Isaiah 56:9-57:13 Bad Leadership and its Effect


For a community under stress, the quality of its leadership is critical. Leaders are to be watchmen (56:10), alert to dangers that threaten from the outside, and shepherds (56:11), nurturing and strengthening the inner life of the community. Where such leadership is lacking, the sort of situation develops which we see here. Instead of being open in the right sense – to people sincerely seeking the Lord – the community becomes open to evil people who want to exploit it (56:9). Good people are attracted, and no-one comes to their defense (57:1-2). Superstition and false religion flourish and become a cover for all kinds of wickedness (57:3-10). The fear of the Lord is lost, and other, unhealthy fears take over (57:11). And finally, God is left with no option but to judge.

Some of the details are elusive, but the overall impact is very clear. Sin will not be eradicated from God’s people until the very end. In the waiting time the struggle against it goes on unabated at both the personal and corporate levels. And where godly leadership is lacking, old evils come flooding back, even after a remarkable experience of God’s grace. It proved to be so in the period following the return from Babylon, and it is still so in the church today.

After the ideals laid out in 56:1-8, this passage comes as a shock like the shattering of a dream. But that is not the whole story. Not all fall away in the waiting time. Isaiah speaks of those who cherish the dream and would rather die that give it up (57:1-3); they take refuge in the Lord, and will finally inherit all things (57:13b). The contrast between them and the apostates whose attitudes and behavior we have already seen could hardly be more stark. As the pace quickens, and history hurtles more and more rapidly to its end, the difference between the true and false, between those who really are God’s people and those who are not, will become more and more obvious. The waiting time is a time of sifting.

This sifting involves pain, and can be very alarming, but it should not cause us despair. The failure of leadership which in fact happened in the post-exile community, and the resulting divisions and apostasy on the part of many, did not frustrate God’s plan to send Jesus when the time was right. Nor will similar failings in the church today prevent God’s purposes from reaching their final goal when Christ returns. The dream will not die, because it is God’s dream, and those who remain true will share in the fulfillment of it.

Isaiah 56:9-57:13 Reflection Questions:

Where are you spiritually, during our waiting time before Christ’s return?

Where are you with your relationship with Christ? How will you improve on it?

Can you see the leadership qualities in today’s study apply to our personal life? In what ways?

Isaiah 56:1-8 The marks of a redeemed community


Chapter 56 launches us into the seventh and final part of Isaiah’s vision (chapters 56-66). It relates to the period following the arrival of the first returnees from Babylon. Isaiah saw that time in prophetic vision; we see it in the clear light of history (see the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah). The Judah to which they returned had been incorporated into the Persian Empire, so they were home but still not their own masters. Their numbers and resources were limited, and neighboring groups viewed them with suspicion or outright hostility. But the most serious problems arose from the fact that this small community lived “between the times”, so to speak. The return from exile had begun but was far from complete (v. 8). The community lived in the tension between the “now” and the “not yet”. They had the beginnings of what God had promised but not the fullness of it. It was a time in many respects like our own, between the first and second comings of Christ. The kingdom of God has come, but is yet to come. It is an exciting time but also a difficult one, when (as Paul puts it) “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we await eagerly for …the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Waiting tests our patience and our faith. This final part of the book is about life in the interim – waiting for a new world.

These first eight verses are a fitting introduction to what follows, serving as a kind of charter for the restored community. Those whom God has freed from condemnation and despair have an obligation to do His will, and these verses set forth very clearly the ideals God has for them. They are to be marked by two things: justice and openness.

Justice (vv. 1-2): It was injustice that had brought Israel to ruin. God had looked for justice, but found only bloodshed and cries of distress. Religion had become divorced from social responsibility, ritual from right living, and so God destroyed Jerusalem and drove His people out of it rather than permit such monstrous dishonoring of His name to continue. Now those who will wake on the other side of this nightmare and have the opportunity to make a fresh start are reminded that God has the same passionate commitment to justice that He always had, and that He expects them to share it. They are to maintain justice and do what is right because His righteousness is about to be revealed (v. 2). Their life together is to be a visible sign that the kingdom of God – His reign of perfect justice and righteousness – is just around the corner, breaking in and already making its presence felt.

Openness (vv. 3-8): There is no direct command here, but the implication of what is said is very clear: the Lord accepts the foreigner and the eunuch who sincerely seek Him, and His people must do the same. This was a very difficult and sensitive issue, for there were specific statements in the Law of Moses excluding emasculated men and foreigners, especially Moabites and Ammonites. These were powerful reminders to Israel that the holiness God demanded of His people was totally incompatible with physical mutilation (as practiced in pagan cults), and that His love for them was no casual thing. He was adamantly opposed to those who sought to harm them. These laws had never been meant to exclude genuine converts, as the stories about Rahab and Ruth show quite plainly. They were to be an open community, warmly embracing all who genuinely bound themselves to the Lord (vv. 3, 6). Eunuchs in particular were to be treated with compassion. Isaiah had foreseen that members of the royal family would be made eunuchs in Babylon. This passage makes it clear that God does not intend to exclude them from His coming kingdom, nor should His people, who await its arrival.

Isaiah 56:1-8 Reflection Questions:

Where in the gospels does Jesus speak on this thought in verses 1-2?

Where in the gospels talks about a eunuch?

Does this study affect your view on a convert to Christianity from the LGBT community?

Isaiah 54:1-55:13 Peace Like a River


Peace (Shalom) is perhaps the richest word in the Old Testament. “Shalom” stands for complete wholeness, the sum total of covenant blessing, the full enjoyment of all that God has promised. But in practice such peace is an elusive thing, because it depends on being in a right relationship with God. Where the relationship is wrong, peace is lost. The problem of their sin had to be dealt with to God’s total satisfaction. And that, as we saw in chapter 53, is what the Servant achieves. The witnesses in 53:5 are aware that their relationship with God has been fully restored, not by anything they have done, but by what the Servant has done for them. So as we come to chapters 54 and 55 the blockage has been removed. The flood gates of divine blessing have been flung open, and peace begins to flow like a river. Notice the references to peace in these chapters. Peace, then, is the key that links these two chapters together, and connects both of them to the Servant Song in chapter 53. And the promised realization of this peace in all its fullness is the reason for the joyful singing with which the whole section begins (54:1) and ends (55:12-13).

Every promise fulfilled (54:1-17): Isaiah, then, saw the ideal future for which he and all God’s faithful people longed in terms of a covenant of peace that would be the culmination of all that was promised in the covenants that had marked Israel’s history from the very beginning. In chapters 54 and 55 these covenants come under review. First, there was the covenant with Abraham (54:1-4). The barren woman (v. 1), the tent (v. 2), and the mention of descendants (v. 3) all recall Abraham’s circumstances and the promises that were made to him.  The covenant with their father Abraham long ago about their promised land will stand. With the reference to the Lord as Israel’s Maker, Husband and Redeemer in verses 4-8 the focus shifts to the Sinai covenant. As the Lord then took Israel as His bride and entering into a covenant with her at Sinai, so He would take her again and renews His relationship with her. The Sinai covenant would stand. The covenant with Noah is the next to come into view in verses 9-17. The covenant with Noah was a covenant with the entire human race. God’s commitment to Israel is as firm and unshakeable as His commitment to the world He has created (v. 9). He will not destroy them because He is committed to preserving and blessing His world, and they are the means He has chosen to do it. Finally a grand vista opens up for us in verses 11-17 – a whole renewed universe! And at its center is the city of God, the point where heaven and earth meet and God is present with His people forever (vv. 11-17).

The banquet spread (55:1-2): The invitation; “Come, all you who are thirsty” must be seen against this background. It is a call to all to come and share in “the heritage of the servants of the Lord” that has just been described. The gates of the city of God stand open. A banquet is spread. All that remains is for the invited guests to come. No money is needed; the rich fare is free. And when the metaphor gives way to explicit statement in verses 6-7, we are told precisely what that delightful and satisfying food is. It is mercy and pardon, and it is freely available because it has already been paid for in full.

The everlasting covenant (55:3-5): The phrase “an everlasting covenant” means the fulfillment of all that was promised to David. And, like the earlier covenants, this final covenant will have a sign to confirm it which will be nothing less than a permanently renewed universe (v. 13). Here is the climax of the whole movement of these two chapters with their review of the various covenants. The final covenant between God and His people will not cancel out the earlier covenants but fulfill them, perfectly and completely. The final outcome of the work of the Servant will be the full realization of all that God has promised from the beginning. All the promises of God will find their “Yes” and “Amen” in Him.

Sin, pardon, and glory (55:6-13): All of these words must have been very hard to grasp for people whose world has been turned upside down. To them it must have appeared too vast to comprehend, too ambitious, like a fantastic dream. But if so, it was because their human minds, like ours, were limited and sinful. God’s thoughts were as high above their as the heavens were above the earth (vv. 8-9). And God is insistent; it is no dream, no mere fancy He has set before them. His plans will shoot and blossom as surely as parched ground when rain pours upon it (v. 10). His Word, which once spoke the universe into existence, has gone forth again, and has lost none of its power. Nothing can frustrate it, or divert it from its course (v. 11). There will be a new creation, a new world, and the return from exile will be the first step towards it (vv. 12-13). No wonder chapter 55 throbs with excitement.

It also rings with certain urgency, however. There are decisions to be made. There is a banquet spread, but the guests must come. There is pardon available, but the wicked person must forsake his own way and seek the Lord while he may be found (vv. 6-7). No-one need be an outsider, but neither will anyone be forced to enter, and the invitation to do so will not be extended indefinitely. In the end, the vision of Isaiah has a sharp evangelistic edge to it. We will see this even more clearly in our study of chapters 56-66.

Isaiah 54:1-55:13 Reflection Questions:

How is your relationship with God and, what are you doing to build on your relationship?

Where in the gospels is a parable about a “banquet”?

Have you been inviting guests to the “banquet”?

Hebrews 13:20-21 Experiencing Spiritual Lordship


These last verses in Hebrews seem to gather together the major themes of the letter: peace, the resurrected Christ, the blood, the covenant, spiritual perfection (maturity), and God’s work in the believer. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ died for the sheep (John 10:11). As the Great Shepherd, He lives for the sheep in heaven today, working on their behalf. As the Chief Shepherd, He will come for the sheep at His return (1 Pet. 5:4). Our Shepherd cares for His own in the past, present, and future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Our Great High Priest is also our Great Shepherd. When He was on earth, He worked for us when He completed the great work of redemption (John 17:4). Now that He is in heaven, He is working in us to mature us in His will and bring us to a place of spiritual perfection. We will never reach that place until He returns (1 John 2:28-3:3); but while we are waiting, we are told to continue to grow. The phrase “make you perfect” (v. 21) is the translation of one Greek word, [katartidzo]. This is an unfamiliar word to us, but it was familiar to the people who received this letter. The doctors knew it because it meant “to set a broken bone.” To sailors it meant “to outfit a ship for a voyage.” To soldiers it meant “to equip an army for battle.”

Our Savior in heaven wants to equip us for life on earth. Tenderly, He wants to set the “broken bones” in our lives so that we might walk straight and run our life-races successfully. He wants to repair the breaks in the nets so that we might catch fish and win souls. He wants to equip us for battle and outfit us so that we will not be battered in the storms of life. In brief, He wants to mature us so that He can work in us and through us that which pleases Him and accomplishes His will. How does He equip us? By tracing this Greek word [katartidzo] in the New Testament, we can discover the tools that God uses to mature and equip His children. He uses the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship of the local church. He also uses individual believers to equip us and mend us. Finally, He uses suffering to perfect His children, and this relates to what we learned from chapter 12 about chastening.

The basis for this marvelous work is “the blood of the everlasting covenant (v. 20). This is the New Covenant that was discussed in chapter 8, a covenant based on the sacrifice discussed in chapter 10. Because this New Covenant was part of God’s eternal plan of salvation, and because it guarantees everlasting life, it is called “the everlasting covenant.” However, apart from the death of Jesus Christ, we can share in none of the blessings named in this profound benediction. As we close on this study blog on the book of Hebrews, lets reflect on the total impact that Hebrews has in answering the all too important question, “How can I stand firm in a world that is shaking all around me?” The answer: Know the superior Person, Jesus Christ; trust His superior priesthood; and live on the things of heaven that will never shake. Be confident! Jesus Christ saves to the uttermost!

Hebrews 13:20-21 Reflection Questions:

How are you continuing to grow spiritually?

What tools is God currently using to “perfect you”?

I’d like to challenge you to make Hebrews 13:20-21 a personal prayer: “Lord, make me perfect in every good work to do Your will. Work in me that which is well-pleasing in Your sight. Do it through Jesus Christ and may He receive the glory.” Amen!

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Man of Sorrows


Now the Servant steps into full view again. We cannot mistake Him, for 52:13 echoes the words that first heralded His presence in 42:1. But this time He is going to command our attention for much longer. This fourth Song is the most elaborate and poignant of them all. It is the jewel in the crown of Isaiah’s theology, the focal point of his vision. And yet it comes upon us suddenly, almost intrusively. It is as though, just as we were in danger of forgetting His central importance, the Servant steps forward again and insists that we look at Him and acknowledge that nothing that we have just been contemplating is possible without Him. He is the key to it all. At the same time, however, He is self-effacing. For in this Song He never utters a word. He is as silent as a lamb (53:7). His presence is powerful, but it is others who bear witness to Him, not He Himself. And the first witness is none other than the Lord God: “See, My Servant.”

God’s wisdom revealed (52:13-15): This first stanza is in a sense a summary of the entire Song; it begins at the end so to speak, with the Servant’s exaltation (v. 13). It then reverts to His deep suffering (v. 14) and concludes with reflection on the stunned reaction that the sudden reversal in His fortunes will bring (v. 15). Sprinkling, with blood, water or oil, had to do with cleansing, with making a person or thing fit to be in the presence of God. The One that the people regarded as unclean (they were appalled at Him, v. 14) will turn out to be the One who cleanses others. It is a paradox so astounding that it will dry up every accusation and cause every mouth to be stopped (v. 15) The wisdom of God displayed in the Servant will utterly confound human wisdom.

Despised and rejected (53:1-3): The speakers in verses 1-6 are witnesses. We no longer see the Servant through the eyes of outsiders, but through the eyes of insiders, Israelites who have come to understand the meaning of the Servant’s sufferings, and announce it to the world. It is through their witness that those who formerly had not heard come to see and understand. The witnesses begin by reflecting on their own past attitude to the Servant (vv. 1-3). At first He had shown promise. He had grown up before the Lord like a tender shoot, like a dead plant suddenly springing to life in a wasteland (v. 2a). But that promise did not seem to be fulfilled. The more He grew the less impressive He became. He appeared ordinary, even unattractive (v. 2b). And when, in the course of His work He met strong opposition, derision and suffering, He became even less desirable to know (v. 3). Even those who did not actively persecute Him found it more prudent to turn away than to take His part. To their shame, the witnesses confess that this is exactly what they themselves had done (v. 3). Perhaps they had not expected the Servant’s sufferings to become so severe that He would lose His life. But this is what happened. The words [pierced and crushed] in verse 5 indicate a violent death. His human tormentors had merely been instruments that were providentially used; it was God who had struck Him down (v. 4b).

Healed by His wounds (53:4-6): In this third stanza, the witnesses testify to the completely new understand of the Servant’s death that they have now arrived at. Yes, it was God, ultimately, who crushed Him, but it was not because He deserved it. The witnesses realize that they themselves deserved those sufferings and that death, but that the Servant took their place. Substitution was not a new thought to the Israelites; it was enshrined in the Law of Moses. But now the witnesses see that this same principle is at work in the suffering and death of the Servant. Their peace with God, the healing of their broken relationship with Him, was secured by the Servant’s death (v. 5). He was pierced for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities. The comfort they have received, the good news of their pardon, has been provided at tremendous cost.

The sinless, silent sufferer (53:7-9): In this fourth stanza a lone witness speaks, most likely Isaiah himself. At his call back in chapter 6, confronted with the awesome holiness of God, he had confessed that he himself was unclean and that he dwelt among unclean people (v. 5). Immediately he was assured of his own cleansing (by the symbolism of a live coal taken from the altar). But what of his fellow Israelites, given their deep-dyed sinfulness exposed in chapters 1-5? How could they ever be pardoned without God’s holiness being compromised? Now Isaiah sees the answer (v. 8b). They were like sheep that had gone astray, but the Servant, like a lamb, had been slaughtered in their place (v. 7). This stanza carries us beyond the Servant’s death to His burial, and ends on a rather uncertain note. The Servant was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich (v. 9). He was an innocent man who had been done to death like a criminal, and His burial was a mixture of honor and dishonor. If His career ended at that point it would be hard to tell what even God’s final verdict on Him had been. Was His work finished to God’s satisfaction or not?

Crowned with glory and honor (53:10-12): In this final stanza we get the answer to that question. First we hear from Isaiah (vv. 10-11a), then from the Lord (vv. 11b-12), and both affirm the same central truth. The Servant’s death will not be the end of His career. God will place His seal of approval on His work by raising and exalting Him, and the will of the Lord (all of God’s plans) will prosper in His hand. Like a guilt offering, the Servant’s death will provide perfect satisfaction for sin (v. 10). But in startling contrast to what happened in a normal guilt offering, the victim, in this case, will not cease to exist. He will die, yes. But afterwards He will see the light of life, be satisfied (see the fruit of His sacrifice), and justify many (bring them into a right relationship with God) (v. 11). That is, the Servant will accomplish His God-given mission not only by His death, but also by His life beyond death. He will be a new kind of guilt offering that will utterly surpass anything that has gone before.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Reflection Questions:

Has the Lord Jesus Christ become the key to your life; not just on Sundays, but for every minute of every day?  What will it take for you to get there?

Are you aware what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you; if so, how are you announcing it to the world?

How are you building on your relationship with God?