An Introduction to the Prophecy of Isaiah
email@example.com revised, September 2010
The Book of Isaiah has in it as much about Christ as all the other prophets combined. Surprisingly, it also gives more explanation of the meaning of the death of Christ than we find in all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In Old Testament
times it became clear that all the institutions of
The early chapters
are closely tied to the theme of the Lord as King during God’s gracious rescue
from the Assyrians. Later God would call Cyrus to deliver from
Isaiah has a multitude of related themes. That God is three appears more here than anywhere previous to the New Testament. (See 48:16 and 61:1.) A strong correlation exists between the One Who commissioned Christ, as well as the Spirit with Whom He was endowed. The theologian probably finds more about God in Isaiah than in any other single book in the Bible.
The prophet Isaiah
lived in the time of the Assyrian menace, yet he supernaturally predicted the
rise and fall of
I am personally
thankful for the teaching ministry of James M. Hatch, who 46 years ago first
instilled in me some sense of the flow of Isaiah. In later years I have
benefited very very much from both commentaries on Isaiah by Alec J. Motyer.
Both are published in
Notes on Isaiah 1
This chapter was clearly intended by Isaiah to be a unit. The structure of chapters 2-4 is marked as a unit by inclusios, so chapters 1 and 5 must be units as well. The call of Isaiah to the ministry of a prophet comes in chapter 6 when we might have expected it in chapter 1. This indicates that chapters 1-5 are intended to give some background of the situation into which God called His prophet Isaiah. Chapter 1 shows:
trauma of the nation, except for
2) the corruption of worship where sinful conduct contradicted the holiness of God.
3) pervasive social injustice.
5) Final judgment; Rebels may remain rebels
1:2,3 Unlike so many New Testament letters beginning with warm greetings, Isaiah began with a complaint. It is God’s complaint, a summons to court, as God called heaven and earth to be witnesses of a charge. Anyone who wants heaven and earth to listen in must think his issue is very important. Anyone who can make heaven and earth pay attention IS very important. Making a charge calls for proof, and the Lord began this book by making His case. This is the way the chief prophetical book of the entire Bible opens.
The Lord’s complaint was about His children.
Note the verbs that describe their behavior toward the Lord: they rebelled,
forsook, spurned, and turned their backs against the Lord. We should not miss
the setting; Isaiah does not begin with the specifics of what they did as much
as the deliberate nature of their very personal rebellion. Sins will be listed
later. First, it is the Lord they have sinned against. The complaint includes
the sad contrast that dumb animals may know their masters, but
The complaint is against children, thus the sin is against a father. Later Isaiah has covenant people calling God “Father” in 63:16 & 64:8. God calls these children “my people”. If children, there is a family relationship, but when it is “my people” it is covenant language. The pronoun “my” affects the meaning. Notice the difference in these two sentences: 1) She is a wife. 2) She is my wife.
only does God call them “my people”, He refers to
Himself as “the LORD”. This is His covenantal Name. He also says that He is the
Holy One of
This is one example of the Bible having a covenant background without using the word. A man may speak often with his wife but he may go for a long time without saying, “You are my wife”, yet everything he says to her is in the context of their covenant of marriage. Do not make the mistake of thinking the word must appear for the concept to be present. If we describe the contents of a room, we may list all the furniture, but we are likely to omit the air that fills the room. Covenant is like that; it is the ever present, often unstated setting in which God speaks to His people. (See 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Leviticus 26:12,13 for explicit covenant language.)
1:5 When Isaiah moves from verse 4 to 5, he does something that makes perfect sense to the Oriental mind, yet something not typical to Western communication. This is not W5: who, where, when, what, and why? Isaiah simply states sin and then reports trouble. Every Chinese would get it; one is the reason for the other. In English we are used to a multitude of connecting words (“He is sick” instead of “he sick”). In this passage the two themes are simply positioned together without explaining the connection. That will happen a hundred times in Isaiah. The sin is the offense, and the other is the consequence, or more clearly, the Lord’s response to it.
National Trauma God’s judgment is presented as both a
battered body and a destroyed country.
The first is figurative language in vv.5 & 6. The second in v.7 is
absolutely literal. Vv. 5 & 6 use a metaphor; v.7 is literal, and v.8
employs a simile. According to vv.8 & 9, the destruction is not total. In
the metaphor of vv. 5 & 6, one cannot tell that. (So we must remember the
rule not to press figurative language further than intended by the author.) Though
foreigners had overrun
1:9 The important point we must not miss is that in spite of
many raiders going through their land, there was still a
1:10-20 Corrupt Worship This section
denounces the immoral conduct of religious people. Ostensibly they were worshipping
the Lord using His Name and sacrifices He prescribed. This they did on the schedule
God required in His law. Yet such worship was contradicted by a policy of
appalling sin without repentance. God’s rejection of their worship shows when He
called things He had instituted as your
New Moon Festivals. The
This should show us something very important. Sinners need to come for forgiveness; the sacrifices were for sinners! Yet we cannot come without repenting of sin; such a coming is not coming in faith for forgiveness but in presumption to escape the consequences of sin. God is not fooled by such a strategy. We cannot use His worship to trick Him into blessing us. Yet our repentance does not merit forgiveness; only Jesus merits salvation for us. A true coming to the Lord (faith) entails turning from sin. The prophets will make very clear that there is acceptable and unacceptable worship. In vv.10-20, there is divine rejection. If we have someone who can approach God for us who is sinless and who offers a sacrifice that brings reconciliation, then in such a priest we will be accepted. With Christ we do have such a Great High Priest (Hebrews 8:1).
1:18-20 A clear note of gospel appears. Nothing in chapter 1 that precedes v.18 shows any softening in the wayward. Nevertheless, God announced that there will be cleansing from sin. A red stain in any material is very hard to remove, but God can get it out. He is confident of His ability to save. Red is the color of the hands of a murderer (v.15). Yet the sinfulness is so deliberate that nothing prior to this verse would make us expect this turnabout except for the hint that there will be survivors. Now we know why. Concerning this remnant, God will make covenant breakers to be obedient covenant keepers, a major change and a miracle. Some will remain rebels. Both snow and wool are naturally white. This may indicate a new nature given to sinners of such a kind that, when transformed, we naturally prefer obedience to sin. This is new covenant obedience (Ezekiel 36:26,27). Before any mention of their obedience in v.19, there was the announcement of their salvation. If we reverse this and make salvation to be on condition of our obedience, there will be neither obedience nor salvation. If obedience is instilled in us by the Lord, such new obedience is genuine.
The once faithful
city had became a harlot, then it will be called the
One might think God relented and backed off
from the justice due them for their sin, but the chapter claims that this
redemption is done with justice. We cannot understand the Christian faith
unless we can see how the justice of God has been satisfied concerning our sin,
when we were indeed guilty before him. The question is not one of God’s
patience, for patience cannot remove sin. Nor is it love, for justice must be
expressed even in the case of those loved. It can never be that God punished
the angels for their sin but lets us off because He likes us.
1:27 Will all in
1:28-31 The Rebels Isaiah 1 begins and closes with rebels, which shows that it is a unit. The good news just heard will not be theirs. Those who forsake the Lord will perish. Rebellion remains their settled decision. God saves by changing hearts, but with no obligation to save anyone, He passes others by leaving them to their freely chosen course in life and eternity. He leaves them in their rebellion. Their delights are in the pagan gardens of wine, women, song, idolatry and whatever else is forbidden. (See 65:2-7.) Those lush wooded areas were often the scene of idolatry and prostitution. They will turn into tinder dry places which the fire of God’s wrath will consume (Hebrews 12:29). Isaiah ends in 66:24 with unquenchable fire, and so does Isaiah 1. (In Mark 9:48 Jesus quoted Isaiah 66:24 to speak of hell.)
this chapter is a real introduction, a foretaste of all that is to come. It speaks of covenant breaking, many specific
sins, current chastening, perverse worship, judgment, salvation, and eternal
damnation. It has left us so far to wonder how God will do this and Who the Redeemer is, but Isaiah will not leave that out.
Isaiah’s name means “The Lord saves”.
Soon we will read of One who will be called, Emmanuel, “God with Us”. Before he is finished, Isaiah will tell us
how the justice of God will be satisfied, “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him
and cause Him to suffer … the Lord makes His life a guilt offering…” (53:10). The Redeemer in
the Book of Isaiah is our Lord Jesus Christ. He fulfils His assignment from His
Father (49:6). The result is: “Arise, shine, for your light [