Isaiah 64-66

Isaiah 64-66…Worship

Today we come to the end of the book of Isaiah. This prophet of the eighth century BC focused first on Judah, highlighting the nation’s failure to trust and obey God. Such evil, Isaiah foresaw, would lead finally to exile for Judah, just as the failure of the northern kingdom led to its exile (Isa. 1–5; 7–39). To solve this problem, there would have to be a cleansing of the people so that they would trust the Lord, as evidenced in Isaiah’s own experience (chap. 6). Isaiah predicted that this cleansing would occur after the exile through the atoning work of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah (40–55).

Yet this cleansing and salvation of the children of Jacob would not benefit them alone. It would have consequences for the whole world, as the nations would be directed via the light of God’s glory reflected in His redeemed people to worship and serve the one true Lord of all (56–65). This would culminate in new heavens and a new earth, a teaching Isaiah reiterates in today’s passage. However, this new world will not be for all human beings without exception, as we read in Isaiah 66:15–16, 24. Some people are not going to enjoy the blessings of a name that remains before the Lord forever—eternal life—but will suffer eternal death. These people are those who “have rebelled against [God] (v. 24), including both ethnic Jews who do not look for God’s grace and Gentile pagans. We see this in verse 17, where “those who sanctify and purify themselves” seems to refer to individuals who rely on their own efforts for salvation and cleansing, not the grace of God. The others who are mentioned in the verse as “eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice” are Gentile idolators, as such practices were associated with idolatry.

Ethnic Jews and Gentiles inherit the new heavens and earth—if they do not deny God’s grace or practice idolatry but trust in Yahweh alone for salvation. Isaiah lists the many lands from which the redeemed will come, referring to the far reaches of the known world of his day—Asia Minor (Javan); Spain or the extreme west of the Mediterranean region (Tarshish); Africa (Pul and Lud); the Caucasus area, including modern Russia, Georgia, and Armenia (Tubal)—and to the ends of the earth yet unknown to the prophet—“the coastlands far away” (vv. 18–19). John echoes Isaiah: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will worship the triune Creator through the Lamb (Rev. 7:9—12).

Isaiah 61-63

Isaiah 61-63…The Servant of the Lord

The Messiah must come as the ideal Israel, fulfilling Israel’s vocation to be a light to the world, dying an atoning death for His people, and rising again to rule creation in perfect righteousness (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–7; 49:1–7; 52:13–53:12). Isaiah 61 reinforces this point in its first-person description of the one who comes “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (61:1–3). Although some commentators have said otherwise, the speaker cannot be the prophet himself. Isaiah nowhere else describes himself in such lofty terms or in a manner that ascribes the same kind of authority to himself as the preacher here. More importantly, there are numerous conceptual similarities between the figure of Isaiah 61:1–3 and the messianic figure described elsewhere by the prophet. Consider, for example, the parallels between the preacher of Isaiah 61 and the Davidic king of Isaiah 11. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon both individuals (11:2; 61:1). Righteousness adorns the Son of Jesse in 11:5, and in 61:3, the preacher’s work effects righteousness in the people. Both figures speak words of immense power (11:4; 61:2).

We have, then, in Isaiah 61, what one commentator describes as the “climactic representation” of the Servant of the Lord. This Servant is the ideal Israel, the Davidic Messiah who frees His people not only from the captivity of human enemies but that of sin and death. In so doing, He gives eternal beauty to His own (61:3).

Isaiah 61:3 indicates that one result of the Messiah’s work is to make His people “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD.” This is an image of permanence, of life in God’s presence forever. John Calvin comments, “There is no other way in which we are restored to life than when we are planted by the Lord.” If we trust in Christ, we are planted in righteousness forever, and will be preserved by His hand for the sake of His eternal glory.

Isaiah 58-60

Isaiah 58-60…Persecution.

Christ accomplishes salvation for His people (Isa. 52:13–53:12; John 6:39–40; Heb. 10:18), and we appropriate that salvation through faith alone, which faith itself is the gift of God to His elect through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1–8; Eph. 2:8–9). But God the Holy Spirit works in and through the preaching of His Word to bring us to faith (1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:14–15; 1 Peter 1:22–25). Moreover, He works in and through His Word to keep us in faith, encouraging us to persevere and warning us lest we fall away. These encouragements and warnings are God’s means of keeping us in His grace, for the Spirit always works in the hearts of the elect to make them heed these encouragements and warnings so that they never fall away fully and finally from Christ (Isa. 55:10–11; Mark 4:1–20; John 16:13; Heb. 6:9–12; 12:1–2; James 5:19–20; 1 John 2:19).

So, even though Jesus accomplished salvation for His people once and for all, He continues to work by the Spirit through His Word to preserve us in faith while we remain on this side of glory. Thus, He warns us through Isaiah, as well as the other prophets and Apostles, and we who know Jesus truly take these warnings seriously. We search our hearts to see whether we are guilty of the charges, and if we are, we repent and cling to Christ alone even tighter and persevere. All those who have been saved will persevere in faith and repentance until the end of their lives, and only those who persevere in faith and repentance until the end of their lives have been saved (Matt. 10:22b; Rom. 8:38–39).

Therefore, we think on the warnings of Isaiah 59:14–21 soberly. We see that there will be times when the upright are hated in public, righteousness is ridiculed, and those who affirm God’s Word are granted no place at society’s table (v. 14). At these times, fallen society is particularly clear in its rejection of truth, and it makes prey out of those who flee evil and serve the Lord—it attacks the just and praises the unjust, approving deeds of darkness (Rom. 1:28–32). At such times, we might feel like giving up and going along with the crowd, but that would be the worst mistake we could ever make. A day is coming when God will no longer withhold His wrath but suit up for battle. He will repay His enemies according to their deeds, not graciously as He did on the cross, conquering us by bringing us over to His side. Instead, the Lord will conquer His enemies on that day by giving them the full measure of His just wrath (Isa. 59:15b–19).

Isaiah 49-57

Isaiah 49-57…Forgiveness.

Mark Twain once wrote that “forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Though this man was by no means a Christian, this quote does depict the biblical truth that true forgiveness never comes without a cost to the forgiver. Though crushed, the violet refuses to withhold a good gift but absorbs the crushing blow, blessing the heel that has injured it. The same thing happens every time forgiveness is offered — the offended person, while not overlooking or denying the hurt, refuses to hold the hurt against the offender over the offender’s head permanently. The offended blesses the offender with the promise of real reconciliation and fellowship when the offending party repents and asks for pardon.

Such costly acts of forgiveness among violets and heels and people do not even barely approximate the cost the Suffering Servant paid to forgive us. Isaiah 52:13– 53:12, the best known of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs,” depicts this cost most vividly. For the Lord to finally forgive those men and women who trust in His promises of redemption, the offended party must incur a cost. In this case, the offended party is God Himself, who incurred the cost of the death of His only begotten Son. We were reminded yesterday of how the Davidic king represented the nation of Israel and how Christ, as the Davidic king par excellence, is the ultimate representation of the people of God. This Davidic king, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, had to be “cut off” for our forgiveness (53:8). Being cut off is a biblical way of referring to divine judgment (Num. 9:13), and so we see the glory of Isaiah’s prophecy and the work of the Suffering Servant. It is one thing not to charge the offender the full cost that forgiveness requires but quite another for the offended person, who has done no wrong, to pay the cost himself. This is what our Father did for us — He paid our cost by sending His Son to be the Suffering Servant so that we might be accounted righteous (Isa. 53:11).

Jesus bore our iniquity that we might not have to bear it ourselves in hell. Like the sheep that consents to His master’s leading and goes even to the slaughter, so too did Christ consent to His Father’s plan to save His people (v. 7). His consent took the place of our rebellion, and so He became the atoning sacrifice of which the bulls and goats of the old covenant Day of Atonement were but a pale anticipation (Heb. 10:4).

Isaiah 46-48

Isaiah 46-48…Creator and Sustainer.

God is Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Isaiah 46:4 says, “I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” The biblical view of providence involves a right understanding of God as the primary cause of creation as well as the primary cause of the continued activity of the entire universe.

While historic Christianity has always held that God is the ultimate cause or the ultimate source of all effects, modern man has drifted from this truth, focusing on secondary causes to explain how things happen. For example, a hurricane ravages Florida. The modern man’s only explanation for the cause of this event is scientific—wind currents, low and high pressure systems, etc. The idea of a Divine hand acting upon this situation is totally out of the question. Our culture focuses solely on the secondary causes—the wind and the pressure systems. We refuse to look beyond the secondary to the primary cause of all things—God Himself.

Because God is the Creator, He sustains and preserves all things, bringing about His will through historical circumstances. He sustains His creation by giving it life and existence. God alone has the power of existence within Himself, and only by His power are we kept alive, only by His power do we continue to exist. It is in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Because God is self-existent, He is not dependent on anything else for existence. We, however, are dependent on something else, and that something is God Himself.

God not only sustains His creation by giving it existence, but He governs it. God is the sovereign King over all His creation, and His government cannot be overthrown. This government is a monarchy in which God is the sole authority to whom we must submit. While many may see this as a harsh dictatorship, we must remember that God is a loving, perfect, and holy King. We are totally dependent on Him for everything, and it is our duty to honor Him, obey Him, and worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.

Isaiah 40-45

Isaiah 40-45…The Servant Songs.

The Servant Songs and their contexts (42:1–9; 49:1–6; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12) are about Israel, both the people as a nation and the people as embodied in God’s idealized obedient servant. Isaiah moves back and forth in 42:1–53:12 between fallen Israel and idealized Israel, who must be the Son of David. This idealized Israel must be the Son of David, the King of Israel, because Scripture teaches that the king of Israel represents the nation. Consider, for example, David’s priestly actions (2 Sam. 6:16–20); Jeroboam’s establishment of idolatry and leading of the people in it (1 Kings 12:25–33); and Manasseh’s exile and return that prefigure the exile and return of the nation (2 Chron. 33:10–13).

In Isaiah 42-43, the servant described is fallen Israel, the people suffering in exile because of their sin, and not the idealized obedient Israel who brings about the salvation of the world (Isa. 52:13–53:12). Isaiah begins by charging the servant with blindness and deafness, saying that he “sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear” (42:18–20). He goes on to describe the servant as people who have been plundered and looted, and it is no surprise that he identifies the one given up to the plunderer and looter as Israel and Jacob (42:22–24). This describes perfectly the condition of the people in exile, a people who have lost everything and have been forcibly transferred to a foreign land. The blindness and deafness depict the covenant community’s spiritual condition. It should be clear to the exiles that they are suffering because of their flagrant, impenitent sins, but the exiles as a whole do not understand this adequately (42:24–25). Isaiah foresees that even in the midst of their troubles, the nation will be blind to the fullness of the exile’s cause, namely, their own depravity.

Nevertheless, God pledges not to leave His people in their blindness and deafness. Isaiah predicts the redemption of Israel, the return of God to His children that He might walk with them and be revealed as their Savior (43:1–3). Because of their fallen condition, the return from exile will be an act of pure grace. Through Isaiah, God promises that He Himself will act to restore His people.

Isaiah 37-39

Isaiah 37-39…Hezekiah’s prayer.

Hezekiah’s intercession (Isaiah 38) shows the power of prayer before our sovereign Creator, which is also confirmed in today’s passage. This record of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery, Isaiah 38:6 reveals, took place before the events recorded in chapter 37. (Biblical authors sometimes do not order their accounts chronologically.) Therefore, the promise Isaiah gave in 37:5–7 was not the Lord’s first pledge to deliver Jerusalem from Assyria. In His grace, God repeats His promises to us, increasing our confidence in His Word.

Unlike his father, Ahaz, who lacked faith to ask for a sign from God, we know that Hezekiah asked for a sign of his recovery and Jerusalem’s rescue (2 Kings 20:8). God granted this sign, healing Hezekiah and adding fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38:4–6).

God’s granting fifteen more years of life to Hezekiah does not mean He changes His mind like we do. Instead, such accounts show us that the Lord has a real relationship with His people in time and responds to our prayers and actions. Hezekiah did not know how God would answer His prayer for healing, but the Lord did. Similarly, God knows how He will answer our prayers even before we offer them, but that must not keep us from interceding for ourselves and others.

Isaiah 23-36

Isaiah 23-36…Patience

Paul says in Galatians 5:22 that one fruit of the Spirit is patience. This is no surprise, for Scripture contains many exhortations to wait on the Lord (Ps. 27:14; Hab. 2:3; 1 Thess. 1:9–10). At the same time, however, we must admit that patience ranks among the most difficult fruits of the Spirit for us to cultivate. Our timing is rarely God’s timing, and we often think He has forgotten us when He does not act according to our schedule.

When the Lord seems slow to act, we rarely ask whether He is actually waiting for us to seek Him truly, dependent on His grace, before He moves in power. Yet as Isaiah 30:18 teaches, we should ask whether God’s apparent inaction is due to His waiting for us. The background to this verse is Isaiah’s warning to the people of his day not to trust in Egypt (vv. 1–7). As Assyria moved ever closer to Jerusalem, it became clear that many in Judah’s leadership lacked faith. Fearing that God would not keep His promises, these leaders took matters into their own hands, turning to the pharaoh and his army for assistance (2 Kings 18:1–21). But what Judah’s leaders did not realize was that in turning to Egypt, they were delaying the Lord’s intervention, not hurrying it.

Today’s passage illustrates the folly of not trusting in the Creator for deliverance but seeking earthly saviors instead. When God’s people do not lean wholly on Him, He often purposes to hold off on delivering them. The Lord will not save an impenitent people, so if He has chosen to save a certain group, He will not bring them into salvation until they acknowledge and forsake their sin, turning to Him for forgiveness. What seems to be God’s delay is actually His patience toward us, for He is not willing that any of His elect should perish (2 Peter 3:9). The Lord will wait to deliver His people for as long as it takes for them to realize their complete dependence on Him and their need to forsake all idols. He waits to be gracious, He waits to show mercy, until we reject self-reliance and believe that He alone can redeem us (Isa. 30:18a; Gal. 2:15–16).

When we “wait for Him”—when we persevere in faith, refusing to trust other would-be “saviors,” we can rightly expect great blessing. This is because “the LORD is a God of justice” and must therefore keep all His promises (Isa. 30:18). But our Creator will not rescue us as long as we do not forsake our sin, just as He did not rescue Hezekiah and Judah from Assyria until they returned to Him (2 Kings 18:13–19:37).

Isaiah 20-22

Isaiah 20-22…Pride

The Valley of Vision was another designation for all of Judah, and this is a record of judgment against it. Foreign nations had suddenly besieged the country just as the prophets had foretold, and yet the Jews were not ready. In response to the attack, they did all they could to defend themselves. They built ditches around the city, fortified it with walls, and made preparations as best they could; some even ran away in cowardly fear. But through it all they refused to turn to the only defense that could really save them: God Himself.

Isaiah 22 is a rebuke to the Jewish people for not turning to the Lord in times of difficulty and for not taking the judgments He brought against them seriously. When danger came, the Jews did not stop and consider their sin and repent before the Lord. Instead, they allied with foreign nations, refused to own their guilt, and denied that they deserved the trials they were forced to endure. If they had made such a confession, they would have humbled themselves before the Lord instead of eating and drinking, and quoting worldly proverbs such as “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

When their enemies attacked, the Jews should have turned immediately to God for assistance. But they didn’t. Instead, they did everything that was humanly possible to stop their enemies. But it wasn’t enough.

They should have humbled themselves and admitted that they deserved to be punished. But the dangers they faced only hardened them in their obstinacy and their contempt of God. Not one of the Jews remembered the Lord in the midst of their distress. As a result of such hardness of heart, the Lord ceased to protect them.

We have before us an example of extreme pride. When people will not repent after having received many chastisements through trial and suffering, they have shown themselves to be devoid of all conscience. Instead of doing what we wish, living for the moment in feasting and revelry, we should be obedient to the ways of God, living in sober service to Him. And when we have been warned and chastised, we ought to repent. It should not take many stripes to cause us to turn, but we should learn quickly like a child who needs only a firm rebuke to set him straight. Make the measure of your spiritual life your capacity to quickly and honestly repent of your sin.

Isaiah 16-19

Isaiah 16-19…Egypt

Egypt was one of Israel’s most significant enemies during the lifetime of Moses, but there are clues in the five books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy) that this enemy status would not last forever. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God revealed to Moses that the third-generation children of the Egyptians who lived at the time of the exodus would be permitted to join the congregation of His people (Deut. 23:7–8). That generation, presumably, would be far enough removed from the hatred Egypt revealed during the exodus and willing to become servants of the true God — Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts.

Later on, during Isaiah’s lifetime, the Almighty revealed more clearly that Egypt would no longer be Israel’s enemy. Today’s passage anticipates a day when the Egyptians will join God’s people as worshipers of Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel. We see this taught in Isaiah 19:18, which says five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan — Hebrew, the tongue of the Israelites who took possession of that land. This is a metaphor explaining how Egypt will become an ally of Israel and adopt Israel’s faith, which was rooted in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah goes on in verses 19–22 to teach that Egypt will know God not as judge but as redeemer in the last day. Gone will be the pagan altars and false gods, for the Egyptians will be idolaters no longer. During the exodus, the Lord’s glory was manifested when he crushed the Egyptian army in the sea (Ex. 14:17–18). In the eschatological (final or last days) age, His glory will be made known through crushing the hard hearts of Egypt and replacing them with pliable hearts intent on serving Him.

Remarkably, the notoriously cruel empire of Assyria will find peace with Egypt and worship Yahweh as well in that final day (Isa. 19:23–25). Traditionally, Egypt and Assyria were mortal enemies, but the construction of a highway between the two countries signifies a day when they will be friends (v. 23), a day when communication between them will be free and unhindered. Moreover, Assyria will also join with Egypt and the Israelites as a part of the Lord’s holy people (vv. 24–25). This prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel goes forth and a church of “neither Jew nor Greek” is built into a temple of the living God (Gal. 3:28; 1 Peter 2:4–6).