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Lecture on Isaiah
by Samuel Frost
This shows the major divisions of the book of Isaiah. 1-5 spans the scope of the book, but leaves out any references to the surrounding nations. It is a general introduction to the material we will find to come. It spans the time of Isaiah’s day to the “last days” of Israel’s redemption. The language is largely Deuteronomic. That is, specifically, the blessings and cursings of Dt. 28, which we will see shortly. We have not covered this aspect of Isaiah yet.This shows the major divisions of the book of Isaiah. 1-5 spans the scope of the book, but leaves out any references to the surrounding nations. It is a general introduction to the material we will find to come. It spans the time of Isaiah’s day to the “last days” of Israel’s redemption. The language is largely Deuteronomic. That is, specifically, the blessings and cursings of Dt. 28, which we will see shortly. We have not covered this aspect of Isaiah yet.6-8 breaks into the calling of Isaiah, and obviously he was called before he uttered the words of 1-5. The editing, then, seeks the place prophetic material before the historical material so that we have a division marked by prophetic (P), historical (H), (P), (H), and ending with (P). One can see within this an inclusio that begins and ends with (P) material. Since that is the case, we can also reason that the material found in chapters 66 and 65, for example, is the same material found in chapters 1-5. That is, the “new heavens and new earth” of the last chapters is the same as the “last days” new creation of Zion into the “Faithful City” and “City of Righteousness” (1.26). These types of literary devices greatly help us with the exegesis and decoding of the book.
For example, 66.12-16 reads, “For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. 15 "For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.”
2.1-5. the Exaltation of Zion above all mountains, and the nations streaming into Zion, is the same thing pictured here in 66. Equally, the day of judgment, the remnant (“his servants”) is found in 66.19, “and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.” The same Hebrew is found in 37.31, “And the survivors of the house of Juda, and which is left, shall take root downward, and shall bear fruit upward:” This “remnant” idea, as we have noted, is found all throughout the book of Isaiah. It is the remnant of ethnic Israel, the descendents from the loins of Abraham.
These comparisons continue to make themselves felt when we read in 66.20-24, “And they shall bring your brethren out of all nations for a gift to the Lord with horses, and chariots, in litters drawn by mules with awnings, to the holy city Jerusalem, said the Lord, as though the children of Israel should bring their sacrifices to me with psalms into the house of the Lord. 21 And I will take of them priests and Levites, saith the Lord. 22 For as the new heaven and the new earth, which I make, remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name continue. 23 And it shall come to pass from month to month, and from sabbath to sabbath, that all flesh shall come to worship before me in Jerusalem, saith the Lord. 24 And they shall go forth, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh.”
Three things become apparent here. First, the same “holy city” spoken of here is the same as that spoken of in 2.1-5. It is a “new Jerusalem.” This “new Jerusalem” is found within the covenantal “new heavens and new earth.” Within this new creation, which begins “in the last days,” we find the “seed” continuing before the Lord. We should remember that the call of Isaiah in chapter 6 dealt with this very thing: “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed. 11 Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without man, and the land become utterly waste, 12 and Jehovah have removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. 13 And if there be yet a tenth in it, it again shall in turn be eaten up: as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth, when they are felled; so the holy seed is the stock thereof.” Here we noted the framework or timeframe that Isaiah foresees. He foresees that Israel will be captured by the Assyrians. Judah will be captured by the Babylonians and exiled. They shall return as a remnant, but that remnant shall be burned again, and the “holy seed” from that time of burning, a second burning shall be reclaimed and gathered together again or “a second time” (11.11). It is this “seed” during “those days” that will take root and bear fruit “in the last days” and bring in the new creation realities of the righteousness of God.
In turn, finally, the last verse of Isaiah ends with a fiery destruction, and it is this very destruction that is seen in 1.31, when Jerusalem is made a “faithful city” her enemies are burned: “The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” This “fire” is not the hadean realm. Hades is not full of “fire.” The end times judgment involves an “eternal fire.” This is the same “lake of fire” or what John calls the “second death” that Isaiah is also seeing. John did not make up the lake of fire….he got it from Isaiah. The hadean realm, with its “gates” is not a fire, but the grave, a holding place of sorts for the souls of the dead. These souls, the very nations that Isaiah has judged (13-23) will be thrown into a fire where no one will quench it. This is the “day of the Lord” when the stars will fall, etc. Isaiah’s eye is on his own time and day, but the great deal of his material concerns the last days and the newly created “seed” and “order” that will arise out the ashes of that great day of judgment. Isaiah sees a continuation of history, not an end of history, like wise, John’s vision is not viewing the end of history, but the new beginning of history, springing from the “seed” of Abraham, enlarging itself as a “holy nation” of “priests”. It is this “government” that will be on the shoulders of “the son which is given to us” (9.6).
Now, further commenting on the outline given above, I want to head into Deuteronomy 28. The outline will be given again:
6-8 Historical Narrative/Ahaz and the Assyrians
9-35 Major Prophetic
36-39 Historical Narrative/Hezekiah/Defeat of the Assyrians/Entrance of Babylonians
40-66 Major Prophetic
There are two aspects at work here: contingency and divine decree. Contingency is “if” Israel obey, “then” God will bless them. “If” they do not obey, God will judge them.
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. 7 "The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” Can one not see Isaiah 2.1-5 here? Zion is raised “above all the mountains” and “all the nations” stream into it. In Isaiah 1, however, the “cities” are burned. But in the last days, God will break the Euphrates River (a euphemism for an enemy of Israel) “into seven streams” (11.15). There are many, many examples of this that can be found.
Dt. 28.15-20 But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. 20 "The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.”
It is precisely within this context that Isaiah’s charge is to be understood: “Because thou hast forgotten God thy saviour, and hast not remembered thy strong helper: therefore shalt thou plant good plants, and shalt sow strange seed. 11 In the day of thy planting shall be the wild grape, and in the morning thy seed shall flourish: the harvest is taken away in the day of inheritance, and shall grieve thee much. (17.10-11).
Now, back to the outline:
6-8 Historical Narrative/Ahaz and the Assyrians
9-35 Major Prophetic
36-39 Historical Narrative/Hezekiah/Defeat of the Assyrians/Entrance of Babylonians
40-66 Major Prophetic
1-5 notes the entire span of Israel’s history, from her time in Isaiah’s day to the “last days.” The reason they are in this trouble and distress is because they did not obey the word of thee Lord. Therefore, the curses of the covenant have, and will, come upon them, even after they have returned from exile. They return from exile, of course, because they repented in Babylon, and we witness a great repentance in Ezra-Nehemiah. But, how quickly they fall back into national disaster. Their city will be ruined again.
We have, then, contingency based on human performance to keep the Torah according to the covenant God made with Moses. God bases all that he does on whether or not they keep the Law. From this aspect, we find Isaiah’s outline. 6-8 shows why the “sign” is not given to Judah as promised. “Immanuel” is not born of a virgin. Why not? “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” This was spoken to Ahaz (67.9b). Note the contingency. Did Ahaz stand? No. In fact, Isaiah has already clued us in in 1-5 that Israel and Judah will not stand. That is from the perspective of the divine decree. “Hearing they shall not hear.” “How long?” “Until Immanuel comes!” Based on contingency, if Ahaz had faith and stood, would not have God brought Immanuel about, blessed the land, defeated their enemies, blessed their cities and raise them “above all the nations” as he promised in the Blessings of the Covenant? Most assuredly he would have…had they been willing. But God knows they will not ever be willing.
1-5 shows the decree. It is the forthtelling of the prophecy; it is what WILL take place. 6-8, however, shows the historical contingency of why it DOES take place: Ahaz had no faith, he forsook the Lord, as did Judah, and God forsook him. He was not given the sign.
9-35 shows what WILL take place because it is prophetic material. It encompasses the time of the Assyrianian rise, to their demise by the Babylonians. It views the fall of the Babylonians and the rise of the Medes (Persians). It sees the fall of Egypt, Edom, Moab, Philistia, and other nations. Peppered throughout, it also foresees a time of restoration, when Israel is vindicated and restored and the judgment of the nations gathered before the Lord in the “day of the Lord.” This is the ultimate triumph of Israel over these nations, when they stare at their “dead bodies” and trample on their ashes; when these nations are judged with a “fire which none can quench.”
Now, 36-39, the historical narrative, shows WHY the Babylonians come. Babylon is the first nation mentioned in the “against the nations” prophecies of 13-23. When did they enter the picture? Everything up to that point was about Assyria, and all of the sudden, in 13, we have the fall of Babylon! Babylon, from Isaiah’s time, has not even entered into the scene yet, but here he has already seen their fall by the Medes! This is prophecy, but now the author turns again to historical contingency and narrative answering our question. Babylon comes into the picture because Hezekiah forsakes the Lord (39-1-8). Isaiah is saying, “Listen, Israel and Judah! You are only cursed because you forsake the Lord.” It is the continued fate of this people. They repent, God blesses, they fail, God curses, and this cycle continues on and on and on.
The core of Isaiah’s lament is this: “Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O LORD. 18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any salvation in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.” (26.17-18). Notice that Isaiah has identified himself with the national “we.” Israel’s purpose was to bring salvation to the world. Dt. 28.10: “And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.” That is, if they obeyed Moses. But Isaiah foresees a time throughout, even after they return from exile, that they will not obey Moses. That is what is decreed: Israel’s disobedience is decreed because unless God does something else, then nothing else can be done except for continued misfortune. Israel must recognize that it cannot obey, she is not willing, nor is she able to submit to the covenant of Moses.
After the historical, contingent factor of Hezekiah is brought into view, Isaiah launches into the largest section of prophetic material: what is decreed. He ends Israel’s history with a new heavens and a new earth. Something new must be done, because things cannot continue the way they are. If God were to rely on man and “if” man obeyed in order to bring salvation to the world, then salvation to the world will never, ever come. If God fails to save Israel and bring her to a place of restoration and healing so that she never sins against him anymore, then salvation cannot be brought to the world, because it is precisely through Israel that salvation will come. What God must do, then, is save Israel and bring her into such a relationship with him that she can no longer “do” anything that would nullify covenant blessings to her. The blessings would keep coming regardless of her weaknesses and occasional backslidings. In short, her sins need to be removed.
Remember, in chapter 1, Isaiah loudly thunders against the Temple ceremonies and sacrifices which were supposed to keep them in check and forgiven. But this system has become an utter failure because it was not used in order to keep them relationship with God, but became a ritual that in spite of what they do, or who they worship, as long as they “did” these things, then they can assume all is right with their Maker and Rock.
Here, Isaiah has pierced into the all too human condition. Israel failed to recognize its human condition. Sacrifices and offerings cannot appease God except only for a moment, but because man is who he is (Isaiah frequently uses ha adam for Israel), he is forced into an endless cycle of sacrifices. His sins can never be “taken away” once and for all.
This is where we see something powerful. Isaiah, as a forthteller, a prophet, and in his prophetic portions, has seen a time in which Israel WILL be saved. God will save them Himself. He will pour out His own Spirit on his “anointed one.” He will pour out His own Spirit on his people, and they shall hear, they will understand, they will walk on the way of Holiness. Immediately after Hezekiah brings in the Babylonians, Isaiah says, in chapter 40, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: 5 and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. 6 The voice of one saying, Cry. And one said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. 7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever. 9 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up on a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! 10 Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him: Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that have their young. 12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 13 Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counsellor hath taught him? 14 With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? 15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance: Behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. 16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity. 18 To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? 19 The image, a workman hath cast it, and the goldsmith overlayeth it with gold, and casteth for it silver chains. 20 He that is too impoverished for such an oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a skilful workman to set up a graven image, that shall not be moved. 21 Have ye not known? have yet not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; 23 that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. 24 Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth: moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. 25 To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking. 27 Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? 28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 31 but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”
See, He is the Only One to make it happen. And it has been seen that He will make it happen, but, it will happen apart from the Law. Isaiah has demonstrated that it cannot happen based on works, but must happen based on faith. Faith in Jehovah as the Only True God, apart from works. “The Law and the Prophets testify” about the “righteousness of God” that was “now being revealed” in Paul’s day….and Paul did make this up, either…like John, he got it from a careful reading of Isaiah.
After reading Isaiah forty, listen to Paul: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Where does Isaiah mention that the Gentiles come into Mount Zion in the Last Days through circumcision? The Torah of Faith in God, who is One (the Shema), excludes boasting before the Lord. For Paul, this Torah of Faith is the new covenant Torah “written in the hearts” by God through the outpoured Holy Spirit. By “our boasting” Paul is specifically referring to Jewish boasting on the basis of the covenant of Moses. But, as we have seen in Isaiah, such boasting is impossible. Such boasting is impossible and is, thus, excluded through the introduction of the new covenant Torah of faith. Isaiah 40 proclaims that God is the God of the Nations and Israel, and in order to bring them and the Jews “in” to the heavenly Zion, both must come through the same way because Israel, as Isaiah has demonstrated, could not ever come by way of the covenant of Moses, and Israel cannot accomplish salvation to the world on this basis, then how can the nations be saved? By decreeing Israel’s failure and cursing them, God has demonstrated to the world that righteousness is by faith in Him and not by works. Israel, by the hand of God and God alone has brought salvation to the world through her failure to bring it in by works.
That is, Isaiah sees Israel’s failure, but also sees her redemption, but how can she be redeemed if she is a constant failure? It is through failure that salvation is brought in, because now it is brought in by God himself apart from any contingency on man through human merit and works. Because God has transformed Torah in Christ and works in the heart, man in Christ is forgiven and his sins removed once and for. There is no more need for sacrifices and it is this that Isaiah foresees. This is what Paul means when he says “not by works.” He is primarily saying, “not by the works of Torah.” Something has to change. And since man cannot change himself, God must change him. But, in order to bring this about, he must bring his son, the son of David. He must bring about suffering on his son for the sins of the nation. By forgiving the nation those that Isaiah sees a joining with this nation are forgiven as well, “by faith.”
We will continue in these things next time….