Saturday, December 11, 2010

Isaiah 5

Analogy of the vineyard (vs. 1-7)--This is a very clear analogy of the long-term historical relationship between God and Israel. It is written in poetic form, and perhaps was even sung (v. 1). Jehovah speaks of His "beloved" (v. 1). He loved His people, but they forsook Him. He gave them "a very fruitful hill" (v. 1), and spent much time in laboring over this vineyard (vs. 2-3). But He did not get what He expected--"wild grapes" came forth, not "good grapes" (v. 3). And then the piercing question of verse 4: "What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" The Lord does all He can for His people; if we reject Him, it is in spite of all His efforts. The result for the "vineyard" was that the Lord would take it away, burn it, and it would be trampled down, laid waste, and not "pruned or dug" again (vs. 5-6). There would be no rain to nourish it (v. 6). And then He identifies the vineyard in verse 7 as the house of Israel--as if that were not obvious beforehand. "He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help." A sad condition Israel and Judah had fallen into.

Seven woes (vs. 8-23)--This section (actually to the end of chapter 5) will continue in chapter 9, verse 8. There will be a rather lengthy historical interlude beginning in chapter 6. The key phrase is found in verse 25: "For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still." This sentence will be repeated four times in chapters 9 and 10, indicating the continuation of thought from chapter 5.

These seven woes is, in effect, an accusation, or perhaps an explanation, of the vineyard analogy of verses 1-7. Thievery was basis of the first woe (vs. 8-10), and would lead to want. A "bath" (v. 10) was 8 gallons, 3 quarts. If ten acres yielded only that much, there was great unproductiveness. The second woe is found in verses 11-17 and deals with drunkenness and revelry. And "they do not regard the work of the Lord, nor consider the operation of His hands" (v. 12). An ignorance of God's word would be the eventual underlying cause of their upcoming captivity (v. 13). Well, ultimately a bad heart and love for sin leads to an ignoring of God's truth. Death would get many victims (v. 14), the "lofty" would be humbled (v. 15), but God would be exalted and His people provided for (vs. 16-17).

The third woe was their love of sin and how quickly and eagerly they pursued it (vs. 18-19). Woe four is clear: "Woe to those who call evil good and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness" (v. 20). Such is as common in our day as it was in Isaiah's. Conceit and self-righteousness are condemned in woe five (v. 21), while woes six and seven return to the sin of drunkenness which leads to a justification of the wicked (vs. 22-23). People who do not wish to serve the Lord will always find a rationalization for their sins--and a defense of those who live kindred lives. Again, this is as obvious today as in ancient Israel, and is one of the reasons these prophetic books are so relevant for us.

The consequences (vs. 24-30)-- Sin will always have its consequences, and such is the case here. "Flame" would consume them, and in some ways that was literal, given the eventual destruction of their cities when the Assyrians and Babylonians attacked. The cause again is clearly stated: "They have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel" (v. 24). Notice the active, deliberate verbs there: "rejected" and "despised." It was something Israel consciously did. The result? "Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people" (v. 25). "He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them" (v. 25). Whether this refers to some current punishment or not is unclear; it could be a reference to the future captivity and punishment. If that is so, then the bondage was so certain that Isaiah speaks of it in the past tense--as if it had already happened. Yet, the Lord still stretches out His hand (v. 25); there is always hope for those who will seek Him. But that would be only a remnant. The nations would be called together against Judah, and they would come "swiftly" (v. 26). The language of war and destruction in verses 27-30 is vivid and powerful. And frightening. We should be aware that our rejection of God's word will lead to a greater and more awesomely terrifying future.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Isaiah 4

Helpless women (v. 1)--This verse belongs with the previous chapter, being the summation of it. There will be so few men left--perhaps even literally because of the warfare that Israel would endure--that women will greatly outnumber them. Seven women will all desire one husband, somebody to take care of them. It was to be a sad circumstance indeed.

Hope in the Messianic Age (vs. 2-6)--"In that day" usually refers to the events immediately preceding but this section is so clearly Messianic that verse 1 could rightly begin "In that day when the Branch of the Lord..." The "Branch" is found in several places in the prophets referring to Christ (cf. also Is. 11: 1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12). The obvious import of the coming of the Messiah is spiritual blessings and holiness. Again, the "fruit of the earth" (v. 2) should be understood figuratively (spiritually) and not literally; Jesus was not a literal branch, either. The "Jerusalem" of verse 3 is the church. There will be a washing away of sin and a purging (v. 4); again, only the holy can inhabit this new Zion. As He did via a cloud and fire in the wilderness, Jehovah will lead His people through the "wilderness" of life on their way to the "promised land" of heaven (v. 5). And there will be a place of worship and refuge from the sorrows, trials, and tribulations of life (v. 6). A short chapter, but a lovely, comforting one.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Isaiah 3

"Jerusalem stumbled" (vs. 1-9)--Chapter 3 starts with "for" thus indicating a continuation of the subject explored at the end of chapter 2. Because of Judah's sins, the Lord will take away their needed sustenance--"the stock and the store, the whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water" (v. 1). Their soldiers will not be able to help them (v. 2), indicating that they will be conquered by the military of another land (in this case, Babylon), nor will any of their great or talented people--judge, prophet, diviner, elder, counselor, artisan, or "the expert enchanter" (vs. 2-3). There will be no leadership; so weak will they be that "babes shall rule over them" (v. 4). The people will be oppressed, and there will be no respect given to those to whom it should be due (v. 5). So desperate will they be for leadership that anybody will be accepted as ruler (v. 6), but nobody wants the job (v. 7). Why? "For Jerusalem stumbled, and Judah is fallen" (v. 8), because what they said and what they did was "against the Lord". And apparently they were so proud of it at the time that they openly admitted it; thus they will bring their punishment upon themselves (v. 9). Keep in mind that, in these early chapters, Isaiah is prophesying of a destruction that is well over 100 years in the future.

The failure of leadership (vs. 10-12)--All people need good leaders; Israel did not have them. While the Lord knows the righteous and will take care of them (v. 10), "Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him" (v. 11). It was a leadership problem: "O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths" (v. 12). So weak are they, that children will oppress them (figuratively, of course) and "women will rule over them" (v. 12). In a masculine, patriarchal society, there can be few things more shameful than that.

The Lord speaks (vs. 13-26)--Jehovah pleads with and judges all the people (v. 13), but there will apparently be a harsher judgment (as there should be) for the "elders of His people and His princes" (v. 14). Oppression of the poor was a major crime mentioned in this section (vs. 14-15). The Bible speaks repeatedly of a special responsibility we have to the needy poor; laziness, though, is condemned (cf. Prov. 10:26; 18:9; II Thess. 3:10). The Lord also has a message for the debauched women of the day--they will be shamed (vs. 16-17). All of their "finery" (v. 18), and the multitudes of exorbitant luxuries will be taken away from them. Quite a list is given in verses 18-23. And instead of the richness they enjoyed, there would "a stench," "a rope," "baldness," a "girding of sackcloth," and "branding instead of beauty" (v. 24). The "branding" ("burning," KJV) apparently has reference to a sunburnt skin, caused by the removal of the fine, protective clothing they had had. Soldiers will not be able to defend them in that day, and "her gates" (Jerusalem) "shall lament and mourn," with no place to sit (v. 26). Jerusalem's destruction would begin at the very gates and infiltrate the whole city.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Isaiah 2

The mountain of the Lord's house (vs. 1-4)--Isaiah was a contemporary of Micah, and these four verses are almost identical to what Micah wrote in chapter 4 of his book. Since I've already discussed this in detail, I will reproduce what I wrote there:

“Micah 4 and 5 are exclusively Messianic and refer to the New Testament age. These first five verses speak of the future establishment of the church. This is evident in several ways. Micah speaks of the following and I will compare his statements with New Testament verses:

“the last days” (v. 1)—Acts 2:17 tells us we are in the last days;
“the mountain of the Lord’s house” (v. 1)—I Tim. 3:15 calls the church the “house of God”;
“many nations shall come” (v. 2)—the gospel is for all, of course (Mark 16:15);
“He will teach us His ways” (v. 2)—“They shall all be taught of God” (John 6:45);
“For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (v. 2)—“that repentance and rem ission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47);
“He shall judge between many peoples” (v. 3)—His word will judge us all (John 12:48);
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares" (v. 3)—“that in Me you may have peace” (John 16:33). The peacefulness of Christ’s kingdom is also described in Micah 4:4, “But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” The vine and fig tree reference is a proverbial Jewish picture of being at peace with others, God, and one’s self. Even in the Christian age, many will continue to follow their own gods, “but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (v. 5). A lovely picture of the church and the gospel age.”

This is a message of hope, in both Micah and Isaiah, in the midst of strong condemnation of idolatry and sin.

"Walk in the light of the Lord" (vs. 5-9)--The content and theme of the material changes abruptly here, as if Isaiah is continuing his message of chapter 1 without the interruption of 2:1-4. He urges the people to "walk in the light of the Lord" (v. 5), and abandon their idolatry and "eastern ways." They are listening to soothsayers rather than God's prophets (v. 6). Judah is a rich country and strong militarily (v. 7), but they apparently attributed that their idols, bowing down and worshipping "the work of their own hands" (vs. 8-9). They cannot expect forgiveness for such sin (v. 9).

The day of the Lord (vs. 10-22)--Several prophets discuss this subject, always a judgment day from Jehovah. The people better hide (v. 10), because "the lofty looks of man shall be humbled" and "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (v. 11). What day? The "day of the Lord of hosts" (v. 12) and shall indeed humble "everything proud and lofty" (v. 12). Neither the greatest of nature's wonders nor the strongest of man's fortifications can withstand His judgments (vs. 13-17). Idolatry shall be abolished (v. 18), which didn't happen in Judah for at least a century after Isaiah prophesied. Whether verse 19 means the idols (as the antecedent indicates) or those who worship them is unclear; while antecedents are important in English, they aren't in Hebrew and an earlier pronoun could be meant. Regarless, they will need protection from "the terror of the Lord" (v. 19). Israel, being a mountainous country in many places, had many caves; one of them was so big that David and 600 men were able to hide from Saul in one of them (I Sam. 24). But man can nowhere escape the Lord. Yet there will come a day ("in that day") when the people of Israel will "cast away" their "idols of silver" (vs. 20-21). Isaiah encourages the people to "sever yourselves from such a man" (v. 22). He's not God and cannot help "when He arises to shake the earth mightily" (vs. 21-22).

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Isaiah 1

Isaiah and the timeframe of his work (v. 1)--As noted in the introduction, Isaiah probably began his ministry in the 760s-750s and continued into the reign of Hezekiah (726-697), which means late into the 8th century or early into the 7th. He tells us that he is the "son of Amoz." We know nothing of this man. Rabbinical tradition says that, at the age of 90, Isaiah was sawn in two by Manasseh. If so, this is referenced in Hebrews 11:37.

The rebellious people (vs. 2-9)--The prophecy opens with an intensely strong denunciation of "Israel," probably the whole people in this case. God had "nourished and brought up children," but they had rebelled against Him (v. 2). Indeed, this people didn't have the sense of an ox or a jackass (v. 3). They were "laden with iniquity" (v. 4), and to punish them even further would be useless; they were sick from head to toe (vs. 5-6). As a result, the "country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire" (v. 7). This doesn't accord with any historical information about the reign of Uzziah or Jotham, so Isaiah may be writing here in the "prophetic past"--their doom is so assured that he speaks as though it had already taken place though it is yet many years in the future. God would leave a remnant, a "very small" one (v. 9); otherwise, Israel would have been obliterated like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 9). That "remnant," of course, is very important; from it came the Savior of the world. God once again acts in such a way as to fulfill His great promise to mankind.

Their worthless sacrifices (vs. 10-15)--Here we have one of the great sections in the Bible on the vanity of worship without a pure heart and a pure life. "I've had enough of this," the Lord told them. He calls them Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 10, and that surely would gain the people's attention. "I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or goats" (v. 11). "Who came up with the idea that I would accept this?" Their sacrifices were "futile" (v. 13); He just couldn't stand them anymore. He hated them, and they wearied Him (v. 14); He would no longer see or hear (v. 15). It's interesting that they were offering a "multitude" of "fat...fed cattle"; they apparently were presenting the kinds of sacrifices God required of them in the Law of Moses--and a "multitude" of them at that. But their hands were "full of blood," fully indicative of their hearts and of the hypocrisy of their worship. But the Jews had long believed, and many in Jesus' day still believed, that ceremonialism was all that God required. The strong denunciation of this by Christ is what caused His ultimate demise.

Repentance means redemption (vs. 16-20)--The answer to this was to "wash yourselves, make yourselves clean," to cease doing evil and start doing good (vs. 16-17), which would include concern for the less fortunate (v. 17). Verse 18 is familiar: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." The idea of "let us reason together" is not that the people can enter a diplomatic discussion with God where compromise on His part is possible. Verses 19 and 20 sum up the idea: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." The message is fully authoritative since "the mouth of the Lord" spoke it.

The vengeance of the Lord (vs. 21-31)--The faithful city (Jerusalem) had once been full of justice and righteousness, but had now "become a harlot" (v. 21). The people were no longer pure (v. 22), and the leaders of the nation were as rebellious as anyone else (v. 23). Thus, "the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel" would take His revenge (vs. 24-25). He would purge them (v. 25) and restore them to their original purity (v. 26). "Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city" (v. 26). Justice and righteousness would redeem them (v. 27), and sinners would be destroyed and consumed (v. 28). This would all take place after their captivity in Babylon, when "they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees" ("oaks," KJV, ASV), i.e., the places where they had offered their sacrifices to pagan gods. But before that happened, a spiritual dryness would descend that "no one shall quench." Sin must be punished, but God is merciful, especially when His plans for all mankind are involved. If these people were as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 10), then they deserved to be obliterated as were those two wicked cities. But there was more involved here, thus God spared a remnant. Read my comments on Hosea 11:8-9 for more on this (Link: Hosea 11:8-9).


It's interesting that, although Isaiah probably began his ministry in the 760s during the reign of Uzziah (r. 810-759) and continued into the 7th century, his prophecy is largely directed against Judah and Jerusalem (1:1). I say this is interesting because the northern kingdom of Israel wasn't defeated and taken into Assyrian captivity until 722/21 B.C., a good 40 years after Isaiah began his work. Why did he not have some message for the North? Well, the primary answer is that God sent him to the south. Other prophets, notably Hosea and Amos, had directed their preaching to Israel, so Isaiah was charged with Judah, although he wasn't completely barren in his messages to the northern kingdom (see chapters, 10, 30-31 for examples). He even had great sections of denunciation of Gentile nations (esp. chapters 13-19). So his work, while primary directed at the south, did encompass much of the Middle Eastern region as a whole.

Yet, there is much more to Isaiah than this. The whole section from chapters 40-66 has a huge amount of Messianic material and speaks constantly of the might, glory, and splendor of the one, true--and only--God. It is one of the most beautiful and awesome sections in all of Scripture, and I hope I can do it even a modicum of justice when we reach that point in our study.

The book itself is composed of two major sections--chapter 1-39, the work and prophetic communication sof Isaiah to and about the nations of the region, and chapters 40-66 described above. It's interesting--and probably coincidental since men are the ones who divided the Biblical books into chapters and verses--that Isaiah has 66 chapters, with these two great divisions--chapters 1-39 and 40-66. Interesting, I say, because the Bible has 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. The providence of God? Who knows?

Isaiah is a beautiful written book by an extremely intelligent and talented man. The fact that God used him for at least 60 years is indicative of Jehovah's trust in him.