SURVEY OF ISAIAH: IN WHOM DO WE TRUST?
God will chasten and purify his people to make them fit to participate in his rule over the nations. This includes first remedial discipline under Gentiles, and second, the provision of a suffering and exalted Messiah.
We refer to the Old Testament prophetic books as the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The books of the Major Prophets are longer than the books of the Minor Prophets. They spoke God’s message to God’s people concerning the times in which they lived and also spoke of future events. They admonished and called God’s people to repentance. They announced coming judgments and events related to the Messiah and His kingdom.
Isaiah writes in a time of crisis for the nation of Judah when invading armies threatened on every side. He essentially asks the simple question, "In whom will you trust?" Will Judah trust in armies, in alliances with foreign armies, in their own ingenuity? Or will Judah trust in the one true God, the Holy One of Israel?
Isaiah 1:1 informs us that this book is a record of the visions of Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Isaiah writes during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. His prophetic activity spans from about 740 BC to 687 BC.
The northern kingdom of Israel is ruled by King Jeroboam II during the reign of King Uzziah, and is experiencing a military and economic revival. However, following Jeroboam's death, Israel goes into a downward spiral. The kingdom is in political chaos, with kings frequently being assassinated. The nation has rejected the worship of God and has adopted the pagan practices of their neighbors. This includes human sacrifice and temple prostitution.
Because of the rebellion of the northern kingdom, God allows Assyria to slowly capture the nation. First under the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser, Assyria captures Galilee and northern Israel in 740 BC. Finally the Assyrian king Shalmaneser brings about the fall of the Israelite capital, Samaria, in 722 BC, taking the inhabitants of the northern kingdom into exile.
The Judean king Uzziah seeks after God. He develops an effective army and brings economic prosperity. However, as the nation grows in strength and prosperity Uzziah ceases to trust in God. God strikes him with leprosy after he arrogantly performs a temple ritual reserved for the priests.
Jotham, his son, rules while his father has leprosy. While Jotham follows God, the people are corrupt and increasingly fall into idolatry.
The next king, Ahaz, rejects God and tries to build an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. While he is helped militarily, he taxes the people and gives away the temple treasury to keep Assyria happy.
The next king, Hezekiah, however, follows God and destroys the pagan temples. However, militarily Judah is weak and faces a formidable enemy in Assyria, which is a constant threat.
Isaiah writes primarily to the nation of Judah which is increasingly under the threat of invasion from the Assyrian empire. The nation has turned from the worship of God and is relying on pagan religion and military strength for salvation. Isaiah also writes to the generation which will be in exile, awaiting the hope of return to the Promised Land. His words reach forward into the distant future all the way to the millennial kingdom and the new heaven and new earth.
The book of Isaiah serves as a warning to the kingdom of Judah not to arrogantly trust in its own strength in the midst of crisis, but to trust in the Holy One of Israel who will bring about deliverance from Assyria, from the Babylonian exile, and ultimately from their sins. There is condemnation for those who arrogantly place their trust in their own might. There is deliverance for those who humbly place their trust in the Holy One of Israel. This applies to believers of all ages.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Judgment of the Proud: God brings judgment on those who put their trust in anyone or anything other than
Him (Chapters 1 to 39).
The first thirty-nine chapters of the book address the people of Judah in the midst of the threat of the invading armies of Assyria. Isaiah condemns the sin of the nation and predicts impending judgment on those who put their trust in anyone or anything other than the Holy One of Israel.
A. The Pride of the Nation: God condemns the pride of the nation but promises to forgive those who humble
themselves (Chapters 1 to 5).
The first five chapters of Isaiah serve as a summary of the entire book. These chapters function as a mini-book, capturing all the major themes of Isaiah.
The book begins by God calling on all of heaven and earth to hear His case against His people (1:2). The major sin of the people is not that they aren't religious (1:11-14), but that they are arrogant and materialistic (3:14-15), and that they have exploited the poor (3:2-4). Therefore, because they have oppressed the humble, God will humble the proud (2:11-17, 5:13-15).
However, if the people humble themselves and repent, God promises to forgive them of their sins and bring them into a bright future (1:19). If they do not repent, they would be conquered militarily (1:20, 5:26-30).
Isaiah gives an initial prophecy concerning the last days in 2:1-4 and invites Israel to walk in the light of the LORD (2:5). God will reign righteously from Zion and the nations will come to learn of His ways and will live in peace.
B. The Humility of Isaiah: Isaiah humbles himself before the Holy One of Israel and is commissioned as
a prophet (Chapter 6).
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah is taken into the midst of the throne room of God, where the angels shout out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” Through this experience, Isaiah comes to understand the importance of God's holiness. This appears throughout his writings, as his favorite title for God is “the Holy One of Israel.”
When confronted with God's holiness, Isaiah becomes aware of his sinfulness and the consequence (“Woe is me, for I am undone!”). Fortunately God does not leave him in his woeful state. God forgives and purifies Isaiah of his sin so that He can use him as His prophet. When confronted with the holiness of God, Isaiah learns humility.
C. The Pride of King Ahaz: Ahaz’s failure to trust God prompts the announcement of a future King who will
rule well (Chapters 7 to 12).
During the reign of King Ahaz, Israel joins forces with Aram (Syria) to attack Jerusalem. God sends Isaiah to King Ahaz to reassure him that He would protect Jerusalem if Ahaz places his faith in Him (7:3-9). Ahaz, however, thinks he doesn't need God, for he has arranged an alliance with Assyria who will help him with the threat. So he arrogantly ignores the sign of God's deliverance – the birth of a child to a virgin that she names Immanuel which means “God with us” (7:10-14). King Ahaz fears the armies of Aram and Israel more than he fears God (7:2b, 8:13). As a result, the very country which Ahaz trusts to save him will ruin him (7:17).
Ahaz's failure as a king prompts the announcement of a future king who will rule His people well (9:6-7). This King will be God incarnate, as he is titled, “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father” (9:6). His reign will never end, and He will establish justice (11:3-5) and peace (11:6-9). He will gather the remnants of exiled Israel back to the land (11:11-13). This remnant will never again put their trust in human armies that will betray them, but will rely only in the Holy One of Israel (10:20).
D. The Pride of the Nations: God will punish all the arrogant nations of the earth and then usher in His
righteous reign from Zion (Chapters 13 to 27).
Beginning in chapter 13, Isaiah declares God's judgment on Judah and the surrounding nations. The common sin of each of these nations is their arrogance. They each trust in their own strength and abilities and are proud. They do not submit to God.
The key passage dealing with the sin of arrogance comes in the middle of an oracle against the nation of Babylon (14:12-15). Here, Isaiah describes the fall of not just Babylon, but of Satan himself. The original sin of Satan and the sin of each of the nations is arrogance. The belief that one can be as great as God is abhorrent to God. God will humiliate those who are arrogant and proud.
This section of Isaiah reaches its climax in a declaration of final judgment against the pride of the whole earth (Chapter 24). God will bring an end to the rebellion of Satan, and he will punish all the arrogant kings of the earth (24:21). This will then usher in God's righteous reign from Zion (24:23).
Isaiah then completes the section with a song of praise for God who defeats the arrogant and lifts up the humble. God will be a defense to the helpless (25:4), and will establish his kingdom of peace and prosperity for those who trust in Him (26:2-4). He will raise the dead back to life and bring them into His kingdom (26:19).
E. The Humility of King Hezekiah: Unlike his father Ahaz, Hezekiah chooses to trust in God and experiences
God’s deliverance (Chapters 28 to 39).
In chapters 7 to 12 King Ahaz is confronted with an invading army and must choose to trust God for deliverance or trust in a foreign alliance. In chapters 28 to 39, Ahaz's son, King Hezekiah faces the same choice. However, unlike his father, Hezekiah chooses to trust in God rather than the armies of men. Hezekiah serves as a contrast to the arrogance of the nations and is an illustration of one who humbly trusts in God.
The army of Assyria is outside the gates of Jerusalem, and the Assyrian general calls out to the people of Jerusalem to surrender. He tells them they cannot trust Egypt to rescue them (36:6), and that they cannot trust God to rescue them either (36:7, 18-20).
The general's first statement is accurate. Egypt could not be trusted to rescue Jerusalem. Isaiah had warned that the people were not to trust Egypt in 30:1-3. To trust in Egypt and military strength would be a sign of the pride and arrogance which Isaiah had just condemned. Furthermore, in chapter 20 Isaiah had prophesied that Assyria would conquer Egypt.
Hezekiah takes offense at the statement that his God could not be trusted to rescue them. Hezekiah responds to the Assyrian threat by praying to God (37:16-20). In this prayer, Hezekiah affirms God's greatness and his own inadequacy. Where others might trust in military might, Hezekiah would trust in God. In response to Hezekiah's prayer, God sends Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that He will deliver Jerusalem. Assyria will leave after the angel of the LORD destroys its army (37:36-37).
With chapter 39, the focus of attention moves from Assyria and its threat to Israel and Judah, to Babylon. The rest of the book will focus on the exile to Babylon predicted in this chapter, and will speak to the future generation awaiting deliverance from their Babylonian exile.
II. Deliverance of the Humble: God promises restoration for Israel and the world through the service and sacrifice
of the Servant of the LORD (Chapters 40 to 66).
The final 27 chapters of the book are prophecies of hope and restoration. There is redemption for the nation as it returns from the Babylonian exile under Cyrus of Persia (Chapters 41-48). More important, however, is the redemption of Israel from its state of sin (Chapters 49-57). This redemption requires the sacrifice of one known as the Servant of the Lord. The book ends with a description of the restored kingdom of Israel (Chapters 58-66).
A. God's Faithfulness to the Humble: God promises to comfort and strengthen the humble (Chapter 40).
Isaiah 40 serves as a transitional chapter in the book. It continues the theme of judgment to the arrogant, but also begins the theme of comfort and hope to the humble which characterizes the rest of the book.
In verses 12-26, Isaiah shows how far God is above His creation. He declares that to God, “the nations are as a drop in a bucket,” and “are counted by Him less than nothing.” The haughtiness of nations is foolishness when you look at it from God's perspective. But if we understand our place from God's perspective, God will comfort us and give us strength (v. 27-31). (Isaiah 40:29 ESV) He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
B. Deliverance from Babylon: God promises the deliverance of Israel from captivity by Cyrus and a person
termed the Servant of the Lord (Chapters 41 to 48).
Chapters 41-48 prophesy the deliverance of the Jews from captivity by Cyrus (44:28—45:1). This will be primarily fulfilled in Cyrus. But some of the predictions also have a secondary fulfillment in a person termed the Servant of the Lord.
Isaiah writes this passage almost two centuries before Cyrus was born. Cyrus was not a worshipper of God (45:4). But God can use a worldly leader even when he doesn't know God.
God will save the nation through His manipulation of the geopolitical situation, for He is the one who delivers up nations and subdues kings (41:2b). Therefore His people do not need to be afraid, even in the midst of their exile.
God's deliverance by Cyrus has a specific purpose. First, it is to declare to His own people that He is their God, and that He alone is God. (Isaiah 44:6 ESV) Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
Secondly, the restoration of Israel will declare to all the nations that Yahweh is the one true God. There will be a day when the nations will be subservient to Israel and they will say: (Isaiah 45:14 ESV) “Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.”
C. Deliverance from Sin: The Servant of the Lord willingly suffers and dies for the sins of Israel and the entire
world (Chapters 49 to 57).
Isaiah mentions several times throughout chapters 40-55 a person known as the Servant of the Lord. This servant is described in a series of four “Servant Songs”:
- The Call of the Servant (Isaiah 42:1-9) - The Servant will receive the Spirit of the Lord and will bring a new covenant to the whole earth.
- The Commission of the Servant (Isaiah 49:1-13) - The Servant will bring Israel back to the worship of the Lord and will be light to all the nations, that salvation might come to the ends of the earth.
- The Commitment of the Servant (Isaiah 50:4-11) - The Servant will obediently go through suffering. God will vindicate Him and will bring judgment upon those who reject Him.
- The Suffering and Exaltation of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) - The Lord praises His servant because He willingly suffers a death for the sins of Israel and the entire world.
Jesus confirmed that He is Isaiah's “Servant of the Lord,” fulfilling the suffering of the Servant described in the fourth song: For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment (Luke 22:37 ESV).
D. Deliverance to Future Glory: God promises the final deliverance of Israel to future glory during the time of
the Messianic kingdom but Israel needs to humbly trust in the salvation of the Lord (Chapters 58 to 66).
The book's final nine chapters conclude with a description of the final deliverance of Israel to future glory during the time of the Messianic kingdom. The promise of the future kingdom for Israel begins with the gathering of the Jews from all the corners of the earth back to Jerusalem and the Promised Land (60:4). When Israel returns, she will no longer be subservient to the other nations.
This will be a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity for Israel and the entire world. Violence and war will be abolished, because the Messiah will serve as the judge. This time of healing and peace will allow people to live amazingly long lives (65:20).
God's people will be made righteous and they will never again depart from following the LORD (60:21). However, the greatest aspect of Israel's future glory is the LORD himself will dwell physically in Jerusalem.
This description of the coming kingdom brings comfort to God’s people of that age and every age. God does not forsake His people. But to participate in God’s kingdom, Israel needs to humbly trust in the salvation of the LORD.
Theological Reflection and Application
Isaiah encourages trust in God. Ahaz arrogantly does not trust in God. Hezekiah humbly trusts in God. God states in Isaiah 66:2b, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” The New Testament states God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and exhorts Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:5b-6). Testify, “In God we trust!”
We see in Isaiah 6:13 the beginning of the messianic expectations with “the holy seed” being the “stump” of the land. It continues with the promise of the virgin bearing the child called “Immanuel” in 7:14. It is further expanded in Isaiah 9:6-7 with the revelation of the titles and government of the child. It reaches a climax in Isaiah11:1-10 with the announcement that the branch from the stump of Jesse will establish the messianic kingdom. The Messiah is the Servant whose call, commission, commitment, suffering and exaltation are described in the servant songs. The expectation of the messianic kingdom which was first announced in 2:1-4 culminates with the descriptions of the renewed creation and city of God in chapters 65 and 66.