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.