shoot’, ‘branch’ or ‘root’ springing up will later be used in some fairly specific ways within the book of Isaiah. Here however, it seems best to take the full-grown plant in conjunction with what follows, as a general image of the Lord’s saving purposes come to fruition and on display for all to see on the last day. Every gardener knows how a healthy plant in full bloom reflects credit on the one who planted and cultivated it. In a similar way the salvation that the Lord will achieve for His people will reflect great credit on Him on that final day. The Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious. The next three images reveal just what that salvation will involve.
 
A fruitful land (4:2b): The fruitful land of Canaan had been God’s gift to the Israelites in the days of Joshua in fulfillment of the promises made to their ancestors. The land therefore had religious significance for them. It was a visible sign or sacrament of the grace that the Lord had shown in choosing them to be His people. In Isaiah’s day that relationship was strained almost to breaking –point, and the land lay desolate and ravaged by Israel’s enemies, right up to the gates of Jerusalem itself (1:2, 7-8). But Isaiah was confident that the ancient promises would not fail. God would not destroy the nation; nor would He divorce her permanently from the land. A remnant would survive and enjoy in full measure what had been promised to their fathers long ago. It’s an image of abundant provision and deep contentment.
 
A holy city (4:3-4): Now the focus narrows from the land to Zion or Jerusalem, the city which had acquired a special significance for Israel in the time of David. In those days it had been holy in a double sense. It had been holy in that God, the Holy One of Israel, had chosen it as the place where David (His chosen king) and his descendants would rule over His people forever, and where God’s people would meet with Him in His temple. It was also holy in the sense that it had exhibited in its corporate life the very character of the one who had chosen it. It had been ‘faithful’ and ‘full of justice’. The Zion of Isaiah’s day had become a corrupt, harlot city, but Isaiah never doubted that it was still chosen to play a key role in the Lord’s purposes. In these two verses he sees the Zion of the future inhabited by an elect remnant, living in a city which has been purged of its moral corruption by divine judgment. Zion will then once more be holy in both senses: elect and faithful. The holy city represents perfect community.
 
A canopy of glory (4:5-6): The final image is of journey’s end, of the pilgrim people of God at last secure in God’s presence forever. There are many allusions here to the period of the exodus. That journey was punctuated by encampments, and at such times, rest in the land had never been perfectly achieved, even in the time of David. Now, in Isaiah’s time it seemed further off than ever. Isaiah believed that the final encampment of God’s people would be in the new Zion. In the final encampment the glory of the Lord’s presence fills the whole camp, and the  protecting cloud, like a vast canopy or pavilion, covers the entire site and all who are assembled there (v. 5). There will no longer be any need for the tabernacle or temple, for the glory of the Lord will be directly accessible to all. And those with whom God is present in this way will be perfectly secure forever (v. 6). This is no out-of-date dream, but one which Jesus prayed to be realized, and which the apostle John sets before us again at the climax of the Bible as the vision of our own future in God which should still inspire us and draw us on. We too, are pilgrims.
 
Isaiah 4:2-6 Reflection Questions:
Putting yourself into this study, where are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?
Have you experienced the glory of The Lord?
What does it mean when you don’t feel close to the Lord’s presence in your life (according to your spiritual pilgrimage)?
 

Isaiah 3:1-4:1 Judgment on Judah and Jerusalem

Verse I introduces a note of immediacy in contrast to the ‘last days’ perspective which has been dominant in chapter 2. But the two perspectives should not be too sharply distinguished, because, for Isaiah every occasion when the Lord intervenes in judgment is a ‘day of the Lord’ and anticipation (and therefore a warning) of the final one. What is anticipated here is famine caused by siege (v. 1), the removal of the community’s leaders by death or deportation (vv. 2-3), and as a consequence, a complete breakdown of social order (vv. 4-5). It was the Babylonians who would eventually bring this fully to pass more than a hundred years after Isaiah’s death. But Isaiah could already see in his own lifetime the direction in which things were moving. Babylon would finish what Assyria had begun. The final evidence of the collapse of order will be the desperate way the distraught populace will go about trying to reestablish it. The mere possession of a cloak will do as a qualification for leadership if only its owner can be persuaded to take it on. But no-one will be willing (vv. 6-7).
 
With verse 8 we move from description to explanation. Isaiah begins with the wickedness of the people in general (vv. 8-9), but then traces it back to bad leadership as its root cause (v. 12). Like a skilful cameraman he first pans the turbulent crowd, and then zooms in on those chiefly responsible. The common people are in a sense victims but they have passed the point where their behavior can be excused, for they have become openly defiant and quite brazen in their wickedness (vv. 8-9). The corrupt leaders are tyrants (they oppress the people), but the terms in which they are described suggest that their bad behavior sprang from weakness. They copied the ways of the powerful nations they feared and so ended up being exactly like them. But the general populace is not uniformly evil, and the Lord’s judgment, when it comes, will not be an outburst of unbridled anger. It will be controlled and discriminating, sifting the righteous from the wicked and giving to each what their deeds deserve (vv. 10-11).
 
In the first twelve verses the Lord has been portrayed as a warrior, now He is portrayed as judge (v. 13). A hush descends as the heavenly court comes to order, for the divine judge has taken His place and the judgment foreshadowed in verses 1-12 is now to be put into effect. Isaiah has singled out the leaders as those chiefly responsible; now they are to be formally indicted by the Lord Himself.  Leaders (v. 14) are literally ‘princes’, men closely associated with the court and the royal family. The elders were a wider group representing local communities. The charge brought against them both is oppression of the poor. They used their position to exploit the very ones they should have protected. The divine judge will certainly avenge those who have been so grievously wronged. It’s sobering to reflect that the same high standards of accountability still apply today. Those who lead God’s people are answerable, not just to those they lead, but to the Lord who has entrusted His precious people to them, and it is to Him that they will finally give account for how they behave. We should pray for them daily.
 
Verse 16-17 consists of an indictment of the women of Zion followed by an announcement of judgment of them. Verses 18-4:1 is an announcement of judgment from beginning to end. The reference to their men in verse 25 suggests that these women of Zion were married. Their husbands must have been rich to deck them out so extravagantly (vv. 18-23).The elders and leaders indicted in verses 14-15 were probably the husbands of these very women. The essential sin of the men was oppression; and that of the women was vanity. But clearly the common factor is ill-gotten wealth. The women have been partners in their husbands’ crimes.  

Isaiah 3:1-4:1 Reflection Questions:
What New Testament Scriptures come to mind when studying verses 3:16-4:1?
How did the women and their husbands get their wealth?
Are you a leader of God’s people (a parent, employer, manager, church leader, etc.)? Are you holding yourself to a higher standard? What does that mean to you?
 
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