In our progress through the Scriptures to review major redemptive themes, from “Creation to the Cross and Beyond,” we have come now to writings of the prophet Isaiah.283 It is quite a book. I have had a special interest since going through it with the Agape Ministry Group for over two years in the 1980’s, and partially with the old Promenade Group in the 1990’s. After my wife and I left for Colorado, the men in Promenade completed the teaching over the next years.
Isaiah’s writings intrigue me. There is so much here that a person could study it for many years and not plumb the depths. It is a daunting task, and one of awesome responsibility, to cover this great book in two weeks. Today, we will undertake only an overview, discuss the historical setting and authorship, and list the major themes.
In our next lesson, we will study a number of specific passages, especially those dealing with the promised Messiah … Immanuel … the Branch … the Servant … the all-conquering King of kings … Jesus Christ. But let’s be clear about one thing before we begin.
You will grasp the full impact of this book only if you take advantage of two additional opportunities: (1) Daily study of the suggested passages, and the questions that accompany them and (2) The discussions at the 11 a.m. interactive classes, when we break into smaller groups. There is no way I can cover all of that material and answer all those questions in only two lessons.
For now, consider this: From all the prophecies in the Old Testament about Himself that Jesus could have chosen to read to folks in His hometown, He selected passages from Isaiah. Turn to Luke 4:17-21:
And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him, and He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, and to declare the favorable day of the Lord.” And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the eyes of the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
You may be thinking, “Hey, the passage says that they handed the scroll to Him (verse 17). It was just coincidence that it was Isaiah.” Come on! Are you saying that the Holy Spirit didn’t cause the Rabbi, or whomever, to pick that scroll for Jesus to read? Obviously, Jesus meant to read those passages. He picked Isaiah before He ever entered that synagogue.
When John the Baptist is in prison, his faith wavering, Jesus answers his questions by quoting Isaiah chapters 35 and 61 (Matthew 11:5). All through His ministry, He quotes from Isaiah and the Psalms more than from any other portion of Scripture. If it’s that important to Christ, then Isaiah merits our attention.
Of course, like most Scripture, Isaiah has critics. Some point to specific prophecies, as in chapter 45 where Cyrus is named as a special servant of the Lord. They argue: “Isaiah couldn’t have written the whole book. Someone else, with the benefit of hindsight, finished it for him. He couldn’t have known about a man who wouldn’t be born for 200 years! Isaiah may have started it, but someone else added the later sections.”
Well, in His last public discourse (John 12:37-41), Jesus quotes from early in Isaiah (chapter 6:10) and late (chapter 53:1). If it had been a forgery or involved a much later “ghostwriter,” so to speak … someone else writing under Isaiah’s name … Jesus would have avoided the questionable sections or at least clarified the authorship. Jesus attributes it all to one man … Isaiah. That’s good enough for me.
This really brings up some very important questions about Scripture in general. Is it possible that, over the centuries, God somehow lost control over the way Scripture was put together and edited? In other words, sections were included or omitted, and God couldn’t prevent it? Books were included that weren’t inspired? Other inspired books were left out? People wrote under the pen name of someone else?
You see, these questions bear on the Isaiah authorship issue. If Isaiah, in fact, did not write all 66 chapters, then God misleads us to attribute it all to him. If someone wrote sections many years after Isaiah died, it certainly changes how we’d view the prophecies … in fact, the entire Bible.
Obviously I believe, and I think you do too, that God did not lose control. He is, and always has been, the Master Editor. We have the Bible exactly as He intended for us to read it. Nothing has been omitted. Nothing misleading made the final cut. And each section was written precisely by the man who claims authorship.
Which brings up another side issue involving how we look at Isaiah or any other portion of Scripture. We must be very cautious interpreting a passage according to the era and/or culture in which it was written.
The reason? Well, if someone just reads a passage and takes it at face value … without prior knowledge of the culture or setting … he or she could miss entirely the point of what God is saying.
I’ll give you a brief example, and then we’ll get right back to Isaiah. Jesus says in Matthew 19:24, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
We all know that a camel can’t do that, so there are scholars who try to help Jesus out by explaining what He really meant:
“There was a small opening in the wall of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, and a camel could squeeze through only by having the rider dismount and push his animal through the hole, with another guy pulling on the reins from the other side. It was so hard that few people tried to do it. That’s what Jesus is talking about … ‘the eye of the needle in the wall.’”
Sorry. That’s wrong. Look how the disciples respond in Matthew 24:25, and how Jesus answers. The disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” They know that what Jesus is talking about simply can’t be done.
Jesus then says that what’s impossible with men … not just difficult, impossible … is possible with God. Every person down through the corridors of time knows exactly how big the eye of a needle is. Even a little child knows that a camel can’t go through so small a space. If Jesus had been talking about some hole in the city wall, it changes the entire point of the passage.
Therefore, we won’t make cultural adjustments to Isaiah’s message. Yes, he lived in a different time and addressed people in a different culture than ours, but the Master Editor of Scripture brings this book, intact as we find it, to us here in 2001.
The messages, warnings and prophecies are for us … just as much as for the people of Isaiah’s day. We won’t read his culture into what he has to say. Isaiah’s culture sounds too much like ours. Sin is sin. Then and now.
It’s true that Isaiah warned the ancient Judeans about things they’re doing and attitudes they demonstrate, which will bring down God’s wrath if they don’t repent and change. “But we’re different here in the 21st Century,” you say.
Really? As we go through this brief study in this lesson and in the next lesson, you’ll see that those ancient Judeans from 2700 years ago are just like us. They bowed before idols of wood and stone, and the Lord through Isaiah argues over and over that idolatry and absurdity … or even idiocy … are synonyms.
We do the same things. Our idols assume a different form, but they’re still idols. Turn with me to Colossians 3:5-6:
Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come.”
Isaiah preaches for 50 years that God’s wrath is coming on the Judeans. Although our idols may be different, they will certainly bring God’s wrath just the same.
The ancient Judeans burned up their children on hilltops as sacrifices to horrible gods like Molech. The only difference between them and us is timing. They burned the child after it had been born. We kill the unborn child first and then burn it in the incinerator … in sacrifice to what? “A woman’s choice!” Why would we think that God views the two sins any differently?
Our attitudes about dependence on our Savior are too often just like those of the ancient Hebrews. We often have Plan B all ready to go if God doesn’t step in and rescue us from some threat. So Isaiah’s message is directed squarely at us also! We need the history lesson, the warnings, the reassurances, the promises, and the marvelous hope as much as, perhaps even more, than did those people of Isaiah’s time. Solomon sums it up succinctly in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
The 66 chapters make up one of the longest books in the Bible. The Bible has 66 books, and Isaiah has 66 chapters. Is there something in that? I’m not sure. The chapter and verse divisions were added about 300 to 400 A.D., so it may or may not be significant. You can decide if you think so. There are three major sections in Isaiah:
11. Chapters 1 through 35The sins of both Judah and Israel that will bring down God’s wrath; Object lessons for the Jews in how God deals with their neighbors; the instruments of judgment (Assyria, Babylon); glimpses of the restored nations in a glorious future under the Messiah’s reign.
12. Chapters 36 through 39A historic interlude that shows God’s patience toward Judah in not allowing them to be swept away by Assyria as had happened in the north. King Sennacherib is defeated by the Lord Himself.
13. Chapters 40 through 66The nation of Babylon and how God will punish Judah by their hands, but ultimately how He will restore His true servants (although just a remnant) to the land, and His plans for their marvelous future through the work of His Messiah.
Isaiah’s visions have very specific condemnations, frightening warnings, and marvelous prophecies from the Lord. Prominent among these prophecies is the Messiah Who would, from Isaiah’s vantage point, come in the future.
He relays to us numerous references and descriptions from God about the Millennial Kingdom, Christ’s 1000-year reign on earth, which from our vantage point, is still in our future. The prophecies co-mingle our time and our sins with those of the ancient Jews.
In our next lesson, we’ll look at the many references to Christ … some of which you’re familiar with, and perhaps quite a few that you’re not.
Certainly, we all thrill at Christmas when a big choir sings Handel’s magnificent “Messiah.”
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be on His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, KJV).284
Handel quotes Isaiah (9:6), as he tells us about the birth and ultimate destiny of Jesus Christ. Then in chapter 53:5-6, we read of the “Servant,” of whom Isaiah says:
“Our chastening fell on Him. By His scourging, we are healed. The Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
Few of us have any trouble identifying this Servant as Jesus when He shed His blood for us at Calvary. Since Jesus is the very core of what God does with and for mankind, it isn’t surprising that Isaiah speaks often of Him.
Why Isaiah? Who was he? Why did God pick him as a messenger? Where did he live? When? What were times like in his day? How did people respond to him?
To place Isaiah in time, recall from earlier studies in this series that God tells King Solomon in 1 Kings 11:1-13 that his kingdom, as it is, will not continue after his death.
Considering how he started, it’s almost inconceivable that Solomon would drift so far from the Lord … not only to building altars to horrible gods (human sacrifice, sexual perversions) for his foreign wives, but also going there himself to join in the worship. He falls victim to the pleasures of the world, pleas from his wives, political pressure, and begins to think that he can do anything because of his power.
Rather than zapping Solomon on the spot, our long-suffering Lord tells him that only two tribes of his present kingdom will remain under the control of his son, Rehoboam. This group will be called “Judah.”
Ten tribes, named “Israel,” will split away in rebellion, to be ruled by the son of Solomon’s servant. … and it happens exactly that way about 931 B.C.
But now, about 190 years have passed. It’s approximately 740 B.C. Numerous kings have come and gone in both the Northern and Southern divisions of Solomon’s old kingdom. God is very patient with both sections. Each group has ample opportunity to repent and to turn back to the true worship of Jehovah. In the long run, neither kingdom does, although Judah has a few brief periods of revival.
Judah in the South bounces up and down spiritually. The general track, however, is a downward spiral. Most of their kings are bad news, while only a few are God-fearing.
The Southern Kingdom starts with kings of the right age. Rehoboam is 41. As one king replaces another, Judah begins to put men on the throne much too early. After a while, every one is too young to serve as king.
By the principles lived out in Scripture by example, the Lord wants His designated servant-leaders to be at least 30 years old: Joseph, as he stands before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46); priests who went in before the altar (Numbers 4:3). Saul was 40 when made king (1 Samuel 13:1). David was 30 (2 Samuel 5:4). We can be pretty sure about this, because even Jesus honors the 30-years-of-age stipulation before beginning His earthly ministry (Luke 3:23).
Now don’t misunderstand my point here. The Lord often uses much younger people in His service. David against Goliath. Esther in Medo-Persia. Jeremiah. Mary, the mother of Jesus. His kings and priests, however, were to be at least 30, in my opinion. This might give us a guideline about selecting deacons and elders.
But in the Southern Kingdom, Ahaziah is 22; Joash is 7; Amaziah is 25; Uzziah is 16; Jotham is 25; Ahaz is 20; Hezekiah is 25; Manasseh is 12; Josiah is 8; Johoahaz is 23; Jehoakim is 25; Johoachis is 18; Zedekiah is 21. Solomon warned about this: “Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad …” (Ecclesiastes 10:16).
Some of the kings of the right age, like Jehoshaphat, are reasonably good men but unfortunately are just plain gullible. One of these days, take a moment to read the “Why Don’t You Be The One To Dress Up As King?” episode in 1 Kings 22.
Jehoshaphat must have felt isolated or something. By marriage, he befriends (of all people) Israel’s King Ahab, Jezebel’s husband. Jehoshaphat even agrees to go into battle in all his regal robes, when Ahab fears he’ll be killed if identified as king. Ahab disguises himself as a common soldier.
Sounds like Jehoshaphat, mentally, might have been several cards short of a full deck. At best, he wins the “Mr. Naive” award for his era, and he’s one of Judah’s better kings.
Isaiah lives in Jerusalem, in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He’s young when we first meet him, perhaps about 30, but since Jeremiah is younger, Isaiah may have been also. He’s destined to minister some 50 years.
The prophet Amos is just winding down his messages to Israel in the North, turning the job over to Hosea, shortly before Isaiah begins in the South. Micah is another messenger in the Southern Kingdom at about the same time as Isaiah, and both will be followed by the great Jeremiah.
Isaiah appears for the first time during the reign of King Uzziah, and he serves through the reigns of three more kings: Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Tradition says that his father, Amoz, is a friend of King Uzziah’s dad, Amaziah. So as a young man, Isaiah is likely a “friend of the court,” so to speak, with access to the king. We might even consider him well born, privileged, a member of the upper class. Most of God’s messengers are humble folk … country boys like John the Baptist, but Isaiah’s an exception. He’s from the big city and from a wealthy family also.
Isaiah chapter 6 tells us that during Uzziah’s reign, something happens that threatens to rock the national boat. Everybody’s scared. Uncertainty and fear creep into every conversation. I suspect that young Isaiah is nervous too, but why? Well, the people of Judah have good reason to be jittery.
King Uzziah makes a big mistake. Second Chronicles 26 tells of his mighty exploits early on in his reign and how God helps him, but then after a while, how he becomes really puffed-up. He’s famous (verse 15). Pride ruins even the good man, and it changes Uzziah. He thinks he can do anything. He’s immune from all regulations that apply to everyone else.
For some reason, maybe just pride, Uzziah enters the holy Temple and burns incense personally on the altar, an act of worship forbidden by God to all except the descendants of Aaron, the Levite priests (2 Chronicles 26:18). The priests try to stop him, but Uzziah loses his temper and goes right ahead.
God may be patient about some sins, but profaning his Temple, His Ark, or His altar gets a quick response. Remember a man named “Uzzah” in David’s time who died for just touching the Ark when he wasn’t supposed to? Interesting similarity in names, isn’t it?
Uzziah is punished immediately for irreverence. God strikes Uzziah instantly with leprosy right there in the Temple, on his temple (okay, his forehead). He never recovers. He has to be isolated, cut off from everyone else, and this may mean more than just separate living quarters.
Second Chronicles 26:21 says Uzziah is “cut off from the house of the Lord.” That’s scary. I sure wouldn’t want to be cut off from “The Lord’s Household.” Whatever the full consequences are beyond having the horrible disease, Uzziah can no longer conduct government business. Jotham, his son, takes over as Co-Regent.
This is very unsettling to the people. It’s one thing for a king to die. That’s the natural order of things. It’s far more troubling to see the wrath of God fall in a supernatural manner on Uzziah. If God punishes a leader so directly, He may punish the people in a severe manner also.
Recall the incident when David decided to number his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21). It was sinful, because he doesn’t need to know the size of the army. God fights for Israel. Defeat or victory doesn’t depend on numbers.
God gave David a choice of punishments, and he picked one involving the shortest time frame. It still resulted in a plague that killed 70,000 (1 Chronicles 21:14). The people were punished for David’s sin.
“Hey,” the people here in Uzziah’s day reason, “That could happen again. We’ve been ignoring Jehovah for a long time. What if He sends a seven-year drought? What if some foreign power like Assyria senses our leadership void, and invades before young Jotham learns how to act like a king? If Jehovah cuts off our king for one act of irreverence, what might He do to us?” People are scared.
God doesn’t drop the hammer on them quickly as they fear, but He does act. He calls someone to warn the Judeans. Lets read 6:1-10:
1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth if full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And repent and be healed.”
We’re not told how long it takes Uzziah to die, but in the final year, Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord Jesus on His throne. John 12:41 confirms the amazing fact that it was Jesus he saw.
These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.
Note that anytime a flesh and blood man encounters the unveiled Christ, it’s devastating. That person … Isaiah here, Daniel in 10:7-10, Paul in Acts 9:3-8, John in Revelation 1:17 … is immediately aware of his sinful condition in the presence of a holy God. If something isn’t done quickly about that sin … “Woe is me for I am ruined!”
Just think what this will mean to the billions of unsaved people who one day encounter the Living God on His throne in the awesome judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15. They will say exactly what Isaiah does here, but for them there will be no remedy.
After cleansing Isaiah of sin, the Lord appeals for a messenger to the people of Judah. Isaiah doesn’t hesitate: “Here am I. Send me! (6:8).”
Wow! That explains a lot as to why Jehovah speaks to this particular young man. Even mighty Moses doesn’t respond like that on Mount Sinai. He tries to get out of the job. Gideon asks for a couple of signs. Jeremiah says that he’s too young (1:6-7). Mary asks a few questions for clarification when Gabriel appears to her. Isaiah doesn’t hesitate. He volunteers.
It’s a strange commission. God instructs Isaiah to warn the Judeans of how they’ve sinned, but also tells him that they won’t listen. God will harden their hearts and stop their ears.
Jesus later quotes Isaiah as He explains to His disciples why He teaches in parables, rather than just saying plainly what He means (Luke 8:10). There are people in every generation, it seems, that are so wicked that God allows a veil to remain in place over their minds and hearts. They’re given the truth, but they refuse to buy it.
So what’s Isaiah to say? What great truths are the Judeans destined to ignore?
Isaiah’s name means: “The Salvation of Jehovah,” or “Jehovah Saves,” and that’s the central message Isaiah tries to get across over and over to the Jews of his day. Anytime you face a threat. Anytime you’re afraid of what the future holds. Anytime you appear to be up against overwhelming odds, don’t look for rescue or support anywhere else! Only God offers His people of every era any hope of deliverance from evil.
Listen up Judeans: Your salvation always has been, is now, and always will be found “in God alone.” You can count on it. The Lord made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and those promises will be kept. However, if you look elsewhere for your salvation in times of trouble, God will abandon most of you to your worst fears.
Is Jehovah our salvation, just as He was and is for the Hebrews? Certainly. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is one with Jehovah … one Being in some way we’ll never fully understand while we’re in the flesh. Jesus says so in John 10:30: “I and the Father are One.” One Unit. One Essence.
Jesus’ name is the Greek version of the Hebrew “Jeshua,” which means “Jehovah Saved.” That’s why so much of Isaiah refers to Jesus Christ. The salvation of Jehovah is my salvation. It’s yours also if you belong to the Lord. Isaiah’s message is for us too.
Turn only to the Lord. Appeal only to Him. Remember what He’s done for you in the past. Remember how He’s demonstrated through the centuries that He loves you and will care for you.
God isn’t time-bound. We are (for now). He isn’t. His messages to anyone who’ll take the time to look could be compared to viewing a large historical panorama painted around the walls of a vast hall. Early events appear at one end, and if you follow the panorama around, you’ll see how the story plays out. In God’s panorama, He also interposes hints here and there of what to expect later on.
The entire Bible is like that. There’s a beginning and an end, but if you read carefully all along the way, you shouldn’t be surprised by the ending. Jesus appears in Genesis, in Revelation, and in-between. Isaiah follows the pattern.
The Messiah is promised in chapters 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 25, 28, 32, 33, 35, 42, 49, 50, 52, 53 … and countless other places. Jesus Christ appears everywhere. God Himself will reign on David’s throne in place of the miserable excuses for kings that the Jews had to suffer through the centuries after David. His rule will include the entire earth.
Another theme running prominently throughout Isaiah: God firmly controls all rulers, kingdoms, and all world events. Nothing escapes His notice. No one pulls the wool over His eyes. No one challenges the Lord and gets away with it.
Listen up, those who march today on the gay and lesbian parades, those who live only for the next “rave” party, and those who take away the unborn’s right to life. Look at chapter 5:18-23:
Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood,
and sin as if with cart ropes;
Who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it;
And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near
And come to pass, that we may know it!”
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness.
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight.
Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine,
And valiant men in mixing strong drink;
Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.
You can march in your parade all you want, pulling along your sin behind you as if on a cart for all to see. You can hide behind the laws and courts to support your views about your lifestyle or the right to take an unborn baby’s life. You can even shake your fist in God’s face, daring Him to do something about it, and then laugh when lightning doesn’t strike you. Just remember what Isaiah says.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, … is too difficult for our Lord to control, solve, or correct. His word to you is “Woe!” … and that’s not what you ever want directed at you from the mouth of the Living God. Nothing is impossible for Him. Jeremiah confirms this in 32:17 and 32:27.
We look around at our world and shudder. With no emotion, teenagers gun down other kids. Some of our leaders show no moral fiber. The political scene around the earth has one spark after another that could erupt into global conflict. God’s standards for marriage and childrearing are mocked.
How comforting to hear Isaiah reinforce the truth of God’s sovereignty over every detail on the earth. Big, little, past, present, future. Not a sparrow falls in the most remote region of the Rockies where we live unless God approves (Matthew 10:29). God even keeps track of how many hairs I still have on my head (Matthew 10:30). There’s not a ruler in office, good or bad, who got there, or stays there, outside of God’s permission (Daniel 2:21).
No wonder, in Romans 11:33-34, Paul cries out in awe: “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” And then Paul immediately quotes guess who? Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
Moses’ God parts a huge body of water and dries up the mud instantly. Joshua’s God stops the rotation of the earth. Daniel’s God causes a hunger strike in a pride of lions while he spends the night with them. Isaiah’s God will kill 185,000 Assyrians in one night (chapter 37:36) to lift a siege of Jerusalem, and each story illustrates the rhetorical question posed in Jeremiah 32:27: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me?”
If Isaiah can teach us anything, we must accept the obvious answer to God’s question, “Is anything too difficult for Me?” – 250 years before Isaiah, David expresses the correct response very eloquently:
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed, everything that is in the heavens and the earth. Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as Head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might, and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone” (I Chronicles 29:10-12).
Then, 100 or so years after Isaiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon echoes the answer:
“For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing. But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ Now, I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4: 35 & 37).
Isaiah knows that he’s indeed a special messenger from God. He knows that his family is also (8:18). His two sons’ names convey messages. He and his children are “signs and wonders” directly from the Lord of Hosts. One boy’s name means “A remnant shall return.” The other boy, “Swift will the prey and spoils be taken.” When God gets enough of the Judeans’ sin and failure to repent, the Babylonians will invade and overcome them quickly. However, someday a remnant will come back to the land.
But how effective is his ministry? How many can he point to as having been “saved”? He preaches to his people for 50 years. Surely, in all that time, there must be thousands who turn back to the Lord. Not likely. If they had repented, God might well have withheld His hand of judgment. It’s more likely that only a remnant listen.
That’s another of Isaiah’s messages: The doctrine of the “Remnant.” God always preserves a few of His chosen people. He may punish them harshly, and many have to die throughout the centuries, but the Jewish race is never obliterated. God always has a few that “haven’t bent the knee to Baal.” However, it’s not the majority. It was true then. It’s true now. Jesus says so:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Isaiah is not disheartened by his fruitless mission, even though God tells Isaiah when He calls him: “Go preach to these people what I’ll tell you to say, but they won’t listen.” How discouraging. How easy to fall into despair after a 50-year effort for the Lord, and only a handful pay attention. Jeremiah certainly becomes very discouraged (Jeremiah 20:14-15), and Isaiah may have also, but he never says so.
It brings to mind the missionaries we know who labor many years in a remote land, but can count only a handful of converts. Isaiah doesn’t give up. He isn’t after numbers. He seeks the imperishable wreath Paul looks for in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.
As we study Isaiah, it’s easy to become deeply burdened by the repeated condemnations and judgments the Lord pronounces for those who reject Him, in ancient times or in the 21st Century. God’s anger is evident. Of that, there’s no doubt. He means business. He singles out sins of religious hypocrisy and power-abuse for special attention.
We’re convicted when we see ourselves in the pages of Isaiah, and we will, but if you belong to the Lord, don’t allow this conviction to make you guilt-ridden all over again to the point of despair.
The same God Who condemns and judges also provides a remedy for our condition: His own blood shed on our behalf. Through Isaiah, the Lord tells His people to be “washed clean” (1:16). If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are clean! You need not fear these judgments unless, like the ancient Israelites, you try to cover up sin in your life. If you’ll confess it, Jesus is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9). The Jews refused to do that. God’s discipline resulted.
The ancient Judeans thought that if they obeyed God outwardly by observing the sacrifices, feasts and other rituals, they had Him fooled. They would make Him think that they bought everything He said and would obey. They could then live their lives any way they wanted to … even to the point of sacrificing to other gods. Look at one passage from Ezekiel which shows how brazen they had become in this:
Again, they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and have profaned My sabbaths. For when they had slaughtered their children for their idols, they entered My sanctuary on the same day to profane it; and lo, thus they did within My house” (Ezekiel 23:38-39).
In our next lesson, we’ll see Isaiah’s specific warnings to Judah (and to us) about doing this kind of thing. We’ll hear the Lord say, “Bring your worthless offerings to Me no longer (1:13). And I’m not listening when you pray. You might as well save your breath” (1:15).
In summary, Isaiah’s a tough book! Most believers never study it in depth, because of the cryptic nature and all the gloom and doom. They dismiss much of it as irrelevant to the 21st Century and, therefore, to them. How tragic, especially if God intends these messages for us as we enter (what may likely be) the last days of the Church Age.
We’ll scan the major themes by looking at specific passages. We’ll see the Lord send messages to the countries surrounding Judah as object lessons to His people. We’ll study the prophecies about Messiah. We’ll see Him promised, and His suffering when He does come. We’ll see His wonderful victory over Satan and reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of Lords. Over and over, we’ll hear the Lord offer forgiveness and mercy to those who listen and repent of their sins. We’ll briefly look at some prototypes of the Antichrist … men like Sennacherib … from whom God will deliver His people in a miraculous fashion. I think you too will be intrigued.
283 Copyright 2001 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 40 in the From Creation to the Cross series prepared by Gordon Graham on August 12, 2001.