Dr. Thomas L. Constable
Title and writer
The title of this book of the Bible, as is true of the other prophetical books, comes from its writer. The book claims to have come from Isaiah's hand (1:1; 2:1; 7:3; 13:1; 20:2; 37:2, 6, 21; 38:1, 4, 21; 39:3, 5, 8), and Jesus Christ and the apostles quoted him as being the writer at least 21 times, more often than they quoted all the other writing prophets combined.
There are also many more quotations and allusions to Isaiah in the New Testament without reference to Isaiah being the writer. Kenneth Hanna wrote that there are more than 400 quotations from or allusions to the Book of Isaiah in the New Testament. J. A. Alexander noted that 47 of the 66 chapters of Isaiah are either quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, and that the 21 quotations attributed directly to Isaiah were drawn from chapters 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 29, 40, 42, 53, 61, and 65. The only Old Testament book referred to more frequently than Isaiah in the New Testament is Psalms.
The name of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, is the only one connected with the authorship of the book in any of the Hebrew manuscripts or ancient versions. Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote at the end of the first century A.D., believed that Isaiah wrote this book. He said that Cyrus read the prophecies that Isaiah had written about him and wished to fulfill them. Josephus' statement is not necessarily true—it has been shown that Josephus made some historical errors—but his statement does show that Josephus believed that Isaiah wrote this book.
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem, and that capital city features prominently in his prophecies. Isaiah referred to Jerusalem by using more than 30 names. His easy access to the court and Judah's kings, revealed in his book, suggests that he ministered to the kings of Judah and may have had royal blood in his veins. Jewish tradition made him the cousin of King Uzziah. His communication gifts and his political connections, whatever those may have been, gave him an opportunity to reach the whole nation of Judah. The prophet was married and had at least two sons, to whom he gave significant names that summarized major themes of his prophecies (8:18): Shear-jashub ("A Remnant Shall Return," 7:3), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz ("Hastening to the Spoil," 8:3). Hosea's children also received names with prophetic significance.
Isaiah received his call to prophetic ministry in the year that King Uzziah died (740 B.C.; 6:1). He responded enthusiastically to this privilege, even though he knew from the outset that his ministry would prove relatively fruitless and discouraging (6:9-13). His wife was a prophetess (8:3), probably in the sense that she was married to a prophet; we have no record that she prophesied herself. Isaiah also may have trained a group of disciples who gathered around him. His vision of God, which he received at the beginning of his ministry, profoundly influenced Isaiah's whole view of life, as well as his prophecies, as is clear from what he wrote. As Paul's Damascus road vision of God shaped his theology, so Isaiah's vision of God shaped his.
There is no historical record of Isaiah's death. Jewish tradition held that he suffered martyrdom under King Manasseh (697-642 B.C.) because of his prophesying. The early church father Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) wrote that the Jews sawed him to death with a wooden saw (cf. Heb. 11:37). Another ancient source says that he took refuge in a hollow tree, but his persecutors discovered and extracted him. Or he may have been put in a hollow tree trunk and then sawn in half. This may account for the unusual method of his execution.
Isaiah was arguably the greatest of four prophets who lived and wrote toward the end of the eighth century B.C. Amos and Hosea ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at this time, and Micah and Isaiah served in Judah. An easy way to remember these four is to remember the phrase "ah mi" made from the first letters of their names. Jonah also prophesied in Israel in the eighth century (2 Kings 14:25), but the book that bears his name records his ministry to Nineveh.
"Beyond all question, Isaiah was the greatest of all the OT prophets, for his thought and doctrine covered as wide a range of subjects as did the length of his ministry."
"What Beethoven is in the realm of music, what Shakespeare is in the realm of literature, what Spurgeon was among the Victorian preachers, that is Isaiah among the prophets. As a writer he transcends all his prophet compeers; and it is fitting that the matchless contribution from his pen should stand as leader to the seventeen prophetical books."
There is no record that any serious scholar doubted that Isaiah wrote the entire book before the twelfth century A.D., when Ibn Ezra, a Jewish commentator, did so. With the rise of rationalism, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some German scholars took the lead in questioning that Isaiah wrote all 66 chapters. They claimed that the basis for their new view was the differences in style, content, and emphases in the various parts of the prophecy. Many scholars have noted that it is not really the text itself that argues for multiple authorship as much as the presence of predictive prophecy in chapters 40—66, which critics who deny anything supernatural try to explain away.
Many modern rationalistic critics believe the purpose of prophetic literature is simply to call a particular people to faith in God, not to predict the future. However, if the prophets did not predict the future, their theology is questionable. They frequently claimed that the fulfillment of their predictions would validate their theology, and it did. Six times in Isaiah God claimed the ability to predict the future (42:8-9; 44:7-8; 45:1-4, 21; 46:10; 48:3-6). The English word "prophecy" comes from the Greek prophemi, which means "to say before (or beforehand)." Before Samuel, prophets were often called seers, because they could see into the future, with God's help (1 Sam. 9:9). However, the Bible also refers to Abraham, Aaron, Moses, and others as prophets before Samuel's time (Gen. 20:7; Exod. 7:1; Deut. 34:10; et al.).
Priests and Prophets in Israel
Their threefold task
Offer sacrifices for the people
Teach God's Word to the people
Lead them in formal worship
Their threefold task
Receive messages from God
Deliver God's messages to the people
Lead them in heartfelt worship
Teachers of the people
Appealed primarily to the mind
Goal: understanding by the people
Preachers to the people
Appealed primarily to the emotions and will
Goal: obedience by the people
Inherited their ministry
Were called by God to their ministry
Didn't foretell the future
Foretold the future occasionally
Lived in assigned towns ideally
Were very numerous
Were not as numerous
Came from one tribe and family
Came from any tribe or family
Were males only
Were males and females
Later were divided by "courses"
Later lived in "schools"
Were gifts from God to the people
Were gifts from God to the people
kinds of Prophets
Solitary prophets (e.g., Abraham, Moses, Elijah)
Worship leaders (e.g., Miriam, the 70 Israelite elders, Saul, David)
Court prophets (e.g., Nathan, Gad)
Preaching prophets (e.g., Ahijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah)
Writing prophets (e.g., Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea)
Form critics have distinguished three basic types of prophetic oracles or messages from God. These are: oracles of judgment (e.g., most of the Book of Nahum), oracles of repentance (e.g., much of the Book of Jeremiah), and oracles of salvation (e.g., the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants). Someone has said that "prophecy is the mold into which history is poured."
At first, rationalistic critics of the Book of Isaiah hypothesized that the respective emphases on judgment in chapters 1—39 and consolation in chapters 40—66 pointed to two separate writers: Isaiah and "Deutero-Isaiah." With further study, a theory of three writers ("Trito-Isaiah") emerged because of the differences between chapters 40—55 and 56—66. These critics believed that there are addresses to three different audiences in three different historical settings by three different individuals in these three parts of the book: during Isaiah's lifetime (ca. 739-701 B.C.; chs. 1—39), during the Babylonian exile (ca. 605-539 B.C.; chs. 40—55), and during the return from exile (ca. 539-400 B.C.; chs. 56—66). Many modern commentators, including some otherwise conservative scholars, still hold this three-writer hypothesis.
"Along with what is known as the JEDP theory of the origins of the Pentateuch, the belief in the multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah is one of the most generally accepted dogmas of biblical higher criticism today."
One can make a strong case for Isaiah writing chapters 1—39 in preparation for the exile, chapters 40—55 as though he were in exile, and chapters 56—66 as though he were living after the exile. But that does not mean that three different writers wrote these sections.
Here is a chart of how "normative" biblical criticism dates Isaiah and some other Old Testament books:
Pre-exilic (760-586 B.C.)
First Isaiah (chs. 1—35)
Psalms of Zion (Pss. 46, 48, and 87)
Exilic (586-539 B.C.)
Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy—2 Kings)
Second Isaiah (chs. 40—55)
Post-exilic (516—?350 B.C.)
Third Isaiah (chs. 56—66)
Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament that were known were produced in the ninth century A.D. The reason that so few older copies of these Bible books existed is that the Jews normally "retired" old copies of their Scriptures, placed them in a "genizah" (a repository for sacred writings), and eventually burned them. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the so-called St. Mark's [or Monastery] manuscript of Isaiah.
"The St. Mark's manuscript of Isaiah is the only one of the scrolls that contains a whole book of the Bible, and, with the exception of some of the small fragments [of other manuscripts that were discovered], it is the oldest of the manuscripts found in the caves."
Millar Burrows dated this manuscript of Isaiah "from a little before 100 B.C., or possibly a little later." This shows that the Book of Isaiah was at that time a unified document. This does not prove single authorship, but it lends weight to the argument of conservative scholars that one person wrote the entire book.
Internal and external evidence points to the unity of authorship. The title for God, "Holy One of Israel," which reflects the deep impression that Isaiah's vision in chapter 6 made on him, occurs 12 times in chapters 1—39 and 14 times in chapters 40—66, but only seven times elsewhere in the entire Old Testament. Other key phrases, passages, words, themes, and motifs likewise appear in both parts of the book. Jewish tradition uniformly attributed the entire book to Isaiah, as did Christian tradition until the eighteenth century. The St. Mark's manuscript of Isaiah has chapter 40 beginning in the same column in which chapter 39 ends. All the major commentaries and introductions deal with the unity problem.
Historical Background and Date
Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four Judean kings (1:1): Uzziah (792-740 B.C.), Jotham (750-732 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.). The prophet began his ministry in the year that King Uzziah (or Azariah) died, namely, 740 or 739 B.C. (6:1).
During Uzziah's reign, Judah enjoyed peace because of her surrounding nations' lack of antagonism and hostility. However, in 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III mounted the throne of Assyria and began to expand his empire. His three successors (Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, and Sennacherib) proved equally ambitious. Aram (Syria) and Israel (Ephraim) felt the pressure of Assyrian expansion before Judah did, because they were closer to Assyria geographically. But in King Ahaz's reign, Judah had to make a crucial decision regarding her relationship to Assyria. Isaiah played a major role in that decision (ch. 7).
A second major crisis arose during the reign of King Hezekiah. By this time Babylon had defeated Assyria, and it was also expanding aggressively in Judah's direction. Again Isaiah played a major part in the decision about how Judah would respond to this threat (chs. 36—39).
"… Isaiah exercised his prophetic ministry at a time of unique significance, a time in which it was of utmost importance to realize that salvation could not be obtained by reliance upon man but only from God Himself. For Israel it was the central or pivotal point of history between Moses and Christ. The old world was passing and an entirely new order of things was beginning to make its appearance. Where would Israel stand in that new world? Would she be the true theocracy, the light to lighten the Gentiles, or would she fall into the shadow by turning for help to the nations which were about her?"
Sennacherib outlived Hezekiah, who died in 686 B.C., and Isaiah recorded the death of Sennacherib in 681 B.C. (37:38). Just how long the prophet ministered after that event is impossible to determine, but he must have prophesied for at least 60 years. However, the bulk of the material in his book derives from the first 50 of those years (ca. 740-690 B.C.).
Isaiah had a very broad appreciation of the political situation in which he lived. He demonstrated awareness of all the nations around his homeland. Judah and Jerusalem were the focal points of his prophecies, but he saw God's will for them down the corridors of time, as well as in his own day. He saw that the kingdom that God would establish through His future Messiah would include all people. He was a true patriot who denounced evils in his land, as well as giving credit where that was due. He condemned religious cults yet remained neutral politically.
Important Dates for Isaiah
Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria begins his reign
Uzziah of Judah dies; Isaiah begins his ministry
Ahaz of Judah begins his co-regency with Jotham; Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Aram ally against Assyria
Tiglath-pileser invades Aram and Israel
Damascus falls; Pekah and Rezin die; Jotham dies
Samaria falls; Shalmaneser V of Assyria dies and Sargon II begins to reign
Ahaz dies and Hezekiah begins his reign
Sargon attacks Ashdod and returns to Assyria
Sargon attacks Babylon
Sennacherib of Assyria defeats Egypt at Eltekah and departs from Jerusalem; Merodach-baladan of Babylon sends messengers to visit Hezekiah
Manasseh of Judah begins his co-regency
Tirhakah of Egypt begins his reign
Sennacherib of Assyria defeats Babylon
Sennacherib of Assyria dies and Esarhaddon begins to reign
Esarhaddon imports foreigners into Israel and defeats Egypt
Nineveh falls to Babylon
Nabopolassar of Babylon defeats Assyria and Assyria falls
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeats Egypt at Carchemish; first deportation of Judahites to Babylon
Second deportation of Judahites to Babylon
Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar
Cyrus II of Persia begins to reign
Cyrus overthrows Babylon
Cyrus issues his decree allowing Jews to return to Palestine
Darius Hystaspes of Persia destroys Babylon
Audience and purpose
Isaiah ministered and wrote to the people of Jerusalem and Judah (1:1). His task was to explain to these Chosen People that the old world order was passing away and that the new order—controlled by Gentile world empires that sought to swallow Judah up—required a new commitment for Israel to trust and obey Yahweh as His "servant" nation. The Assyrian threat called for this new dedication. This was a theological—even more than a historical and political—crisis for Judah. It raised many questions that Isaiah addressed.
"Is God truly the Sovereign of history if the godless nations are stronger than God's nation? Does might make right? What is the role of God's people in the world? Does divine judgment mean divine rejection? What is the nature of trust? What is the future of the Davidic monarchy? Are not the idols stronger than God and therefore superior to him?"
The far-reaching nature of these questions called for reference to the future, which Isaiah revealed from the LORD (Yahweh). The Northern Kingdom had made the wrong commitment, but the Southern Kingdom still had an opportunity to trust Yahweh and live.
"Stated briefly, the purpose of Isaiah is to display God's glory and holiness through His judgment of sin and His deliverance and blessing of a righteous remnant."
Isaiah's understanding of theology was profound. He set forth the wonder and grandeur of Yahweh more ably than any other biblical writer. As a writer, Isaiah is without a peer among the Old Testament prophets. He was a poetic artist who employed a large vocabulary and many literary devices to express his thoughts beautifully and powerfully. Most of his prophecies appear to have been messages that he delivered, so he was probably also a powerful orator.
The Book of Isaiah (1,292 verses), the fourth longest book in the Bible—after Psalms (2,461 verses), Genesis (1,533 verses), and Jeremiah (1,364 verses)—deals with as broad a range of theology as any book in the Old Testament. In this respect it is similar to Romans. However, there are four primary doctrines, all arising out of the prophet's personal experience with God in his call (ch. 6) that receive the most emphasis. These are: God, man and the world, sin, and redemption.
Isaiah presented God as great, transcendently separate, authoritative, omnipotent, majestic, holy, and morally and ethically perfect. In contrast, he described sarcastically the stupidity of idolatry. God creates history as well as the cosmos, and He has a special relationship with Israel among the nations. The adjective "holy" (Heb. qadosh) describes God 33 times in Isaiah, but only 26 times in the rest of the Old Testament. Holiness is the primary attribute of God that this prophet stressed.
Isaiah showed the tremendous value that God places on humanity and the world, but also the folly of pride and unbelief. Assuming pretensions to significance leads to insignificance for the creature, but giving true significance to the Creator results in glory for humanity and the world. As all the other eighth-century prophets, Isaiah condemned injustice.
Sin is rebellion, for Isaiah, that springs from pride. The book begins and ends on this note (1:2; 66:24). All the evil in the world results from man's refusal to accept Yahweh's Lordship. The prophet repeatedly showed how foolish such rebellion is. It not only affects man himself but also his environment. God's response to sin is judgment, if people continue to rebel against Him, but He responds with redemption if they abandon self-trust and depend on Him. Sin calls for repentance, and forgiveness for the penitent is available.
God's judgment, the outworking of the personal rage of offended deity, takes many forms: natural disaster, military defeat, and disease being a few, but they all come from God's hand ultimately. The means of salvation can only be through God's activity. Substitutionary atonement makes possible God's announcement of pardon and redemption. This redemption comes through the promised Messiah ultimately, the LORD's anointed King. The goal of redemption is not just deliverance from sin's guilt but the sharing of God's character and fellowship. Salvation could only come to God's people as they accepted the role of servant. Deliverance cannot come to man through his own effort, but he must look to God alone for it. His emphasis on salvation has earned Isaiah the title of "evangelist of the Old Testament." One writer called the fifty-third chapter "the fifth Gospel." Isaiah's name, "The LORD (Yahweh) is salvation," meaning the LORD is the source of salvation, summarizes his message.
"… in that one name is compressed the whole contents of the book!"
Isaiah is also strongly eschatological (the study of end times events). In many passages the prophet dealt with the future destiny of Israel and the Gentiles. He wrote more than any other prophet of the great kingdom into which the Israelites would enter under Messiah's rule.
"We stand precisely on 56:1, looking back to the work of the Servant (now fulfilled in the person, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) and looking forward to the coming of the Anointed Conqueror."
Isaiah's emphasis on the coming Messiah (God's anointed Savior) is second only to the Psalms in the Old Testament in terms of its fullness and variety. God revealed more about the coming Messiah to Isaiah than He did to any other Old Testament character. Messianic themes in Isaiah include: the branch, the stone (refuge), light, child, king, and especially servant. In some of the passages in Isaiah, Israel is the servant of the LORD that is in view, in others he is Cyrus, in others the faithful remnant in Israel is the servant, and in still others a future individual, the Messiah, is in view. As Matthew clarified, Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of what God intended the Israelites to be (Matt. 2:15; cf. Hos. 11:1-2).
"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Isaiah for the Christology of the church."
"What is the overarching theme of OT theology? Perhaps it is the covenant. Here in Isaiah, God's special relationship with Israel is presupposed throughout. Perhaps it is the kingdom of God. The whole structure of the book brings out the implications of God's sovereign control of things in the interests of his kingdom. Perhaps it is promise and fulfillment. Here we see time and again the word of divine authority being fulfilled and further fulfillment thereby pledged. Perhaps it is simply God himself, Israel's Holy One. This book is one long exposition of the implications—for Israel and the world—of who and what he is. So this great prophecy—its whole structure unified by its teaching about the Holy One of Israel, who is true to his word, faithful to his covenant, and pursues the establishment of his kingdom—is a classic disclosure of the very heart of the OT faith."
"The theological message of the book may be summarized as follows: The Lord will fulfill His ideal for Israel by purifying His people through judgment and then restoring them to a renewed covenantal relationship. He will establish Jerusalem (Zion) as the center of His worldwide kingdom and reconcile once hostile nations to Himself."
In a larger sense, all of the prophets in Israel had as their basic message the two commandments that Jesus said were the greatest of all: to love God wholeheartedly, and to love ones neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:38-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).
"… each generation throughout the First Commonwealth of Israel (c. 1050-586 B.C.) was warned about their relationship Godward and then about their relationship manward. Although the former always had priority in the prophets' preaching, the latter often received the most extended analysis and denunciation."
Genre and interpretation
This book is a compilation of the revelations that Isaiah received from the LORD (Yahweh). He presented this revelation as messages and compiled them into their present form. His disciples may have put finishing touches on the collection under divine guidance.
Most of the book is poetic in form, the prophet having been lifted up in his spirit as he beheld and recorded what God revealed to him. Much of the content is eschatological and therefore prophetic, though most of the ministry of the prophets, including Isaiah, was forth-telling rather than foretelling. Some of what is eschatological is also apocalyptic, dealing with the final consummative climax of history in the future. These portions bear the marks of that type of literature: symbols, analogies, and various figures of speech. Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation also contain apocalyptic writing.
In his commentary on Isaiah 1—39, Marvin Sweeney included a glossary of 107 genres that form critics have identified in the Old Testament prophetical books, plus 17 speech formulas. Reputable scholars, however, do not always agree with one another on the genre of a particular pericope (section of text). Sweeney's introduction to the prophetical literature of the Old Testament, from a form critical perspective, is helpful though technical.
Students of Isaiah have difficulty understanding the eschatological portions of the book. Some believe that we should look for a literal fulfillment of everything predicted. Others believe that when Isaiah spoke of Israel and Jerusalem he was referring to the church (i.e., all believers throughout history).
"When the Christian Church had grown conscious of possessing a life of its own, it began to interpret the Old Testament in the form of types and allegories. The result was to deny the book to the Jews and to claim it as the text-book of the Church. Christians, as the spiritual Israel, recognized only one method of interpretation, which they called spiritual, but which was, in fact, allegorical. This method of interpretation really transformed the sacred book. It began with the prophecies of Christ and the Church, and then tried to wring secrets from the text by the free play of ideas. The literal understanding of the Old Testament was set aside and branded as Jewish error."
More literal interpretation results in a premillennial (Christ will return to earth and then set up a 1,000 rule on the earth) understanding of prophecy, whereas spiritualization (less literal) results in an amillennial (there will be no earthly rule of Christ on the earth in the future) or postmillennial (the present age is Christ's predicted rule and His return to the earth will follow) understanding.
The problem with taking every prophecy literally is that in many places the prophet used metaphors and other figures of speech to describe his meaning; what he wrote does not describe exactly what he meant. The problem with spiritualizing all the prophecies, the other extreme, is that it requires reinterpreting the identity of "Israel" as "all the people of God." The New Testament teaches that Israel will have a future in God's plans—as Israel (Rom. 11:26-27). The church, which began on the day of Pentecost, will not replace Israel, though the church does participate in some of the blessing promised to Israel. The most satisfying position, for me, is to interpret Isaiah as literally as seems legitimate in view of other divine revelation, while at the same time remembering that some of what appears to be literal description, may in fact be metaphorical. This is the approach taken by most premillennialists.
"The fundamental principle of interpretation of all writings, sacred or profane, is that words are to be understood in their historical sense; that is, in the sense in which it can be historically proved that they were used by their authors and intended to be understood by those to whom they were addressed. The object of language is the communication of thought. Unless words are taken in the sense in which those who employ them know they will be understood, they fail of their design. The sacred writings being the words of God to man, we are bound to take them in the sense in which those to whom they were originally addressed must inevitably have taken them."
"Surely God may be expected to have one basic meaning in what he says. This is true, but just as human speech, especially when it is poetical, may suggest further levels of significance beyond the meaning conveyed by the passage in its context, so may the Word of God."
Occasional time references scattered throughout the book indicate that Isaiah arranged his prophecies in a basically chronological order (cf. 6:1; 7:1; 14:28; 20:1; 36:1; 37:38). However, they are not completely chronological. More fundamentally, Isaiah arranged his prophecies as an anthology in harmony with a unifying principle. That organizing principle seems to be that God's people should view all of life in the light of God's reality, and should therefore orient themselves to Him appropriately, namely, as His servants.
Isaiah built a huge mosaic out of his prophecies and used pre-exilic material to serve pre-exilic, exilic, post-exilic, and eschatological ends. It is not unreasonable to assume that after Isaiah had completed what we now have in chapters 1—39, he received new revelations from God along a different line, which led him to adopt the somewhat different style that is characteristic of the last part of the book. The first part (chs. 1—35) deals primarily with the threat of Assyria and the second (chs. 40—66) with that of Babylonia, with chapters 36—39 forming a transition. Chapters 1—5 are an introduction to the whole collection of messages. Chapters 6 and 53 are the key chapters because they provide the most concise answers to the great questions raised in the book. The book contains many extended doublets: repetition of the same truth in the same consecutive steps.
"The Book of Isaiah can be called 'a Bible in miniature.' There are sixty-six chapters in Isaiah and sixty-six books in the Bible. The thirty-nine chapters of the first part of Isaiah may be compared to the Old Testament with its thirty-nine books, and both focus primarily on God's judgment of sin. The twenty-seven chapters of the second part may be seen to parallel the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and both emphasize the grace of God."
Similarities between Isaiah and the Whole Bible
Two sections: chapters 1—39 and 40—66
Two Testaments: 39 OT books and 27 NT books
Emphasis in chapters 1—39 on God's righteousness, holiness, and justice
Emphasis in the 39 OT books on God's righteousness, holiness, and justice
Emphasis in chapters 40—66 on God's glory, compassion, and grace
Emphasis in the 27 NT books on God's glory, compassion, and grace
Chapters 1—39 emphasize Israel's need for restoration.
The OT emphasizes humanity's need for salvation.
Chapters 40—66 predict God's future provision of salvation in the Servant.
The NT describes God's provision of salvation in the Messiah.
Isaiah begins with a description of Israel's rebellion and ends with predictions of restoration.
The Bible begins with a description of humanity's rebellion and ends with a depiction of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Message: A holy God will gain glory by judging sin and restoring His people.
Message: A holy God will gain glory by judging sin and saving those who call on the name of His Son Jesus.
I. Introduction chs. 1—5
A. Israel's condition and God's solution ch. 1
1. The title of the book 1:1
2. Israel's condition 1:2-9
3. God's solution 1:10-20
4. Israel's response 1:21-31
B. The problem with Israel chs. 2—4
1. God's desire for Israel 2:1-4
2. God's discipline of Israel 2:5—4:1
3. God's determination for Israel 4:2-6
C. The analogy of wild grapes ch. 5
1. The song of the vineyard 5:1-7
2. The wildness of the grapes 5:8-25
3. The coming destruction 5:26-30
II. Isaiah's vision of God ch. 6
A. The prophet's cleansing 6:1-8
B. The prophet's commission 6:9-13
III. Israel's crisis of faith chs. 7—39
A. The choice between trusting God or Assyria chs. 7—12
1. Signs of God's presence 7:1—9:7
2. Measurement by God's standards 9:8—10:4
3. Hope of God's deliverance 10:5—11:16
4. Trust in God's favor ch. 12
B. God's sovereignty over the nations chs. 13—35
1. Divine judgments on the nations chs. 13—23
2. Divine victory over the nations chs. 24—27
3. The folly of trusting the nations chs. 28—33
4. The consequences of Israel's trust chs. 34—35
C. Tests of Israel's trust chs. 36—39
1. The Assyrian threat chs. 36—37
2. The Babylonian threat chs. 38—39
IV. Israel's calling in the world chs. 40—55
A. God's grace to Israel chs. 40—48
1. The LORD of the servant ch. 40
2. The servants of the LORD chs. 41:1—44:22
3. The LORD's redemption of His servant chs. 44:23—47:15
4. The servant's attention to her LORD ch. 48
B. God's atonement for Israel chs. 49—55
1. Anticipation of salvation 49:1—52:12
2. Announcement of salvation 52:13—53:12
3. Invitation to salvation chs. 54—55
V. Israel's future transformation chs. 56—66
A. Recognition of human inability chs. 56—59
1. The need for humility and holiness chs. 56—57
2. The relationship of righteousness and ritual chs. 58—59
B. Revelation of future glory chs. 60—62
1. Israel among the nations ch. 60
2. Israel under the LORD chs. 61—62
C. Recognition of divine ability chs. 63—66
1. God's faithfulness in spite of Israel's unfaithfulness 63:1—65:16
2. The culmination of Israel's future 65:17—66:24
Another way of outlining the book is according to the groups of people to whom Isaiah apparently delivered his prophecies.
I. Prophecies to the people of Isaiah's day (pre-exilic Israelites) chs. 1—39
II. Prophecies to the captives in Babylon (exilic Israelites) chs. 40—55
III. Prophecies to the restoration community (post-exilic Israelites) chs. 56—66
In contrast to the New Testament prophets, Isaiah had very little to say about an individual's relationship with God. His concern was more the relationship of God's people as a whole to the LORD, specifically: the nation of Israel's relationship to God. This is true of most of the Old Testament writing prophets. Isaiah focused on Israel's past, her present, her near future, and her distant future. He also gave considerable attention to the fate of the Gentile nations.
In the first section of the book (chs. 1—39), Isaiah insists that judgment is necessary before there can be peace. He was dealing with judgment here and now, repentance, and divine intervention. In the last section of the book (chs. 40—66), Isaiah stressed the importance of righteousness before there can be peace: righteousness here and now before there can be peace on earth in the future.
The great value of Isaiah is its revelation of the throne of God. This book clarifies the principles by which God rules the universe. In chapter 6, Isaiah saw the LORD sitting on His throne. This vision of God impacted the rest of Isaiah's ministry and the rest of his book. In chapter 53, the prophet revealed the Servant of the LORD, in whom and through whom God reigns. Isaiah balanced the transcendence of God with the immanence of God. These great revelations of Isaiah come together in the Book of Revelation 5:6: "And I saw between the throne … and the elders a Lamb standing." God reigns through people, especially one crucial person. Isaiah had much to say about the coming Messiah throughout this book. One writer identified 22 prophecies in Isaiah as Messianic.
Isaiah lived the early part of his life during the reign of King Uzziah. Uzziah was a good king, and he provided stability for the kingdom of Judah. But when Uzziah died, everyone had questions about the direction Judah would go. It was "in the year of King Uzziah's death" that Isaiah saw his vision of God's throne in heaven (6:1). He realized in a deeper way than ever before that the true king of Judah was Yahweh, and that Yahweh was still firmly on His throne.
There are two things that mark God's throne: government and grace. Isaiah's contemporaries needed a deeper appreciation of God's government and His grace, and so do all the readers of this book. When Isaiah spoke of God's government and His grace, the Israelites mocked him for presenting such a simple message (28:13). God told His prophet to expect rejection (6:9-10), and that proved to be Israel's characteristic response to Isaiah's ministry. We also need a reminder of the basic principles of God's government and His grace. It is not because they are unknown to us, but because people do not apply these truths that they are so needful today.
"Of all the O.T. prophets, Isaiah is the most comprehensive in range. No prophet is more fully occupied with the redemptive work of Christ. In no other place, in the Scriptures written under the law, is there so clear a view of grace."
Let us consider, first, what Isaiah revealed about the government of God.
There are three principles by which God governs, according to Isaiah's emphases. These are holiness, righteousness, and justice. Holiness is the inspiration, righteousness the activity, and justice the result of God's government.
The most outstanding characteristic of God that this book reveals is His holiness. The title "the Holy One of Israel" was Isaiah's hallmark title of God. The angelic beings that Isaiah saw assembled around God's heavenly throne ascribed perfect holiness to Him: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of armies" (6:3). The holiness of God describes His "otherliness" from all His creation. God is different in His essence; He is spirit, whereas the creation is material. He is also different in His morality; He is absolutely upright, in contrast to the creation that has suffered from the Fall and its pollution by sin. All of God's government, how He governs, derives from His holiness.
Because God is holy, He always does what is right. Conduct issues from and reflects character. Because God is holy in His character, He conducts Himself in righteousness. There is a strong emphasis on righteousness in Isaiah—both God's righteousness, and the need for human righteousness. Righteousness is correct character and conduct. Isaiah's emphasis on righteousness is one of the reasons his book has been called: the Romans of the Old Testament.
The result of righteous conduct is justice. God deals with His own people, and all other people, in justice. He will do what is fair, what is straight, and what is proper. Because God is just, sin inevitably brings punishment. Much of this prophecy is designed to help the people of God know how to avoid sin and its punishment, and how to manage sin and its punishment. Justice, both in interpersonal and in international affairs, is an important motif in Isaiah.
Whereas the principles of God's government are holiness, righteousness, and justice, the methods by which He governs are revelation, explanation, and prediction.
According to Isaiah, the outstanding characteristic of God that distinguishes Him from all false gods (idols) is that He has revealed Himself; He has spoken. Isaiah referred to three primary revelations of God to humankind: general revelation, special revelation, and incarnate revelation. God has built a revelation of Himself into His creation so that everyone can see that a true God does exist (cf. Rom. 1). Second, He revealed His will as well as His existence. The revelation of His will came to the Israelites through what God taught them, His Torah (instruction). Third, God revealed Himself through a person: the Messiah, the Servant of the LORD, the Divine Warrior. The revelation of how God would deal with the sin problem came through this person. Isaiah reveals that God would deliver Israel from destruction, from captivity, and from sin. He would make her, in the future, the servant of His that He always intended her to be, but which she failed to become because of her sin.
God went beyond just giving revelations, however. He also provided explanations. This was one of the major ministries of the prophets in general, and of Isaiah in particular. God explained through Isaiah why the Israelites and their neighbor nations were experiencing what they were going through—so they could learn from their past, walk in His ways in the present, and enjoy His blessings in the future.
Not only did God explain the past, but He also predicted the future. He did this to prove that He is the only true God. In order to predict the future accurately, one must be able to control the future. Yahweh is the only true God who can create history in time, as well as creating the material world in space. His ability to predict the future is the great testimony to His unique sovereignty.
The characteristics of God's government as revealed in Isaiah are also three: patience, persistence, and power.
God deals with people patiently. He allows them the opportunity to repent and return to Himself. God had been very patient with Judah, but the day of His patience would end, so she needed to repent while there was still opportunity. The day of salvation would not last forever.
Second, God deals with people persistently. He does not disregard people's sin after a time, but He always deals with it righteously. Likewise, He persists in blessing those who faithfully follow Him, even though they live among a nation of apostates.
Third, God ever demonstrates His supernatural power. What is natural does not limit Him. He can and does intervene in history to provide power that overcomes His sinful people and holds them in captivity. The expectation of more exoduses is strong throughout this book. Isaiah's audience looked ahead to captivity in Babylon, but beyond that there was the promise of liberation from captivity, and beyond that there was the promise of liberation from sin.
Parallel to these emphases on the government of God is an equally strong emphasis on the grace of God in Isaiah.
Along with the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God, we have an equally strong emphasis on the love, mercy, and goodness of God. Isaiah wrote that God's children had rebelled against Him. His "wife" had been unfaithful to Him. The breaking heart of God is as clear a revelation in Isaiah as are the broken commandments of God.
Similarly, God's revelations, His explanations, and His predictions arise out of His mercy. God has revealed Himself in nature so that everyone can enter into relationship with a gracious God. He has explained Himself so His people can understand His dealings with them as being gracious. He has predicted the future so that everyone will appreciate that His plans for humanity are gracious plans involving redemption from captivity and sin.
God's grace is the reason that He is patient with people. His grace is the inspiration for His persistence with people. And His grace is the passion of His power on behalf of people.
The timeless message of this book is that acknowledgment of God's sovereign rule is the key to successful human life on every level: individually, nationally, and historically. The only hope for the human failure caused by enslavement to sin is divine redemption that a God of grace provides. God is not only able but also willing to save.
To enjoy the benefits of God's grace, people must submit to His government. To submit to His government, they must receive the benefits of His grace. Israel failed to enjoy the benefits of God's grace because she failed to submit to His rule. She failed to submit to His rule because she failed to appreciate His grace. God brings us into right relationship with His government through His grace. In order to enjoy the benefits of His grace, we must submit to His government. Both government and grace find their source in Yahweh and their ultimate expression in Jesus Christ.
I. introduction chs. 1—5
The relationship of chapters 1—5 to Isaiah's call in chapter 6 is problematic. Do the first five chapters describe the prophet's ministry before he received his call—is the order chronological—or do they constitute an introduction to the anthology of prophecies that follow Isaiah's call—is the order literary? The commentators take both views. My preference is to view these prophecies not necessarily as the first ones Isaiah delivered in his ministry but as those he placed here to form an introduction to his whole book. They present in a succinct way the problems that the rest of the book deals with. They are typical of many of Isaiah's succeeding prophecies and set forth his major emphases. Isaiah's call (ch. 6) is the most concise statement of the solution to the Israelites' problem, and the chapters after that one spell it out in more detail. Probably Isaiah, or whoever arranged these prophecies in their final form, put these prophecies here to set before the reader the situation facing Israel that Isaiah addressed in the rest of the book.
A. Israel's condition and God's solution ch. 1
As chapters 1—5 introduce the whole book, so chapter 1 introduces the rest of the introduction to the book (chs. 2—5). It presents the situation in Judah in the second half of the eighth century B.C. and reveals God's will for His people. This chapter summarizes all of Isaiah's characteristic and essential teachings. Judgment from the LORD had to come on the people of Judah because they had sinned against Him. This judgment would purify and perfect them because God had a future for them.
"The design of this chapter is to show the connection between the sins and sufferings of God's people, and the necessity of further judgments, as means of purification and deliverance."
God's indictment of His people is similar to a covenant lawsuit (i.e., a rib oracle). Rib oracles are quite common in announcements of judgment.
"True prophets are like good doctors: They diagnose the case, prescribe a remedy, and warn the patient what will happen if the prescription is ignored."
The prophetical books of the Old Testament are mainly collections of sermons or oracles—preached messages from God. As mentioned previously, form critics have distinguished three basic types of oracles in the prophets: oracles announcing judgment, oracles appealing for repentance, and oracles predicting salvation.
"… the prophets were proclaimers of righteousness who preached both law and promise to motivate the people to repentance and a life of obedience in the will and plan of God."
1. The title of the book 1:1
This book claims Isaiah as its author. His name, meaning "The LORD Saves," summarizes the revelation of the book, namely, that it is Yahweh who saves. Obadiah was the only other writing prophet who described his book as a vision. This unusual title stresses that what Isaiah wrote reflects reality accurately; he saw it. The word vision does not mean that everything that Isaiah wrote is what he saw in one or more visions. Though unstated, this vision (the prophecies that constitute this book) came from God. According to Jewish tradition Isaiah's father, Amoz (not the prophet Amos) was the brother of King Amaziah, Uzziah's father, which would have made Isaiah King Uzziah's cousin. Isaiah ministered in and to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, but he saw them as the real Israel, since they lived under the Davidic kings, in contrast to the residents of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The four kings of Judah mentioned ruled from 792-686 B.C.
2. Israel's condition 1:2-9
Israel was guilty of forsaking her God and, as a result, she had become broken and desolate.
1:2-3 Yahweh Himself charged the Israelites with their sin. He called the heavens and earth to witness His indictment against His people (cf. Deut. 30:19; 32:1). His people had not only violated His covenant but common decency and good sense as well. Isaiah's references to the Mosaic Covenant were less explicit than Jeremiah's were, though both men viewed the covenant as the basis of Israelite life.
It was unthinkable that children should revolt against a loving father who nurtured them. Even stupid oxen and donkeys know their master, but the Israelites did not realize who cared for them. The Israelites made animals look intelligent.
1:4-9 The prophet amplified God's charge and proved it by referring to Israel's condition. He lamented that Israel's state was the logical outcome of her behavior.
"The interjection 'ah' [or "Oh," v. 4] (the Hebrew word [hoy] is sometimes translated 'woe') was a cry of mourning heard at funerals (see 1 Kings 13:30; Jer. 22:18-19; Amos 5:16). When Isaiah's audience heard this word, images of death must have appeared in their minds."
God's people had forsaken the Holy One of Israel: "the transcendent God, who is wholly separate from the frailty and finiteness of Creation (his majesty-holiness), and wholly separate from the sinfulness and defilement of man (his purity-holiness)." Israel was consequently experiencing the destructive results of her sin in national disease and in political and social catastrophes (vv. 5-6; cf. 53:4-10; Deut. 27—30). It was customary in Isaiah's day for people to squeeze the puss out of a wound, to pull a cut together with a bandage, and to pour olive oil on sores to aid healing.
Isaiah moved from describing Israel as a sick and injured body to a desolate, conquered land (vv. 7-9; cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 28—29). The description "daughter of Zion" (v. 8) emphasizes that God feels about His wayward people like a father feels about his daughter. He loves her, has committed himself to protecting her, and takes pains to guard her from all evil and danger.
Many Israelite families lived in villages but built little shelters in their fields and camped there during the harvest season. After the harvest these little shacks looked pitiful, abandoned, useless, and deteriorating. Unless the LORD of armies had preserved a few faithful in Judah, like He preserved Lot and his family, He would have destroyed the nation like He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 10; cf. Gen. 19; Rom. 9:29).
All the writing prophets except Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah used the title "LORD of armies" (v. 9) to stress that Yahweh has numberless assistants who are ready and able to carry out His bidding (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-18). This is also the first reference in Isaiah to the remnant: the faithful few in Israel who formed a distinct group within the apostate nation. This remnant (lit. "survivors," v. 9) constitutes a significant group and motif in the book.
3. God's solution 1:10-20
The prophet laid out two alternatives for the people to choose between in relating to the LORD in their pitiful condition. They could continue to rely on religious ritual to manipulate God (vv. 10-15), or they could change their ways and live morally and ethically pure lives (vv. 16-17). The choice was theirs (vv. 18-20).
Ritual contrasted with reality 1:10-17
1:10 Even though God had not yet destroyed Jerusalem as He had Sodom and Gomorrah, the city was like those corrupt towns in that the people and their rulers had turned from God's holy standard.
"'Sodom' and 'Gomorrah' were regarded as the epitome of sinfulness; to say that Jerusalem had become like those cities was a scathing condemnation (Rev. 11:8)."
The people needed to heed the instruction (Heb. torah) of their God.
1:11-15 The Israelites tended to fall into a pattern of thinking that religious ritual and their pagan neighbors' worship encouraged. They thought that going through the motions of worshipping God, exactly as He specified, satisfied Him. They forgot that God intended their ceremonies to be symbolic of their attitude toward Him. Their attitude to Him was more important than their flawless performance of worship rituals. Even their prayers would be ineffective if their attitude to God was not right (v. 15).
"Even doing that which God has commanded becomes wrong when the heart is not in it and when it does not affect the believer's conduct."
"God always looks at the heart of His worshipers."
We have the same problem today. This passage repeats descriptions of the Israelites' worship so often that the reader gets tired of them, just as God did. Hands full of bloodshed (v. 15) is a figure of guilt for abusing others.
1:16-17 Having shown what God does not want, Isaiah now told the people what He does want (cf. 66:1-4, 17). His demands are short and simple in contrast to the elaborate rituals described above (cf. Deut. 10:12-13; Mic. 6:8). Three negative commands relate to the past and five positive ones to the future. Washing (v. 16) is symbolic of repenting (cf. Acts 2:38; 13:24; Titus 3:5).
"The passage clearly reveals a concern over the social injustices of the time. Such social injustices, however, could only be corrected by a change of heart upon the part of individuals."
The wisdom of obeying God 1:18-20
The LORD now challenged Israel to a formal trial. In the light of Israel's condition (vv. 2-17), there was only one reasonable course of action. The Israelites could continue as they were and be destroyed, or they could submit to God's will and be blessed. If they were disposed to consent and obey, God would again bless them with fertility (cf. v. 3). If they decided to refuse and rebel, He would allow their enemies to defeat and destroy them. Behavioral change, the fruit of repentance, needed to demonstrate an attitude of repentance. It always does.
4. Israel's response 1:21-31
While God's invitation to repent was genuine (vv. 16-20), the nation had so thoroughly departed from Him that repentance was not forthcoming and discipline was inevitable. The prophet bemoaned the depth of Israel's apostasy (departure from Him) and announced that the LORD would have to purify His people in the furnace of affliction before they would become what He intended them to be. The structural form of verses 21-26 is palistrophic, with verses 23 and 24 forming the center and focal point of the chiasmus.
The depth of Judah's apostasy 1:21-23
Spiritual rot had penetrated even the capital city of Israel, and what marked Jerusalem characterized the whole nation. The people, seen in the personification of their capital, who had formerly been devoted to the LORD, had become unfaithful to Him by pursuing other gods. Former glories were now tarnished, and what was once strong was now weak. The leaders of the nation, who formerly had been pure and valuable, were now adulterated and cheap. Rather than serving the people, they served themselves. Idolatry had led to social injustice, as it always does unless checked.
The announcement of judgment 1:24-26
Isaiah's unusual three-fold description of God as the sovereign Lord Yahweh ("God") of armies, who is the Mighty One of Israel, boded ill for Judah. Isaiah crowded together more names of God in verse 24 than he did anywhere else (cf. 3:1, 15; 10:6, 33; 19:4). The specter of Yahweh arising to judge His people for their sins just mentioned is a fearful prospect (cf. Heb. 12:29). God judges sin wherever He finds it, among pagans and among His own people.
"Any facile statement that God always hates the sin but loves the sinner needs to be countered by Isaiah's insistence that those who transgress are my foes and my enemies."
God would subject His people to fires of adversity, but only to purify them, not destroy them. Just rulers would emerge and the city would once again enjoy a reputation for righteousness and faithfulness to God. This is the first allusion in Isaiah to a coming Judge who will establish justice and create righteous conditions, about whom the prophet revealed much more later. The restoration described here will find fulfillment in the millennial (1,000-year) reign of Christ on the earth.
The fate of the wicked 1:27-31
Even though Zion (a poetic synonym for Jerusalem) will experience redemption by God's justice and righteousness (vv. 25-26), the LORD will destroy individuals who continue in their sins and do not repent. This is the first occurrence of "redeemed" as well as "Zion" in Isaiah, both of which received considerable attention from this prophet. The Israelites had turned to objects of idolatry ("oaks") and places of idolatry ("gardens," v. 29), and in doing so had forsaken the LORD. God had chosen Israel, but Israel had chosen a tree! It is impossible to turn from the true God and not turn to an idol. God's people would feel betrayed because of their choice one day (cf. 29:3; 45:7; Ps. 34:5; 119:6). Those who consider themselves strong and self-sufficient, like oaks and gardens, but rely on the creation rather than the Creator to sustain them—will wither and dry up (v. 30). Both they and their works will inevitably burn in the fires of God's judgment, like felled trees.
B. The problem with Israel chs. 2—4
This second major segment of the introduction to the book (chs. 1—5) contrasts what God intended Israel to be (2:1-5), with what she was (2:6—4:1), and what God will make of her in the future (4:2-6). Thus the progress of thought is from the ideal to the real and back to the ideal.
1. God's desire for Israel 2:1-4
2:1a The presence of another superscription to the following prophecies (cf. 1:1), the only other one in Isaiah, bears witness to the composite nature of the book; it consists of several different prophecies. Probably one appears here to set off the prophecies that follow (in chs. 2—4 or chs. 2—5) from what preceded (in ch. 1).
2:1b-4 The glorious future of Israel presented here is in striking contrast to the condition of the nation in Isaiah's day described in chapter 1. An almost identical prophecy appears in Mic. 4:1-3 (cf. Pss. 2 and 46). Perhaps Isaiah quoted Micah here, or Micah quoted Isaiah, or both of them quoted another prophet. In any case, both prophets received their messages from the Holy Spirit.
"The last days" is a phrase that describes a distant time from the perspective of the prophet. The Hebrews regarded history as a series of days, the days of their lives. The title of the Book of Chronicles (1 and 2 Chronicles) means literally "the words of the days." When these days come to an end, in their last part, human history on this earth will end. New Testament Christians applied this term to the time following Messiah's coming (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:5, 20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 2:18). Here, it must mean after His second coming, since these conditions did not follow His first coming.
"The expression 'the last days' (acharith hayyamim, 'the end of the days'), which does not occur anywhere else in Isaiah, is always used in an eschatological sense. It never refers to the course of history immediately following the time being, but invariably indicates the furthest point in the history of this life—the point which lies on the outermost limits of the speaker's horizon."
The term "mountain" (v. 2) is sometimes a symbol of a kingdom, nation, authority, or rule elsewhere in the prophetic writings (e.g., Dan. 2:35, 44-45; Amos 4:1; Rev. 17:9-11). The ancients also regarded mountains as the homes of the gods. If Isaiah was using "mountain" as a figure of speech, he meant that Israel and her God would be the most highly exalted in the earth eventually. This will be the case during Messiah's earthly reign.
The reference to "the mountain of the house of the LORD" (v. 2), however, may indicate that the prophet had a more literal meaning in mind. He may have meant that the actual mountain on which the temple stood would be thrust higher in elevation. This may happen (cf. Ezek. 40:2; Zech. 14:4, 10), but the primary meaning seems to be that Israel and Yahweh will be exalted in the world. There is no basis for equating "the mountain of the house of the LORD" with Christianity, as some interpreters do.
"The analogy of streams [v. 2] is particularly apt, because the major traditional oppressors of Israel were associated with great rivers—the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates (cf. 8:6-8)."
Israel's God would be recognized as the God, and she would be seen as the nation among nations. Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites made pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times a year, but in the future the entire world will go there. In that day, Yahweh's instruction will go forth from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (v. 3).
"If the curse foretold against Israel has been literally fulfilled, so shall the promised blessing be literal. We Gentiles must not, while giving them the curse, deny them their peculiar blessing by spiritualizing it."
Jerusalem will be Messiah's capital city at this time. He will judge everyone, and people will live in peace (v. 4). Not only will there be no more war, but people will no longer know how to practice war. There will be a rebellion against Messiah's rule at the end of the Millennium (cf. Rev. 20:7-10), but this will involve unbelievers fighting against Him, not one another.
"The prophet saw the new Jerusalem of the last days on this side, and the new Jerusalem of the new earth on the other (Rev. xxi. 10), blended as it were together, and did not distinguish the one from the other."
Isaiah's description pictures a return to paradisiacal conditions (cf. 11:6-9). The amillennial interpretation of this passage sees the church (defined as all believers throughout history) as fulfilling what Isaiah wrote of Jerusalem and Judah, and the gospel as going out to the whole world, as illustrated by the following quotation:
"Such instruments [as swords, plowshares, spears, and pruning hooks] are mentioned only as symbols"
"From whence comes peace? From the recognition that God is the source of all good, that our needs and our destiny can be submitted to his judgment, and from the knowledge that he does all things well. … Until persons and nations have come to God to learn his ways and walk in them, peace is an illusion."
Disarmament now is suicide because of man's greed and aggression. But God will give people a different attitude when Jesus Christ rules on earth (Jer. 31:31-34). Nevertheless, modern people should trust in God more than in their military power, as the next section emphasizes.
2. God's discipline of Israel 2:5—4:1
In contrast to the hopeful tone of the sections that precede and follow it, this one is hopeless. In contrast to the dignity of humanity there, Isaiah presented its folly here.
The results of trusting in people 2:5-22
This emphasis is a major one in Isaiah 1—39, and the prophet introduced it at this point. Many in his day—and this is still true today—preferred to trust in strong people, especially nations, rather than in the LORD.
The prophet's first exhortation 2:5
In view of what the nations will do eventually, namely, walk in the LORD's light (presence and truth), Isaiah appealed to the house of Jacob (Israel) to do the same thing immediately: commit to following the LORD. This motivation is also applicable to present-day Christians (cf. Eph. 5:8-20). Virtually all the commentators recognized that this verse is transitional. Some make it the end of the previous section and others the beginning of the next.
The cause of Israel's problem: self-sufficiency 2:6-9
Several facets of Israel's national life, all evidences of self-sufficiency rather than trust in Yahweh, invited judgment (cf. Mic. 5:10-14).
2:6 Israel must walk in Yahweh's light because God had forsaken her in her present condition for departing from Him. Contrast the nations that will seek the LORD in the future (v. 2). Israel had stopped living as a distinct people in the world, had adopted the ways of other nations, and had relied on them rather than on the LORD. She had looked to the east (first Assyria and then Babylonia) for light rather than to the LORD, and had become like her despised enemies: the uncircumcised Philistines.
2:7-8 Specifically, Israel had filled herself with the wealth, armaments, and idols of the pagan nations (cf. Deut. 17:16-17; 1 Kings 10:26—11:8). King Uzziah's successful reign brought material prosperity to Judah, but this wealth had only encouraged Jewish materialism and neglect of God. Judah had accumulated these things to make herself secure, but she was only trusting in what she herself had made. Contrast the nations that will seek spiritual benefits (v. 3), enjoy peace (v. 4), and follow the LORD (v. 4).
2:9 Glorifying created things rather than the Creator results in the humiliation and abasement of those who do these things (cf. Rom. 1). Forgiveness is unthinkable when people do these things (v. 9; cf. Exod. 34:7). "Do not forgive them" is an idiom meaning "for sure you will not forgive them." Isaiah was not asking God to refrain from forgiving His people.
"A major motif in OT theology is here (and in vv 11-22): pride and ambition are humanity's besetting and most devastating sins. Idolatry is seen as an expression of this drive by which man seeks to exalt himself."
The effect of the problem: humiliation 2:10-21
Verses 10-21 are a poem on the nature and results of divine judgment. Note the repetition of key words and phrases at the beginnings and ends of the sections and subsections. This section breaks down as follows:
The LORD is exalted over man and the world (vv. 10-17)
The fact that the LORD is exalted and man is humbled (vv. 10-11)
The demonstration that the LORD is exalted over every exalted thing (vv. 12-17)
The LORD is exalted over idols (vv. 18-21)
The fact that the LORD is exalted and idols and man vanish (vv. 18-19)
The demonstration that the LORD is exalted and idols are exposed (vv. 20-21)
2:10-11 The proud and lofty people would eventually try to hide from God's judgment of them when He exalts Himself in the day of His reckoning (see v. 12). Having boasted in earthly resources (vv. 6-8), they now have only the earth to turn to (cf. 1:24). Contrast the nations that the LORD will accept in the future (v. 4).
"In preaching as he does here, Isaiah is going contrary to modern psychological theories which assert that it is unwise and even wrong to use fear as a motif in preaching and teaching. How different God's appraisal of preaching! … The only way to run from God is to run to Him."
2:12-17 Everyone, not just the Israelites, who exalts himself against the LORD will suffer humiliation. The LORD's day of reckoning (v. 12) is any day in which He humbles the haughty, but it is particularly the future Tribulation period—in which He will humble haughty unbelievers.
The day of any one in Hebrew often means the day in which something memorable happens to him, or is done by him …"
Isaiah used nature and the works of man to symbolize people (cf. 1:30; 6:13; 9:10; 10:33—11:1; 44:14; 60:16). Here several of these symbols represent the spiritual pride of Israel (cf. Rom. 12:3; Eph. 4:2).
"Throughout this section (2:6—4:1) and many others in the Book of Isaiah, there is an interesting interplay between the judgment which the Lord will inflict on the nation by the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities and the judgment which will come on Israel and the whole world in the 'last days' just before the Millennium. Probably Isaiah and the other prophets had no idea of the lengthy time span that would intervene between those exiles and this later time of judgment. Though many of the predictions in 2:10-21 happened when Assyria and Babylon attacked Israel and Judah, the passage looks ahead to a cataclysmic judgment on the whole world ('when He rises to shake the earth,' vv. 19, 21)."
2:18-21 Even more explicit figures of speech picture Yahweh's humiliation of the self-aggrandizing. Here the similarity of Isaiah's description of the eschatological judgment is very close to the apostle John's in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 6:12-17). When God acts in judgment, all attempts to glorify the creation over the Creator will appear vain. Valuable idols will be cast aside to the bats and mice and consigned to the dark, unattractive places where those creatures live.
"Idols are precious. They are always our hard-won silver and gold. That's why we prize them. They are beautiful, but also contemptible. J. R. R. Tolkien portrayed this in The Lord of the Rings. Everyone who wears the golden ring of power morphs into something weirdly subhuman, like Gollum, who cherishes it as 'My Precious.' So for Middle-earth to be saved, the ring must be thrown into the fire of Mount Doom and destroyed forever. Tolkien understood that the key to life is not only what we lay hold of but also what we throw away."
"This portrayal of the Lord's day contains several parallels with ancient Near Eastern accounts of the exploits of mighty warrior kings and deities. First, the very concept of the Lord's 'day' derives ultimately from the ancient Near East, where conquering kings would sometimes boast that they were able to consummate a campaign in a single day. Ancient Near Eastern texts also sometimes associate cosmic disturbances and widespread panic with the king's/god's approach (cf. 2:10, 19-21)."
The prophet's second exhortation 2:22
This section (2:5-22) closes as it opened, with an exhortation, this one being negative. Isaiah called on his hearers to stop trusting in man. His life, after all, comes from God, who should be trusted (cf. Gen. 2:7; 7:22; Ps. 146:4). Human beings have no real value as objects of trust. Idolatry is but a result of man's self-glorification, not its cause. Human beings will never bring about Israel's glorious destiny. Only God can and will do that. This verse, like verse 5, is transitional, and bridges the preceding proclamation of universal judgment with the following more specific judgment.
The folly of trusting in people 3:1—4:1
This section gives particular examples of the general statements that precede it. Isaiah's point was that depending on people will not yield the glorious destiny of Israel depicted in 2:1-4. The prophet used imagery to make his point rather than logical argumentation.
The dearth of leadership 3:1-15
The emphasis in this pericope is on the lack of qualified leaders and the consequent collapse of society that would result because God's people put their trust in people rather than in Him. The name "the Lord (sovereign) Yahweh of armies (the Almighty)" forms an inclusio (an envelope or bookends) around this section (vv. 1, 15).
"To make great men the source of a nation's greatness is always to end up with a dearth of great men. Unless the greatness comes from within the community itself, a condition which is ultimately the result of trust in God, no great leaders will rise from it. Instead, the leaders will merely reflect the spiritual poverty of the community."
3:1 "For" ties this section to the argument of 2:6-22. "Behold" (Heb. hinneh) commonly introduces a threat in prophetic material. The multiple names of God again hint at judgment to come (cf. 1:24; 10:16, 33; 19:4). God was going to remove what was essential from Judah and Jerusalem. "Supply" (Heb. mash'en) and "support" (Heb. mash'ena) are masculine and feminine forms of the same word in Hebrew, meaning a staff, suggesting that every type of support will be removed. The figures of bread and water stand for food and drink—famine will come—but in a larger sense these things also represent all that is essential to the nation.
3:2-3 The LORD would remove the leading men in the military, political, religious, and commercial spheres of life. These were people the Israelites depended on. This happened when the Babylonians conquered the city and the land (cf. 2 Kings 24:14), and earlier when the Assyrians defeated Israel.
3:4-5 This lack of leadership would result in incompetent individuals seeking and gaining positions of authority (cf. Lev. 19:32; 1 Kings 3:7). Verse 4 is reminiscent of the reign of King Rehoboam. Looking ahead, wicked King Manasseh began ruling over Judah when he was only 12, and Kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, who followed him later, proved capricious.
"Good government is one of God's best gifts to a sinful race. How great then is the sin of those who refuse to concern themselves with their responsibilities as citizens of the state!"
3:6-7 Things would become so bad that the possession of a mere coat (an outer garment) would lead others to thrust its owner into leadership despite his protestations. Any type of superiority will seem like an indication that the possessor can provide desperately needed authority and power. Yet the chosen leader will refuse to take responsibility, even lying about his resources, because what he would rule is only a ruin, and because he knows that he lacks the qualifications to lead.
"Isaiah is in reality describing a breakdown in national character and seriousness; the spirit which treats national welfare, politics and leadership as a joke."
People should not try to compel a person who is unqualified to run for office, but should pray that God will raise up qualified leaders.
Note the stages in Israel's degradation that verses 1-7 trace: Good leaders disappear (vv. 1-3), and immature, capricious leaders (v. 4) who begin to oppress the populace (v. 5) take their place. Society becomes divided as age gaps open up and respect for the respectable breaks down (v. 5). Unqualified people get pressed into leadership, and a spirit of despair dominates elections (vv. 6-7). Even though Israel and Judah were monarchies, the people did have the opportunity and responsibility for choosing some of their leaders.
3:8 The reason for these conditions is that Israel was already defying Yahweh by depending on humans rather than on Him.
3:9 Instead of bowing before Yahweh's glorious face, the Israelites were, with brazen faces, rebelling against Him, as the people of Sodom did. So it would go hard for them. "Woe" is an interjection of threat or distress. This Hebrew word, 'oy, and its companion, hoy, occur 22 times in Isaiah, more frequently than in any other prophetic book. The Israelites had brought the judgment of God on themselves by their pride.
3:10-11 The faithful minority, however, would not simply get lost in the judgment of the unfaithful majority, but the LORD would remember them and send them good. Sin does bring its own wages (Rom. 6:23). Here the long-term blessing of the righteous contrasts with the short-term blasting of the unrighteous. There were these two groups among God's chosen people then as there are now. The faithful frequently suffer along with the unfaithful, but their ultimate ends are very different (cf. Rev. 2:10-11).
3:12 Isaiah personally bemoaned the plight of the people who had already begun to experience the frustration of incompetent leaders and who would have to endure still more of the same. In his day, women did not have the educational advantages that men enjoyed, and so were less equipped to lead than men. Children, in spite of their lack of maturity, experience, perspective, and wisdom, were nonetheless needed to lead adults. Unqualified leaders were leading the people astray and giving them confusing directions concerning God's will. God's special gift to His people throughout history involved furnishing inspired leaders. Now He would withdraw them.
3:13-15 Yahweh is the ultimate Judge of His people, and He would contend with His human representatives who used their positions to fatten themselves rather than feeding their people (cf. Zech. 11:1-17). Their possessions witnessed to their stealing from their neighbors. The vineyard is a common figure for Israel in Scripture (cf. 5:1, 7; Ps. 80:8-18; Jer. 2:21; 12:10; Ezek. 15:6-8; Hos. 10:1). The people belonged to the LORD, not these abusing leaders who crushed them and ground them down to get out of them as much as they could for themselves (cf. Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:20-21).
The death of liberty 3:16—4:1
The LORD's condemnation of His people continues, but there is a change in focus. In verses 1-5 it was the male leaders who received criticism, but in this section the female citizens are more prominent. Undoubtedly what the LORD said about these women was true of them as females, but we should not limit their indictment to females alone. Men have been just as guilty of these sins as women, though in Isaiah's day they were more blatant among some women. The point is that the whole nation of Judah was guilty, not just the men.
3:16-17 Pride led these women to walk with their noses in the air, assuming superiority over others, and to lure men to themselves. They glanced coyly to see whether others noticed their elegance. They took small steps to give the appearance of humility and drew attention even to their feet. Everything they did was designed to attract attention.
"Wherever dress and splendour are carried to excess, there is evidence of ambition, and many vices are usually connected with it; for whence comes luxury in men and women but from pride?"
God would humble these women by making the hair that they loved so much a patch of scabs and the foreheads they decorated so carefully bare. Having delighted in immodest exposure, God gave them over to it (cf. Rom. 1). He did not condemn their luxurious lifestyle as much as their arrogant spirit, which their lifestyle demonstrated.
3:18-23 The LORD proceeded to condemn 21 (seven times three, a full measure) other personal decorations that evidenced pride, many of which were popular in Isaiah's day and some of which are still popular now. Many of these items originated in cultic and in magic rituals. Again, these things are not wrong in themselves, but they may assume too much importance in a person's life.
"It was the prophet's intention to produce a ludicrous, but yet serious impression, as to the immeasurable luxury which really existed; and in the prophetic address, his design throughout is to bring out the glaring contrast between the titanic, massive, worldly glory, in all its varied forms, and that true, spiritual, and majestically simple glory, whose reality is manifested from within outwards. In fact, the theme of the whole address is the way of universal judgment leading on from the false glory to the true."
3:24 Disgrace would result from trusting self rather than God. The five exchanges listed here and more took place when God humbled Israel in exile. They all represent the results of divine judgment for self-exaltation.
3:25-26 The woman in view in these verses is Jerusalem personified. She is seen as having lost her providers and defenders and all on whom she depended. She is utterly without joy and completely alone (cf. Lam. 1:1).
"There is extant a coin from [the time of the Roman emperor] Vespasian which pictures the conquered Jerusalem as a dejected woman sitting under a palm tree, a soldier standing before her, and which bears the inscription Judaea capta, or devicta. Jerusalem alone."
4:1 This verse brings to a high point the horrors that were to come. War has always resulted in the decimation of the male population. For example, approximately one million French, one million German, and half a million English male soldiers died in World War I. So many men would die in Israel that women would be desperate for male companionship and support. They would be willing to humiliate themselves to escape the reproach of being unmarried and childless. Long gone is the hope to gain a man through seduction of the eyes (cf. 3:16). Now even begging and pleading would be ineffective. Women providing their own food and clothing is the reverse of God's intention in marriage (cf. Exod. 21:10). Likewise, women taking men's places and leading them, as Eve led Adam (Gen. 3), illustrates a desperate situation.
"Here is the final end of our desire to avoid dependence. We will become dependent in the most degrading and disadvantageous ways."
All this will happen on "that day" (3:7, 18; 4:1), namely, when God judges His people for trusting in other human beings—and themselves—rather than Him. Many of the judgments prophesied in this section took place during the Babylonian Captivity, and during the Assyrian Captivity of the Northern Kingdom, but "that day" also anticipates Tribulation times still future.
3. God's determination for Israel 4:2-6
Having begun this oracle by clarifying God's desire for Israel (2:1-4), the prophet proceeded to contrast it with her present condition. The Israelites depended on people rather than Himself, a condition that would result in divine discipline (2:5—4:1). Next, and in conclusion of this section, Isaiah revealed that God would indeed bring what He determined for His chosen people to completion in the future (4:2-6). Israel's destiny would be glorious—in spite of intervening judgment.
4:2 "On that day" connects this section of the oracle with its earlier parts and shows that all of it deals with a future time (cf. 2:12, 17, 20; 3:8, 18; 4:1). However, here we learn that "that day" will be a day of glory and vindication for Israel, as well as retribution and judgment.
In a general sense, "The Branch of the LORD" refers to Israel, but this is also a Messianic title here as elsewhere (cf. 11:1; 53:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12). It was regarded as a Messianic reference here as early as the Targums, the Aramaic interpretive translation of the Old Testament that dates after the Babylonian exile or possibly during it.
"[The Branch is] a name of Christ, used in a fourfold way: (1) 'the branch of the LORD' (v. 2), i.e. the Immanuel character of Christ (Isa. 7:14) to be fully manifested to restored and converted Israel after His return in divine glory (Mt. 25:31); (2) 'the Branch' of David (Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15), i.e. the Messiah, 'of the seed of David according to the flesh' (Rom. 1:3), revealed in His earthly glory as King of kings, and Lord of lords; (3) the LORD's 'servant, the Branch' (Zech. 3:8), Messiah's humiliation and obedience unto death according to Isa. 52:13-15; 53:1-12; Phil. 2:5-8; and (4) the 'man whose name is THE BRANCH' (Zech. 6:12), that is, His character as Son of man, the 'last Adam,' the 'second man' (1 Cor. 15:45-47), reigning as Priest-King over the earth in the dominion given to and lost by the first Adam. Matthew is the Gospel of the Branch of David; Mark, of the LORD's Servant, the Branch; Luke, of the Man whose name is the Branch; and John, of the Branch of the LORD."
God would provide a source of fruitfulness and blessing, which a tree branch (stemming from David and ultimately from the LORD) is, to Israel (cf. 2 Sam. 23:5). The nation would not produce this fruitfulness and blessing on her own by trusting in people, but God Himself would provide it. "The fruit of the earth" probably refers to the fruitfulness of the earth that God would provide through Israel and, specifically, the Messiah. God promised earlier to judge Israel with lack of fruitfulness because of her sin (4:1).
Many conservative interpreters have understood "the fruit of the earth" to be a second Messianic title, which is possible. Some of them felt that the first title referred to Messiah's divine nature, and the second to His human nature. Others favored taking "the fruit of the earth" simply as a reference to the future agricultural abundance of the land.
"The survivors of Israel" refers to those who would live through the judgments mentioned earlier in this oracle. Since the time of these judgments includes the Exile and the Tribulation, and since the reference to the Branch points to Messianic times, these survivors will probably be Jews who will still be alive at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Zech. 13:8). The daughters of Jerusalem previously sought to beautify themselves (3:16, 18; 4:1), but now the LORD would adorn them with fruitfulness.
4:3-4 The divine judgments that God will bring on the Israelites in the future (in the Tribulation) will have a purifying effect on many of them, specifically the elect (cf. 1:25; Ezek. 36:25-26; 39:23-26; Dan. 9:4-19; Mal. 3:2-5; Matt. 3:11; Acts 13:48). Those left alive to the end will be holy in conduct, as well as set apart by God for His purposes. Similarly, God purified the Israelites through their oppression in Egypt and then liberated them so that they could be a holy nation (Exod. 19:4-6)—in calling and in conduct. In both cases, God Himself is the Purifier. This purification was only true to a very limited extent of those Israelites who returned from the Exile, as the post-exilic books of the Old Testament reveal.
The "daughters of Zion" (v. 4) throughout this oracle represent all the Israelites, not just the females in the nation (cf. 3:16, 17). The "spirit" in view (v. 4) is probably the abstract concept of "process" (cf. 19:14; 28:6; 29:10; 37:7). A less probable view is that the spirit is the Holy Spirit.
4:5-6 God definitely would not abandon His people Israel in the coming judgment, but would share His presence with them and care for them by providing protection and guidance. Failure in leadership marked Israel in Isaiah's day (3:2-7), but God Himself would lead the nation in the future. In the past, God had done this by sheltering the wilderness wanderers with a cloud, but in the future a similar covering would protect the dwellers at Mount Zion. The women of Jerusalem tried desperately to secure husbands (v. 1), but God Himself would finally provide a marriage canopy (chamber) for His beloved in the future.
The same "fire" (v. 5) that judged His people, God Himself, would warm and protect them in all of their circumstances (cf. Ps. 91). He would control the forces of nature that the pagans believed the gods controlled. The Israelites saw a literal pillar-like cloud in the wilderness, and perhaps this one in the future will be literal too, symbolic of Yahweh's presence.
This oracle (2:1—4:6) reveals events that would happen in a "day" yet future from Isaiah's perspective. History has shown that some of the predictions of judgment found partial fulfillment in the exiles of Israel that preceded Messiah's appearing. However, most of the judgment, and all the blessing connected to Messiah, lies in the future from our perspective (cf. Matt. 24:4-30). It is mainly the Tribulation, and Messiah's blessing of Israel in the Millennium to follow, that is in view here.
C. The analogy of wild grapes ch. 5
This is the third and last of Isaiah's introductory oracles. The first one (ch. 1) introduced the book as a whole by presenting major themes with which the prophet proceeded to deal in chapters 2—66. The second, chiastic one (chs. 2—4), presented the tension between what God intended Israel to be, what she had become, and what she would be. This third prophetic sermon (ch. 5) was a clever presentation of the present condition of Israel in Isaiah's day and its consequences. It starts out deceptively, like a casual song, transforms into a courtroom drama, and ends with pure condemnation. Isaiah lured his listeners into hearing him with a sweet song and then proceeded to burn them with fiery preaching.
1. The song of the vineyard 5:1-7
Isaiah, like a folk singer, sang a parable about a vineyard that compared Israel to a vineyard that Yahweh had planted and from which He legitimately expected to receive fruit. One cannot help but wonder if this passage lay behind Jesus' teaching on the vine and the branches in John 15:1-6. The prophet's original audience did not realize what this song was about at first. It started out sounding like a happy wedding song, but it turned out to be a funeral dirge announcing Israel's death. This chiastic "song" is only the first part of Isaiah's unified message in this chapter. His song flowed into a sermon. This is the first of several songs in Isaiah (cf. chs. 12, 35; 54:1-10; et al.).
"In a way similar to Nathan's, when he used a story to get King David to condemn his own action (2 Sam. 12:1-7), so Isaiah sets his hearers up to judge themselves …"
5:1-2 Isaiah offered to sing a song for a good friend of his about his friend's "vineyard." This could be a literal vineyard, or it could be a poetic reference to one's bride (cf. Song of Sol. 1:6; 8:12). But actually, this sweet song contains a harsh message about another person and His "vineyard," namely: Yahweh and Israel. Isaiah painted a picture of a man cultivating his vineyard (or his relationship with his wife), only to have it turn out to be disappointing. But, as would shortly become clear, he was really describing God's careful preparation of Israel to bring forth spiritual fruit. The man double-fenced his vineyard and built a watchtower and a wine vat (storage tank) in it, indicating that He intended it to satisfy Him for a long time. Yet all His work was for nothing; His fine vines (Heb. sorek) disappointed Him. Ezekiel observed that if a vine does not produce fruit, it is good for nothing (Ezek. 15:2-5; cf. John 15:6).
5:3-4 Isaiah next appealed to his audience, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, speaking for his "beloved" (God). He asked them for their opinion: What more could he have done to ensure a good crop? Why did his vines produce worthless (sour) grapes? In view of what the owner had done (vv. 1-2), the answers would have to be: You could have done nothing more than you did, and, The grapes were the cause of the disappointment, not you.
5:5-6 The beloved explained what he would do to his disappointing vineyard. He would stop protecting it and abandon it to the elements and to its enemies. He would invest no more labor on it and would even stop providing it with the nourishment it needed to flourish. Furthermore, he would assist in its destruction. This sounds like another Hosea and Gomer story (Hos. 1—3).
5:7 Isaiah now shocked his audience by identifying the characters in his parable by name. His beloved and the owner of the vineyard was Yahweh of armies, not some unnamed friend; the vineyard was Israel, not his friend's vineyard or his wife (cf. 1:8; 3:14; Ps. 80:8-18; Jer. 2:21; 12:10; Ezek. 15:6-8; Hos. 10:1; Matt. 21:33-44); and the Judahites were the individual plants in this unresponsive vineyard.
"Before the fall of Samaria in 722 BC the house of Israel meant either the whole divided nation or its northern component. The prophets did not countenance the division, and whether specifically called to prophesy to north or south they tended to embrace the whole in their ministry (cf. Am. 3:1). Isaiah thus addresses the whole nation and then narrows his vision to the specially privileged men of Judah …"
The good fruit that God looked for was justice (the righting of wrongs; Heb. mishpat) and righteousness (right relationships; Heb. tsedaqah), but the bad fruit the vines produced was bloodshed (the inflicting of wrongs; Heb. mispakh) and a cry for help (wrong relationships; Heb. tse'aqah; cf. 60:21; 61:3). Isaiah used paronomasia (a play on words, a pun) to make his contrasts more forceful and memorable. Instead of mishpat God got mispakh, and instead of tsedaqah He received tse'aqah.
"The assonance [the use of similar sounding words] would seem to point to the fact that the worthless grapes bore at least an outward resemblance to the good ones. In appearance at least the nation seemed to be the people of God."
As the vineyard disappointed the LORD, so this song disappointed its original hearers. It proved to be confrontation, not entertainment.
2. The wildness of the grapes 5:8-25
Yahweh's crop was worthless because it produced wild grapes that manifested six blights. The word "woe" (Heb. hoy), a term of lament and threat, introduces each one (cf. Amos 5:18; 6:1; Rev. 8:13; 9:12).
"The word 'woe' itself, appearing six times in the passage, does not just denounce our sins, it laments our sins. The same word is translated 'Ah!' in Isaiah 1:4 and 'Alas!' in 1 Kings 13:30. Remember that 'woe' is the opposite of the word 'blessed' (cf. Luke 6:20-26)."
"He [Isaiah] holds up six clusters of wild grapes, as it were, to illustrate what's going wrong, six ways we resist the grace of God, six answers to the question 'Why?' Each is presented with a 'Woe.'"
Two double "therefore" sections break the laments into two groups by concluding them (vv. 13-14, 24-25). The "woe" sections emphasize the crop produced, and the "therefore" sections the harvest (judgment) to come. In the "woes" there is a chiastic progression:
A The property motive (vv. 8-10)
B Self-indulgence (vv. 11-12)
C Sin pursued (vv. 18-19)
C' Sin justified (v. 20)
B' Self-conceit (v. 21)
A' The money motive (vv. 22-23)
One writer saw six things the LORD hates in these sections: greed (v. 8), hedonism (vv. 11-13), rebellion (vv. 18-19), immorality (v. 20), pride (v. 21), and injustice (vv. 22-23).
Sins of the upwardly mobile 5:8-17
This section identifies sins that marked the people among whom Isaiah lived—and their consequences. They are still very much with us today.
Two initial woes 5:8-12
5:8-10 The first quality that spoiled Israel's fruit was greed, an example of which Isaiah detailed (cf. Mic. 2:1): The Israelites were buying out their neighbors, as they had opportunity or made the opportunity, to increase their land holdings. The wealthier or smarter members of the community took advantage of their less fortunate brethren and so deprived them of their opportunity to live on land that God had given them (cf. Lev. 25:23). The carpetbaggers who descended on the South following America's Civil War similarly took advantage of many southerners whose farms had been decimated by invading northern troops. They bought up their land for a fraction of its worth and drove the former owners into destitute poverty.
Buying additional land is not wrong in itself, but when it involves abusing other people it becomes wrong. Isaiah was not decrying large farms or estates per se; he was condemning squeezing out the small man to make oneself more prosperous, secure, and admired. Those who did this in his day ended up isolated, rather than enjoying the fellowship of their brethren (cf. Matt. 16:25-26; Col. 3:5). By buying up all the land they ended up with no neighbors.
God would judge this greed by causing the families of these isolated rich people to dwindle (v. 9). Ironically, by the time a person has enough money to build a mansion he is often too old to enjoy it, his family has grown up and moved out, and his spouse may die soon because she is usually old too. God would judge the farmers by decreasing the productivity of their crops (v. 10; cf. Deut. 28:20-24; Ps. 106:15; Hag. 1:5-6). The land-hungry would become hungry. No matter how many acres a person may own, God still controls the weather. Agricultural productivity was one of God's promised blessings under the Old Covenant (Deut 28:11-12; cf. Isa. 4:2).
5:11-12 The second blight on the "grapes" was pleasure-seeking. In Isaiah's day this vice manifested itself in drinking too much wine and strong drink, usually at a continuous round of parties (cf. 22:13; 28:1-8; Hos. 7:5; Joel 3:3; Amos 6:6). These people were "party animals" who paid no attention to the LORD or His works. Seeking pleasure is not wrong in itself, unless it becomes too absorbing, as it had with many Israelites. Too much partying produces insensitivity to spiritual things.
"When the passion for pleasure has become uppermost in a person's life, passion for God and his truth and his ways is squeezed out."
The first explanation for the coming judgment 5:13-17
5:13 The result of driving other people off their land and living only for pleasure would be, ironically, that the Israelites would be driven off their land and enjoy little pleasure. Instead of more food and drink there would be famine and parched throats for all the people (cf. 3:16-24). Each of the two double "therefore" sections contains a short description of the immediate consequences of the sins just mentioned (vv. 13, 24), and then a longer description of the long-term results (vv. 14-17, 24). Carousing would end in captivity.
5:14-15 Instead of pleasure-seekers opening their throats to drink wine, Sheol (the place of the dead) would open her throat to drink down the pleasure-seekers. This divine punishment would befall all the people because they shared the pride that marked the property-hungry and the pleasure-mad (cf. 2:9). The offenders' actions showed that they really did not know Yahweh in any life-affecting way; the knowledge of God had had no practical effect on the way they lived.
"The word sheol … signified primarily the irresistible and inexorable demand made upon every earthly thing; and then secondarily, in a local sense, the place of the abode of shades, to which everything on the surface of the earth is summoned; or essentially the divinely appointed curse which demands and swallows up everything upon the earth."
5:16-17 In contrast to the humiliation of the Israelite proud, Yahweh of armies would enjoy exaltation, because what characterizes Him is the opposite of what marked His people, namely, justice and righteousness.
"Righteousness is holiness expressed in moral principles; justice is the application of the principles of righteousness (cf. 1:21)."
This difference between God and His people is an aspect of His holiness (i.e., His moral purity; cf. 6:3). When God's people were humiliated and He would be exalted, innocent lambs and unknown strangers would enjoy the property that the proud sought to secure. The Israelites had once been the strangers in this land, but now other strangers would dispossess them. God does not delight in taking revenge, but He has committed Himself to remaining true to His covenant with Israel.
Sins of the cynically unbelieving 5:18-25
Isaiah proceeded to expose the attitude that resulted in the people not allowing their knowledge of God to affect the way they lived (cf. v. 13). They thought that God would not act and that they knew what was better for themselves—better than He did. The prophet identified more "sour grapes" that issued from these attitudes.
Four additional woes 5:18-23
5:18-19 The Israelites were deliberately sinning. They had not innocently fallen into sin, but they were pursuing it willfully. Rather than fleeing from it, they were holding it close to themselves. Even worse, they were doing so in an attempt to bait God to respond. They believed that He would not punish them. Their ties with sin were like the cords that the people used to lead their animals and the cart ropes that were much stronger and harder to break.
"This is the picture of a nation giving itself in abandon to sin without shame or conscience."
5:20 The fourth bad product of the Israelite vineyard was perversity. The people were calling good what God called evil, and vice versa.
"It is an attempt to destroy God's standards of right and wrong by substituting man's values which contradict His moral standards."
For example, glorifying adultery and treating committed believers like dangerous radicals turns the truth on its head. The Israelites were mocking God's ways publicly and privately. They refused to accept the standard of God's revelation.
"Moral standards were destroyed by new definitions of sin (see Amos 5:7), people using God's vocabulary but not His dictionary."
5:21 The Israelites' fifth error was conceit (cf. Prov. 6:16-17). They thought they were wiser and cleverer than Yahweh.
5:22-23 Sixth, they had adopted corrupt values. They glorified the "macho man" who did things that appeared great but were nothing more than sophisticated childishness. The more a person could drink, the greater the people honored him. They thought it "smart" to profit from the misfortune of others, even though that ran counter to God's will. Corrupt judges could do this easily (cf. Prov. 17:15).
"Here a people have become so sodden with drunkenness that they have lost their sense of justice. Injustice and crookedness prevail, and the righteous man is falsely accused."
"There is a reason why people binge on escapism. They are medicating their despair."
The second explanation for the coming judgment 5:24-25
The second double "therefore" (cf. vv. 13, 14) announces God's judgment for the sins mentioned in verses 18-22, but also for those identified since verse 8. The condemnation is cumulative.
5:24 The people had challenged God to act speedily (v. 19), and Isaiah assured them that He would. God in judgment is seen as an external fire that would consume His people. He would also be to them like an internal disease that decimates a whole plant, from roots to branches. The reason for judgment is the people's rejection of mighty Yahweh's revealed will (cf. v. 12).
5:25 In fact, many judgments had already come against Judah in her recent history (cf. 2 Chron. 28:5-6). God was removing the hedge and breaking down the wall around His vineyard (cf. v. 5). Nevertheless the nation had not repented, so more judgment would come.
3. The coming destruction 5:26-30
The two brief sections explaining the reasons for Judah's judgment (vv. 13-17 and 24-25) give way to fuller clarification of these reasons here. This section is the climax of Isaiah's message in chapter 5.
5:26 The Judahites had taunted God to act in judgment, and had concluded that because He had not destroyed them, He could not. The prophet now revealed that Yahweh, as sovereign not only over their nation but over all nations, was preparing to call a foreign power to punish them (e.g., Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia). All He had to do was raise a flag, like in battle to summon troops, or whistle, and they would respond swiftly—even though they resided in a remote part of the earth. The Assyrian army prided itself on its maneuverability and quickness.
"The second figure is taken from a bee-master, who entices the bees, by hissing or whistling, to come out of their hives and settle on the ground."
5:27-29 Israel's enemy was ready and prepared to do the LORD's bidding. She would devour Judah like hungry lions consume their prey.
"The ancients did not shoe their horses: hence the value of hard hoofs for long marches [v. 28]."
5:30 The enemy's attack would be as irresistible as the pounding of waves on a shore. This may be one of many prophetic comparisons between the Gentile nations and the waters of the sea. Israel would find no hope by looking to the land for help because the clouds of God's wrath would darken it and make it foreboding. Israel would find no help anywhere, not from the sea or from the land.
"… when the predicted darkness had settled upon the land of Judah, this would not be the end; but there would still follow an alternation of anxiety and glimmerings of hope, until at last it had become altogether dark in the cloudy sky over all the land of Judah …"
This prophecy anticipates a judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem that was not far away in time. Perhaps the Assyrian invasion of the land that took place at the end of the eighth century (in 701 B.C.) fulfilled it. Judah receded to a lower level from which she did not recover after this invasion. Perhaps it is also significant that the founding of Rome occurred about this time, since it was another power that God raised up to humble His people.
"Thus Isaiah ends his preface. The message of the first two sections (1:2-31; 2:1—4:6) is that human sin cannot ultimately frustrate God's purposes and that, in God, mercy triumphs over wrath. But the third section (5:1-30) poses a shattering question: When the Lord has done all (5:4), must the darkness of divine wrath close in and the light flicker and fade? This was the day of crisis in which Isaiah ministered: a crisis for humankind, for the day of wrath has come and a crisis for God: can mercy be exhausted and defeated?"
II. Isaiah's vision of God ch. 6
Many serious students of Isaiah have believed that the record of Isaiah's call in this chapter occurred before he wrote any of the prophecies in this book. Fewer think that chapters one through six are in chronological order. The title "Holy One of Israel," Isaiah's trademark name for God, connects with his call, and he used that title for God throughout the book. Likewise, the prophet's emphases on glory, majesty, and righteousness are strong in chapter 6, and they also appear throughout the rest of the book.
As already mentioned, the three messages in chapters 1—5 provide a perfect introduction to the rest of Isaiah, and it was probably for this reason that this material was arranged in the text before chapter 6. By placing the record of his call here, Isaiah also vindicated the prophecies in chapters 1—5 for his readers.
"6:1-13 is not simply his justification for being a prophet but is more particularly the heart of his answer to the problems raised by his preface [chs. 1—5]. It speaks of the triumph of grace."
Also, chapter 6 provides a good transition into the prophecies that appear next, in chapters 7—39 and, particularly, in chapters 7—12. It shows how the sinful nation could become the LORD's servant (a kingdom of priests), namely, by really looking to Yahweh and allowing Him to deal with her sin, as Isaiah did. It also explains the hardness of Israel that follows; she had not looked to God and had not responded appropriately to Him, as Isaiah did. In the call of Isaiah (Isa. 6) his message stands out, but in the call of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:1-10) his person stands out.
A. The prophet's cleansing 6:1-8
This is the only specific vision that Isaiah recorded that he had, though he earlier described all that the book contains as a vision: in 1:1.
6:1 Why did Isaiah date this passage, since he did not date most of his others? Probably he did so because King Uzziah had been the best king of Judah since Solomon. Nevertheless, during the last part of his reign he suffered from leprosy, which was a judgment from the LORD for his pride (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chron. 26:16-23). In this respect, his life foreshadowed the history of the nation he ruled. King Uzziah died about 740 B.C., after reigning for 52 years (2 Kings 15:2; 2 Chron. 26:3). When Uzziah died, most people in the nation would have felt a great loss. Who would lead them next, and would he provide for them all that Uzziah had provided? Assyria was growing in power and ambition to the east, so the threat of foreign invasion was real. Israel needed a strong king.
As things turned out, Judah receded to a lower level from which she did not rise. At such a time, Isaiah received his vision of Israel's true king, Yahweh, who was more than adequate to provide for His people. This unusual vision prepared the prophet to act and speak for God (cf. Gen. 32:30; Exod. 19:21; 20:19; 33:20; Deut. 18:16; Judg. 13:22). Even though God is invisible because He is spirit (31:3; John 1:18; 4:24), He has manifested Himself at various times so that people can appreciate certain aspects of His personality.
"How significant a fact, as Jerome observes in connection with this passage, that the year of Uzziah's death should be the year in which Romulus [one of the founders of Rome] was born; and that it was only a short time after the death of Uzziah (viz. 754 B.C. according to Varro's chronology) that Rome itself was founded! The national glory of Israel died out with king Uzziah, and has never revived to this day."
Israel suffered God's judgment under five great powers that followed one another in succession: Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Isaiah described Yahweh as sovereign ("Lord"), the overlord of all the earth. He was exalted by means of His throne on which He was sitting in royal attire. The glory of His person filled His awesome, celestial palace-temple (cf. 1 Kings 22:17-23; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Ezek. 1:3-28; 8:1-4; Dan. 7:2, 9-10; Zech. 3:1-5; Rev. 4—5).
"'No man hath seen God at any time' (John i. 18), and God himself hath said, 'There shall no man see me and live' (Exod. xxxiv. 20). Yet we read not only that 'the pure in heart shall see God' (Mat. v. 8), but that Jacob said, 'I have seen God face to face' (Gen. xxxiii. 30. It is therefore plain that the phrase 'to see God' is employed in different senses, and that although his essence is and must be invisible, he may be seen in the manifestation of his glory or in human form. … It has been a general opinion in all ages of the Church, that in every such manifestation it was God the Son who thus revealed himself."
The apostle John wrote that it was Jesus' glory that Isaiah saw (John 12:41).
6:2 Fiery angels attended the LORD of armies. "Seraphim," a transliteration of the Hebrew word, probably means "burning ones." This is the only reference to seraphim as angelic beings in Scripture. Usually this Hebrew word describes snakes (cf. Num. 21:6; Deut. 8:15; Isa. 14:29; 30:6). What John saw may have been dragon-like creatures. They covered their faces, as we do when we are in the presence of something extremely brilliant, to hide and protect themselves from the superlative glory of God.
These special angels may have covered their feet for the same reason, and perhaps as an indication that they renounced going anywhere on their own. Another explanation follows:
"In many Asian cultures (including the Middle East), the feet are considered symbolically unclean and should not be used to point to a person or a thing, and the soles of the feet should not be directly exposed to another person. Since the seraphim are flying 'above' God, their feet would be exposed or pointing at Him so the angels covered them so as to not offend."
One writer suggested that the feet may be euphemisms for the genital areas (cf. 7:20; Exod. 4:25). In this case the creatures may have been expressing modesty. They used their third pair of wings to fly, specifically, to carry out the orders of their sovereign.
6:3 Their joy in God's presence was evident in their calling out to each other ascribing supreme holiness to Yahweh of armies. A triple repetition of holiness, a "trisagion," indicated that Yahweh's holiness is superlative, the greatest possible, and complete. Nowhere else in the Old Testament is there another threefold repetition of God's holiness, but there is in the New Testament (Rev. 4:8). Other repetitions of words three times for emphasis are not uncommon (e.g., Jer. 22:29; Ezek. 21:27; Rev. 8:13). Holiness is distinctness from all that is not divine, especially in reference to ethical behavior. God's glory is His manifested holiness.
"His holiness is simply his God-ness in all his attributes, works, and ways. … He is not like us, only bigger and nicer. He is in a different category. He is holy."
Isaiah saw God as absolutely upright, correct, and true. His glory was not restricted to the throne room or to heaven, however, but it filled the whole earth. God's glory fills the earth in that the revelation of God's attributes fills the earth (cf. Ps. 19:1-3). God's glory refers to the outshining of His person.
6:4 The praise of one and then another of the seraphim was so powerful that it shook the heavenly temple to its foundations. Isaiah also saw smoke billowing throughout the space, suggestive of God's power to consume (cf. 33:14; Exod. 19:18; Deut. 4:24; Heb. 10:26-31; 12:29; Rev. 9:2), and of prayer (Rev. 8:4). It evidently arose from the altar of incense (v. 6).
6:5 Isaiah feared that he would be consumed, since he was in the presence of the purest of all beings. He announced woe on himself; he was in deep trouble (cf. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). These are the first words that Isaiah himself spoke in this book, and they announce a prophetic woe on himself. He first had to become aware of his own sin and uncleanness before he could worship God as he should. Not only did he have unclean lips, but he dwelt among a people whose lips were very unclean and, therefore, unfit to praise or speak for God. King Uzziah died an unclean leper (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
"Unclean lips" evidence unclean hearts (cf. Matt. 12:34). Whereas God was holy, Isaiah and the Jews were unclean, not upright, impure in their ethical conduct. Isaiah sensed his danger because he saw the real King of Israel who was Yahweh of armies. It is in seeing God for who He is that we can see ourselves for who we are and can, therefore, accurately evaluate our condition (cf. Job 42:5-6; Dan. 10:14-17; Rev. 1:17).
6:6 Isaiah only acknowledged his hopeless condition—he did not plead with God or make vows to God—and God then went into action. Confession must precede cleansing (cf. 1 John 1:9). The altar from which the seraph took the coal was probably the brazen altar in heaven, in which case the coal itself symbolizes substitute sacrifice. Fire from the brazen altar lit the incense on the incense altar in Israel, so, whichever altar may be in view, the coal connects with sacrifice.
Ultimately, all sin is forgiven because of sacrifice. Fire ("burning coal … from the altar") in the Old Testament symbolizes the wrath of God (Gen. 3:24; Num. 11:1-3), the holiness of God (Exod. 3:2-6; 19:18-25), His purifying process (Num. 31:22-23; Mal. 3:2-3), and the context of the Law (Deut. 4:12, 33, 36).
"A seraph peels off from his flight path around the throne, diving straight for Isaiah. He's holding a burning coal that he took from the altar with tongs, but not because it is hot. After all, a seraph himself is a burning one. He took this coal with tongs because it is a holy thing. It belongs to the place of sacrifice and atonement and forgiveness. But this holy thing touches Isaiah's dirty mouth, and it does not hurt him, it heals him. What we must see, in the context of the whole Bible, is that this burning coal symbolizes the finished work of Christ on the cross."
6:7 God's purging agent touched Isaiah's mouth, and the angelic messenger assured the prophet that he had been completely cleansed of his uncleanness. Some have called this Isaiah's conversion experience. Compare Acts. 9:3-11, which records the Apostle Paul's conversion and call. Or, more probably I think, it was Isaiah's consecration experience.
6:8 God then asked for a volunteer to serve Him, evidently among any present in the throne room (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-20). "Us" is a plural, and the plural in Hebrew (but in no other Semitic languages) adds intensification (cf. Gen. 1:26; 11:7; 1 Kings 22:19-23). It only hints at plurality within the Godhead, but the New Testament makes that plurality clear (cf. John 12:41; Acts 28:25). This may be a plural of majesty, or the LORD may have meant Himself, the seraphim, and the heavenly host.
Note the balance of divine sovereignty and human choice in His words: He would send someone, but that someone needed to be willing to go. God's grace to him in not consuming him, but rather cleansing him, motivated Isaiah to volunteer to be God's servant.
This section is a major revelation of the grace of God and the condition for spiritual cleansing. It is one of the premier consecration passages in the Old Testament. God's grace on this occasion so impacted Isaiah that his ministry bore this hallmark, as we observe throughout this book.
"Here in this matchless passage we find the reason why so few are willing to serve God. They need above all the conviction of sin. Only when a man has been convicted of sin and has understood that the Redeemer has borne the guilt of his sin is he willing and ready joyfully to serve God, to go wherever God may call him."
Many preachers of this passage have pointed out that the order of events is very significant: First, after gaining a greater appreciation for God's holiness and his own sinfulness, Isaiah said "Woe," acknowledging his own uncleanness. Second, the seraphim said "Lo" ("Behold" in the NASB), pointing to God's provision for cleansing. Third, God said "Go" (v. 9), giving the prophet a mission to fulfill.
B. The prophet's commission 6:9-13
The Lord (Master) proceeded to give Isaiah specific instructions about what He wanted him to do and what the prophet could expect regarding his ministry (vv. 9-10), his historic-political situation (vv. 11-12), and his nation's survival (v. 13).
6:9 Isaiah's Master sent him back to the people among whom he lived, a people with unclean lips (v. 5). He was to tell them to listen and to look at the revelations that he brought from God, but they would not fully understand what the prophet meant (cf. Deut. 29:2-4).
Does God really want to prevent people from understanding, repenting, and being healed? This verse and the next are strongly ironic. We could paraphrase Isaiah's message to the Israelites as follow: "Go ahead; be stubborn!"
6:10 The effect of Isaiah's preaching would not be that the people would repent, but that they would harden their hearts against his messages (cf. Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:26-27; Rom. 11:8).
The Apostle John quoted this verse (and 53:1) in reference to the Jews' inability in Jesus' day to believe on Him (John 12:40). John then added, "These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke about Him" (John 12:41). Isaiah may or may not have realized that his words had prophetic significance, in addition to being applicable to his own situation.
"… this chapter immediately follows and precedes examples of wrong reaction to God's word [5:24; 7:10-12]."
God told Moses before he went to Pharaoh with the LORD's message that the Egyptian king would harden his heart (Exod. 3:19). From the divine viewpoint, God had raised Pharaoh up to demonstrate His sovereignty and power in liberating the Israelites. However, from the human viewpoint, Pharaoh had the freedom to choose to submit to God or resist. His freedom was not complete; human freedom never is. We cannot do everything we want to do. But his freedom was genuine; he really could have submitted to Yahweh. God justly held him responsible for his choice because he did have genuine, though limited, freedom.
In both cases, Moses' commission and Isaiah's, God was not ruling out the possibility of repentance from the start. He was letting His prophet see beforehand what the outcome of his ministry would be. In both cases, too, those who heard God's Word had the opportunity and the ability to respond to it positively, but they chose to respond negatively. Consequently, God as their Judge, hardened their hearts so that they became harder, and eventually it became impossible for them to repent (Exod. 10:1; cf. Rom. 1:18-32; Heb. 6:4-6). The Israelites in Isaiah's day had already hardened their hearts against the LORD, and His payback to them had already begun when Isaiah received his commission.
"The elect are not saved because they are creatures of light; they too were creatures of darkness and in them there was no goodness, nothing that would attract the light. God, however, out of His mere good pleasure did choose them and ordain them to life eternal, and when the blessed gospel was heard by them, they were given a heart that was then willing and able to hear and to respond. Those, however, whom God did not ordain to life eternal, He passed by and for their sin ordained to dishonor and wrath."
The success of our ministry should not be our prime motivation to continue in the work of the gospel. Our loving commitment to remain faithful to the Lord who has graciously saved us and called us into His service, despite our lack of outward success, should be.
"There are those who like to boast of the number who are being saved, but I would much rather boast of the fact that thousands and even several millions of people are hearing the Word of God. My business is sowing the seed, the Word of God. It is the business of the Spirit of God to touch the hearts of those who hear."
6:11-12 The news that the Israelites would harden their hearts against Isaiah's message undoubtedly disappointed the prophet. So he asked his Lord (Master) how long he should continue to preach (cf. v. 9) and how long the Israelites would be unresponsive (cf. v. 10). The LORD did not give him a certain number of years but implied that he should continue preaching until the full extent of God's judgment on the people—because of their prolonged unresponsiveness—had come. The penalty for resisting, which the LORD set forth in the Mosaic Covenant, culminated in military defeat and exile from the Promised Land (Lev. 18:25-27; Deut. 28:21, 63; 29:28). Yahweh took full responsibility for this judgment, though He used other nations as His instruments to execute it.
6:13 Yet there was hope. A tenth of the nation would survive. The LORD would take His tithe from among the people. But the land would again face judgment. This "tenth portion" probably refers to the remnant left in the land when Nebuchadnezzar took the majority captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14). Another view is that it refers to the remnant left in the land at the end of the Tribulation. When the nation was thoroughly cut down and burned, there would be a little spiritual life in it that would survive. The existence of this "stump" of the tree cut down would be the evidence that God was not finished with Israel.
This "stump" sprouted with new life when a small number of godly exiles under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah returned to the land and reestablished the nation. Several hundred years after this restoration, Antiochus IV of Syria almost consumed even this remnant, during the inter-testamental period, when the land was again subject to burning. The faithful remnant was the initial "holy seed" (cf. 41:8; 43:5; 53:10; 59:21; 65:9; 66:22; 1 Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:5), but Messiah would be the ultimate "holy seed" (Heb. zera, a collective singular; cf. 4:2; 11:1) who would arise out of the chastened nation.
III. Israel's crisis of faith chs. 7—39
This long section of the book deals with Israel's major decision in Isaiah's day. Would she trust in Yahweh or in other nations? The decision was a matter of faith; who is more worthy of trust, God or strong people? God promised that trust in the nations would result in destruction (ch. 34), but trust in Him would bring abundance (ch. 35). Israel's decision would also determine whether she had a message for the nations or not, and whether she would fulfill her mission to the nations or not. This decision is, of course, one that the people of God of all ages continually face.
A. The choice between trusting God or Assyria chs. 7—12
This section of Isaiah provides a historical introduction to the theological problem described above (cf. 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chron. 28). King Ahaz had to make this decision of faith because he faced the threat of military invasion. Though warned by the prophet, the king made the wrong decision and experienced the bitter consequences. All four subdivisions of this section focus on Assyria and deal with the implications of trust in her rather than God. As Isaiah had faced his moment of decision (ch. 6), so King Ahaz did now. In chapter 6, Isaiah made the right decision to trust and obey God. In chapter 7, Ahaz made the wrong decision to distrust and disobey God. But with the bad news of Ahaz's apostasy comes the assurance that God would raise up a faithful Anointed One in the future.
1. Signs of God's presence 7:1—9:7
A unifying theme in this subsection is children. The children were understandably a major concern of the Israelites, threatened as they were with invasion. However, the children also embodied qualities that the adult Israelites needed to adopt in order to survive, such as innocence, trust, and acknowledged weakness (cf. Matt. 18:1-7). Indeed, a child promised in this passage, who turned out to be Jesus, would eventually save them. As Jesus appealed for an attitude of childlikeness in His hearers, so did Isaiah.
The command to trust God 7:1-9
This introductory segment provides the basic information about the historical situation that Judah faced, plus God's command concerning that situation. Would King Ahaz face his threat from God's perspective or from man's? Would he trust in Yahweh or in soldiers? Would he exercise faith or resort to works?
7:1 King Ahaz, the grandson of King Uzziah (6:1), reigned in Judah from 735-715 B.C. altogether. Early in his reign King Rezin of Syria (Aram) and King Pekah of Israel allied against him (see 2 Kings 15:37; 16:5, 10-18; 2 Chron. 28:22-24). The fact that Isaiah referred to Pekah as the "son of Remaliah," rather than as the "king of Israel," may indicate disdain for him, since to call someone "the son of" someone was a way of denigrating him.
Rezin and Pekah attacked Jerusalem, at this time, in order to force Ahaz to ally with them against Assyria, which was growing stronger farther to the northeast, and threatening to annihilate them all (2 Kings 15:37). But God protected Jerusalem, and this dual enemy could not force Judah into a treaty. This verse summarizes that attack, and the following verses give more details about it. Another, less probable view, is that verse 1 refers to Assyria's first attack against Jerusalem (2 Chron. 28:5-8), and the following verses to its second invasion (2 Chron. 28:17-18).
7:2 When Ahaz ("the house of David" of all people!) heard that Syria had moved its army into the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim) and had settled down there, he and his people shook with fear. The date of this attack was probably between 736 and 734 B.C. This prophecy of Isaiah is dateable to 734 B.C. Ahaz had previously suffered defeat at the hands of both these enemies (2 Chron. 28:5-8). Edom and Philistia were also threatening Judah at this time (2 Chron. 28:17-18). What Ahaz would do would affect the future of his dynasty: the house of David.
7:3 God instructed Isaiah to take his son Shear-jashub ("A Remnant Shall Return"; cf. 6:13) and meet Ahaz at a strategic water source for Jerusalem, which Ahaz was apparently examining. The location of this pool is uncertain, but it was a reservoir for Jerusalem (cf. 36:2), perhaps near the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley. A vulnerable above-ground aqueduct brought water from it into the city. The fuller's field was a place where people washed clothes, "fuller" being another name for launderer.
Shear-jashub's presence may have been designed to encourage Ahaz to believe that his enemies would not destroy Judah completely, even though they had already defeated him previously (cf. v. 4). Still, the mention of only a remnant returning was sobering. This was the very spot on which Sennacherib's field commander later stood to hurl insults at Hezekiah (36:2), which was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prediction of an Assyrian attack.
7:4-6 Yahweh instructed His prophet to assure the king not to fear his enemies (cf. Deut. 31:6-7; Josh. 1:6-9). They had been firebrands, but now they were only smoldering embers. Today God might have referred to them as burned-out cigarette butts. Their threats of breaching Jerusalem's walls, terminating Ahaz's dynasty, and setting up a puppet ruler, would come to nothing. Isaiah's references to Remaliah and Tabeel ("Good for Nothing") encouraged Ahaz to think about his own dynasty. The Tabeel family members were probably Judahites who had become prominent in Gilead.
7:7-9 In contrast to what the two enemy kings said (v. 6), the Lord Yahweh assured Ahaz that the evil that Judah's enemies had planned for her would not materialize. By pointing out that the head of Syria was Damascus and the head of Damascus was Rezin, God was contrasting the limited sovereignty of Rezin with His own. This is also the point of His reference to "the son of Remaliah" being over Samaria, which was Ephraim's capital. An additional point may be that these nations would remain as they were without the addition of Judah: They would not conquer Judah.
God promised that Israel would not ("no longer") be "a people" (v. 8; i.e., would be destroyed as a nation) within 65 years. The Northern Kingdom suffered defeat in 722 B.C., only about 13 years from then. To make matters worse, in 671 B.C., about 62 years after this prophecy, King Esarhaddon began importing foreign settlers into the former Northern Kingdom, which made return and resettlement there impossible (cf. 2 Kings 17:24; 2 Chron. 33:11; Ezra 4:2, 10). Sixty-five years passed between Isaiah's prophecy and what Esarhaddon did.
Ahaz's responsibility, and the responsibility of all who heard this prophecy (the "you" is plural, v. 9), especially the government leaders, was to believe this promise of God and trust Him. If they would not believe it, they would not last. There is wordplay in the Hebrew text here:
"If Judah did not hold fast to its God, it would lose its fast hold by losing its country, the ground beneath its feet."
"God literally says, 'If you do not firm up, you will not be confirmed.' In other words, 'You'll live by faith, or you won't live at all. But if you do want my support, all you have to do is lean on me.' God is attracted to weakness and need and honesty. He is repelled by our self-assured pride."
"Only through trusting in the present and ultimate veracity of God is any real security possible."
Ahaz and Judah's test 7:10—8:10
Now Ahaz had to make a decision. Would he trust that Yahweh was with him and would protect Jerusalem, or would he reject God's promise and try to establish security another way?
The sign of Immanuel 7:10-17
Isaiah next tried to move Ahaz to faith (vv. 10-12), then denounced the king for his failure to trust Yahweh (vv. 13-15), and finally forecast a calamity worse than the division of Israel's United Kingdom (vv. 16-17).
7:10 Evidently Isaiah's conversation with the king continued on the same day in the same place. The prophet gave Ahaz another message from the LORD.
"According to a very marvelous interchange of idioms (communicatio idiomatum) which runs through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, at one time the prophet speaks as if he were Jehovah, and at another, as in the case before us, Jehovah speaks as if He were the prophet."
7:11 God commanded the king to ask Yahweh his God for a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised. Signs were immediate, physical confirmations that what a prophet had predicted further in the future would indeed happen. They either confirmed that God had caused something to happen (cf. Exod. 3:12), or they confirmed that He would cause something to happen, as here (cf. 37:30; Jer. 44:29-30). Ahaz had the freedom to request any type of sign, and God promised to use it to bolster his faith (cf. Gideon).
7:12 Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. He did not want God to confirm that He would protect Judah, because he had already decided not to trust God but to make other arrangements. He tried to justify his disobedience and his lack of faith with a pious statement that he did not want to test Yahweh (cf. Deut. 6:16). Testing the LORD got Israel into big trouble in the wilderness and at other times, but asking for a sign was not testing God when He commanded it. God prohibited testing Him (demanding proof) when His people doubted or rebelled against Him (cf. Ps. 95:9; Matt. 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29), not when they wanted a sign to strengthen their faith (cf. Judg. 6:36-40; 2 Kings 20:8-11; Ps. 34:6; Mal. 3:10). Ahaz wanted to appear to have great faith in God, but he had already decided to make an alliance with Assyria.
"This was like a mouse sending for the cat to help him against two rats!"
Ahaz may even have convinced himself that this alliance was the means God would use to deliver Judah. A sign from God would only prove that Ahaz's plan was contrary to God's will. Compare King Saul's refusal to obey God and its consequences.
7:13 Isaiah saw right through the king's hypocrisy. He warned him by addressing him as the representative of the house of David. The plural "you" in verses 13 and 14 (in contrast to the singular "you" in verse 11 in the Hebrew text) indicates that Isaiah was now addressing all the members of the house of David and perhaps the whole nation (cf. v. 9). Yahweh had made covenant promises that David's dynasty would continue forever (2 Sam. 7:16; 1 Kings 8:25). Ahaz should not have feared being replaced by a puppet king (v. 6). Ahaz had said that he would not test God (v. 12), but by refusing to ask for a sign, that is precisely what he was doing—testing God's patience with him. He was also testing the patience of the godly in Israel who were looking to their king to trust God.
The prophet had called Yahweh Ahaz's God (v. 11), but now that the king had rebelled against Him, Isaiah referred to the LORD as "my (Isaiah's) God." This change was ominous, suggesting that God would abandon the king. If Ahaz's decision resulted in God withdrawing support from the Davidic kings, the prophecy of Immanuel may imply that God would raise up His own King from David's house who would be faithful to Him. This could explain why God gave such a major Messianic prediction at this time.
"To appreciate fully the messianic portrait of Isaiah 1—39, it must be viewed against the backdrop of the generally negative presentation of Judahite kingship in these same chapters."
7:14 Israel's sovereign Lord Himself would give Ahaz and the house of David (plural "you") a sign that He was with His people—even though the king refused to ask for one. The sign no longer was an inducement to faith but a confirmation of divine displeasure. A particular pregnant young woman would bear a son and name Him "Immanuel" ("God with Us"; cf. Gen. 16:11; 17:19; Judg. 13:3). The definite article ("the") describes "virgin" in the Hebrew text. This sign should have encouraged Ahaz to trust God's promise of deliverance and not rely on Assyria.
The Hebrew word for "virgin" is 'alma, which means a young woman of marriageable age, but the word never describes a married woman in the Old Testament. It is the only word in Hebrew that unequivocally signifies an unmarried woman. As the rest of this passage will show (through 8:10), it seems most likely that Isaiah's son Maher-shalal-hash-baz fulfilled the Immanuel prophecy initially. In Hebrew society, an unmarried woman of marriageable age would be a virgin. Thus 'alma had overtones of virginity about it and, in fact, sometimes described a virgin (cf. Gen. 24:43). This probably explains why the Septuagint translators chose the Greek word parthenos, meaning virgin, to translate 'alma here.
However, Hebrew has a word for virgin: bethula, so why did not Isaiah use this word if he meant the mother of the child was a virgin? Probably Isaiah used 'alma rather than bethula because he did not want to claim the virginity of the mother necessarily, but this word does not rule virginity out either. God evidently led Isaiah to use 'alma so the predicted mother could be simply a young unmarried woman or a virgin. This allows the possibility of a double fulfillment, a young woman in Isaiah's day who was not a virgin, and a virgin hundreds of years later (cf. Matt. 1:23).
The naming of a child by its mother was not uncommon in Israel (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25; 29:31—30:13, 17-24; 35:18; Judg. 13:24; 1 Sam. 1:20; 4:21). In Jesus' case, it was appropriate that Joseph named Him rather than Mary, since He was the Son of God as well as Mary's son.
Assuming a double fulfillment, the child's mother in Isaiah's day evidently named her baby Immanuel ("God Is with Us" or "God Be with Us") since she believed that God would demonstrate His presence with Judah by preserving the nation from the Syro-Ephraimitic threat. Whoever the child was, Ahaz must have learned of his birth since the birth was to be a sign to him. Some writers believed that Ahaz's son Hezekiah was the initial fulfillment. Whether the initial fulfillment was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Hezekiah, or someone else, the name "Immanuel" may have been a secondary or less used name.
Some conservative scholars have noted that the sign to the house of David (vv. 13-14, plural "you") was different from the sign to Ahaz (v. 11, singular "you"). They believed that there was no initial fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah's day—that no child born then served as a sign. Conservatives in this group believe that the only fulfillment was the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sign to Ahaz follows in verses 15-17.
Others believe that the sign of a distant virgin birth would have been a sign to Ahaz:
"… the assurance that Christ was to be born in Judah, of its royal family, might be a sign to Ahaz, that the kingdom should not perish in his day; and so far was the remoteness of the sign in this case from making it absurd or inappropriate, that the further off it was, the stronger the promise of continuance to Judah, which it guaranteed."
Another explanation is that God had already fulfilled many prophecies that Isaiah had delivered, and those fulfillments would have been an adequate sign for Ahaz. Furthermore, neither Ahab's son nor Isaiah's son was named "Immanuel," as far as the Bible records
7:15-16 Eating "curds" (thick, sour milk) and "honey," the diet of the poor, in contrast to bread and wine, pictures a time of poverty in the land (cf. v. 22)—following the Assyrian invasion that would follow relief from the Syro-Ephraimitic threat. The child born in Ahaz's day would eat this type of food when he became personally responsible for his decisions, an age that Isaiah left ambiguous intentionally. However, before this child became morally responsible ("knows enough to refuse evil and choose good"), both of Judah's threatening neighbors, Syria and Ephraim, would cease to exist. The child in view may have been Shear-jashub (v. 3).
Assyria invaded Syria and Israel in 733-32 B.C., only a year or two after this prophecy. Damascus fell in 732, and Samaria fell in 722 B.C. Jesus Christ also grew up in the Promised Land when it was under the rule of an oppressive foreign power and when life was hard.
7:17 Yahweh would bring on Judah a worse threat than Judah had faced ever since Israel's United Kingdom had split in Rehoboam's day, namely, the king of Assyria. Even though Syria and Israel would disappear as threats to Judah, Ahaz had done the wrong thing in failing to trust God, because Assyria would pose an even worse threat. He had "taken a tiger by the tail."
"Whatever a man trusts in place of God will one day turn to devour him."
The threat of Assyria 7:18-25
This section explains how the coming days would be the worst since the division of the kingdom (v. 17). Assyria was not just a powerful and brutal enemy, but it would be a tool in Yahweh's hand that He would use to discipline Judah.
7:18-19 Yahweh would summon the armies of Assyria and Egypt to do His bidding as one whistles (or hisses) at insects (cf. 5:26). The ancients could evidently control flies and bees by hissing at them. Egypt was a land full of flies, and the ancients spoke of Assyria as a country of beekeeping. Enemy soldiers, like flies and bees, would swarm everywhere in Judah (cf. Judg. 6:1-6).
7:20 Judah's sovereign Lord would particularly use Assyria, like a barber uses a razor, to remove all the "hair" from Judah: to completely humiliate her (cf. 2 Sam. 10:4-5). Prisoners and slaves were shaved as a mark of dishonor, and this condition signified insult and disrespect. Ahaz was already negotiating to hire Tiglath-pileser III, the king of Assyria, perhaps secretly at this time, to come and help Judah against the Syro-Ephraimitic alliance. However, Yahweh would "hire" the Assyrians (King Sennacherib) to do His will, implying that He would pay them for their efforts, which He did, not Ahaz.
7:21-22 In that day of woe, instead of having flocks and herds, the Judahites would be fortunate to have only one heifer and a couple of sheep. There would be such a lack of abundance of milk that they would have to curdle it to preserve it. They would also have to resort to eating honey instead of the variety of food items that they previously enjoyed (cf. v. 15). Even though food and drink would be scarce, it would be good food and drink because God would provide for the people who survived the Assyrian invasion.
7:23-25 Valuable farmland would revert to wilderness (cf. 5:5-6), and it would only be good for hunting. Formerly cultivated land would be used for grazing, because there would be so many briars and thorns and so few Israelites to take care of it.
"This ends Isaiah's address to king Ahaz. He does not expressly say when Immanuel is to be born, but only what will take place before he has reached the riper age of boyhood,—namely, first, the devastation of Israel and Syria, and then the devastation of Judah itself, by the Assyrians."
The sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz 8:1-4
Whereas the sign of Immanuel was for Ahaz primarily, the sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz was for all the people of Judah. The preceding prophecies to Ahaz (7:10-25) are generally negative, but the following prophecies to the Judahites (8:1—10) are more positive. These instructions from the LORD evidently came to Isaiah in the midst of the Syro-Ephraimitic war.
Chisholm believed that Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the immediate fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy of 7:14:
"The juxtaposition of the birth report narrative (8:1-8) with the birth announcement narrative (7:14-25) suggests a close relationship between the prophecy and the birth. The pattern of events (initial deliverance followed by punitive judgment) associated with the growth pattern of the child is the same in both chapters. Also, Immanuel is addressed in the conclusion of the prophecy in chapter 9 (cf. 8:8) as if He were already present on the scene. This address makes excellent sense if one understands the introduction of the same message (8:1-3) as describing his birth.
"The differing names present a problem (which, by the way, one also faces in Matthew's application of the Immanuel prophecy to the birth of Jesus). Perhaps Immanuel, understood as a symbolic name, focuses on God's involvement in Judah's history, whereas Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, the child's actual name, alludes to the specific purpose or effect of His involvement. (In the same way, when applied to Jesus, 'Immanuel' attests to God's personal intervention in history through the Incarnation, whereas the Lord's actual name, Jesus, indicates the specific purpose or effect of that intervention.)"
8:1 Yahweh instructed Isaiah to take a large flat surface (Heb. gillayon) appropriate for posting as a placard. He was to write clearly on it Maher-shalal-hash-baz ("Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil").
"Soldiers would shout these words to their comrades as they defeated and plundered their foes."
This public notice had a double purpose: to announce a coming attack on Syria and Israel, and to announce the birth of Isaiah's son.
"Isaiah was to make his message as public and eye-catching as possible."
8:2 God selected two men, whom he wanted to witness the writing or posting of this document, in order to confirm the date of this prophecy. When the predicted events happened, they could faithfully testify that Isaiah had predicted them, and that they had not happened before he wrote about them. One of the witnesses was Uriah ("Yahweh Is Light"). He was probably the high priest who built an altar, like the one in Damascus that Ahaz had seen, and set it up in place of the brazen altar (cf. 2 Kings 16:10-16). The position that this Zechariah ("Yahweh Remembers") occupied is unknown, but he may have been a prominent public figure like Uriah (cf. 2 Chron. 26:5; 29:12-13).
8:3 Then Isaiah had sexual relations with his wife, who is called a "prophetess" here, either because she was the wife of the prophet, or because she too was a prophet. Since the expression "approached" is a euphemism used several times in the Old Testament for the first intercourse between a man and his wife, it is possible that Isaiah's first wife, the mother of Shear-jashub (7:3), had died and the prophet had remarried. In this case, the 'alma of 7:14 could refer to Isaiah's second wife, and Isaiah's son who is in view could have been Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
However, "approached" (Heb. qrb) often describes sexual relations in general (Gen. 20:4; Lev. 18:6, 14, 19; 20:16; Deut. 22:14; Ezek. 18:6). So this could have been Isaiah's first wife. By naming her son, she made a prophetic statement: God would be with His people in the coming crisis. But when Isaiah's wife bore their son, Yahweh told Isaiah to name him "Maher-shalal-hash-baz." The child's mother evidently gave him one name and his father gave him the other.
8:4 Before the boy grew old enough to speak distinctly, Assyria (Tiglath-pileser III) would carry off the wealth of Damascus and Samaria (in 732 B.C.; cf. 7:15-16; 2 Kings 15:29). This brought to a close a 200-year period in which the Aramean Kingdom played a leading role in the ancient Near East. Thus Syria and Israel would not only fail in their attempt to bring Judah under their power (cf. 7:6), but the king of Assyria would bring them under his power. This second promise is almost identical to the earlier one in 7:4-9. Perhaps God intended it to be a second witness to the truthfulness of His Word.
"This is a specific prediction of the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 B.C."
The danger of Assyria 8:5-10
This section corresponds to 7:18-25. Both of them explain that the name to be given a child would have both a positive and a negative significance.
8:5-6 Yahweh spoke to Isaiah again (cf. 8:1). King Ahaz was not the only person in Judah who had failed to trust in the LORD but had put his confidence in man. The people of Judah had been guilty of the same folly. They had rejected God's faithful provisions for them, symbolized by the gently flowing Shiloah stream, which carried water from the Gihon spring just outside Jerusalem into the city to the pool of Siloam. This water source was unimpressive, but it provided water for the people of Jerusalem faithfully. Instead they had rejoiced in the anticipated destruction of the kings of Syria and Ephraim due to Ahaz's alliance with Assyria. A different interpretation follows:
"Because the Jews despised their own advantages, and admired the conquests of Pekah and Rezin, therefore God would cause them to experience the hardships of Assyrian domination."
8:7 Judah's sovereign Lord would indeed sweep these enemies away by using Assyria as His instrument of judgment. Isaiah compared Assyria to the waters of the Euphrates, which seasonally overflowed and swept away all in its path. But it would be God, not Ahaz, who would be responsible for their defeat. Assyria would not inundate God's people Israel because her gods were stronger than Yahweh, but because the sovereign Lord would bring this judgment on them.
"Like Germany in 1939 and 1940, the Assyrians seemed almost superhuman. They could strike anywhere, it seemed, with speed and power."
"The motif of the two rivers Shiloah (6) and the Euphrates (7) offers a telling contrast between the seeming weakness of faith and the seeming power of the world."
8:8 The Assyrian tide would not stop at Syria and Israel, however, but would sweep into Judah as well. This invasion happened in 701 B.C. But its waters would stop short of completely engulfing Judah; they would reach only to her neck. Israel would drown, but Judah would keep her head above water. Seen from above, the deepening waters of Assyria's army filling every valley and rising higher and higher resembled the wings of a huge, ominous bird of prey that covered the whole land. Isaiah described the whole land as Immanuel's land.
Probably this is a double reference: to the child predicted to be born (7:14), and to Israel as a whole, the people whose God was with them and would not allow Assyria to devour its prey. The reappearance of "Immanuel" (v. 8) in this passage, which predicts the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, and so closely parallels the Immanuel prophecies in chapter 7, suggests again that Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the initial fulfillment of the Immanuel prediction. In view of the later fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy in Jesus Christ, we have a reminder that Yahweh continued to be with His people and provided salvation for them ultimately in Christ.
8:9-10 The prophet called on the heathen nations to listen. They would be shattered—even though they girded themselves for battle against God's will. They could gird themselves for battle if they chose to, plan their plans, and propose their proposals, but they would fall, because God was with His people. Ultimately God's people would prevail.
Clarification of the issue 8:11—9:7
Having received two signs of God's dealing with them in the immediate crisis that they faced, plus accompanying warnings, the people of Judah next received additional incentives to trust Yahweh.
The importance of listening to God 8:11—9:1
8:11 Isaiah now passed along instruction that Yahweh had powerfully given him, warning him against following the popular reliance on human strength. God had been teaching Isaiah that He had brought the Assyrians to power. To oppose Assyria now was to oppose God.
8:12-13 Yahweh told Isaiah not to fear the armies of Judah's enemies, but Himself, the LORD of armies. He should not become paranoid and think that the enemy's conspiracy against the people of Judah would succeed, as the people of Judah did. Instead, he should make the LORD the most significant fact in his thinking and thus sanctify Him as holy (cf. Matt. 10:28).
8:14-15 This procedure would make Yahweh a refuge and a holy place of peace for the prophet. The Israelites generally, however, would not trust Yahweh and would, consequently, find that He tripped them up by bringing judgment on them (cf. Matt. 21:44; Luke 2:34; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:8). He would trap them, eventually leading them into captivity.
8:16 Isaiah's audience needed to return to God's revelation and recommit themselves to it, which the prophet led the way in doing (cf. Josh. 24:14-15).
Scholars are divided over whether God or Isaiah was speaking in this verse, and whether "my disciples" refers to Isaiah's disciples or the LORD's. If this verse continues verse 15, God seems to be the speaker, but if it connects with verse 17, Isaiah seems to be. My preference is that it was God who was speaking, and the "disciples" were His people.
8:17 Isaiah committed himself to waiting expectantly for the LORD to act in harmony with His Word, rather than turning to another source for strength and courage (cf. 40:31; Heb. 2:13). Presently Yahweh was not doing anything that indicated that He was working. The "house of Jacob" probably refers to the Northern Kingdom here.
8:18 Nevertheless the prophet's own name, and the names of his two sons, were signs from Yahweh of armies that He would do what those names signified. Judah's enemies would descend on her soon, a remnant would survive, and Yahweh would save. Even though He was presently silent, God was still on His throne.
"The Epistle to the Hebrews (ch. ii. 13) quotes these words as the distinct words of Jesus, because the spirit of Jesus was in Isaiah,—the spirit of Jesus, which in the midst of this holy family, bound together as it was only by the bands of 'the shadow,' pointed forward to that church of the New Testament which would be bound together by the bands of the true substance."
8:19 Loss of faith in God results in an increase in superstition. The unfaithful in Judah were encouraging their brethren to seek advice about the future from mediums, wizards, and spiritists—instead of from their God (cf. Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Deut. 18:11). Their unusual speech, used to call up spirits, was a warning sign of unreliable revelations. How ironic it is to consult the dead for information about the living (cf. 1 Sam. 28:6-8)!
8:20 Back to the Bible, Isaiah preached. If the predictions of the false fortune tellers did not harmonize with written revelation, their counsel was darkness rather than light. The "law" probably refers to the Torah, and the "testimony" to royal tradition and theory. This "testimony" comprised the oral and written traditions passed down from former generations, which, while not inspired, were nevertheless important reliable sources of information.
"More than anything else today there is need that all our thinking be based upon and in conformity with the Holy Scriptures."
8:21-22 The end of such occult advisers is difficulty, hunger, frustration, distress, darkness, gloom, and anguish. They will look up to their leaders and curse both their king and their God, because things did not turn out as they foretold (cf. v. 17; Rev. 16:11, 21). They will look down to their fellows and find no help. Frustration meets them wherever they turn.
9:1 In contrast to the gloom of the false counselors, the residents of Galilee in Israel, who would experience the LORD's chastening, would enjoy glory. God would bring light when His people had lost all hope. Galilee, in northern Israel, was the first region in Israel to feel the lash of the Assyrian invaders. It was a melting pot and home to many Gentiles, as well as Jews, because the international highway between Mesopotamia and Egypt passed through it. Glory came to this region later when Jesus lived and ministered there (cf. Matt. 4:13-16). But it will enjoy even greater glory during Messiah's earthly reign, as will all of the Promised Land.
"The three phrases at the end of the verse—'the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles' or 'nations'—indicate administrative districts of the Assyrian conqueror Tiglath–Pileser III as a result of the three campaigns he waged in the west around 733 B.C."
Nazareth was located in Zebulun, Capernaum in Naphtali, the way of the sea refers to the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, the other (eastern) side of the Jordan to Perea, and Galilee of the Gentiles to the northernmost parts of Israel. This was the main arena of Jesus' ministry.
The faithful king to come 9:2-7
In contrast to Ahaz, who refused to listen to and obey God, the LORD would raise up a faithful King who would be born and reign in the future (the Millennium). This pericope climaxes the present section (7:1—9:7) dealing with the signs of God's presence. Again a child is the centerpiece of the prophecy and provides a sign and hope for the future. Verse 2 begins chapter 9 in the Hebrew text.
9:2 Light would come to those walking in darkness—the Israelites—as they lived in a dark land (v. 1). Many prophetic perfects in Hebrew in this section assure the certainty of the things predicted. In Hebrew, a writer sometimes described as past what was really in the future. He used the perfect verb tense to emphasize that what was future was as sure to happen as if it had happened already. God would enlighten those in darkness by bringing new light to them, even though they did not deserve it (cf. Matt. 4:15-16). This was revelation about the future that was sure, compared to the unreliable predictions of mediums and wizards (cf. 8:19).
"… the very region where Assyrian armies brought darkness and death would be the first to rejoice in the light brought by the preaching of Christ (Mt. 4:15-16)."
"The darkness-light motif points to a creative work of God, who alone can make such a transformation (cf. 4:5; Gn. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 4:6)."
9:3 God would reveal His presence to His people, and the results would be national growth (cf. 7:20-23; 49:19-23) and abundance (cf. 5:10; 33:23; 35:1-2)—really every type of joy.
"The hiatus between verses 2 and 3 has already been two thousand years long."
9:4 God would deliver them from their enemies, primarily physical but also spiritual enemies. The Assyrians would impose a yoke on the Israelites, but God would break that yoke off (cf. Exod. 1:11; 2:11; 3:7-8; 5:4-7, 10-14; 6:6-7; Lev. 26:13; Matt. 11:29-30). This deliverance would be entirely of God and against overwhelming odds, like when God broke the yoke of Midian (Judg. 6—7, cf. especially 6:35; 7:2-14, and 20).
9:5 God would not just give victory to Israel, but He would cause wars to cease (cf. Ps. 46:9-10). His people would enter into the fruits of a past victory, namely, the victory of their Messiah.
9:6 The end of war depends on the coming of a person—a royal person—yet one never explicitly called a king here (cf. Matt. 11:27; 28:18; John 5:22). He would appear as a child (emphatic in the Hebrew text); He would not only be God come to earth, but God born on earth: both human and divine. The "Child born" points to His humanity and the "Son given" to His deity. The first title fits His first advent and the second title His second advent. Moslems deny that God could ever have a son. God would not defeat Israel's enemies by using larger, more powerful armies, but through the influence of a child to be born (cf. Ps. 2:7; John 3:16).
"What the world needs, as the prophets saw clearly, is not primarily a better philosophy of government or a more perfect system of legislation, but a Person who has the character, wisdom, and power needed to rule for God among men. This is the central theme of prophecy from first to last."
This child to be born to Isaiah's people would have traits that demonstrated that God was with them. Thus He would be the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel sign (7:14). Four titles underscore His deity and humanity:
"Wonderful Counselor" is literally "wonder of a counselor" (cf. Judg. 13:18), though there is nothing in the Hebrew construction to prevent taking these as two separate names. This ruler's counsel would transcend merely human wisdom (cf. 11:2); He would have no need of human counselors to guide Him. Jesus advised, for example, that strength lies in weakness, victory in surrender, and life in death.
He would be "Mighty God." He would possess all the power of God (cf. 10:21; Deut. 10:17; Neh. 9:32; Ps. 24:8; Jer. 32:18).
He would not only be the "father of the nation," in the sense that Israel's kings were, but He would be the "Eternal Father," whose paternal reign would last forever, because He is God (cf. Ps. 72). This is not a reference to God the Father, however, but to God the Son, who will provide a fatherly kind of reign throughout eternity.
"In the Bible eternity is not absolutely opposed to time, but is simply (at least in its forward aspect) an unending duration or succession of ages."
In climax, He would be the "Prince of Peace," the monarch whose coming results in peace between God and people, and between individual people (cf. Mic. 5:4).
"Isaiah does not intend that we should understand that in actual life the Child would bear or be addressed by these names, anymore than in actual life He should bear the name Immanuel. … The thought is that the Child is worthy to bear these names, and that they are accurate descriptions and designations of His being and character."
"To summarize, the messianic ruler's titles depict Him as an extraordinary military strategist who will be able to execute His plans because of His supernatural abilities as a warrior. His military prowess will ensure His beneficent rule over His people, who will enjoy peace and prosperity because of His ability to subdue all His enemies."
"God's answer to everything that has ever terrorized us is a child. The power of God is so far superior to the Assyrians and all the big shots of this world that he can defeat them by coming as a mere child. His answer to the bullies swaggering through history is not to become an even bigger bully. His answer is Jesus.
"Look at Jesus. As the Wonderful Counselor, he has the best ideas and strategies. Let's follow him. As the Mighty God, he defeats his enemies easily. Let's hide behind him. As the Everlasting Father, he loves us endlessly. Let's enjoy him. As the Prince of Peace, he reconciles us while we are still his enemies. Let's welcome his dominion."
The first two titles suggest divine wisdom and power, and the second two present the ends that He would achieve through the use of those attributes, namely, fatherly care and sovereign peace.
There is an interesting alternation of the human and divine descriptions of the Messiah in this verse, which is especially clear in the Hebrew text.
9:7 This coming One would be the final king whose reign would result in increasing peace forever. Most governments increase through war, but this one would grow through peace. The future Ruler would be an eschatological figure, yet He would be a Davidic king—the perfect Davidic descendant who would accomplish for Israel all that God intended in justice and righteousness (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-17). This would happen because Yahweh of armies Himself would bring it to pass for the welfare of His people (cf. 37:32). It is, therefore, certain of fulfillment. The Jewish rabbis interpreted this person as Hezekiah.
"'The throne of David' is an expression as definite, historically, as 'the throne of the Caesars,' and does not admit of spiritualizing (Lk. 1:32-33)."
Amillennialists spiritualize the throne of David by referring it either to the church (defined as all believers throughout history) or heaven.
2. Measurement by God's standard 9:8—10:4
This section of the book focuses on the Northern Kingdom, and it ties in with the section immediately preceding concerning the Messiah (9:2-7). It explains why Ephraim's plans against Judah would fail. They would not fail because of Ahaz's alliance with Assyria but because God would frustrate them. Ephraim would not go into captivity because she lacked sufficient military strength, but because she failed to measure up to the standard that God had set for her. This standard lay in the area of moral rectitude through covenant obedience rather than military resources.
"The great light would not arise till the darkness had reached its deepest point. The gradual increase of this darkness is predicted in this second section of the esoteric addresses [8:5—12:6]."
This section, a poem, consists of four strophes (sections of a poem), each ending with the refrain: "In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out" (vv. 12, 17, 21; 10:4; cf. 5:25). The progression of offenses is from pride, to flawed leadership, to selfishness, to social injustice.
The pride of Ephraim 9:8-12
Isaiah explained that because the Northern Kingdom had not turned to Him for safety, but to an alliance with Syria, He would not defend her from her enemy.
"… the sin for Isaiah, the source of all other sin, is the pride which exalts humanity above God, which makes God but a tool for the achievement of our plans and dreams."
9:8 The prophet announced that the LORD had pronounced a message (Heb. dabar, word) of judgment against the Northern Kingdom. It had all the force of Yahweh's sovereign power behind it, but it would come subject to Ephraim continuing on the course it presently pursued. Prophetic announcements of judgment usually allowed for the possibility of repentance. If the people under God's promised judgment repented, the judgment would not fall (cf. Jer. 18:7-10; Jon. 3:4-10).
9:9a Everyone in Ephraim and Samaria would know the truth of God's Word.
9:9b-10 These people had demonstrated their pride by claiming that, if some things were destroyed by invaders, they would replace them with better things. They planned to overcome any disaster through their own work rather than by looking to the LORD for help.
9:11-12 Because of this pride, Yahweh would raise up strong adversaries from the northeast and the southwest: the Syrians (Arameans) and the Philistines (cf. Num. 20:12; 2 Sam. 11:27). He would teach them that they could not overcome these enemies on their own, and that they needed His salvation. Yet in spite of these judgments, the LORD's anger would still be against Ephraim, and His hand of judgment would be stretched out against her, because she would not repent.
"This text is about sinners in the hands of an angry God. In fact, God, the most loving person in the Bible, is also the angriest person in the Bible."
The corruption of Ephraim's leaders 9:13-17
"As the first stage of the judgments has been followed by no true conversion to Jehovah the almighty judge, there comes a second."
9:13-14 Since the LORD's discipline of the nation would not cause her to repent, He would cut off her leadership abruptly and suddenly. This would make her see her need of Him more clearly. Isaiah described the totality of leadership as the head and tail of this national animal. Some leaders were eminent, like the erect palm branch, while others were lowly, like the bowing bulrush.
9:15-16 By the "head," Isaiah meant the leading person, and by the "tail," the false prophet. The leaders were leading the people astray by strengthening their self-confidence, rather than urging them to trust Yahweh. Typically this results in leaders saying and doing things only to lengthen their own tenure in positions of power.
9:17 Therefore the LORD would not give the young men success in battle, nor would He take care of the defenseless at home. The people's corruption had descended to disregarding God, doing evil, and saying right is wrong and wrong is right. Consequently judgment would proceed.
"What is the wrath of God? His wrath is his active, resolute opposition to all evil. His delight is spontaneous and intrinsic to his being, but his wrath is provoked by the defiance of his creatures. His love will never make peace with our evil. What we must understand is that God's wrath is perfect, no less perfect than 'the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience' (Romans 2:4). His wrath is not moody vindictiveness; it is the solemn determination of a doctor cutting away the cancer that's killing his patient. And for God, the anger is personal, not detached and clinical. This Doctor hates the cancer, because he loves the carriers of the disease and he will rid the universe of all their afflictions. He has already scheduled 'the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed' (Romans 2:5)."
The selfishness of everyone 9:18-21
9:18 Wickedness is not a little misguided playfulness but rebellion against God's order for life. It proceeds from a little fire to a raging inferno because, like fire, wickedness has an insatiable appetite.
9:19 The LORD of armies uses human sin to consume sinners, and people consume one another trying to satisfy their own desires.
9:20-21 People even consume themselves ("devour"; attack and kill each other in large numbers) to satisfy themselves. The tribes of Israel were consuming each other for the same purpose—even brother tribes like Ephraim and Manasseh that had come from one father, Joseph (cf. Judg. 12:1-6). The Hebrews described the members of their own tribe or family as their "arm," because they supported and sustained them. Whereas Judah had defended his brothers in the days of the patriarchs (Gen. 44:18-34), now the descendants of Joseph were trying to destroy the descendants of Judah. For this reason God's hand of judgment was still extended against Ephraim.
The oppression of the helpless 10:1-4
Isaiah directed this last strophe against the unjust authorities and judges in Israel.
10:1-2 The Ephraimite leaders were using their positions to deprive the needy of their rights and to obtain what the poor had for themselves. They were evidently favoring legislation that resulted in these ends, as well as perverting the justice that was in place in the Mosaic legal system. The situation was so bad in Israel that the LORD chose to abandon His customary defense of the defenseless.
10:3-4 When God brought Ephraim into judgment, he would have nowhere to hide and no one to protect him (cf. Matt. 24:45-51). Then he would be the needy without defense or recourse. For the fourth time, God promised that He would judge Ephraim (cf. 9:12, 17, 21).
Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom, had more reason to fear God than he had to fear Assyria. Yahweh would discipline him because of his pride, corrupt leadership, selfishness, and oppression of his vulnerable citizens. He would not suffer defeat because of military inferiority but because of moral inadequacy.
Many student of Isaiah believe that this would have been a better place for a chapter division than after 9:21. (The present division of the Bible into chapters was made by Cardinal Hugo in A.D. 1250, and the present division into verses by Robert Stephens, who was a famous printer in Paris, in 1551.)
3. Hope of God's deliverance 10:5—11:16
Earlier God revealed that He would use Assyria to destroy Judah for her lack of trust in Yahweh (7:1—8:22). Now He revealed that He would also destroy this destroyer (cf. Hab. 2:4-20). It is God who is sovereign, not Assyria, and He was with His chosen people.
"The Messianic prophecy, which turns its darker side towards unbelief in ch. vii., and whose promising aspect burst like a great light through the darkness in ch. viii. 5—ix. 6, is standing now upon its third and highest stage. In ch. vii. it is like a star in the night; in ch. viii. 5—ix. 6, like the morning dawn; and now the sky is perfectly cloudless, and it appears like the noonday sun."
The destruction of the destroyer 10:5-34
This segment presents Yahweh as the transcendent God who controls the destiny of all nations. He creates history just as He created the cosmos. The victory of the Assyrians did not prove the superiority of her gods, nor did Judah's defeat mean that Yahweh was inferior. The whole passage contrasts sovereignties: Assyria's and Yahweh's.
The instrument of destruction 10:5-11
Assyria was simply an unwitting tool in Yahweh's hand that He would use to accomplish His purposes (cf. Hab. 1:12-17). This pericope is one of the greatest revelations of the relation between heaven and earth in the Bible.
10:5-6 "Woe" (Heb. hoy) introduces another judgment oracle. Assyria was like a rod in God's hand; He controlled her actions. He would send her to discipline godless Judah, against whom God's fury burned: "to capture spoils and to seize plunder" (v. 6, another variation of Maher-shalal-hash-baz's name, 8:1, 3). However, Assyria was in for woe herself (cf. v. 1) because she failed to acknowledge that she was under the sovereign authority of Yahweh.
10:7 Assyria did not consciously serve God. She planned to pursue her own selfish purposes and to destroy many nations to expand her own empire. She mistakenly thought she was sovereign.
10:8-11 Assyria, in her unrealistic pride, boasted, in the person of her king, that her princes were the equivalent of kings, so great was their authority. She assumed that the cities of Judah were the same as the cities of other nations, namely, without Yahweh's special concern and protection. She mistakenly thought that Judah's God was just another god (cf. 2 Kings 18:33-35). Therefore she planned to do to Judah and Jerusalem just as she had done to other nations and their great cities. In each of the three pairs of cities listed (v. 9), the first is farther southwest than the second. The prophet portrayed the Assyrian king as thinking: I took this one that is closer to me, so I can take that other one that is farther from me. The Assyrians conquered Arpad in 740 B.C., Calno in 738 B.C., Damascus in 732 B.C., Samaria in 722 B.C., and Carchemish in 717 B.C.
The object of destruction 10:12-19
10:12 When God finished using Assyria as His rod to punish Mt. Zion and Jerusalem, He would punish Assyria, too, for her arrogance and haughtiness. The prose form of this verse, which serves as a climax in a long section of poetry, makes this major point stand out all the more clearly.
"God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are always in perfect balance in the Word of God. Even though we are not able to reconcile these paradoxical facts, we can believe both because the Bible teaches both. God is sovereign in His universe; and at the same time man is fully accountable to God for all his acts."
10:13-14 Assyria, again personified (cf. vv. 8-11), manifested arrogance and haughtiness by boasting that all her victories were the result of her own strength and intelligence (cf. Rom. 1:19-21). She felt, as many nations have, including Nazi Germany, that she was superior and therefore had the right to determine the fates of inferiors. She had a right to steal from others who could not or would not defend themselves. Changing the boundaries of conquered nations was an integral part of Assyrian imperial practice, along with the relocation of captives.
10:15 It is illogical, the prophet pointed out, for the impersonal instrument of judgment to exalt itself over the Person who wields it.
10:16 Because of Assyria's pride, sovereign Yahweh of armies would defeat this mighty foe. Isaiah described her fall as resulting from a wasting disease and a consuming fire. In Hebrew, in contrast to English, mixed metaphors add strength to a description rather than weakening it.
10:17-18 The Assyrians were jumping into a fire by invading Jerusalem. The fire would come from the light of Israel, namely: her holy God (cf. 8:12-15). This fire would consume the small and the great in Assyria: from the lowly thorns, to the beautiful garden plants, to the mighty trees of the forest.
10:19 The remaining trees (i.e., leaders) would be so few that a small child would be able to count them.
In 701 B.C. the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem, and God slew 185,000 of them in one night (37:36-37). The Babylonians felled the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C. One scholar believed that all of what Isaiah predicted in verses 5-19 was fulfilled between the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.
The promise of restoration 10:20-27
The focus of the prophecy now shifts from Assyria to Israel.
10:20 In some future day, the remnant (cf. 6:13; 7:3) who escaped annihilation by the Assyrians would no longer trust in man for deliverance, as Ahaz and Judah did before the Assyrian takeover. They would learn this most important lesson and truly trust in Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. Thus Israel would be the really wise and strong nation, not Assyria (cf. v. 13). Israel, as well as Assyria (v. 19), would have a remnant left over after the LORD's destruction of both nations.
10:21 A remnant would return ( the meaning of "Shear-jashub," 7:3) to the genuinely mighty God. It would be a remnant of the whole house of Jacob—from all the Israelites. The reference to the mighty God (cf. 9:5), along with the sincere change of attitude in Israel—one that has not yet taken place—points to a time of fulfillment in the eschatological future. "That day" (v. 20), as elsewhere, is a millennial reference here.
"The remnant is not a super-spiritual elite looking down on others, but they do dare to live by faith in God."
10:22-23 God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the sea (Gen. 22:17; 32:12). This did not mean, as the Israelites in Isaiah's day apparently concluded, that they would always be a large people. No, God would so thoroughly destroy them, because of their sin, that only a small number would survive (cf. Rom. 9:27-28). The sovereign Lord God of armies would destroy them throughout the whole Promised Land, not just in the Northern Kingdom.
10:24-27 The LORD used reminders of two previous deliverances to encourage the residents of Jerusalem to believe that they would survive the attack of a stronger and larger foe. He had delivered their forefathers from Egypt and the Midianites, and He had destroyed the Egyptians and the Midianites (Judg. 7:25). The rock of Oreb got its name from the Midianite Prince Oreb, who escaped death in the battle with the Israelites, but died when he fled. Similarly, Sennacherib did not perish with his army but died after he returned home (37:38). The Assyrian oppression would not last long (cf. 9:4), and God would then punish this disciplinarian of His people. God's blessing on His people would be responsible for the breaking of the yoke of bondage that was on them.
A description of Assyria's attack and judgment 10:28-34
10:28-32 Isaiah foresaw the Assyrian army descending on Jerusalem from the north, passing through various towns, and finally arriving at Nob just north of Jerusalem. From that location, probably modern Mt. Scopus, which was somewhat higher in elevation than Mt. Zion, the enemy looked down on Jerusalem and shook his fist menacingly. All the towns and villages mentioned stood only a few miles north and east of Jerusalem.
10:33-34 The prophet now changed his perspective as well as his figure. Even though Assyria would menace and, indeed, destroy Jerusalem, Yahweh of armies would cut the enemy down to size, like a lumberjack trimmed branches off a tree and finally felled it. God's irresistible instrument would cut back Assyria's many lofty leaders. This would be a felling as colossal as the harvesting of Lebanon's vast forests (cf. Ezek. 31:3).
"The … 'forest thickets' refers to thick underbrush that must be cleared to allow the fine trees to grow. …'the Lebanon' refers, not to a country as today, but to a region on the slopes of Mount Hermon to the north of Israel. It was renowned for the magnificent gigantic trees which grew there."
This prophecy found literal fulfillment when God Himself defeated the Assyrians in 701 B.C. (ch. 37).
Deliverance to come from Jesse's Shoot ch. 11
This section gives the positive side of the deliverance of God's people, that is to come, in contrast to the negative side (10:5—34). God would put Assyria down, but the Messiah would lift Israel up by serving her ideally. The Messianic hope, introduced at various points earlier in this major section (chs. 7—12), comes to full flower in chapter 11 (cf. 7:14; 8:23—9:6). Having promised Him, Isaiah now presented Messiah as ruling.
The rule of the Shoot 11:1-9
Messiah would meet certain qualifications (vv. 2-3a) and would rule with absolute justice (vv. 3b-5)—with the result that people would live in peace (vv. 6-9)
11:1 The prophet had just described Assyria cut down like a forest of trees (10:15-19, 33-34). Likewise, Israel would have only a remnant left after God finished judging her (10:20-23; cf. 6:11-13). Now he pictured a "shoot" (Heb. nezer) sprouting from one of the stumps left after Israel's harvesting (cf. 4:2; 6:13; 53:1-3; Job 14:7). A shoot would sprout from Jesse's family tree stump. Some interpreters believe that Matthew had this shoot (nezer) in mind when he wrote that Jesus fulfilled prophecy by being called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:23).
The reference to humble "Jesse," rather than to glorious David, stresses God's grace in providing a deliverer from a lowly family. It also indicates that Messiah would be another David, not just a "son of David," and that the house of David would lack royal dignity when Messiah appeared. Other prophets referred to the coming ideal Davidic king as "David," picturing him as the "second coming of David," so to speak (cf. Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hos. 3:5). The figure of a "Branch" (Heb. neser, sapling), referring to Messiah, also appears in Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15, and in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12.
11:2 Clearly this shoot would be a person, and the presence of God's Spirit would distinguish Him (cf. 61:1; Exod. 31:3; Judg. 14:6; 1 Sam. 10:10; 16:13; Luke 4:18; John 1:31-34; 3:34). Isaiah referred to the Holy Spirit more than any other Old Testament prophet (11:2; 30:1; 32:15; 34:16; 40:13; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1; 63:10-11, 14). Spiritual qualities had not distinguished many of the Davidic kings thus far (cf. 2 Sam. 23:2-3), but the future ruler would enjoy divine enablement and would manifest supreme godliness. This description presents Him as perfectly endowed by the Spirit with everything He needs to fulfill His kingly task (cf. Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6).
"Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are specified, to imply that the perfection of them was to be in Him. Cf. 'the seven Spirits' (Rev. 1:4), i.e., the Holy Ghost in His perfect fullness: seven being the sacred number."
"Wisdom" and "understanding" are synonyms that, together, mean great wisdom. "Counsel" and "strength" suggest His ability to strategize wisely and then execute His strategy. "Knowledge" and "fear" refer to His acknowledgement of and loyalty to God. The source of these traits would be God's Spirit on Him.
11:3 The coming "David" would also delight in fearing the LORD, not fearing Him out of dread, much less, lacking respect for Yahweh. He would make decisions on the basis of reality rather than appearances, having the ability to see through issues. Such abilities demand more than a merely human ruler (cf. John 18:36-38). An earlier Messiah passage (9:6) showed Him to be divine, but this one presents Him as a dependent human being, "a combination that requires the Incarnation for its explanation."
11:4 Justice for the poor was hard to find in the ancient world because the poor could not afford to bribe their judges, and they possessed little political influence. But Israel's coming king would do what was right for the poor and be fair with the afflicted (cf. Rev. 1:5; 3:14). His words of judgment would result in the death of the wicked rather than giving them preferential treatment for what they could do for the judge (cf. 55:10-11; Heb. 4:12; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 1:16; 19:15, 21). Clearly, this king will acknowledge God as His sovereign.
11:5 Righteousness and faithfulness (to God) would be His outstanding and determining characteristics. These were the marks of the Israelites' God (cf. 5:16; 65:16; Ps. 40:10; 119:75, 142; Zech. 8:8). A "belt" in Isaiah's culture held together everything else that the person wore. So the figure here pictures everything about the king as thoroughly righteous and pleasing to God.
11:6-8 Security and safety would result from this king's rule. Whereas the conditions described may occur literally in the Millennium, Isaiah probably used them to represent those conditions figuratively. The presently rapacious—represented by the wolf, leopard, lion (twice), bear, cobra, and viper—will coexist peacefully with the defenseless—the lamb, the kid, the calf, the cow, the ox, the nursing child, and the weaned child. "The fatted steer" (NASB) breaks the parallelism and may be better rendered "will graze" (NET2). People least able to control wild things will be able to exercise effective leadership over them then, because God will change their natures.
In that day, death itself will have lost its sting (cf. Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55). People will have no fear of what is now fatal. The serpent will have been subdued (Gen. 3:15). Note again the recurrence of the child motif in this section, in order to stress the victory of humility over self-assertiveness (cf. Matt. 18:2-5). In short, these conditions indicate a return to paradise on earth (cf. Gen. 1:28-30; Ps. 8; 1 Cor. 15:25-28; Heb. 2:5-9).
Amillennial interpreters do not believe there will be a future reign of Messiah on the earth for a millennium. They believe the conditions Isaiah described here are either figurative descriptions of the peace that Christ has brought to humanity through His saving work, or they describe conditions in heaven.
11:9 The enemies of humankind, those that are hurtful and destructive, will no longer hurt or destroy people in God's holy mountain (i.e., kingdom, cf. 2:2-3; Dan. 2:32, 45; et al.)—because everyone will know (relationally) the LORD (cf. Jer. 31:34). "Mountain" seems to refer metaphorically here to God's kingdom, since it is the whole earth, not just a small region, that will be full of the knowledge of the LORD. "The earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD" means: "there will be universal submission to the Lord's sovereignty" (NET2; cf. v. 2). The animals contrasted in verses 6-8 undoubtedly represent people. Peaceful conditions in the animal kingdom could not be all that Isaiah intended, but global peace.
The return under the Shoot 11:10-16
The rebellion of one Davidic king, Ahaz, would result in the defeat and dispersion of God's people (8:6-8), but the righteousness of another Davidic king, Messiah, would result in their revival and return to God and the Promised Land.
11:10 "On that day" points to the time when Messiah would rule (vv. 1-9). Then the Gentile nations would seek out the king who would represent His people, the Jews. The signal or standard in view seems to refer to a rallying point. The fulfillment could not be the return from Babylonian exile, and the rallying of all sorts of people around Christ—as preached in the present Church Age—does not fit the picture either.
Many liberal interpreters prefer the first explanation, and amillennialists prefer the second. The description must refer to a future worldwide turning to Messiah in which the Jews will be prominent (cf. Rom. 11). No resting place of Messiah was especially glorious during His first advent, but when He returns, Jerusalem will become "glorious" because He will rule there.
The title "root of Jesse" presents the Messiah as the source of the Davidic line (cf. Gen. 3:15; 17:6), not just the product of that line (v. 1). It also suggests His humble origin, as opposed to being described as coming from a king's line.
11:11 Then there will be a second regathering of the Israelites to the Promised Land—from all over the world. The first regathering will probably not be what happened under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The present return of many Jews to the State of Israel cannot fulfill this second regathering prediction because, as Isaiah explained, that will happen when Messiah rules on earth. Assyrian and Babylonian sovereigns might defeat and disperse the Jews, but the ultimate sovereign, Messiah, will restore and reassemble them (cf. Ezek. 37).
"The locations listed in verse 11 emphasize the huge area from which the people of Israel will be gathered. However, as the phrase 'from the four corners of the earth' in verse 12 shows, the regathering will not be limited to this area. … Just as the second regathering will be a worldwide event, the first regathering could not merely have been the return from Babylon since that was hardly a regathering from the four corners of the earth. Rather, the first worldwide regathering of the Jewish people was in unbelief in preparation for judgment, as Ezekiel 20:33-38; 22:17-22; 37:1-28; and Zephaniah 2:1-2 point out. The present State of Israel is the fulfillment of these passages, and the judgment will be the tribulation. This event is to be followed by a second regathering, because modern-day Israel will collapse in the middle of the tribulation and there will be another exile, followed by this second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessing, mainly the blessings of the millennial kingdom. It is this final regathering that Isaiah was dealing with in this passage."
Some amillennialists take this promise figuratively, because the nations mentioned no longer exist. But the territory occupied by these nations is probably in view.
11:12 The standard Messiah lifts up for the nations is the flag of His kingdom; His will be an earthly kingdom. He will assemble under this banner a remnant of Jews from both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms who will be living all over the earth then. The northern tribes of Israel were not lost, as some cults claim. They have a future as Israel. Some interpreters view the standard as Messiah Himself.
11:13-14 Internal strife among the tribes will cease. Instead of fighting among themselves, the Israelites will subdue their common enemies and gain the whole Promised Land. Evidently this conflict will precede the peace pictured in verses 6-9.
11:15-16 God will defeat Israel's ancient enemies: Egypt and Babylonia. His judgments on them will involve the drying up of major barriers: the Red Sea and the Euphrates River (cf. Exod. 14:21; Rev. 16:12). This judgment will allow the Jews to return to the Promised Land, unhindered, from those parts of the world. They will be able to leave the territory of Assyria, where God had said He would send them captive, as easily as their forefathers left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea in the Exodus. Dividing the Euphrates into seven seasonal "streams" (Heb. nahal) may connote a perfect and complete taming, or even re-creation, by God.
"As God had provided a dry passage across the Red Sea in the first Exodus, so in the second Exodus He would remove any physical barrier that would hinder the return of His people."
Thus, this section of the book, dealing with the hope of God's deliverance (10:5—11:16), culminates in the reign of Messiah on the earth. Israel will re-gather in the Promised Land—from all over the world—trusting in God. The Gentiles, too, will acknowledge His sovereignty, which both they and His own people have forever resisted.
4. Trust in God's favor ch. 12
This psalm of praise concludes the section dealing with Israel's choice between trusting God or trusting Assyria (7:1—12:6). It expresses the trust in God that Isaiah's revelations in this section encouraged. This is a song of redemption that the remnant will sing "on that day" of Messiah's triumph, but which the prophet anticipated in his own (cf. Exod. 15).
12:1 Isaiah prophesied that on the day Messiah that reigned, the remnant who survived the harvesting of Israel would praise Yahweh for ending His discipline of them, and for comforting them. Previously in Isaiah's prophecy, "that day" was one to be dreaded (cf. 2:20; 3:18; 4:1; 7:18, 20-21, 23), but now it is one to be hoped for. This is the eschatological "day of the LORD," so often referred to by the prophets, that will include judgment (in the Tribulation) followed by blessing (in the Millennium).
12:2 The focus of this song is God Himself. Finally the Israelites express their commitment to trust in Him rather than in other people (cf. 8:12—9:1). They acknowledge Him as their salvation, their strength, and their song (cf. Exod. 15:2; Ps. 118:14)—not just as the provider of these blessings. Song is the natural expression of a free spirit. None of these things come apart from Him. Isaiah had tried to get King Ahaz to trust and not fear (7:2-9), but he would not believe that God was adequate to deliver him.
12:3 Water is a rich symbol of salvation, especially to a people who lived in a land as dry as Canaan. God had provided salvation in the form of water for the Israelites during their wilderness march (Exod. 15:27; 17:1-7). In the future, Israelites could anticipate securing His salvation and sharing it with others, specifically the Gentiles (cf. Ps. 116:13). This verse became a common saying among the Jews and led to a water-drawing ceremony in Jerusalem (cf. John 4:15; 7:37-38). Water represents everything necessary for supporting life.
"There shall be a latter outpouring of the Spirit like the former one on pentecost (Joel 2:23)."
12:4-5 In the eschatological day, the remnant will give thanks to Yahweh, pray to Him because of His character revealed in His behavior, and tell the Gentiles about His deeds. They would remind others from all over the world that He is an exalted Person, and will praise Him in song for His excellent actions.
12:6 Praise and joy come with realizing that Yahweh is salvation (cf. Exod. 15:20-21; Jon. 2:9). The title "the Holy One of Israel" summarizes whom this hymn of praise honors, as well as what this whole section of the book is about. Only Yahweh is the Holy One of Israel!
B. God's sovereignty over the nations chs. 13—35
This major section of the book emphasizes the folly of trusting in the nations rather than in Yahweh. The section preceding it shows how King Ahaz trusted in Assyria and experienced destruction (chs. 7—12). The section following it shows how King Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and experienced deliverance (chs. 36—39). In this present section, the prophet expanded his perspective from Israel to include the whole world. The God of Israel is also Lord (sovereign) of the nations. This whole section of the book expands the idea that all the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of God and His Christ, Immanuel (cf. Dan. 2:44).
1. Divine judgments on the nations chs. 13—23
"This second section of the book's first main unit [chs. 1—39] presents a series of judgment oracles against various nations (chapters 13—23). This litany of judgment sets the stage for a vision of worldwide judgment that ushers in the Lord's kingdom on earth (chapters 24—27)."
The recurrence of the Hebrew word massa', translated "pronouncement," prescribes the boundaries of this section of text. There are 10 of these oracles beginning in 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1 and 23:1. Chapters 13—23 present the nations over which Immanuel is ruler, and they announce judgment on them all for their pride (10:5-34; cf. 2:6-22; 13:11, 19; 14:11; 16:6; 17:7-11; 23:9). They are announcements of doom on these nations, but they are also announcements of salvation for Israel, if she would trust in Yahweh. Isaiah probably delivered them to the Israelites, rather than to the nations mentioned, at various times during his prophetic ministry. Thus they assured God's people of Yahweh's sovereignty over the nations with a view to encouraging them to rely on the LORD (cf. Jer. 46—51; Ezek. 25—32; Amos 1—2). It would be foolish to trust in nations whom God has doomed. The unifying theme is the pride of these nations. The major lesson of this section is that exalting self and failing to submit to God results in destruction.
"… He [God] will hold every nation accountable for its actions."
Alec Motyer provided a helpful diagram of the structure of this section (chs. 13—23) and the one that follows it (chs. 24—27).
The desert by the sea (Babylon)
The city of emptiness (24:1-20)
Broken laws and gates
A Davidic king will yet reign in Zion
Indefinite continuance of things as they are
"After many days"
Moab in need, but through pride suffers destruction in spite of shelter in Zion
Desert tribes in need: no ultimate refuge in mutual security
The great banquet
All nations feasted in Zion save Moab, excluded by pride
Strong cities forsaken; the forgotten rock
The Valley of Vision (Jerusalem)
The city torn down
The city of God
The strong city; the everlasting rock
Co-equal membership: Egypt, Assyria and Israel
Holiness to the LORD
The final gathering
The harvest from Egypt and Assyria
Note that each of the first two columns of oracles (chs. 13—23) begins with Babylon, and the fourth section of each of these columns deals with Israel, which the peoples of the world surround—in the literary structure of the passage. In the first column, Babylon is to Israel's north, Philistia to the west, Moab to the east, and Egypt to the south. In the second column, Babylon is to the north, Edom to the south, Arabia to the east, and Tyre to the west. Thus the selection of these nations, in the literary structure of the passage, suggests that Israel occupies the central place in God's plans, and the surrounding nations are vulnerable.
"The oracles probably had a twofold purpose. For those leaders who insisted on getting embroiled in international politics, these oracles were a reminder that Judah need not fear foreign nations or seek international alliances for security reasons. For the righteous remnant within the nation, these oracles were a reminder that Israel's God was indeed the sovereign ruler of the earth, worthy of his people's trust."
The first series of five oracles chs. 13—20
The first series (in the first column above) shows that God has placed Israel at the center of His dealings with the Gentile nations. The second series of oracles (in the second column above) projects the principles revealed in the first series into the future, moving from concrete historical names to more enigmatic allusions. The third series (in the third column above) points far ahead into the eschatological future but shows that the same principles will apply then. God's dealings with the nations in Isaiah's day were a sign of His similar dealings with them in the future.
The first oracle against Babylon 13:1—14:27
The reader would expect that Isaiah would denounce Assyria, since it was the most threatening enemy in his day, and since he referred to it many times in earlier chapters. However, he did not mention Assyria in this section but Babylon, an empire that came into its own about a century after Isaiah's time. Babylon was a symbol of self-exalting pride and its glory, dating back to the tower of Babel (cf. 13:5, 10-11). Thus what he said about Babylon was applicable to Assyria and other similar self-exalting powers in the eastern part of Israel's world.
Similarly, what marked the Medes (13:17-18) was their fierce destruction of their enemies, which was already in view in Isaiah's day but would become more obvious in the years that followed. When the prophet lived and wrote, Babylon was a real entity within Assyria, but Isaiah used it to represent all the nations in that area that shared its traits (cf. Gen. 9:20-25; Rev. 17—18). Behind Assyria Isaiah saw the spirit of Babel, which he condemned here. Yet this is also a prophecy against real Babylon. "Babylon" is the Greek name for "Babel."
The literary structure of this oracle, omitting the introduction (v. 1), is chiastic.
"A The day of the Lord: the beckoning hand, a universal purpose declared (13:2-16)
B The overthrow of Babylon: the end of the kingdom, the fact of divine overthrow (13:17-22)
C The security and future of the Lord's people: a contrasting universal purpose (14:1-2)
B' The overthrow of Babylon: the end of the king, the explanation of divine overthrow (14:3-23)
A' The end of Assyrian power: the outstretched hand, a universal purpose exemplified and validated (14:24-27)"
"… somewhat as a picture lacks the dimension of depth, the prophecy often lacks the dimension of time: events appear together on the screen of prophecy which in their fulfillment may be widely separated in time. Thus the student may find a prophecy having all the external marks of literary unity, yet referring to some event in the near future connected with the historical phase of the Kingdom and also to some far-off event connected with the Messiah and His Millennial Kingdom. When the first event arrives, it becomes the earnest and divine forecast of the more distant and final event. An excellent example may be found in Isaiah 13:17—14:4, a prediction which begins with the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and moves from that point immediately to a Babylon of the end-time, 'in the day' when Israel is finally delivered from 'sorrow' and 'fear' and 'hard bondage' (14:3)."
13:1 A general title for chapters 13—23, and particularly the oracle against Babylon (13:2—14:27), opens chapter 13. An oracle (or burden) is a message from God. Babylon was at this time an ancient city, it would later be an empire, and it had been in the past the historical source of arrogant self-sufficiency (Gen. 11:1-9). When Isaiah wrote, it was a town within the Assyrian Empire that was asserting itself and was a real threat to Assyrian supremacy. Merodach-baladan was its king at this time (ca. 702 B.C.; cf. ch. 39). Isaiah "saw" the divine pronouncement in the sense that God enabled him to understand the things He proceeded to reveal (cf. 1:1).
13:2-16 This section is an introduction to all 10 oracles that follow in chapters 13—23, as well as to the first oracle against Babylon. It explains why God will judge Gentile nations: They refuse to acknowledge Yahweh's sovereignty and instead exalt and glorify themselves. The story of the building of the tower of Babel is the classic expression of this hubris (overweening pride; Gen. 11:1-9).
Isaiah related a message from God, summoning His warriors to assemble, so that they could carry out His will in judging those with whom He was angry. Raising a flag on a hilltop and calling warriors to assemble pictures God doing this (vv. 2-3; cf. Rev. 9:16). Many warriors from many kingdoms far away would respond to the LORD's command, and gather together to do battle as His instruments of warfare (vv. 4-5; cf. Dan. 11:40-45; Rev. 14:14-20; 16:12-16; 19:17-19).
"The day of the LORD" (v. 6), the day in which He will actively intervene in history, would be "near" (Heb. qarob). The Hebrew word describes the total preparedness of that day to dawn whenever the LORD decides that its time had come. It does not necessarily mean that the day is soon or imminent. Therefore everyone should wail (or howl; cf. Amos 5:16-17). It would be a day when the Almighty would send destruction (v. 6; cf. vv. 9, 13).
"In the Hebrew Bible the title 'Almighty' (Heb. 'Shaddai') depicts God as the sovereign king and judge of the world who both gives and takes away life."
The prospect of sudden, inevitable, inescapable destruction at the hand of the Almighty would make everyone tremble with fear. They would not know where to turn (vv. 7-8; cf. 1 Thess. 5:3). The coming judgment would desolate the whole earth and exterminate sinners from it, specifically those who miss the mark of righteousness (v. 9). This judgment would involve the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (cf. 34:4; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Zech. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 8:12). Since the pagans worshipped these objects, this announcement signals the judging of them as idols as well (v. 10).
The reason for this wrathful judgment is the evil of wicked people, especially their pride and haughtiness (v. 11). Rather than human pride resulting in increasing good conditions for ever-expanding numbers of people, it will result in the cutting back of the human population (v. 12; cf. Rev. 6:8; 9:15). The heavens and the earth would shake at the fury of Yahweh of armies when His anger would burn against the wicked (v. 13; cf. 24:18; Joel 2:10; 3:16; Hag. 2:6-7, 21-22; Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). People will scatter like frightened gazelles and sheep in that day as they seek security (cf. Rev. 6:15-17). God's warriors will slay all the wicked that they can find. Children will be unmercifully slaughtered in the sight of their parents. Houses will be looted and women raped (vv. 14-16).
"If we don't have a just God to trust in, we will have no logical reason not to become violent ourselves. It is Isaiah's vision of God's final justice that moderates our anger and frustration right now."
13:17-22 This pericope foretells the destruction of Babylon. Prophecies of the day of the LORD may describe the eschatological judgment coming (vv. 2-16), or a more recent, limited judgment coming (vv. 17-22). Each soon-coming judgment on a particular segment of humanity foreshadows the great eschatological judgment that will fall on the whole human race in the Tribulation. This destruction of Babylon was a judgment of the LORD in a day that would be closer to Isaiah's own time—a near and limited fulfillment of the day that the prophet just described. The fall of Assyria (14:24-27) was one fulfillment, and the later fall of Babylon (13:17-22) was another. The same principles that operate in the eschatological day of the LORD just described also operate in the earlier days of the LORD.
Part of the LORD's warriors would be the Medes, who occupied what is now central Iran. In Isaiah's day, the Medes were already a powerful people that the Assyrians dreaded. They would destroy Babylon. They united with the Babylonians to destroy the last vestiges of the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C. Still later, it was the Medes and the Persians who overthrew Babylon in 539 B.C. (cf. Esth. 10:2; Dan. 5:30-31; 6:8, 12, 15). The Medes valued silver and gold less than military conquest; they could not be bought off, but mercilessly slew every enemy (vv. 17-18). Revenge motivated them more than loot.
"The Medes are probably mentioned here rather than the Persians because of their greater ferocity and also because they were better known to the people of Isaiah's day. According to the Greek historian Xenophon, Cyrus acknowledged that the Medes had served his cause without thought of monetary reward."
In the late 700s B.C., Babylon was the showcase of the ancient world, specifically the showcase of the Assyrian Empire. She was culturally and economically superior to Assyria as a whole and was ascending politically. The Chaldeans were the ruling class that had been responsible for the supremacy of Babylon. However, Isaiah announced, Babylon would experience the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah: destruction from the LORD's hand (v. 19). After her judgment, Babylon would be uninhabitable even by nomads. Wild animals would be the only residents of the once great city. This destruction would come soon, and it would not be delayed (vv. 20-22).
Babylonia was under the Assyrian yoke when Isaiah gave this prophecy, probably during Hezekiah's reign (715-686 B.C.). She was one of the nations, along with Egypt, to which Judah was looking as a possible savior. This prophecy showed that Babylon was not a safe choice for trust because God would destroy her.
Has this prophecy been fulfilled? Babylon suffered defeat in 689 B.C. when Assyria (including the Medes), under Sennacherib, devastated it (cf. 23:13). But the city was rebuilt. Many interpreters believe that the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. to Cyrus fulfilled this prophecy. But Cyrus left the city intact. Others believe the destruction—that Darius Hystaspes began in 518 B.C., and that Xerxes later completed—was the fulfillment. Some scholars believe that what Isaiah predicted here never took place literally, at least completely, so the fulfillment lies in the future.
"The judgments on Babylon in verses 17-19 have now become history, but they did not fulfill verses 20-23, as Babylon has continued to be inhabited even down to modern times."
"I can find no time in history when it can be said conclusively that Babylon ceased to exist."
Many conservatives argue for a near and a far fulfillment. I think the destruction in 689 B.C. that resulted in Babylon's temporary desolation fulfilled this prophecy (cf. v. 22b), and I believe there will also be an eschatological judgment of Babylon (Rev. 17—18), though not necessarily one that requires the rebuilding of the city.
"Much confusion exists in scholarly interpretation of the prophecies of Babylon because of the varied references to the city of Babylon as Babylon, to the empire as Babylon, and to the religions of Babylon as Babylon. Each of these areas has its own line of prophecy and fulfillment."
Destruction terminology, such as appears in this passage, is common in the annals of ancient Near Eastern nations. It speaks generally and hyperbolically of devastating defeat and destruction, but it did not always involve exact or detailed fulfillment.
14:1-2 The focal point of this oracle against Babylon is Israel's security and future after this judgment. These verses summarize what Isaiah later recorded in more detail in chapters 40—66.
Earlier Isaiah predicted that Israel would experience defeat and captivity. After that Yahweh would have compassion on her, choose her again for blessing, as He had following the Exodus (Exod. 19:4-6), and resettle her in her own land. Consequently many Gentiles would voluntarily attach themselves to the Jews. The Israelites would then have authority over those who formerly had authority over them (cf. 1 Sam. 17:8-9). They would take the lead domestically, militarily, and politically.
A second Exodus took place when the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon, but a third Exodus will happen in the future when they return to their land following their present worldwide dispersion (cf. 56:6; 60:10; 61:5). Amillennialists interpret this as a prophecy of the inclusion of Gentiles into God's spiritual kingdom: the church, which they define as all believers throughout history.
14:3-4a Having described the future destruction of Babylon (13:17-22), Isaiah now related the coming destruction of Babylon's king.
After Yahweh gave Israel rest following her captivity, she would "taunt" (Heb. mashal, bring to light the truth about) Babylon's proud ruler who had formerly taunted her (vv. 3-4a; cf. Rev. 18). His death would be an occasion for joy, not sorrow. In view of the description that follows, Isaiah evidently did not describe one particular past king of Babylon, but ascribed traits of many kings of Babylon to this representative official. One writer believed that Isaiah described Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), but there are many differences between what Isaiah wrote here and what Sennacherib experienced. Another identified him as Merodach-Baladan, who sent the delegation to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem (cf. ch. 39). The king in view may be the eschatological Antichrist, since these verses describe conditions that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation.
14:4b-8 The first strophe of this poem rejoices in the peace on earth that would result from the king's death. Both animate and inanimate creatures could rest and be quiet after his reign of terror ended. The measure of an ancient Near Eastern king's power was how much he destroyed.
Mesopotamian kings regularly took parties of lumberjacks to the forests of Lebanon to cut timber to build their palaces and public buildings. Such timber was unavailable in Mesopotamia and Canaan.
14:9-11 The second strophe relates the joy in Sheol that would result when this king died. Other dead rulers there would rejoice because this great monarch now shared the humiliating fate of them all. Rather than honoring him, these dead leaders would mock him because in death he was not superior to them. Instead of an honorable bier he would get maggots for a bed and worms for a bedspread. What a final resting place for a king!
14:12-15 In the third strophe the scene shifts from the underworld to heaven and back to Sheol. This personification of Babylon's pride led Babylon's king to exalt himself to the position of God Himself. The five "I wills" in verses 13 and 14 express the spirit of the Babylonian ruler, not that he ever said these precise words. He claimed to be as Venus, the morning star, the brightest light in the night sky.
The name "Lucifer" means "Day Star," and it referred to the planet Venus. However, like Venus when the sun arose, he was no longer visible when God arose in His sovereignty. Mt. Zaphon (or Casius) to the north of Canaan was the mythical residence of the gods (as Mt. Olympus was the mythical residence of the gods to the Greeks; v. 13; cf. Ps. 48:2).
Rather than being king of the gods, Babylon's king proved to be only human, albeit having weakened nations through his domination of them. Even though he had exalted himself to near deity status, he would die and go to Sheol like every other proud person (cf. Gen. 3:5, 22; 11:1-9).
"A popular interpretive tradition has seen in the language of 14:12-15 an allusion to the fall of Satan. However, this subject 'seems a bit forced in this chapter.' The object of this taunt is clearly "the king of Babylon" (v. 4a). Instead the language and imagery seem to have their roots in Canaanite mythology, which should not be surprising in a quotation ostensibly addressed by ancient pagan kings to another pagan king (the quotation of the kings' words is most naturally extended through v. 15) [Cf. 24:21-22; 25:8; 27:1]."
Though many expositors have applied this description of self-exaltation and judgment to Satan, it is clearly the pride and destruction of a human ruler's tyrannical reign that is in view, not only in verses 12-15 but in the immediate context (vv. 4b-21) and in the larger context (chs. 13—23). Satan may have rebelled against God in a fashion similar to what Isaiah wrote here, but this passage probably does not describe his rebellion.
It is likely that an earlier myth influenced Isaiah's parody of the king of Babylon.
"A suggested summary of the story would be: Helel son of Schachar was a great hero who determined to make himself the equal of a god, El Elyon. His ambition was to raise himself above the clouds, above all the stars of god, to the very mountain in the farthest north where gods gather and there to reign as king over the universe, including the gods. But the conclusion of this ill-advised ambition was his precipitous fall into Sheol, perhaps after a battle with El Elyon himself."
"Who was the historical king of Babylon referred to here? If the prophecy anticipates the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. (as I argue below), then the king of Babylon taunted here may be Nabonidus (the official king of Babylon when it fell), Belshazzar (who was functioning as king at the time; see Dan. 5:1), or even Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled from 605-562 B.C. and made Babylon a world power. However, it is unnecessary to put a specific name and face with the king described here. Perhaps the 'king of Babylon' simply symbolizes Babylonian power as embodied in her successive kings, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar or his predecessor Nabopolassar."
Matthew Henry believed that the king in view may have been Belshazzar.
"The language is so framed as to apply to the Babylonian king primarily, and at the same time to shadow forth through him, the great final enemy, the man of sin, Antichrist, of Daniel, St. Paul, and St. John; he alone shall fulfil exhaustively all the lineaments here given."
"It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for he who was God stepped down from the throne of his glory to display to the wondering eyes of men the humility of God (Phil 2:5-8)."
14:16-21 The fourth strophe returns to the reactions of people on the earth (cf. vv. 4b-8). They expected that such a "great man" would enjoy an honorable burial, but this man received no burial at all. He died covered with the bodies of his fellow warriors rather than with earth. The pagans of Isaiah's day believed that to leave a corpse unburied not only dishonored the dead person but doomed his spirit to wander forever on the earth seeking a home (cf. 1 Sam 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 2:4-7).
Viewing his unburied corpse, onlookers would wonder if this was really the infamous "scourge of Babylon," who had ruined his own country, and ravaged his own people, as well as his enemies. They would view his lack of burial as divine judgment of him. They would then take measures to assure that his sons would not rise to power by cutting off his posterity, a common practice in the ancient Near East. Hopefully they could remove his memory from the earth. I favor the view that the king of Babylon to be judged is the Antichrist.
The whole point of this poem is the futility and folly of self-exalting pride, which this idealized Babylonian king modeled (cf. Dan. 4:25).
14:22-23 Yahweh of armies promised to do to Babylon what the speakers in the poem above said. He would cut off the name and posterity of its rulers, and He would destroy the city to the extent that only wild animals would live in the swamps that remained there. Verses 22-23 form a conclusion to the poem as verses 3-4a introduced it.
14:24-27 This section of the oracle particularizes the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah's day. Here we see the exemplification and validation of God's universal purpose to judge human hubris that the prophet earlier declared (13:2-16). The particular manifestation of Babylonian pride that threatened Israel when Isaiah wrote was Assyria.
"Having announced the downfall of the Chaldean empire, the LORD appends to this prophecy a solemn reminder that the Assyrians, the major Mesopotamian power of Isaiah's day, would be annihilated, foreshadowing what would subsequently happen to Babylon and the other hostile nations."
Yahweh of armies proceeded to swear that what He had purposed would happen (cf. Heb. 6:13-14), namely, the destruction of Assyria (v. 24). A stronger assurance is hard to imagine. God would defeat the Assyrians in His land, the Promised Land (cf. 37:36-37). He would break the Assyrian yoke off of His people and thus remove the burden that the Assyrians were to the Israelites (v. 25; cf. 9:3; 10:27). This would be representative of what He would do to the whole world in judging sin and pride in the future (v. 26). No one would be able to turn aside His hand stretched out in judgment, because He is God Almighty (v. 27; cf. 13:2).
The near fulfillment came in 701 B.C. when the angel of the LORD slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers who had surrounded Jerusalem (37:36-37). Later fulfillments came in 689 B.C., when the Assyrians under Sennacherib sacked Babylon, and in 539 B.C., when Cyrus the Persian destroyed it.
The oracle against Philistia 14:28-32
Another nation that some people in Judah wanted to trust in for protection from the Mesopotamian threat was Philistia, on Judah's west. But she too was under the judgment of God.
14:28 This oracle came to Isaiah in the year that King Ahaz died, namely, 715 B.C. The dating of prophecies is rare in Isaiah, so probably this date has some bearing on the interpretation of the oracle.
14:29-32 The Philistines were rejoicing because some king or nation that had oppressed them had lost its power. This may be a reference to David, since with the death of Ahaz, the power of the Davidic dynasty was at its lowest level so far. It seems more likely, however, that Assyria is in view (cf. vv. 31-32). The "rod" and the "serpent" could refer to Shalmaneser V, who laid siege to Samaria and dominated Israel for so long; and the "viper" and "winged serpent" could be Sargon II, who followed Shalmaneser. This setback led the Philistines to think that this enemy would not oppress them any longer. But Isaiah warned that the oppressor was not gone forever. A worse enemy would come from that nation in the future, probably Assyria or Babylon (v. 29). Only the poorest of the people would survive the coming enemy. Most of the Philistines would starve or be slaughtered (v. 30).
A disciplined enemy from the north would come against Philistia, totally demoralizing its inhabitants (v. 31). Evidently messengers from Philistia (and Egypt?) were seeking an alliance with Judea for mutual protection. The LORD advised the people through Isaiah, to trust in Him, Zion being the place of His presence on earth, rather than in Philistia, since it was doomed (v. 32).
Sargon II, the Assyrian, invaded Philistia in 712 B.C., and in 701 B.C. another Assyrian, Sennacherib, punished anti-Assyrian elements in Philistia.
The oracle against Moab chs. 15—16
"The Babylon oracle revealed that world history, even in its most threatening and climactic forms, is so organized that the people of God are cared for. The Philistia oracle confirmed this by insisting that the Davidic promises would be kept, and the Moab oracle corrects any impression that the hope expressed in the Davidic promises is exclusivist."
The literary structure of this oracle is generally chiastic, focusing the reader's attention on security in Zion (16:4b-5). This pronouncement is very difficult to date. One writer believed this invasion took place around 718 B.C., when Sargon, the Assyrian, descended on the tribal peoples of northwest Arabia (cf. 21:16-17), but this is not at all certain. Another speculated that Tiglath-pilesar's 732 B.C. or Sennacherib's 701 B.C. invasions of Moab may have fulfilled this prophecy initially.
Moab lay east of Judah and the Dead Sea, between the Arnon and Zered rivers, and occupied an area about 30 miles long and 30 miles wide. The Moabites were more friendly neighbors of Judah than the Edomites or the Ammonites, who also lived east of the Jordan River. Notice the more friendly tone of this oracle compared with the two preceding ones. But hostility toward Judah due to land claims in Transjordan had a long history and resulted in deep antagonism between Israel and Moab (cf. Zeph. 2:9-10). The point of this oracle is that Judah should not rely on Moab because Moab would suffer destruction.
"There is no other prophecy in the book of Isaiah in which the heart of the prophet is so painfully affected by what his mind sees, and his mouth is obliged to prophesy."
15:1 Isaiah began by announcing Moab's certain ruin. The two main cities, Ar on the Arnon River, and Kir in central Moab, would fall quickly.
15:2-4 The Moabites would express great grief over their national defeat.
"The Orientals regarded the beard with peculiar veneration. To cut one's beard off [v. 2] is the greatest mark of sorrow and mortification (cf. Jer. 48:37)."
Dibon was the site of a temple to the Moabite god Chemosh. Many of the people would go to Dibon in order to bewail Chemosh's inability to save them. They would also mourn the loss of the towns of Nebo and Medeba—in typical Near Eastern fashion. The residents of Heshbon and Elealeh, in the north of Moab, would be heard wailing in Jahaz, to the south, because the noise would be so great. Even soldiers would cry aloud in fear.
15:5-9 The LORD also expressed His grief over Moab's coming judgment through the prophet (cf. 21:3-4; 22:4; Jer. 9:1). Isaiah took up God's words in his own mouth and represented God's thoughts and words by using the first person singular (cf. 16:9). The Moabite refugees would move from place to place trying to find security. Their movement would be generally south, so the enemy may have descended from the north. The whole country would suffer devastation. Even though people would flee, they would not escape destruction. A lion (v. 9) is frequently an image of a fierce, implacable attacker in biblical poetry (v. 9; cf. Amos 3:12).
16:1-4a Moab would plead for shelter from her enemy. Her leaders would send a lamb as a tribute from their hiding place in some wilderness stronghold (possibly Sela in Edom) to the king of Judah requesting help. The Moabite refugees would be as frightened as birds while they hovered on their border. They would seek refuge in Judah. Edward Young believed this refers to a spiritual conversion of the Moabites, but this may be reading too much into these cries for deliverance.
16:4b-5 Moab would find security in Zion because extortion and destruction had ceased in Judah, and oppressors would no longer dwell there. A merciful, faithful, just, and righteous Davidic king would judge there. This is clearly a reference to Messiah's rule during the Millennium (cf. 9:1-6; 11:1-9). Moab, then, will be one of the nations that comes to the mountain of God to seek His ways (2:1-4). This leap into the eschaton in the oracle extends Moab's desire to find security in Judah in Isaiah's day—far into the future.
16:6-8 The prophet explained the reason for Moab's destruction, namely, pride (cf. vv. 1-4a), and its result, grief (cf. 15:2-4). Her excessive pride, arrogance, and insolence were the reason for her invasion; the invader was but the instrument of God (cf. 13:11). There was no basis in reality for her boasting. Moab was covered with grapevines, which the enemy would destroy. Like a grapevine, Moab had extended its influence far beyond its borders, but now an enemy had cut back her fruitfulness. This would result in much despair and wailing in Moab. Raisin cakes appear to have been a major export of the nation that the Moabites also relished as a delicacy in their homes (cf. 1 Chron. 12:40; Hos. 3:1).
16:9-12 Again the LORD grieved over Moab (cf. 15:5-9). Even when He must judge people, the LORD has pity on them and grieves over the destruction that He must send (cf. Hos. 11:1-9). Joy would end because the national product, grapes, would be unavailable, due to hostile invaders. God's heart would break for these proud Moabites. When the Moabites would pray to their idols, there would be no response, no help. How foolish, then, it was for the Judeans to trust in Moab for help.
"In Moab everyone went to 'the church of his own choice.'"
16:13-14 Isaiah concluded this oracle by announcing Moab's imminent ruin (cf. 15:1). The preceding verses describe an earlier revelation that the prophet received, but now he learned that Moab's invasion would be within three years. A hired man would count down the three years day by day, and the Judeans would do the same as they anticipated the degrading of Moab's glory and population. Only a remnant would survive.
The fulfillment came when Assyria invaded Moab sometime between 715 and 713 B.C. or, perhaps, when Sennacherib destroyed it in 701 B.C.
"The grief of the judge of all the earth is one of the two striking truths of this oracle. The other is that all this total loss and suffering arises from the single sin of pride (16:6)."
The oracle against Damascus and Ephraim chs. 17—18
This oracle deals with Syria (or Aram—Damascus was its capital) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim being its leading tribe), which had formed an alliance to Judah's north in 735-732 B.C.
"Partners in crime means partners in judgment."
Even though the oracle is addressed to Damascus, it focuses quickly on Israel (17:4). It is probably a mosaic composition alluding to events that happened over many years of Isaiah's ministry that the prophet pieced together under divine inspiration. As in all these oracles, Isaiah's interest was not primarily in the course of events as such but the issues to which these events gave expression. Israel, as well as the other nations addressed in these oracles, refused to depend on God and trusted in man for protection. That is why they received a heavy pronouncement (burden) from the LORD.
"As the Lord organizes history for the good of his people (the Babylon oracle) and purposes to keep the Davidic promises (the Philistia oracle), opening them to the Gentiles also (the Moab oracle), his actions under all these headings are holy and just. Sin is not overlooked [even in Israel, (the Damascus Ephraim oracle)]."
17:1-3 God announced that Damascus and the cities of Syria, plus Samaria ("the fortified city," v. 3), would soon fall. Assyria destroyed Damascus in 732 B.C. and Samaria in 722 B.C. These cities would lose their sovereignty and glory and would become grazing lands instead of population centers. Nevertheless Yahweh of armies promised that there would be a few people left in Syria, as there would be in Ephraim (cf. 18:7).
17:4-6 Isaiah revealed the reason for this defeat. In the day of God's judgment (cf. vv. 7, 9), Jacob's prosperity would become lean—like when one grows old and loses his former strength—because of her unbelief: her lack of trust in Yahweh. She would experience a thorough reaping of her population, as reapers harvested abundant grain crops in the productive valley of Rephaim ("Shades" or "Ghosts," hence "Death") near Jerusalem. Yet a remnant would survive, like the few olives or fruits left after a harvest for gleaners to collect. This is what Yahweh, the God who had pledged Himself to Israel, declared.
"Judah need not fear her neighbors; it is God with whom she should come to terms."
17:7-8 The coming destruction would result in the Israelites and the Arameans (Syrians) turning to their maker, the Holy One of Israel, in trust and away from idols.
17:9-11 The land would be a desolation because the Israelites forgot their God and tried to supply their own needs independent of Him. The description of cultivating plants in these verses represents a pagan custom designed to secure the favor of local gods. Rather than trusting in their saving God, the Israelites had planted little seedlings of faith in idols. The Israelites' horticultural attempts had been frustrating, as had their attempts to produce satisfaction in life and divine help by pursuing other gods.
"What kind of a gardener is he who plants thistles and expects roses! Folly is Israel's action; she turns to the idols and expects protection."
17:12-14 Many warriors would descend on Israel like the waves of the sea, but they would quickly dissipate because the LORD would rebuke them. They would disappear like dust before a strong wind. The terror that would be so strong would vanish overnight. God also gave such a deliverance to Judah when Sennacherib the Assyrian attacked Jerusalem (cf. 37:36), but that is not in view here. The fact that Isaiah did not mention a particular nation as the enemy, suggests that he had more in mind than just one foe, and a perspective that extended far beyond his own day. Many nations would punish Israel over the years.
What follows in chapter 18 is an example of how the nations are subject to God, which is the point of 17:12-14. Chapter 18 describes an eschatological defeat of superpowers—one of which would destroy Damascus and Ephraim in Isaiah's day.
"The two great powers of western Asia, in the days of Isaiah, were Assyria, and Egypt or Ethiopia, the last two being wholly or partially united under Tirhakah, whose name and exploits are recorded in Egyptian monuments still extant …"
18:1-3 The land that lies beyond the rivers of Cush was Cush (Nubia), notable for its ships, whose sails looked like the whirring wings of insects over water from a distance. Another view of the whirling wings is that they represent swarming hordes of people, including soldiers. Cush was thought to be at the end of the earth in Isaiah's day and therefore symbolized the ends of the earth; it was a great distance from Judah. Some scholars believe Cush lay within what is now Ethiopia, but others think Cush included modern southern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia. Envoys from Cush may have traveled to Moab, Philistia, and Judah seeking an alliance against Assyria.
Isaiah called on these messengers from Ethiopia to go to a nation tall and smooth (shaven). This was a common description of the Nubians (or Cushites). They were to go to a people feared far and wide, perhaps the Egyptians or the Assyrians. They were to go to a powerful and oppressive nation whose land was divided by rivers, again perhaps the Egyptians, the Assyrians, or even the Medes. Taken together these descriptions represent all great, aggressive nations.
All the recipients of this message, the inhabitants of the world and dwellers on earth (v. 3), were to hear that a sovereign (the LORD) would issue a call to battle. No one could miss that call when it came.
"Many students of the Word consider the 'ensign' ["flag"] mentioned here [v. 3] to be the ark of the tabernacle, which was later transferred to the temple. It disappeared at the time of the Babylonian captivity, and there is a tradition which says it was carried to Ethiopia. I have been told that there is a church in that land that claims to have the ark. I don't know if that is true or not, but an ensign will come out of that land."
18:4-7 This message by the Cushite envoys harmonized with what Yahweh had told Isaiah. Yahweh would look from His heavenly dwelling place quietly, like the shimmering heat in summer or the encroaching mist in autumn. These are figures that connote coming judgment.
He would prune the nations like a farmer pruned his grapevines and trees, but He would do it before they reached harvesttime. In other words, His judging the nations would be perceived as premature. The nations would be so depopulated by this judgment that birds and beasts would feed on the remains of those judged (cf. Rev. 19:17-18).
Then the remaining representatives of all these once-powerful and aggressive nations (cf. v. 2) would worship the LORD of armies (cf. Ps. 68:31; Zech. 14:16; Acts 8:26-36). They would bring their gifts to Him at Mt. Zion. This will be a time of global worship of Messiah.
The oracle against Egypt chs. 19—20
This pronouncement clarifies that God's purposes for Egypt, another nation the Judeans wanted to trust for help during this time of Assyrian expansion, would involve judgment followed by blessing. The passage consists of three palistrophic (chiastic) parts:
A Egypt's smiting by God predicted 19:1-15
B Egypt's healing by God 19:16-25
A' Egypt's smiting by God exemplified ch. 20
When Assyria swallowed up Syria in 732 B.C., and then Israel in 722 B.C., many of the Judeans began looking south to Egypt for help against their Mesopotamian foe (cf. chs. 30—31). Isaiah warned his countrymen against relying on Egypt, as he had warned them against putting confidence in other foreign powers. Whatever people trust in place of God eventually disappoints them.
The prediction of Egypt's smiting (19:1-15) begins and ends with references to the LORD's action (vv. 1, 14-15). In between, the prophet announced Egypt's social (vv. 2-4), economic (vv. 5-10), and political (vv. 11-13) collapse. The whole point is that God ultimately controls the fate of nations; social, economic, and political conditions do not.
19:1 Sovereign Yahweh was about to visit Egypt, and when He did, her idols would prove impotent and her people fearful. He had done this at the time of the Exodus (Exod. 12:12), but Egypt was to receive a repeat lesson.
19:2-4 Egyptian society was notable for its lack of unity throughout its history. There was frequent conflict between the Upper and the Lower Egypt geographical factions. Kingdom periods, during which the ruling Pharaoh was worshipped as god, were interspersed with long periods when the 42 city-states ruled themselves and the people worshipped innumerable gods. Sometimes Egypt's god-king was strong and the people united behind him, but when he was weak there was little social solidarity.
Isaiah foresaw another period of social chaos coming to Egypt, when the Egyptians would look to idols and the spirit world for guidance. The sovereign God of armies would then deliver them over to the rule of a strong, cruel leader who would dominate them. The fulfillment may have been: the Ethiopian Pharaoh Piankhi (715 B.C.), the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus (670 B.C.), one of the Assyrian kings (Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon in 671, or Ashurbanipal in 668 B.C.), or the Persian king Artaxerxes III Ochus (343 B.C.). Several conservative scholars prefer Esarhaddon. Depressed people are easy targets for despotic rulers.
19:5-10 Egypt's economy depended almost entirely on the Nile River. But the Nile would dry up, thanks to the sovereign control of Yahweh (cf. Exod. 7:14-25). The "sea" (Heb. yam) in view probably refers to the Nile River, a name the Egyptians used to describe it. Then the economy would suffer and the people would become weak. How foolish, then, to trust in a nation that cannot control its own destiny but which Yahweh controls. The waters from the sea (v. 5) probably refer to the waters of the Nile, which looked like a sea at flood stage in Lower (northern) Egypt. "Flax" (v. 9) and all plants need water, but when there is drought the captains of industry, or the industries themselves ("pillars of Egypt," v. 10), that rely on these plants suffer, and their workers have no jobs.
"When a nation's spirit evaporates and sectional interests predominate, when no plan seems to prosper, then the means to make industry thrive may well be there (and the Nile flow as before) but the will to exploit the asset is gone."
19:11-13 The Egyptians were known for their wisdom and took great pride in it (cf. Matt. 13:54; Mark 6:2). Isaiah challenged their wise men to inform the people what Yahweh of armies had in store for them (cf. Joseph). Yahweh could frustrate their plans, but they could not discover His. The unwise Egyptian politicians had misled the people by failing to diversify the economy, among other ways. Too much of their hope lay in the Nile, which the people worshipped as a god. Zoan (v. 11, Gr. Tanis) was a chief city and was often the capital of Lower Egypt, and Noph (Gr. Memphis, v. 13) was another chief city and former capital of the same northern part of Egypt.
19:14-15 Though the wise men of Egypt could not reveal God's actions (cf. v. 1), the prophet of God could and did. The LORD had confounded the wisdom of the Egyptian leaders because they had resorted to idols and spirits rather than seeking Him (v. 3; cf. Gen. 11:1-9; Rom. 1:18-32). Consequently their national behavior resembled that of a drunken man: not knowing where to turn and befouling himself in the messes that he made. Such a person cannot accomplish anything productive, and neither would Egypt. How foolish Judah would be to trust in such a disabled drunk of a nation!
"To join with Egypt would be to associate with a nation under divine wrath (1), trust the promises of a divided people (2), look for help to a collapsing economy (5-10), expect wisdom where there was only folly (11-13) and believe that those who were unable to solve their own problems (15) could solve the problems of others!"
The following section (vv. 16-25) gives the Lord's solution, point by point, to the problems of Egypt and, for that matter, of all powers and people that leave God out. The repetition of "on that day" (vv. 16, 18, 19, 23, 24) highlights a time yet future when God will reverse Egypt's fortunes. Isaiah used this phrase 42 times, comprising half of all its occurrences in the prophets and a quarter of those in the Old Testament. The same "Yahweh of armies" who would bring the former smiting (vv. 4, 12) would also bring healing (vv. 18, 20, 25). Why turn to Egypt for help when one day Egypt will turn to Yahweh?
19:16-17 In a future day, Yahweh of armies would exalt Judah over Egypt so that the Egyptians would fear Israel and the LORD. This had happened at the Exodus (Exod. 10:7; 12:33; Deut. 2:25), and it would happen again by the manifestation of God's power. This has not yet happened, so the fulfillment must be eschatological.
19:18 In that day, the populations of five Egyptian cities would speak Hebrew out of deference to the Jews and commitment to Yahweh. While five is not many, Isaiah evidently meant that as many as five (quite a few in view of Egypt's previous massive idolatry), and perhaps more, would do so (cf. Gen. 11:1). One of these five would be called "the City of Destruction" (Heb. heres), perhaps because of the destruction that God would bring to Egypt. Another possibility is that "destruction" should read "sun" (Heb. heres with a het rather than a he consonant). In this case, the City of the Sun, On (Gr. Heliopolis), is in view. On was a center of the worship of the sun god in Egypt, so this may point to an end of idolatry there.
19:19-22 Abraham built an altar to express his gratitude and commitment to the LORD (Gen. 12:8; cf. Josh. 22:34; 24:26-27), and Jacob erected a pillar when he memorialized God's covenant to him (Gen. 28:22). The Egyptians will do these things throughout their land to express those things on that day (v. 19). During the Inter-testamental Period, an altar was built to Yahweh in Egypt, as Josephus reported:
"… the son of Onias the high priest, who was of the same name with his father, and who fled to king Ptolemy, who was called Philometor, lived now at Alexandria, as we have said already. When this Onias saw that Judea was oppressed by the Macedonians and their kings, out of a desire to purchase to himself a memorial and eternal fame, he resolved to send to king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra, to ask leave of them that he might build a temple in Egypt like to that at Jerusalem, and might ordain Levites and priests out of their own stock. The chief reason why he was desirous so to do, was, that he relied upon the prophet Isaiah, who lived about six hundred years before, and foretold that there certainly was to be a temple built to Almighty God in Egypt by a man that was a Jew. … 'for the prophet Isaiah foretold, that there should be an altar in Egypt to the Lord God: and many other such things did he prophesy relating to that place.'"
But the context of this prophecy is the end times. This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. Onias' act prefigured what will happen in the end times.
"'An altar to the LORD' has been interpreted by some of the cults as the pyramid. The pyramid is neither an altar nor a pillar, but a monstrous mausoleum for the burying of kings and queens."
Israelites during the Judges Period cried out to God because of their oppressors, and He sent them deliverers (Judg. 3:9, 15; 6:7; 10:10). Their great oppressor in the past, of course, had been Egypt herself. Similarly, when the Egyptians call out to God for help in the future, He will send them a Savior and a Champion, Messiah (v. 20). The LORD revealed Himself to the Israelites and brought them into a saving relationship with Himself through bitter defeat in the Exodus (Exod. 7:5; 9:29; 14:4).
He will do the same to the Egyptians in that future day (v. 21; cf. Jer. 31:34; Zech. 14:16-18), and they will respond with appropriate worship.
"As we might now speak of a missionary pitching his tent at Hebron or at Shechem, without intending to describe the precise form of his habitation, so the Prophet represents the converts to be [sic] the true faith as erecting an altar and a pillar to the Lord in Egypt, as Abraham and Jacob did of old in Canaan."
Parents sometimes spank their children to bring them into line, and God will discipline Egypt to bring her to Himself. He will hurt them, but He will hurt them to heal them, like a surgeon does (v. 22). This whole section is a picture of reconciliation still future.
"This is the point: the worship of Yahweh in Egypt will be open and official. … Historical fulfillment here, like historical fulfillment in each of the five 'in that day' passages, did not occur."
19:23 Human reconciliation between the major powers of the world will also characterize that day. Note the spread of peace from a few cities (v. 18), to a whole country (v. 19), and now to the whole world (v. 23). In Isaiah's day, Israel found herself caught between Egypt and Assyria, but in the future both of these enemies would join in worshipping Israel's God. A highway between these superpowers existed in the prophet's day, but marching armies often used it, not worshippers of Yahweh.
"All [?] classes of interpreters agree that the opening of the highway is a figure for easy, free, and intimate communication."
19:24-25 Finally, equality between Israel and its former enemies would prevail in that great day. Through Israel all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:3), but blessed equally with Israel. God applied some of His favorite terms for Israel to Egypt and Assyria: "My people" (cf. 10:24; 43:6-7; Exod. 5:1; Jer. 11:4; Hos. 1:10; 2:23), and "the work of My hands" (cf. 60:12; 64:8; Ps. 119:73; 138:8). He reserved the term "My inheritance" for Israel (cf. Deut. 32:9).
"Yahweh's divine imperium is seen to draw within its scope and purpose the entire known world."
"Judah is designed to be the grand center of the whole earth (Jer. 3:17)."
Premillennialists believe that the fulfillment of this prophecy awaits the Millennium. Amillennialists see its fulfillment in the present age, as Gentiles along with Jews become one in Christ.
"The point being made is that if Israel turns to the nations in trust she will be prostituting her ministry to them. Instead, she is to be the vehicle whereby those very nations can turn to her God and become partners with her in service to him and enjoying his blessings."
In view of passages such as this, it is amazing that the Jews of Jesus' day (and earlier and later) resisted so strongly the idea that God wanted the Gentiles to enjoy blessing along with them.
The following incident illustrates that the world powers of Isaiah's day were indeed subject to Yahweh, just as the prophet had proclaimed (19:23-25). It is another sign—the third so far in Isaiah—that God could and would do in the distant future what Isaiah had predicted. It also involved a symbolic act.
20:1-2 The year in view was 711 B.C. Like 7:1, 20:1 introduces the historical setting for the events that follow. For four years, Egypt had encouraged the city-states of western Palestine to resist Assyrian aggression—with the promise of assistance. In 713 B.C., Ashdod, the northernmost Philistine town that stood about 35 miles west of Jerusalem, had rebelled, and Assyria replaced her king, Ahimiti (Azuri), with another, a man named Yamani (Jaman). Rebellion continued, however, and pleas for help went out from Ashdod to Judah, Moab, and Edom. Sargon II (722-705 B.C.) responded to Ashdod's rebellion by sending his second in command, who reduced Ashdod to an Assyrian province. Egypt's promised help never materialized. In fact, the Egyptians handed Yamani over to the Assyrians in chains to avoid an Assyrian attack.
"This is the only place the name of Sargon is mentioned in the Bible. As recent as one hundred years ago historians maintained that Sargon never lived, because they could find no reference to him in secular history. However, archaeologists discovered that the Assyrian form of his name is Sharrukin. Abundant historical materials concerning his reign have come down to us."
During the period mentioned above, God instructed Isaiah to dramatize a message. Jeremiah and Ezekiel often dramatized prophecies, but this is the only time Isaiah did, as far as the text records. Isaiah was to take his clothes off, including his shoes. The word "naked" (Heb. 'arom) can mean: clothed only with a loin cloth, or totally naked (cf. 58:7; Gen. 2:25; 1 Sam. 19:24; 2 Sam. 6:20; Mic. 1:8; John 21:7). If God wanted Isaiah to go totally naked He probably would not have mentioned his shoes. Isaiah may have been wearing sackcloth because he was mourning (cf. 15:3), but sackcloth may have been his normal garment (cf. 2 Kings 1:8).
"With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was directed to do, therefore, was simply opposed to common custom, and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner and preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth); and in this, as well as barefooted, he was to show himself in public. This was the costume of a man who had been robbed and disgraced, or else of a beggar or prisoner of war."
20:3-4 For three years, Isaiah appeared in public as God had instructed him, in order to portray the condition of the Egyptian and Cushite captives that the Assyrians would take in reprisal for stirring up trouble. A Cushite dynasty was in power in Egypt at this time, which accounts for the prominence of Cush in this prophecy. During those three years, Isaiah's observers doubtless concluded that his condition represented the fate of the people of Ashdod.
"This is the only instance of a strictly symbolical act performed by Isaiah. With later prophets, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, such acts were common. In some cases they were performed, not literally, but only in prophetic vision."
At the end of those three years, God told Isaiah to explain the significance of his strange behavior. That he had portrayed the Egyptians and Cushites, and not the people of Ashdod, would have shocked the Judeans, because many of them favored relying on Egypt and Cush for protection against Assyria. Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in 701 B.C. when the Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekah. Another less likely possibility, I think, is Esarhaddon's conquest of Egypt in 671 B.C.
20:5-6 Isaiah predicted the dismay of the pro-Egyptian faction in Judah when Assyria carried the Egyptians and Cushites off as captives. This happened in 701 B.C. The Judeans had hoped that they would get help from the Egyptians and Cushites against the Assyrians, but now how could they escape? The obvious though unstated answer is: Trust in the LORD, not Egypt!
The second series of five oracles chs. 21—23
Compared to the first series of oracles against the Gentile nations (chs. 13—20), this second series is more negative. Also, the nations and cities against which they were sent, are not as clearly defined, suggesting that these prophecies apply more broadly to all the nations, not just the historical ones addressed.
The second oracle against Babylon 21:1-10
This is a message of the destruction of the anti-God religious and commercial system that Babylon has symbolized throughout history (cf. Rev. 17—18).
21:1 This pronouncement concerns "the wilderness of the sea." This enigmatic title probably refers to the flat Mesopotamian plain northwest of the Persian Gulf, which the Assyrian and Babylonian empires occupied (cf. v. 9).
"The plain was covered with water of the Euphrates like a 'sea' (Jer. 51:13, 36; so ch. 11:15, the Nile), until Semiramis raised great dams against it. Cyrus removed these dykes, and so converted the whole country again into a vast desert-marsh."
This area would become a wilderness because of God's judgment. The oracle came like a sirocco (a hot, desert wind) from the Negev, a region in southern Judah infamous for its barrenness and heat. The destruction coming on Babylonia from a terrifying land would be similar to the devastation that blew into Judah periodically from the Negev.
21:2 Isaiah received this harsh vision. Treachery and destruction continued to mark the Persian Gulf area. Elam and Media were to go up against the foe in this region in order to put an end to her evil ways that produced groaning in her victims. Elam ceased to oppose the Mesopotamian powers by 639 B.C., so Isaiah evidently gave this oracle before then, possible as early as the Babylonian king Merodach-baladan's visit to Jerusalem about 701 B.C. (cf. ch. 39).
"Elam and Media were peoples from the Iranian highlands who were becoming active in Mesopotamian affairs near the end of the eighth century …"
21:3-4 The thought that God would destroy Babylon completely undid the prophet (cf. 13:7-8). His reaction evidences some compassion for the Babylonians—even though they were a threat to Judah's security—as well as shock that the destruction would be so great.
21:5 If the setting for the prophecy was the embassy of Merodach-baladan, the people who "set the table" and provide a meal refers to the Judeans. They entertained representatives of the nation under divine judgment (Babylon) who, as they dined with the Judeans, planned war against them among themselves. The Assyrians captured and destroyed Babylon in 686 B.C. Another possibility is that Isaiah saw a banquet in Babylon (cf. Dan. 5). The plan for battle would, in that case, be that of Babylon's invading enemy, perhaps the Medes and Persians.
21:6-7 The sovereign God told Isaiah to post a reliable sentry who would report what he saw. When the sentry saw horsemen in pairs, with a train of donkeys and camels, he should pay close attention. According to the Greek historian Xenophon, this is how the Persian army marched.
21:8-9 The lion-like sentry reported to his sovereign LORD that he was not neglecting his duty but was paying close attention to what he saw. He reported that a troop of riders in pairs had appeared and had announced the fall of Babylon (cf. Rev. 18:2). Her fallen idols symbolized their inability to protect her from her enemy (cf. Jer. 51:47, 52). Babylon fell several times: to the Assyrians in 710, 702, 689, and 648, and to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C., among others. The Medes were allies of the Babylonians in the earlier battles. But Babylon will fall again (13:19; 47:5, 9; 48:14; Jer. 51:8; Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17—18).
21:10 Isaiah concluded this oracle by telling the Judeans, a people whom he compared to a threshed crop because of their oppressions, that what he had announced about Babylon's destruction was from Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.
This oracle would have admonished the Judeans to put their trust in Yahweh rather than in the Babylonians, as tempting as their power would have been. Babylon would come to an end.
The oracle against Edom 21:11-12
Compared to the second oracle in the first series of five (14:28-32), this one reveals greater ignorance about what is coming.
21:11 An Edomite kept asking Isaiah, the watchman who saw by prophetic revelation how things would go (cf. vv. 6-9), how long the night of oppression on his nation would last (cf. Job 35:10; Mic. 3:6). "Edom" is "Dumah" in the Hebrew text, a word play. Dumah also may have been the name of a place in Edom or the Akkadian designation for Edom (Udumu). The Dumah in Genesis 25:14 was one of Ishmael's rather than Esau's descendants. Dumah means "silence," which is appropriate here since this oracle is silent (Heb. dumah) concerning Edom's (Heb. 'edom) ultimate fate.
"As a sick person lying awake through the long, agonizing hours of night cries out to know what the time is and how much of the night has passed, so Edom, feeling the oppression of Assyria, will call out to the prophet to ask him how much longer the oppression must endure."
21:12 The watchman responded that there was hope, but there were also more bad things coming. When morning came, it would still seem like night.
"Is there a hope of the dawn of deliverance? Isaiah replies, The morning is beginning to dawn (to us); but night is also coming (to you.)"
The Edomites could request further information about the future again later: "Come back again."
Edom would experience a kind of darkness that would last a long time before her night would pass, even though better times would come. Therefore it was foolish for Judah to trust in her.
The oracle against Arabia 21:13-17
The preceding oracle promised prolonged recurring trouble for Edom, but this one warns that the Arabians would suffer defeat soon.
"Evening darkness is settling upon Arabia, and the morning-land is becoming an evening-land."
21:13 "Arabia" describes the territory southeast of Edom, which was also in danger of Assyrian takeover. Dedan was a town in western Arabia. The Dedanite Arabian caravans would have to hide among the bushes because they were in danger from an enemy.
21:14-15 Other Arabians would provide sustenance for the refugees of war who would seek them out (cf. 16:2-3). Tema was an Arabian town and district northeast of Dedan (cf. Job 6:19; Jer. 25:23). It derived its name from one of the sons of Ishmael (cf. Gen. 25:15; 1 Chron. 1:30).
21:16-17 Within precisely a year, however, these Arabians would suffer destruction and their army would dissolve. Their end would be due to the sovereign LORD, not to the force of opposing armies. The LORD Himself assured the prophet of this.
"Kedar, in its restricted sense, denotes a nomadic tribe which inhabited the Syro-Arabian desert, but the name is often used in Scripture and in rabbinical literature as a collective term for the Bedouin generally."
The place that refugees from advancing Gentile armies would seek security, Arabia, would soon prove insecure. Israel should not trust in this neighbor but in her LORD.
The oracle against Jerusalem ch. 22
As in the first series of oracles, God's people occupy the fourth place in this second series, which points further into the future, surrounded by the nations of the world. In the first series, the Northern Kingdom was in view, but in the second series Judah takes the spotlight. Three aspects of life in Judah receive separate attention in this chapter: the city of Jerusalem (vv. 1-14), the royal official Shebna (vv. 15-19), and the family of Eliakim (vv. 20-25). All three sections reveal the thoroughness of Israel's sin of seeking security in the world rather than in the LORD, namely, self-sufficiency.
"… Jerusalem is found cannibalizing itself to make itself safe, without a thought of looking to the Lord (verses 8-11); Shebna is portrayed as the man concerned only for his own worldly glory, before and after death (verses 16-18); and Eliakim is at risk of becoming the focal point of the security of others to his own and their downfall (verses 23-24)."
The first part of this pronouncement deals with self-sufficient Jerusalem (vv. 1-14). At present there was joy in the city (vv. 1-2a), but in the future there would be sorrow (vv. 2b-7). Past actions (vv. 8-11) had produced the present joy, and they determined future consequences (vv. 12-14).
22:1 The prophet employed another enigmatic title that implied a contrast with the actual condition of the place described, in order to indicate the object of this oracle (cf. 21:1). "Valley of vision" refers to Jerusalem (cf. vv. 5, 9-10). Isaiah pictured it as the depressed place (cf. Ps. 125:2) where he received a depressing vision, namely, the inevitable judgment that would come on the city. In this valley there was a notable lack of vision among God's people when it came to seeing things from His perspective. The mention of a valley suggests the valleys that surrounded Jerusalem on three sides, the Kidron Valley on the east and the Hinnom Valley on the west and south.
"… Jerusalem was an enclosed place, hidden and shut off from the world, which Jehovah had chosen as the place in which to show to His prophets the mysteries of His government of the world."
Isaiah thought the residents of Jerusalem had behaved inappropriately by going up on their flat housetops in order to rejoice. Some turn of events in his day had resulted in the people feeling very secure. Perhaps Sargon's attack on Ashdod, followed by his return to Assyria in 711 B.C., or God's deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 B.C. (cf. 37:36), was the historical occasion for their rejoicing.
22:2-3 Such rejoicing was inappropriate, however, because Isaiah saw in his vision that they would fall to an enemy, not because of combat but because of starvation. This happened when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it in 586 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 25:3-4; Jer. 52:6). Jerusalem, as well as Babylon, would fall (cf. 2:6-22; 21:1-10).
22:4 Therefore Isaiah rejected the attempts of his fellow citizens to get him to participate in their celebration. The terrible end of the city and its inhabitants ("the daughter of my people") drew tears from him that the present rejoicing could not stop. Isaiah was a compassionate person because he identified with his countrymen in their suffering.
22:5 The Lord Yahweh of armies Himself would bring this fate on Jerusalem. The residents would then panic, be conquered and confused, and cry to the surrounding mountains for help as the city walls broke down.
22:6 The enemy would be Elam, an ally of Babylon's to her east, and Kir, whose exact location is unknown but was the destination of some Israelites taken into Assyrian captivity (cf. 2 Kings 16:9; Amos 1:5; 9:7). It was also the place (city or land) from which the Arameans originated (cf. Amos 9:7). Isaiah did not identify the main enemy, Babylon herself, but only two of her allies here, perhaps to emphasize the size (by merism) and/or distance of the foe from Jerusalem.
22:7 This enemy would conquer the countryside around Jerusalem and then set up a siege of the city outside her walls—at her very gates.
22:8 Such an attack would be possible because the LORD would remove His defensive screen from around the city. The reason was that the people had relied on physical implements of warfare for their security rather than on Him. Evidently the "house of the forest" (of Lebanon) was an armory in Isaiah's day (cf. 1 Kings 7:2-5; 10:17).
"The Lord is always the ultimate agent in his people's experiences …"
22:9-11 The people would try many forms of defense, but all would fail because they did not depend on the LORD who had made the city what it had become. Strong walls and adequate water would be their hope rather than their God. Hezekiah's strengthening of Jerusalem's walls and securing her water source were not wrong in themselves. The people's reliance on these physical securities was their sin.
"Walled cities usually had two walls with a space between, allowing defenders the open space needed to overcome attackers who had penetrated the outer wall. In peace-time that space tended to be built up by squatters with temporary shacks which soon became permanent dwellings. The government apparently took two steps to meet this problem. The houses were demolished to regain the open space between the walls and parts of it were flooded with water from the old pool. This latter created a flooded moat and also ensured water reserves for the besieged city."
"If it is true that God is the Sovereign of the universe, then our first task in a moment of crisis is to be sure that all is clear between him and ourselves. Then other preparations, if necessary, can follow."
22:12 Rather than relying on physical defenses in that day, the people should turn to the LORD in repentance, and reaffirm their trust in Him for their security. He is the sovereign, almighty God who can save.
22:13 However, they would not repent in that day but rejoice in their apparent security, believing that if they could not save themselves, nothing else could (cf. Rev. 9:20-21). Isaiah saw in the present rejoicing over security (vv. 1b-2a) the same attitude of self-sufficiency that would doom the Jerusalemites in the future.
Normally ancient Near Easterners used cattle and sheep for producing milk and wool; they did not slaughter them to eat very often because these animals produced valuable products. Killing them to eat, therefore, expresses the people's utter despair and their self-indulgence, thinking there was no future left for them (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32).
22:14 The LORD had revealed to Isaiah that He would not forgive the people's unbelief in Himself. As long as they continued to trust in themselves rather than in Him, He would not save them.
Unbelief persisted in until death is the only sin that God will not forgive. In the unsaved it results in eternal damnation, and in the saved it results in the loss of some eternal reward plus temporal punishment in some cases. However, as long as people can repent there is hope. Repentance was still possible for Isaiah's original audience when he gave this message. Jeremiah's prophecies and the warning passages in Hebrews explain that a time can come when people are no longer able to repent.
"… the oracle stands here as the proclamation of a judgment deferred but not repealed."
The oracles against Shebna and Eliakim that follow are the only ones that deal with individuals in chapters 13—27. They show that the choice between faith and works, with its attending results, is individual as well as national. They also provided immediate signs of the prophecies that Isaiah gave here concerning the fate of Jerusalem in the future. Shebna was as self-reliant individually, as the people of Jerusalem were collectively (vv. 15-19). Eliakim was an object of trust by the members of his family and the residents of Jerusalem and so risked taking the LORD's place in their affections (vv. 20-25).
22:15 The LORD commanded Isaiah to go to Shebna, who was steward (ruler) over the royal household (cf. Joseph; Gen. 39:8-9; 1 Kings 4:6; 18:3). This was the highest office of state in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and sometimes the heir to the throne occupied it (cf. 2 Chron. 26:21). As the royal steward, Shebna stood nearest to the king and represented the king.
22:16 Isaiah's question is almost identical to the one in verse 1, tying Shebna's error to that of the people of Jerusalem. He had no personal right, or a right by reason of his position, to prepare a permanent and prominent tomb for himself. A person's tomb made a statement about his importance, and Shebna wanted to guarantee his future recognition by building himself a prominent monument in Jerusalem (cf. Haman; Esth. 3:1-2). Archaeologists have found the remains of a grave hewn by one Shebna on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem.
"In this episode (a scene which deserves to be remembered beside 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned') the prime minister chooses the moment when Jerusalem's citizens are frantically arming for a last-ditch stand against the invaders to visit the elaborate mausoleum he was preparing for himself in the royal cemetery."
"Why should he be preoccupied with dignity in death, while most people in Jerusalem were still hoping to live?"
22:17-18 Shebna would not die in peace in Jerusalem as he anticipated. God would throw him, like a balled up rag that cannot control where it is going, into a distant land where he would die. Presumably the Assyrians took him captive. His emblems of greatness would also end up there rather than in the place where he wished to be remembered. His attitude of self-glorification made him unworthy of the office he occupied, in Isaiah's view (cf. 1 Cor. 10:12).
22:19 The LORD promised to drive Shebna out of his office, and to tear him down from his exalted position in which he took so much pride.
22:20-21 The LORD also predicted that He would appoint Eliakim to a special position of authority, complete with the symbols of that authority, to replace proud Shebna. In chapters 36—37 Shebna and Eliakim appear as officials who were both serving King Hezekiah when Sennacherib invaded Jerusalem (701 B.C.). Thus Shebna's humiliation and Eliakim's exaltation apparently occurred sometime after that. Eliakim would become a father to the people of Jerusalem in that he would care for them sacrificially at God's appointed time. Gaebelein and McGee pointed out that Shebna prefigured Antichrist, and Eliakim, Christ.
"Shebna had been riding ostentatiously in his chariots and building a splendid grave for himself, seeking in all this the praise of men. How much better to have God's smile of approval and to be described, in a simple but eloquent phrase, as 'my servant' (v. 20; cf. 20:3; 42:1; 52:13)."
"When God designates a man my servant, He attributes high honor to that man; He asserts that that man is one who will serve Him."
22:22 Eliakim would bear authority to administer the affairs of David's royal house, which "the key … on his shoulder" symbolized.
"So keys are carried sometimes in the East, hanging from the kerchief on the shoulder. But the phrase is rather figurative for sustaining the government on one's shoulders."
Eliakim's decisions would be binding, like when one unlocks or locks a door with a key (cf. Matt. 16:19; 18:18; Rev. 3:7).
22:23-24 Eliakim would also serve like a tent "peg" by holding the royal house and all Jerusalem stable against the winds of adversity. He would bring glory to his father's house. He would be such a strong figure that many people would rely on him and commit much responsibility to him.
22:25 Unfortunately, Eliakim would not be able to carry all the weight of responsibility committed to him and would fail. Thus the people's trust in another human being, even a very capable person, would prove misplaced. They could only safely trust in the Yahweh of armies; He is the only one who would not fail them. One writer believed that Eliakim would not fail but that trust in him was inappropriate nevertheless.
This oracle again reproved the people of Jerusalem for trusting in the arm of flesh to protect them from their enemies. Isaiah epitomized and condemned this attitude by citing Shebna's self-confident behavior. He also showed that trusting in even the most capable of people, such as Eliakim, would prove disappointing. Rather their trust should be in their sovereign, almighty LORD.
Christians face temptations similar to the ones Isaiah identified here. We may fail to trust the Lord first and to pray for His guidance, resting rather on our own or another's ability to solve problems. We may become so preoccupied with our own interests and reputations that we fail to serve the Lord and people. We may also put too much hope in our leaders and not enough in our God.
The oracle against Tyre ch. 23
The first cycle of oracles closed by revealing that Egypt, the political oppressor of the Israelites, would come into equal status with Israel in the future (19:25). The second cycle similarly closes by disclosing that Tyre, the materialistic corrupter of God's people in the past, would come into a condition of holiness (v. 18). Thus the climax of both series of revelations of judgment was the divine blessing of the Gentiles.
There are also parallels between Babylon, the first oracle in the first series, and Tyre, the last oracle in the second series. Babylon was the great land power of the ancient world, and Tyre was the great sea power. Babylon gained her power through warfare, whereas Tyre gained hers through peaceful trading. The descriptions of both cities meld into the view of future Babylon presented in Revelation 17—18. There the religious and commercial aspects of future Babylon are strongly reminiscent of old Tyre and old Babylon. Note also the reference to a prostitute in both passages.
"Babylon's greatness lay in her glory, the list of her achievements and accomplishments, her sophistication and culture. Tyre did not have all of that, but she did have her wealth and her vast maritime contacts. So between the two of them, Babylon and Tyre summed up from east to west all that the world of that day—and this—thought was significant."
This pronouncement consists of two parts: a poem describing Tyre's fall (vv. 1-14) and a prediction of Tyre's ultimate commitment to the LORD and His people. Tyre was the major city of Phoenicia at this time and undoubtedly represents the other towns allied with it in the region, in some of the references in this chapter. Similarly, Jerusalem represented all of Judah when used in a collective sense (as a synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole, or the whole represents a part).
23:1 The prophet described news of Tyre's total destruction reaching sailors on ships of Tarshish that were moored in Cyprus. The Tarshish (lit. "refinery") in view here was probably in Spain, but "ships of Tarshish" was a term that described the largest ships of the day, which were capable of the longest voyages (cf. 2:16). Tyre was a very important Mediterranean seaport north of Israel, and its destruction would impact maritime trade everywhere.
"It is not improbable that the whole of the Mediterranean may have been called 'the sea of Tarshish' …"
23:2-3 Isaiah also directed the residents of the Phoenician coast, including Sidon, another important port a few miles north of Tyre, to be silent and motionless, since Tyre had collapsed. Tyre had been the marketplace for the large wheat crops that came from Egypt and were distributed to other Mediterranean lands.
23:4 Isaiah also gave voice to the sea, the "mother" of Tyre, which bewailed its loss at Tyre's demise. The sea's "children" were the ships that plied its waters because of Tyre's commercial activity. Or perhaps the sea's "children" were Tyre's colonies. This loss would be a source of embarrassment to Sidon since it was a sister city of Tyre's in Phoenicia.
"Tyre and Sidon go together like pork and beans go together."
23:5 The fourth entity to sorrow over the news of Tyre's downfall would be Egypt. Tyrian ships transported Egyptian products all over the Mediterranean region. Tyre's destruction would have far-reaching effects.
23:6-7 Isaiah advised refugees to flee from Tyre to Tarshish. How the course of Tyre's fate would change! She had for centuries been a world power, not as an empire but as a broker of international trade. Her ambitions were not political: to rule others, but commercial: to grow rich. As such, Tyre symbolizes one aspect of worldly endeavor.
23:8-9 Why had Tyre perished? When Tyre founded colonies, she set up rulers over them—bestowed "crowns." Princes and the honored of the earth ended up serving Tyre's ends. Thus this ancient city had tremendous power and influence.
"The reference [to the "earth," or land, Heb. ha'res] is to Palestine-Lebanon, extending to the Euphrates in the northeast and to the 'River of Egypt' and beyond to Egypt in the south. All this 'land' was served by Tyre's commerce and, accordingly, it treated Tyre with deference. All the 'land' envied Tyre's wealth and imitated her styles."
The reason for Tyre's demise was the plan of the LORD of armies. He purposed to humble the proud and to shame the admired. He wanted to show the transitory nature of human glory and the folly of depending on such glory. God does not object when worthy people receive the credit due them. What He opposes is pride that seeks to live independent of Himself and glory that fails to acknowledge Himself.
23:10 Tarshish could now expand freely, like the Nile overflowed Egypt, because God had removed her main competitor: Tyre.
23:11-12 The LORD had stretched His hand over the sea in judgment, as He had stretched His hand over Egypt long ago (cf. Exod. 14:16; 15:4-6, 12). The sea was His province, not Tyre's (cf. Jon. 1:3-4). He had made all kingdoms tremble by condemning the whole Gentile Canaan region to judgment. The Phoenician coastal cities would have no more joy, peace, or security. Their residents would flee to Cyprus, Tarshish, and elsewhere, but would not be able to find rest.
"Phoenicia called itself Kena'an (Canaan); but this is the only passage in the Old Testament in which the name occurs in this most restricted sense."
23:13 The Tyrians would not find rest because the Assyrians would take revenge on any nation that gave the Tyrians sanctuary.
God's agent in the destruction of Tyre was first Assyria, then Babylonia, and finally Greece. Tiglath-pileser of Assyria set up an Assyrian military governor in Tyre in 738 B.C., and his successors imposed escalating restraints on the city because it stubbornly resisted foreign control. Alexander the Great finally wiped the city into the sea in 332 B.C., leaving it uninhabitable. Here Isaiah pointed to Assyria as the power that God would use to cut back the influence of Tyre.
Tyre came under attack at least five times from Isaiah's day until its end. It's invaders were Sennacherib (705-701 B.C.), Esarhaddon (679-671 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar (585-573 B.C.), Artaxerxes III Ochus (343 B.C.), and Alexander the Great (332 B.C.). Assyria had already done to the Chaldeans what the prophet foretold it would do to Tyre. Sargon II attacked Babylon in 710 B.C., and Sennacherib destroyed it in 689 B.C.
23:14 This repeated call to the ships of Tarshish, to "wail," concludes Isaiah's announcement of Tyre's destruction, forming an inclusio with verse 1. Even though Tyre's demise would give Tarshish more control, Tarshish would suffer because Tyre determined the prosperity of the whole Mediterranean world. The ships of Tarshish would have no port to enter at Tyre (v. 1), and they would have no security for their enterprise (v. 14). How foolish it would be, then, for the Jerusalemites to pin their hopes on Tyre.
As in the previous chapter, Isaiah gave a sign that what he had predicted about Tyre's destruction would indeed happen (cf. 22:15-25): It would experience a brief revival in the near future. Looking into the far distant future, the prophet also announced the conversion of Tyre into a place of holiness to the LORD (cf. 19:16-25).
23:15-16 In the day that the LORD would execute His plan against Tyre, there would be a period of "70 years" when Tyre would experience relief from her oppressors ("Tyre will be forgotten"). Compare the 70 years of Israel's captivity in Babylon, though it is probably not the same period. "Like the days of one king" refers to the "book of days" that kings kept in which they recorded the events of their reigns day by day. The meaning is similar to "as a hired worker would count" (16:14; 21:16), namely, that these would be 70 literal, fixed years. Tyre did experience such a period of respite following the campaigns of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.
During the next 70 years, Assyria was in decline and did not pay much attention to Tyre. Another view is that the 70 years followed Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. A third view is that the 70 years are the same as those of the Babylonian captivity of Israel. A fourth interpretation is that 70 is a round number that indicates simply an extended period of time. Whichever of these periods of time was the fulfillment of this prophecy, Tyre regained some of her former strength.
23:16 Isaiah's comparison of Tyre's recovery to the self-advertisements of a harlot illustrates two realities: Tyre would attract interest in herself again, and what she did was selfish and strictly for money (cf. Amos 1:9).
23:17 At the end of 70 years, the LORD would restore Tyre to her former position of playing the materialistic harlot among the nations.
23:18 Unlike a selfish prostitute, however, Tyre would set aside her income to the LORD, and it would benefit those who dwell in the LORD's presence. The wages of a prostitute were unacceptable offerings to the LORD under the Old Covenant (Deut. 23:18). When the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon, the merchants of Tyre sold them building materials for the second temple (Ezra 3:7), as they had done for the first temple during Solomon's reign (1 Kings 5:1-12).
But the change in the Tyrians' attitude that this verse promises did not mark them then; they still engaged in commerce for selfish ends. Thus this verse looks beyond the history of ancient Tyre to a time yet future when God will transform hearts and cause Gentiles worldwide to worship Him (cf. 60:5-9; Rev. 21:24-26). In the future, Tyre will have a new status, a new spirit, and a new allegiance (cf. Ps. 87:4). She will join the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Assyrians (18:7; 19:18-25), and many other Gentiles in uniting to fulfill God's predicted glorification of Israel.
"The care of a Phoenician widow once extended to a prophet (1 Ki. 17:8-16) will be the norm of coming relationships."
The Judeans should not envy the Tyrians, nor should God's people of any era envy materialistic idolaters. Ultimately God's people will enjoy all the wealth of Tyre that will come to her God.
"… chs. 13—23 seem to be saying that since the glory of the nations (chs. 13, 14) equals nothing, and since the scheming of the nations (chs. 14—18) equals nothing, and since the vision of this nation (chs. 21, 22) equals nothing, and since the wealth of the nations (ch. 23) equals nothing, don't trust the nations! The same is true today. If we believe that a system of alliances can save us, we have failed to learn the lessons of Isaiah and of history. God alone is our refuge and strength (Ps. 46:2 [Eng. 1])."
2. Divine victory over the nations chs. 24—27
This section of Isaiah has similarities to the preceding oracles against the nations (chs. 13—23), but it is also different in certain respects. It is a third cycle, but not a cycle of oracles. The content integrates with the oracles, but chapters 24—27 are one continuous whole. It is similar to the finale of a great piece of music; it is climactic but can be appreciated by itself (cf. Zech. 9—14).
Chapters 24—27 also parallel chapters 1—4 in that both sections contain messages of sin, judgment, and restoration "on that day." Likewise, 27:2-6 is another song about a vineyard (cf. 5:1-7). Chapters 28—33 contain six woes, like 5:8-30. Chapter 34 assures divine judgment on Gentile oppressors (cf. ch. 10), and chapter 35 promises kingdom blessings for Israel (cf. chs. 11—12).
"As the book of Immanuel closes in ch. xii. with a psalm of the redeemed, so have we here a fourfold song of praise."
The theme of this section is the triumph of God over His enemies on behalf of His people. Isaiah developed this theme by picturing the destruction of one "city" ("the city of chaos" [v. 10], which is the city of man, i.e., of the whole world), and the establishment of another city (Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the city of God). These two "cities" are the focal points of the judgment and restoration that Isaiah alluded to in the preceding oracles. As the city of man falls under divine judgment, the songs of God-neglecting people disappear; and as the city of God appears, the songs of the redeemed swell. God used these two cities as symbols in this section of text.
"A city is not just a collection of buildings. It is a mechanism for living independently of God. It is a device for human self-salvation. It is a denial of human mortality. The city is man establishing his own enduring greatness. But even civilizations are mortal."
"The prophet wants to make it plain that God is sovereign actor on the stage of history. It is not he who reacts to the nations, but the nations who respond to him. Thus Israel's [and all God's people's] hope is not in the nations of humanity. They will wither away in a moment under God's blast. Rather, her hope is in the Lord, who is the master of the nations."
Temporally, the first five oracles (chs. 13—20) had strong connections to Isaiah's own times, and the second five (chs. 21—23) reached further into the future. This is not saying, however, that the first oracles were entirely restricted to Isaiah's time and the second were completely futuristic. The comparison is only general, not absolute, as exposition of the oracles has shown. This section (chs. 24—27) stretches even further into the future and is mainly eschatological.
Many commentators refer to this section as "Isaiah's Apocalypse," because it reveals the culmination of history, though strictly speaking the language used is not apocalyptic but eschatological. These are prophecies regarding the eschatological day of the LORD. Later scriptural revelation enables us to locate these judgments more specifically in the Tribulation, at the return of Christ, in the Millennium, and at the very end of human history on this earth.
"The section is titled 'The Little Apocalypse of Isaiah' because the word 'apocalypse' is the Greek name for the book of Revelation and much of the material that is found in these four chapters of Isaiah is also found in the Revelation. Furthermore, the very structure of these chapters in Isaiah is also the structure of the Revelation. Hence, the book of Revelation is an expansion of Isaiah 24—27."
The original settings of the prophecies that make up this section are even more difficult to nail down than those in the foregoing oracles. Chapters 24—27 develop the calls expressed in 2:2-4 and 5: calls to the nations and to God's people to come to Jerusalem, the magnet of the earth in the future. The structure of the passage is chiastic, also centering on Mount Zion (25:6-12).
A The LORD's harvest from a destroyed world (24:1-13: destruction, 1-12; gleanings, 13)
B The song of the world remnant (24:14-16a)
C The sinful world overthrown (24:16b-20)
D The waiting world (24:21-23)
E The song of the ruined city (25:1-5)
F Mount Zion (25:6-12)
E' The song of the strong city (26:1-6)
D' The waiting people of God (26:7-21)
C' Spiritual forces of evil overthrown (27:1)
B' The song of the remnant of the people (27:2-6)
A' The LORD's harvest from a destroyed people (27:7-13: destruction, 7-11; gleanings, 12-13)
There is chronological progression in this eschatological section: from the Tribulation (24:1-20), to the Second Coming (24:21-23), to the Millennium and beyond (chs. 25—27). The millennial sections explain various aspects of God's activity during that time.
The preservation of God's people within a world under divine judgment 24:1-20
Isaiah revealed that the LORD's people are at the center of His plans for the world (cf. 14:2; 21:10). He will preserve them even though He will judge sinful humanity. It is believers who will be living on the earth during the LORD's devastation of this planet that are in view (Tribulation saints), not Christians living before the Tribulation, who will be taken to heaven in the Rapture before the Tribulation begins. This passage contains many connections with the Flood narrative (Gen. 6—9). Essentially, what God did in Noah's day—i.e., the preservation of the righteous—He will do in the future Tribulation (cf. Mark 13).
Coming worldwide judgment 24:1-6
24:1 The prophet predicted that the LORD would lay the earth (land) waste, namely, the sum total of all the nations, including those representative ones condemned in the preceding oracles. Isaiah always used "behold" to introduce something future (cf. 3:1; 17:1; 19:1; 30:27; et al.). Yahweh would do the reverse of what He did in the Creation, when He brought order out of chaos (cf. Gen. 1:2). He would devastate the earth, making it desolate. He would distort the surface of the earth, as when the Flood changed the topography of this planet. And He would scatter the earth's inhabitants, as He did at Babel (Gen. 11:9).
"It is not easy to know how literally these words will be fulfilled, but in these days of threatened ecological and nuclear catastrophe, it is not at all difficult to imagine a very literal fulfillment, and one which will indeed be the result of human greed and covetousness."
24:2 God's actions will affect all individuals in all types of relationships, including religious, domestic, and commercial relationships. Positions, possessions, and power will make no difference to God (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7).
24:3 The repetition of the revelation of this judgment (cf. v. 1), with the assurance that the LORD announced it, confirms its certainty (cf. 2 Pet. 3:5-7; Rev. 6; 8—9; 15—16; 21:1). The fact of the earth's destruction, rather than the precise methods and instruments that He will use, were the focus of this prophet's revelation. Later revelation provided more detail. These things would happen simply because the LORD had spoken (cf. Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26; 2:16-17; 3:14, 16, 17, 22).
24:4 It is the people of the earth that are the objects of God's judgment, not just the planet itself. All of humanity, even the most exalted individuals, would mourn and fade under the withering judgment of Yahweh.
24:5 Sinful humankind has corrupted its environment. Humans refused to live by divine revelation, introduced an innovative morality, and refused to walk in fellowship with God as He specified in the biblical covenants (cf. Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-6; 9:12, 16; Lev. 24:8; 2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 105:10; Rom. 1—3). "The everlasting covenant" probably refers to the Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:8-17), though the Adamic Covenant (Gen. 2:15) may be in view.
"… human beings in sin are the supreme environmental threat."
24:6 God has cursed sin (cf. Gen. 3:17-19), so when people sin they set His curse to work, and it devours the earth.
"Countries do not have sins, but people do. And countries suffer as a consequence of the guilt of their peoples."
Those who sin are guilty before God and suffer the judgment due them. This is part of His covenant relationship with humankind (Gen. 2:17; cf. Deut. 27—28). The only reason all do not perish is that God graciously extends mercy to some (cf. Noah). Half the world's population will die during the seal and trumpet judgments (Rev. 6:8; 9:15). A remnant of believers will survive the Tribulation.
The effects of the coming judgment 24:7-20
Isaiah expounded on the effects of human sin in a poem, which follows.
24:7 Wine, which people use to escape feeling the effects of sin, ultimately proves ineffective. Its source, the grapevine, decays (as a result of drought? cf. Rev. 6:5-6), and even the constitutionally lighthearted cannot escape groaning.
24:8 Music, likewise, cannot keep people's spirits up continually.
24:9 Even while people drink their wine they cannot bring themselves to sing for joy. Their beer is flat, as we say. It fails to provide the desired uplift.
24:10 Isaiah described the world as a city marked by meaninglessness (Heb. tohu, Gen. 1:2), like the earth before Creation (cf. Gen. 11:1-9; Jer. 4:23). That the city is the entire earth is clear. Another name for this city is eschatological Babylon. The word "earth" occurs 16 times in this section of the text (vv. 1-20). A spirit of fear pervades this city. Modern existentialist writers have done a good job of articulating the meaninglessness of life without God that Isaiah also described here.
24:11 Shut up to life without God, humankind despairs because all remedies have been tried and found wanting. Stimulants fail to bring lasting joy, what joy there is sours, and gaiety is gone.
24:12 Life in the city (world) of meaninglessness is not only unsatisfying (v. 7), but it is also impossible. Not only is life desolate but it is also defenseless.
24:13 God's judgment of the earth will be like a harvest in which He will remove the olives from an olive tree (cf. v. 6; 17:5-6; Rev. 14:19-20; 19:15). But there will be a few people left at the end of the harvest; a remnant will survive (cf. Matt. 24:13).
24:14 These survivors will rejoice over the LORD (cf. Matt. 25:21, 23).
"One feature of chapters 24—27 that reminds the reader of the Book of Revelation is the way declarations of coming judgment are interspersed with songs of thanksgiving."
24:15 Because the remnant will praise God in the west (v. 14), Isaiah called for praise of Him in the east (Heb. 'ur, lit. place of fire) as well—he called for universal praise, in other words. Specifically, the Gentile nations (the coastlands of the sea, the people farthest from Israel) need to praise Him. Their response will be the beginning of a great pilgrimage to Zion to honor the LORD (2:2; Mic. 4:1).
24:16 Isaiah anticipated himself and others hearing the remnant praise God for His righteousness in judging the ungodly.
But as the prophet contemplated this end-times scene, he also felt the condemnation of others as deeply as he formerly felt his own (cf. 6:5). Even though God was judging the wicked, they proceeded to act as bad as ever, betraying one another treacherously (cf. 21:2; Rev. 9:20-21).
24:17-18 Those who are the objects of God's judgment will not be able to escape it because He will use the forces of nature to judge them—above them and below them (cf. Gen. 7:11; Rev. 6:12; 8:5, 7; 11:13, 19; 16:18, 21). "Windows above" and "foundations" below is a merism indicating totality. God Himself would be the agent of their destruction (cf. 2 Sam. 22:8; Ps. 139:7-12; Amos 5:19).
24:19 Like a tall building in an earthquake, the earth will crack, begin to sway, and break apart (cf. Rev. 6:12-15). What God had created in the ordered world would again become chaos (Heb. tohu, cf. v. 10).
"This is what they chose: a world without the ordering hand of God and this, in faithful divine justice, is what they got."
24:20 The prophet compared the earth under divine judgment to a reeling drunkard about to collapse, and to an old shack about to fall down. A drunkard falls because of internal weakness, and a shack gives way because of external pressures. What causes the destruction is the guilt of transgression that weighs heavily on the earth. This fall will be irrevocable.
This section of Isaiah's vision of God's victory over the nations (24:1-20) provides the basis for the following sections, which elaborate on features of the judgments previously described.
The coming King 24:21-23
Isaiah hinted at the coming of a great future King in his oracles against Philistia and Edom (14:29-30, 32; 21:11-12). Now he revealed more about this Person.
24:21 When Yahweh brings universal judgment on the world again, He will sovereignly punish all unfaithful authorities both in the heavenly realm (evil angels, cf. Dan. 10:13; Eph. 6:12) and in the earthly (cf. Matt. 8:29; Rev. 12—13; 19:19; 20:2, 10). Rulers are the particular individuals in view.
24:22 Before God punishes them, He will confine them in a pit (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 17:8; 18:21; 19:3, 17-18, 20; 20:1-3, 11-15). "Many days" probably refers to the Millennium (cf. Rev. 20:1-3).
"What the apocalyptist of the New Testament describes in detail in Rev. xx. 4, xx. 11 sqq., and xxi., the apocalyptist of the Old Testament sees here condensed into one fact …"
24:23 The "moon" and "sun," the most glorious rulers of human life, in the physical sense, will be ashamed by the appearance of an even more glorious ruler (cf. Rev. 21:23). The sun and the moon were important gods in the ancient Near East, but no god can stand beside Yahweh. Isaiah's is a poetic description of relative glory. Isaiah did not use the astronomical words for moon and sun here but poetic equivalents, literally the "white" and the "hot." Yahweh Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem (cf. 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1-5; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 21:2, 10). Some amillennialists believe these are not real places, but earthly names for the place from which God presently rules: heaven. Young wrote the following:
"Both Zion and Jerusalem are … figures of the seat of the eternal kingdom."
Other passages reveal that Yahweh will reign in the person of Messiah (e.g., Rev. 20:4). Amillennialists believe that this will not be Messiah's rule on the earth; He will have no earthly rule in their view. But what Isaiah intended to reveal was that His spiritual rule, which has been in existence since Christ's first coming, they believe, will be all embracing. His elders (vice regents) will be there and will behold His glory, like the elders of Israel beheld Yahweh's glory on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:9-11; cf. Rev. 4:4, 9-11; 19:11-16).
"In each of the heavenly throne scenes there are other beings surrounding Yahweh's throne. 6:2 calls them … 'seraphs.' 1 Kgs 22:21 calls them … 'spirits.' Job 1:6 calls them … 'sons of god.' Here they are called … 'elders' (Rev 4—19 passim). They all seem to refer to the same beings who have the same functions [i.e., worshippers in heaven]."
The world rejoicing in Messiah's reign ch. 25
Isaiah next described the remnant, believers who will stream to Zion, praising God, at the beginning of Messiah's reign. Notice the many triple formations in the structure of this chapter, creating a feeling of the completeness of joy. The prophet first pictured the pilgrims moving through a ruined world to Zion, singing of the wonder of their rescue and the LORD's power over their enemy.
"Soon after God in His judgment will wipe out sinful people (chap. 24) the Messiah's glorious kingdom will begin. In poetry Isaiah described the praise that will be ascribed to the Lord in the Millennium for His marvelous work."
"This passage is made up of three praises: one for deliverance (vv. 1-5), one for millennial blessings (vv. 6-8), and one for the judgment of Israel's enemies (vv.9-12)."
Pilgrims on the march 25:1-5
25:1 The prophet reflects a personal knowledge of God; he is a "saved" person. He exalts and thanks Yahweh his God because He supernaturally and faithfully executed the outworking of plans that He had formulated long before.
The singer is probably Isaiah himself, who projected himself into the future time that he envisioned (cf. chs. 40—66). He spoke for the redeemed of that time: the beginning of the Millennium. Since Old Testament saints will be resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium (Dan. 12:2), Isaiah himself may utter this prophetic psalm of praise in the future. Isaiah included more praise of God among his prophecies than any other Old Testament writing prophet. We might even think of him as a psalmist as well as a prophet.
25:2 What did God do? He destroyed the city of man, the world of city-state culture (cf. 24:10), as He said He would do. The city, since the time of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), was a biblical figure of self-salvation. In the Tribulation, God will humble the pride of people who seek to save themselves.
25:3 Strong people and groups of ruthless individuals will fear God and respect Him for what He has done. They will not necessarily become believers in Him, but they will acknowledge that He has done great things (cf. Rev. 9:20-21).
25:4 Specifically, they will confess how He delivered those who trusted in Him (during the Tribulation) in spite of the fierce antagonism of their enemies, which was like driving rain (cf. Ps. 61:2-4).
25:5 As a passing cloud provides relief from the heat during a drought, so the LORD gives His people relief by humbling the song of their ruthless foreign enemies.
"In either the sudden intensity of the cloudburst or the steady, enervating heat, life is threatened. Unless one has a stronghold against the flood (cf. Matt. 7:24-27) or a shade from the heat [Ps. 121:5], there is no hope."
The coming great banquet 25:6-8
Having delivered His people from the Tribulation and preserved them to enter His earthly kingdom, the LORD will invite them to rejoice with Him at a great banquet at the beginning of the Millennium (cf. Exod. 24:11).
25:6 All who enter the Millennium—everyone who does will be a believer—will stream to Mount Zion (24:23) where the LORD of armies will provide a joyful banquet for them. Amillennialists typically take "Zion" as a figurative representation of the church (i.e., all believers throughout history). According to Young, the banquet signifies "the spiritual blessings that God brings to mankind through His kingdom." Inaugural banquets were fairly customary when ancient Near Eastern kings were crowned (cf. 1 Sam 11:15; 2 Sam. 6:18; 1 Kings 1:9, 19, 25; 8:62-65). The new king often bestowed favors on such occasions.
25:7-8 The LORD will also remove the curse of death that has hung over humankind since the Fall (cf. 26:19; Gen. 2:17; Job 19:26; Dan. 12:2; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:54; Heb. 2:15; Rev. 7:17; 21:4; 22:3). This will occur at the end of the Millennium, after the final rebellion and God's creation of new heavens and a new earth.
Isaiah's vision of the future followed the course of events that later revelation clarified, but he did not present the eschatological future as consisting of consecutive watertight compartments—for two reasons: First, he did not see the future as clearly as later prophets did (1 Pet. 1:10-12), and second, he described the future here as a poet rather than as a historian. Isaiah here telescoped the millennial and eternal reigns of God—both aspects constitute His future kingdom—as He did the first and second advents of Christ (65:17-25).
Sovereign Yahweh will wipe the tears from each face (Rev. 7:17; 21:4), like a loving mother, and will remove the disgrace to His people from living in slavery to sin (cf. Josh. 5:9; Ezek. 5:13-17; Rom. 11:11-27). This is a promise from the LORD. It was customary for an ancient Near Eastern king, at his inaugural banquet, to demonstrate his power by performing some heroic act.
The great joy to come 25:9-12
The last part of this chapter returns to the emphasis of the first part: the joy that will come to God's people at this time.
25:9 The redeemed will rejoice that they are finally in the presence of the God whose rule and care they had longed to be delivered into for so long (cf. Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-12). Finally, hope will have given way to sight, and Old Testament saints will rejoice because they are finally with their Savior (cf. Rom. 11:25-26; 1 Cor. 13:9-10, 12).
25:10 The reason for their rejoicing is that God's hand of blessing will rest on Zion then. In contrast, Moab, representing the godless nations antagonistic to Israel in the parallel oracle (chs. 15—16), will suffer judgment and humiliation under His foot. The mountains of Moab are visible to the east from the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.
"The same pride which held Moab back from seeking security in the divine promises in an earthly crisis (cf. 16:6) will exclude Moab from partaking of the heavenly promises. This is the ultimate tyranny of false choices."
25:11-12 Moab would try to swim out of his predicament, like he had relied on himself and tried to save himself in the past, but the LORD will punish his clever pride. None of Moab's defenses against divine judgment will work. The LORD will bring them all down.
The future rejoicing of God's people ch. 26
This section focuses on the remnant of Israel during the Millennium: "on that day" (v. 1). It parallels the oracles against Ephraim (chs. 17—18) and Jerusalem (ch. 22) in the structure of this major section of Isaiah (chs. 13—27). Isaiah voiced the praise and prayer that will come to God from Israel in the future because the LORD destroyed the "city" of man. He closed with a warning for the Israelites (vv. 20-21). The meaning of God's victory over the world for Israel is the theme.
A song 26:1-6
26:1 The prophet revealed another song that will be sung "on that day" (in the Millennium, cf. ch. 25) by those in Zion.
The New Jerusalem that God will set up will be a place of strength and security for the redeemed (cf. Rev. 21:9—22:5). Many interpreters, including myself, believe that this will be a literal city with walls and gates, but other interpreters take the description as metaphorical. In that case what Isaiah meant was only that God would provide strength and security for His people.
26:2 Isaiah, writing as a psalmist, called on the porters to open the new city gates so the nation that was right with God could enter (cf. Ps. 15:1-5; 24:3-10; 118:19-22). The "nation" refers to Israel specifically in the context. Faithfulness and loyalty to the LORD will mark Israel then.
"God takes the very symbol of our rejection of him [i.e., a city] and transforms it into Heaven."
26:3 The LORD keeps in true peace the mind-set that consistently trusts in Him (cf. Matt. 6:24; Phil. 4:7; James 1:6-8). Here believers are viewed corporately, but the same truth applies individually (cf. Ps. 112:7-8).
"Stayed upon Jehovah,
Hearts are fully blest,
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest."
26:4 Isaiah urged everyone to trust in the LORD as a way of life, not just in a saving act of faith, because Yahweh, even Yahweh, is the very essence of what an everlasting rock should be (cf. 17:10; 30:29; 44:8; Exod. 33:21; Deut. 32:4; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32; Ps. 18:2; 19:14; 61:2; 1 Cor. 10:4). His presence is an unmoving place of refuge and protection from the elements and from all enemies. Augustus M. Toplady drew the inspiration for his hymn Rock of Ages from this verse.
"The issue of trust is the key to the entire segment beginning at 7:1 and concluding at 39:8. Will Judah commit her security to the nations or to God?"
26:5 The New Jerusalem is secure because God brought down the city of the world (Babylonianism) and the proud who inhabited it (cf. 25:12). This is the reason God's people can and should trust in Him.
26:6 The feet of God's afflicted and helpless people will trample the fallen world (cf. Matt. 5:1-12), but it is the LORD alone who will subdue it.
A prayer 26:7-19
Isaiah moved from a hymn of praise to a prayer that has two parts: present waiting for God (vv. 7-10), and future expectation from God (vv. 11-19).
26:7 Presently the path of the righteous is smooth in that the trip from justification to glorification is secure—though in experience we encounter many obstacles. Isaiah prayed that the "Upright One" would make the road that the righteous tread level in experience (cf. 40:3; Matt. 6:13). He used this unusual name for God because He wanted the One who is altogether right to make the path of His people altogether right.
26:8 The faithful people of God, Isaiah added, have waited for the LORD to act while following His commandments. They have sought a greater appreciation of Him rather than a change in their circumstances (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
"Waiting is very difficult for most people, for it is an admission that there is nothing we can do at the moment to achieve our ends. Yet that admission is the first requirement for spiritual blessing. Until we have admitted that we cannot save ourselves, God cannot save us."
26:9 Waiting was the experience of Isaiah individually as it was the experience of the faithful Israelites collectively. He sought the LORD rather than seeking a change in his circumstances. He recognized that God intends His commandments and His providential acts to teach people righteousness.
26:10 Yet the unrighteous do not learn the righteousness of God from His Word or His ways to the extent that they should. They do not understand but continue in sin and remain spiritually blind (cf. Rom. 3:9-18).
At this point Isaiah's concern changed from present to future conditions.
26:11 Even though the unrighteous do not recognize God's messages to them now, they will one day understand: when He brings these enemies of His into judgment.
26:12 Yahweh would establish peace for His people (v. 3) because everything that they had done He had really done for them (cf. Phil. 2:12-13). We cannot establish peace for ourselves, but He will. Only He can break through the darkness of human depravity (Jon. 2:9).
26:13 Even though the Israelites had other earthly masters through their history (Pharaoh, the Philistines, et al.), it was Yahweh their God who kept them following Him.
"… fidelity is not an attribute native to the people of God but a gift which he enables them to exercise."
26:14 Those who oppressed God's people have died and are gone by this time, because God punished them. Many of their names have even been forgotten and are irretrievable by historians. The prophet was not denying the resurrection of the dead (cf. v. 19). He was simply affirming that these enemies neither continued to live, nor would they rise to bother God's people again.
26:15 Rather than Israel dying out as a nation, the LORD had increased her, as He promised Abraham (Gen. 15:5). This was not Israel's doing; the LORD had increased her borders and so gained great glory for Himself. During the reigns of David and Solomon the Israelites experienced numerical growth and geographical expansion. God would do the same for them in the future.
"It is worth remembering that the land promised to Israel in Exodus 23:31 was never fully occupied, even in the days of David and Solomon, but that the bounds of the messianic kingdom are to be wider still (cf. Ps 72:8)."
Many amillennialists believe that the promises concerning the future increase of the Israelites found fulfillment in the inclusion of Gentiles in the church—defined as the community of believers throughout history.
26:16 The period of the judges is a good example of what the prophet wrote in this verse. The Israelites suffered chastening from the LORD for departing from Him, but when they sought Him in their distress, even with just a whispered prayer, He saved them (cf. 1 Sam. 1:12-15).
26:17-18 During Isaiah's own times, Israel went through many pains, like a woman in labor. But rather than giving birth to something significant: the salvation of the world or many individuals, these experiences only proved painful for the Israelites. They had not learned from God's dealings with them any more than the nations had (v. 10).
26:19 Was Isaiah referring to national survival or to individual resurrection here? Probably both. He had been talking about the near-death experiences of Israel in the preceding verses (vv. 16-18), and he had already revealed that a remnant would enter the Millennium (25:6-10; cf. Ezek. 37). However, in the same passage the prophet also looked forward to the abolition of death itself (25:7-8). So probably we have both a figurative and a literal resurrection in view: a figurative resurrection of Israel in the future, and a literal resurrection of Israelites in the future (cf. Dan. 12:2; Job 19:26). Like dew descends, so God would come to the Israelites, bringing refreshment and vitality (cf. Ps. 72:6; Hos. 14:5).
Interestingly, Young, who interpreted many of Isaiah's predictions figuratively, insisted: "The language [of verse 19] is not to be taken figuratively." He believed, correctly I think, that believers who actually died physically are in view here and that physical resurrection is in view. Alexander, another amillennialist, took the reference figuratively: of the restoration of the exiles and the theocracy (Rom. 11:15). There are few references to the resurrection of the body in the Old Testament, but this is one of them (cf. Job 19:25-27; Dan. 12:2; Hos. 13:14). The writer of the Book of Hebrews mentioned that Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead (Heb. 11:19).
"An important fact to remember is that these saints are not the church. The church only came into existence in Acts 2. The church saints will be raptured, and the rapture will occur before the tribulation. After the tribulation, there will be a seventy-five-day interval during which time the Messiah will rebuild the earth. At this point, the saints of the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament saints] will be resurrected."
A warning 26:20-21
The prophet now addressed his people rather than God.
26:20 Before the restoration of Israel, however, God's people would experience hard times (in the Tribulation, cf. Rev. 12). Before God opened the gates of the new city to the redeemed (v. 2), they would need to shut their doors against their foes (cf. Gen. 7:1, 16; Exod. 12:22-23). Shutting the doors suggests both safety from danger and separation from others, in this case, pagans.
26:21 Yahweh would come out of His heavenly place of quiet to punish earth-dwellers, during the Tribulation, for their secret sins. The earth itself, with the forces of nature, would assist the LORD, metaphorically, by exposing sins that lay hidden (cf. v. 12).
The future regathering of God's people ch. 27
The recurrence of the phrase "on that day" in verses 1, 2, 12, and 13 ties this chapter to what has preceded. Here is more information about the future, specifically Jesus Christ's reign on earth during the Millennium.
The defeat of Israel's enemies 27:1
Leviathan was something very horrific (Job 3:8). It seems to have been a water beast either in reality or in myth (Job 41). The psalmist used Leviathan figuratively to describe Egypt, a powerful and deadly enemy of Israel (Ps. 74:14). Thus Leviathan was a symbol of the immense power arrayed against the LORD's people. It was also a fearsome beast in Canaanite mythology. Isaiah's reference to it does not mean that he believed in the Canaanite myth. He simply used a term used in mythology to illustrate.
Similarly, Christian preachers sometimes refer to fictional characters without believing that they really exist. Here Leviathan's descriptions suggest that this dragon-like creature glides swiftly (possibly through the air, as a spirit being), that it is a deadly foe (like a coiling serpent), and that it inhabits the sea (a place notoriously uncontrollable by humans). In short, it seems to stand for the strong spiritual enemies of God's people.
"The Baal Epic of Ugarit calls Leviathan (Lotan) a viper, employing exactly the same appellations which are translated above 'piercing' and 'crooked'. … This verse also refers to the tannin (dragon) in the sea; the same monster is mentioned in the Ugaritic texts."
Some interpreters believe that Isaiah had in mind Satan himself (cf. 24:21)—who occupies the air, the land, and the sea; he infests the whole creation. God will punish Satan and his army in the future (cf. 24:22-23). Another view is that the swift serpent is an allusion to the fairly straight Tigris River, the coiling serpent to the more twisting Euphrates River, and the dragon by the sea to Egypt (the Nile River). Thus Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt are in view. Still other interpreters favor taking the monsters and locations as representing all of Israel's human enemies. I think the passage pictures God's punishment of Israel's enemies at Christ's second coming.
The future blessing and former discipline of Israel 27:2-11
27:2 Isaiah, speaking for the LORD, announced that a delightful vineyard that produced wine was in view, and that the news about it was so good that the hearers could sing about it. The vineyard was an ancient and popular figure of the nation of Israel that Isaiah used earlier (5:7).
27:3 Yahweh had been its keeper, faithfully meeting its needs and vigilantly warding off its enemies (cf. 5:1-4; Ps. 121:4-5; Matt. 21:33; John 10:11-13).
27:4 He would not be angry with Israel in that future day (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 5:8-11), as He had been in the past. If enemies tried to damage His vineyard, He would destroy them (cf. 5:6).
27:5 Enemies of the vineyard could come to the LORD for His protection, and He promised to provide it (cf. 16:4-5). Peace would be possible for any enemies of God's people. In the Hebrew text the emphasis is on "with Me" in the first "Let him make peace with Me" and on "peace" in the second.
27:6 In the past, Israel had been a wild vine (cf. 5:2; Ps. 80), but in the future it would prove healthy and extremely productive. In fact it would be so vigorous that it would fill the whole earth with its goodness (cf. Gen. 49:22). This indicates that Israel will have a positive influence on the whole world during the Millennium (cf. 35:1-3, 6-7; Gen. 12:3; Amos 9:13-14; Zech. 14:8).
"We can certainly see a spiritual fulfillment of this in the progress of the gospel throughout the world, for the Messiah is himself the true Vine (John 15:1-8) and his disciples the fruit-bearing branches. In this way God's purpose for Israel finds its expression in the supreme Israelite and those who are joined by faith to him."
Grogan did not believe, however, that this interpretation exhausts the fulfillment of this passage that God intended, as many amillennialists do. He believed, as I do, in a literal future regathering and flourishing of Israel as a nation.
The figure of the vineyard ends here, and God's method of dealing with Israel follows.
27:7 Rhetorically Isaiah asked if the LORD had ever dealt as harshly with Israel as He had with Israel's oppressors. He had not, of course. He had always demonstrated special care and restraint when He dealt with His chosen people.
27:8 The LORD had scattered His people when they needed punishment, but He had not destroyed them. Since Isaiah used a feminine suffix here, it is possible that he alluded to a husband sending his wife away in divorce. He had let the fierce winds of His anger blow on them, but, as with the punishing sirocco, His anger eventually subsided.
27:9 God would forgive Israel's iniquity in the same restrained fashion. He would provide for the pardoning of Israel's sin. This is a wonderful expression of salvation by grace. Consequently, Israel would not pursue idolatry any longer. Neither would there be any more need for altars to support sacrifices for sin.
27:10-11 At that time the city of the world (24:10, 12; 25:2), notable for its fortifications, will lie overthrown and isolated. Some premillennialists regard this as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Others view the city as Babylon.
"Ruins testify to a commercial and militaristic civilization that has now become quietly pastoral."
The prophet pictured the deserted condition of that city: calves grazing there and stripping the vegetation without human restraint, and women gathering dry wood for fires. Normally these activities took place outside cities. Dry limbs reflect a desolate condition since normally trees in cities were alive. The reason for the destruction of this city is that its inhabitants did not have discernment. They did not see their need to humble themselves and submit to God, even though He took great care to form them as His creatures.
The gathering of Jewish and Gentile believers 27:12-13
27:12 The LORD would assemble the remnant of His people from the Promised Land like a farmer gathers up (gleans, cf. 24:13) his crops. Not only will He destroy His enemies then, but He will also gather redeemed Israelites into His kingdom (cf. Matt. 24:30-31; Rev. 14:15-16).
27:13 That day will prove to be the greatest Day of Atonement of all time (cf. v. 9). A trumpet blast will summon all the redeemed from distant parts of the earth, not just Jews from Palestine (cf. Zech. 14:9; Matt. 24:31). They, too, will come to Jerusalem and enter the millennial kingdom (cf. 19:24-25). Amillennialists typically interpret this gathering as a reference to the conversion of Gentiles to Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10). Isaiah used Assyria and Egypt here as he used Edom earlier (cf. 25:10), namely, as representative, in his time, of those areas of the world in the future.
"These verses provide a fitting climax to chs. 24—27 with their emphasis upon God's sovereignty over the nations and his intention to restore his people from the nations. In this respect this is the second of three such passages. The others are 11:12-16 and 35:1-10. Each of these occurs at the end of a major segment [of Isaiah]. This fact suggests something about the structure of the book. … chs. 7—12 make the point that if you trust in the nations, the nations will destroy you. Nonetheless, God will not leave his people in destruction; he intends to deliver them from the nations. But this raises the immediate question: Can he deliver them from the nations? Chs. 13—27 answer that question with a resounding affirmative. They do so first in a particularizing way, showing that all nations, including Israel, are under God's judgment (chs. 13—23). Then chs. 24—27 make the same point in a more generalized way, asserting that God is the main actor in the drama of human history. These things being so, God can deliver his people, and the promise is reaffirmed in these two closing verses."
"Chapters 1—12 reveal God's saving purpose for Judah and Israel. Chapters 13—27 reveal his saving purpose for the whole world."
3. The folly of trusting the nations chs. 28—33
Chapters 28—35 are somewhat similar to chapters 13—27 in content and form. The same general pattern of argument unfolds, but the historical context is somewhat later. The historical context of chapters 13—27 was mainly Ahaz's reign, in which Judah faced temptation to trust in Assyria for her safety rather than in Yahweh. As mentioned above, however, these chapters evidently contain a mosaic of prophecies that Isaiah delivered at various times during his ministry and then arranged in their canonical order for literary purposes. This theological arrangement of material marks the whole Book of Isaiah. Yet a general advance chronologically is also observable.
The historical context of chapters 28—35 was mainly Hezekiah's reign, in which Judah faced the temptation to trust in Egypt. The Judeans began looking more to Egypt for help while Assyria declined as a hope for Judah's salvation—as Ahaz had considered it—and instead became an increasing threat to the Southern Kingdom's security. Interest in alliance with Egypt was especially strong between the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. and Sennacherib's unsuccessful attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C. Also different is the emphasis in chapters 13—27 on Yahweh's sovereignty over the nations compared with the emphasis in chapters 28—35 on Judah's choice to trust Him or not. This is a matter of emphasis, however, since both sections deal with both issues.
The first part of the present section, chapters 28—33, serves the same general function as chapters 13—23: they focus on the particular situation in Isaiah's day in order to warn Judah against trusting neighbor nations. The second part, chapters 34—35, like chapters 24—27, again project further into the future and deal more with Israel's eschatological hope.
The presence of six "woes" also marks off chapters 28—33 as a distinct unit of Isaiah's prophecy (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1; cf. 5:8-10, 18-23; Matt. 23:13-39; Rev. 8:13; 9:12; 11:14; 12:12). Delitzsch referred to this section (chs. 28—33) as "the book of woes." It is quite similar to the Book of Micah. Like chapters 13—27, this section is also divisible into three parts:
Chapters 28—29 paint the picture of Judah's foolish leaders concluding that something must be done at once, other than trusting God, to save the people from their enemy. Here the principles involved in Judah's situation emerge clearly. Chapters 30—31 focus on the proposed solution, trust in Egypt, and the folly of that option. Chapters 32—33 stress the proper solution, namely, acknowledgment of Israel's true King and trust in Him. In these last four chapters, the application of the principles in past history and in the future eschaton (end times) receive more attention.
28:1-29 When God's people reject his word (9-13) and covenant (14-15), destruction follows (18-22), held within divine purposes (23-29)
30:1-33 Refuge is sought in Egypt (1-7), rejecting the Lord's word (8-12), but his ultimate (13-26) and immediate (27-33) purposes are settled
29:1-14 There is disaster and deliverance (1-8) but historical deliverance does not change people spiritually. This needs a further divine action (9-14), which is already planned
31:1—32:20 Divine deliverance scorns both Egypt's help and Assyria's enmity (31:1-9). Beyond lies the perfect kingdom with true king (32:1) and transformed people (3:8). The pattern of history will be repeated: overthrow (9-14) and transformation (15-20)
29:15-24 People may think to run the world without God (15), but he is the sovereign and his transforming purposes (16-17) will work out spiritually (18-19), morally and socially (20-21), fulfilling what began in Abraham (22) and establishing a truly renewed people (23-24)
33:1—35:10 Treacherous people (33:1, 8) may seem to rule but divine sovereignty remains (33:3, 10). The perfect kingdom (33:13-24), morally and socially (33:15) and spiritually (33:24), will come. The enemy will finally be destroyed (chapter 34) and the redeemed will gather to Zion (chapter 35)"
In chapters 28—29, Isaiah pointed out that the situations in the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms were quite similar. Both nations faced threats to their security from a strong foreign enemy, and unworthy leaders who urged trust in man rather than in God ruled both nations. Judah was in a more dangerous position, however, because her leaders were cynical; they believed nothing and trusted no one. They had become spiritually dull (ch. 28), and they were hypocritical (ch. 29).
The woe against Ephraim and Judah ch. 28
"The section begins (1-6) and ends (23-29) with double illustrations drawn from nature and agriculture. Between lies a meditation in eight broadly equal parts on how Jerusalem's leaders refused the word of invitation and inherited the word of wrath (7-22)."
The folly of Israel's leaders 28:1-6
The prophet began by exposing the folly of the leaders of the Northern Kingdom. He condemned them for their proud scoffing. The "woe" appears at first to be against them alone, but as the chapter unfolds it becomes clear that Isaiah was pronouncing woe on the leaders of the Southern Kingdom even more.
28:1 "Woe" (Heb. hoy), as mentioned earlier (cf. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22; 6:5), is a term of lament and threat. It expresses emotion, summons others, and connotes sympathy. Here the object of the prophet's "woe" was the leaders of Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The reason for his "woe" was the pride of these representatives that was their outstanding mark and that resulted in their complacent revelry (cf. Amos 4:1; 6:1, 6). Israel and its leaders had been objects of admiration, but now their glory was fading, like the flowers they wore in garlands on their heads as they indulged in drunken revelry.
Ephraim's capital, Samaria, stood like a "crown" at the eastern end of the fertile Shechem Valley, which drained into the Mediterranean Sea to the west. A false sense of security led these leaders to spend too much time drinking wine, which now controlled them.
"The metaphor of drunkenness dominates the episode. It is a figure of Israel's stumbling, bumbling life during the last decades of its existence (ca. 740-21 B.C.)."
28:2 Ephraim was in danger because the Lord (Adonai) had an irresistible agent who would humble her pride, like a storm overwhelms the unprepared. Assyria was that agent, but the prophet did not name it, perhaps because he wanted to emphasize the principles involved in the judgment.
28:3 With prophetic perfect tenses in the Hebrew text, Isaiah predicted the overthrow of Ephraim and its leaders. It was as good as accomplished. With hand (v. 2) and foot (v. 3), God would throw down and trample His people.
28:4 Ephraim's pride (v. 3) made her ripe for judgment. Her enemy would pluck her and consume her as greedily and as easily as a person who sees a ripe fig on a tree at the beginning of the fig season picks it, pops it into his mouth, and swallows it (cf. Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1).
28:5-6 "On that day," when Ephraim would fall, the LORD of armies would also preserve a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. He would be the true crown (king, cf. 11:1-9) of His people and a source of glory for them, in contrast to their present fading garlands (cf. v. 1; 4:2-6). He would also become the standard and facilitator of justice for their judges and the strength of their soldiers (cf. 11:2). This does not mean that the faithful Ephraimites would turn on their enemies and defeat them, but that they would find in Yahweh all that they had looked for previously—in the wrong places. Note that this note of mercy concludes a pronouncement of judgment.
The folly of Judah's leaders 28:7-22
Isaiah now compared the pride and indulgence of the Ephraimite leaders to that of their Southern Kingdom brethren. The leaders of Judah were even worse. There is some debate among scholars about where reference to Ephraim's rulers ends and where reference to Judah's leaders begins. It seems to me that the context favors the change occurring between verses 6 and 7.
28:7-8 The priests and the false prophets in Judah, on the other hand, drank so much that their visions and judgments were distorted, and they degraded themselves by vomiting all over their tables. Isaiah chose onomatopoetic words (words that sound like what they identify) in Hebrew to mimic the staggering and stumbling of the drunkards: shagu—taghu, shagu—taghu, shagu—paqu.
28:9-10 These drunken leaders mocked Isaiah for the simplicity and repetition with which he presented the LORD's messages (cf. Acts 17:18).
"Verses 9, 10 give us the jeering reply of the pro-Assyrian party of King Ahaz, who resisted the impact of Isaiah's words recorded in the previous paragraph. They scoffed at his remarks as 'Sunday School moralizing,' appropriate for infants but quite irrelevant to grown men who understand the art of practical politics."
"His [God's] laws are like little petty annoyances, one command after another, or one joined to another, coming constantly."
These Judean leaders accused Isaiah of proclaiming elementary teaching and of speaking to them like small children (cf. 6:9-10). What Isaiah advocated was trust in the LORD rather than reliance on foreign alliances for national security. Isaiah built his hearers' knowledge bit by bit, adding a little here and a little there. This is, of course, the best method of teaching, but it has never appealed to proud intellectuals who consider themselves beyond the simplicity of God's truth. Similarly, today, many modern university professors of religion ridicule those who believe that we should take the Bible at face value.
"There is no more hardened nor cynical person in the world than a religious leader who has seared his conscience. For them, tender appeals which would move anyone else become sources of amusement. They have learned how to debunk everything and to believe nothing (Heb. 10:26-31), all the while speaking loftily of matters of the spirit (Jas. 3:13-18)."
"How odd that the more correction we need, the less we think we need it."
28:11-12 Isaiah turned his critics' words back on themselves; what they had said about his words in mockery would overtake them. If God's people refused to listen to words spoken in simple intelligibility, He would give them unintelligibility as a judgment (cf. Matt. 23:37). Since they refused to learn from a prophet who appealed to them in their own language, He would teach them with plunderers whose language (Akkadian) they would not understand, but whose lances would get through to them. They would learn to rest on Yahweh from their foreign foe's treatment of them, if they refused to learn that lesson from Isaiah.
The Apostle Paul used verse 11 to remind the Corinthians that messages in tongues (foreign languages), far from being a sign of spirituality, indicate that the recipients are spiritually immature (1 Cor. 14:20-21). Likewise, Isaiah revealed that when people are so spiritually dull that simple messages do not move them, God will teach them through experience.
28:13 The LORD would continue to teach these leaders bit by bit, and a little here and a little there—through hardship. The result would be retrogression, brokenness, entrapment, and captivity.
"… in order for maturity to be reached, the child must be allowed to suffer the consequences of its actions. For the parent to intervene constantly and to nullify the results is to give the child a wholly misshapen understanding of life."
28:14-15 The rulers in Jerusalem scoffed at the LORD's word, but Isaiah called on them to listen to it. The woe oracle against the northern kingdom's rulers, in verses 1-6, was something that Judah's leaders needed to learn from. "Scoffer" is the strongest negative term that the Old Testament writers used to describe the wicked (cf. Ps. 1:1-2; Prov. 1:22; 13:1; 14:9; 21:24; 29:8). A scoffer not only chooses the wrong way, but he or she also mocks the right way. He or she is not only misled, but he or she delights in misleading others.
The rulers had made a covenant with some nation (probably Egypt) that involved deception and falsehood (probably of Assyria). Israel had already made a covenant with Yahweh that guaranteed her security (Exod. 19—Num. 10). Why did she need to make another? The rulers thought that as a result of their covenant, the scourge of their dreaded enemy (Assyria) would not touch them. But Isaiah sarcastically told them that their covenant was really with death and Sheol (here personified); death would be the outcome of their pact and they would end up in Sheol. They were the naive ones, not he (cf. vv. 9-10).
Another view is that verses 14-22 describe the covenant that Antichrist will make with Israel's leadership that will signal the beginning of the Tribulation. These verses see the covenant from man's viewpoint, whereas Daniel 9:27 describes it from God's perspective.
28:16 "In contrast to this supposedly clever diplomacy of power politics, God declares the true basis of Israel's safety: the person and work of the Messianic Redeemer."
The Lord God's response to His people's lack of faith in Him was to reveal that He was doing something too: He was laying a firm foundation in Jerusalem that they could and should build upon. This huge "stone" was tested, planted securely, and a sound basis for security. Ancient cornerstones were not the same as modern western ones. They were the largest and most determinative stone in the foundation of a building. Builders oriented the rest of the foundation in reference to this stone (cf. Eph. 2:20), and it supported the major portion of the superstructure. What was this stone? I believe it was Messiah (cf. Ps. 118:22; Zech. 3:9; 10:4; Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:33; 10:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6).
The commentators have offered many interpretations of this cornerstone, and several of them have written extended discussions of the figure. In biblical usage, the figure of God as a stone goes back to Genesis 49:24 (cf. Deut. 32:4; Isa. 8:14-15). Since Messiah would be God (9:6), the interpretation of this stone as Messiah is in harmony with these other biblical uses of the figure (cf. 8:14). God was doing something that would make possible a stable edifice (Israel): He was preparing for Messiah.
Those in Isaiah's day who believed that God was working for His people would not "be disturbed" (lit. "be in a hurry"). Perhaps Isaiah's hearers did not recognize this as Messianic prophecy when the prophet gave it (cf. 7:14; 9:6). Perhaps they thought that Isaiah just meant that God was doing something hidden that would result in the security of their nation, and they should trust Him.
28:17 The rulers had made a covenant in which they hoped (v. 15), but God would make justice and righteousness the measuring standards by which He would act and judge His people. They thought they could avoid the overwhelming torrent (cf. 10:22, 26) of their enemy by taking refuge in a treaty (v. 15), but God would allow them to be swept away by an adversary (cf. v. 2).
28:18-19 The rulers' signed agreements would prove meaningless. Their boast of immunity from catastrophe would prove hollow. They mocked a message leading to rest and chose to embrace a message resulting in terror. The scourge that God would send would be like a marauding beast as well as a hailstorm and a flood.
"The Assyrian annals report numerous returns to the same areas, each return being accompanied by vast slaughter and pillage. The steady hammer blows of such an attack spread out over years, whether calculatedly so, or as a result of political exigencies elsewhere, could be expected to reduce a people to shivering terror, as the prophet noted here."
28:20 The resting place and the cover that the Judahites had chosen for themselves (v. 12) would prove disappointingly uncomfortable. A treaty with Egypt would be inadequate.
28:21 A second reason for the Jerusalemites' terror (cf. vv. 18-19) would be divine hostility. The LORD would rise up against His people to defeat them, like He formerly rose up to defeat the Philistines at Mount Perazim (lit. "breaking forth")—like the break-through of waters (2 Sam. 5:20; 1 Chron. 14:11). He had also defeated the Canaanites in the valley of Gibeon with hailstones (Josh. 10:11). Defeating the Israelites was "His unusual task" for the LORD, because He customarily defended them. Judgment is His "alien task" (NIV) or "strange act" (AV), especially judgment of His own people, a work foreign to what He usually does, namely, bless.
28:22 Isaiah called on the rulers to stop being scoffers (cf. v. 14) or their punishment would be worse. It was unavoidable, but by repenting they could lessen it. Thus, this section of the "woe" that describes judgment coming on Judah ends with a note of mercy, just as the section describing judgment coming on Ephraim did (vv. 5-6).
A call for repentance 28:23-29
How would the leaders of Judah respond to Isaiah's preaching? Would they continue in their chosen course of action and so suffer the fate of the Northern Kingdom, or would they repent and experience a milder judgment? Isaiah ended this "woe" by illustrating the alternatives and urging repentance (cf. chs. 5—6).
"Isaiah here proves himself a master of the mashal [proverb]. In the usual tone of a mashal song, he first of all claims the attention of his audience as a teacher of wisdom."
28:23 The prophet appealed to his audience to listen to him (cf. Mark 4:3, 9), even though some of them were scoffers. What he had to say was very important for them. Failure to listen to God's Word had been the fatal flaw of the leaders, but they could still pay attention and respond. The prophet used two illustrations:
28:24-26 A wise farmer follows a plan in his plowing and planting so that each type of seed will grow well. Some seed requires planting under the ground and other seed on top of the ground. God teaches the farmer this discrimination just as God Himself practices discrimination in dealing with people. Earlier in this chapter Isaiah offered a promise of blessing (vv. 5-6), but later he promised blasting (vv. 14-22). God would use both instruments to deal with His people. Using both was not inconsistent.
28:27-29 Likewise a farmer threshes dill, cummin, and grain in different ways. This is also wisdom that Yahweh of armies teaches. A simple farmer learns how to plow, plant, thresh, and grind from God, by studying nature, and as he applies what God teaches, there is blessing. How much more should the sophisticated leaders of Judah learn from Him to trust Him.
"… God measures the instruments of His purpose to the condition of His people; He employs what will best carry out His holy will."
"The farmer does not plow for the sake of plowing, but rather to prepare for his intended crop. So also God prepares his garden for the crop he wishes to reap—the crop of righteousness from a holy people. To this end God must employ the cutting and crumbling force of disciplinary judgments, perfectly adjusted to Israel's spiritual needs, just as the farmer (using the intelligence God gave him) uses the proper threshing instruments for each type of grain."
An implication of these two parables (vv. 24-25 and 27-28), not stated, is that God might deal differently with the Southern Kingdom than He dealt with the Northern Kingdom. The Jerusalemites should not conclude that because God would allow the Assyrians to defeat the Ephraimites, the same fate would necessarily befall them. A change of attitude could reduce their judgment. So this whole "woe" ends with an implied offer of grace.
As things worked out, of course, God did allow an invading army to take the Judahites into captivity, after a different invading army had earlier taken the Israelites captive. But these judgments did not happen at the same time. Sennacherib destroyed Samaria but not Jerusalem. God postponed Judah's judgment because He found a measure of repentance there.
Two woes against Jerusalem ch. 29
There are two more "woes" that deal with Jerusalem in this chapter (vv. 1-14, 15-24) in addition to the one in chapter 28. The first of these is similar to the previous "woe" (cf. vv. 1-8 with 28:1-6, and vv. 9-14 with 28:7-13). In it Isaiah condemned the Jerusalemites for their religious hypocrisy.
Judah's religious hypocrisy 29:1-4
29:1 Isaiah addressed this oracle to Ariel (lit. "altar hearth," cf. Ezek. 43:15-16). Another meaning, "lion of God" (cf. 31:4; Gen. 49:9; 2 Sam. 23:20; 1 Kings 10:19-20; 1 Chron. 11:22), was probably not intended here since Isaiah described Ariel as the place were Israel's religious festivals took place. Clearly "Ariel" refers to Jerusalem, the city where David set up his headquarters (cf. 2 Sam. 5:9), and Mount Zion (v. 8), the site of Judah's worship.
"Jerusalem prides itself as being God's altar-hearth, the very heart of the only cult [system of worship] that pleases him. But, in fact, God is not pleased at all."
The city also boasted of its heritage as connected to David, but the present residents did not share David's heart for God (cf. v. 13). The prophet directed the city to continue to observe its annual religious feasts regularly. This seems to be a sarcastic call to continue offering the sacrifices, which the people thought assured their blessing by God, even though they were doing so as an empty ritual (cf. v. 13). These meaningless acts of worship would not avert judgment to come (v. 2; cf. Hos. 8:11-14; Amos 4:4-5).
"The true poignancy of the 'woe' here lies in the fact that the God who had enabled David to take it would now besiege this city himself, through its enemies (v. 5), and cause its destruction by fire just as if the whole city had become an extension of the [bronze] altar hearth within its temple."
29:2 The LORD would bring the city into distress, and the people would lament and mourn. It would become like an altar hearth in that it would become a place of death.
"If we treat lightly the sacrifices God has made available (and in the Christian era, The Sacrifice) then we ourselves become the sacrifice. If we will not accept God's substitution, we must carry the burden of our own sin (Heb. 10:26-27; Rom. 8:11-13)."
29:3 Yahweh promised that He would bring Jerusalem under siege. David had camped there (v. 1), but God would camp there too. This probably refers to His use of Sennacherib and the Assyrians for this purpose in 701 B.C., though other armies also besieged Jerusalem (cf. Dan. 1:1).
29:4 Both the status and the strength of the city would suffer humiliation. The people's weak voices would reflect their abject condition under Yahweh's sovereign discipline.
Restoration following judgment 29:5-8
The prophecy now changes from judgment to restoration following judgment.
29:5 God would powerfully blow away the enemy, who would be as numerous and insignificant as dust and chaff, even though the enemy built great ramparts and siege towers to storm Jerusalem. God's deliverance, like that of a storm, would be very quick (cf. 37:36). God would judge those whom He had sent to judge His people. God will do a similar thing at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Zech. 14:1-3).
29:6 The LORD Himself would direct Jerusalem's judgment. He would use audible, visible, and invisible forces, to shake, remove, and consume the city. The instruments mentioned are probably not the tools that He would use as much as expressions of His sovereign power. This is the classic language of theophany in which images express God's powerful intervention in the world (cf. Exod. 19:16-19; 1 Kings 19:11-13; Ezek. 20:47-48).
29:7 However, eventually "all" the enemies of Israel would vanish, just as the entities in a nightmare disappear when one wakes up (cf. 37:36-37). This points beyond the Assyrian invasion and includes all similar attempts to destroy Jerusalem in the future. The events of 701 B.C. were a partial fulfillment, but the ultimate fulfillment is still future (cf. Rev. 20:8-9). The Exodus was a similar earlier deliverance.
"Sennacherib's forces lifted the siege to fight the Egyptians at Eltekeh. It was on their return from that victorious engagement that the devastating stroke of God here predicted fell upon them."
29:8 Israel's attackers would also dream of devouring their enemy, of drinking them down, but when they awoke to reality they would discover that their desires were unfulfilled. Israel has proved to be an elusive enemy, by God's grace, throughout history.
The reason for coming judgment 29:9-14
Verses 9-14 explain the reason for Jerusalem's judgment (cf. 28:7-13).
29:9 Jerusalem's leaders would delay (actually "be delayed," by their lack of perception) and wait to act in faith because they were spiritually blind and drunk (cf. 6:9-10). Isaiah was apparently speaking to them ironically again (cf. v. 1). If the people of Jerusalem failed to see the importance of trusting God in the face of enemy attack, and failed to trust Him, they would find it even more difficult to see His will and do it later. When people see the will of God and refuse to do it, they become incapable of seeing it and doing it further (cf. Acts 28:26-28; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Heb. 4:1-11). This is serious spiritual blindness and drunkenness.
29:10 The people already found it more difficult to see God's will and act obediently because God had shut their eyes and covered their heads (cf. 6:9-10; 1 Sam. 26:12; 1 Kings 22:22; 2 Thess. 2:9-12). He had not given most of their prophets and seers insight into what was coming that they could share with the people. Isaiah and a few other faithful spokesmen were the exceptions.
"… determined spiritual insensitivity becomes judicial spiritual paralysis."
29:11-12 "The entire vision" probably refers to the whole Book of Isaiah. God would hide His will from those who could know it but did not have the spiritual discernment to understand it. This would lead the people to appeal for an interpretation of His will for those who did not even have the intellectual ability to understand it. In other words, God would hide His plans from the people completely because all of them were spiritually insensitive, the literate and the illiterate.
29:13 The LORD had observed that the people of Jerusalem were going through the motions of worship without a vital, daily relationship of trust and obedience with Him. Their worship was a matter of traditional ritual observance, rather than a heartfelt desire to interact with Him (cf. Matt. 15:9; John 4:23-24).
29:14 Therefore He would again deal with them in a way that would cause others to marvel, as He had done in the past when they sank to this level. Their wise men would not be able to view life from God's perspective, and their discerning men would not be able to see through things to the real issues (cf. 28:29). Inability to see would be their punishment for choosing not to see (cf. 5:21; 11:2; 26:7-10; 1 Cor. 1:19).
The remedy for spiritual blindness 29:15-24
The remedy for this spiritually blind state is the subject of the next "woe" (vv. 15-24). It begins with a word of condemnation for deception (vv. 15-16), proceeds to explain what God will do (vv. 17-21), and ends with a summary statement (vv. 22-24).
29:15 "Woe" announces divine condemnation of another trait of the Jerusalemites: their habitual and determined decision to try to hide from God (cf. Gen. 3:8). The political strategists seem to be particularly in view. They tried to hide their plans from the LORD so that they could be their own masters, as they thought—to live as they pleased rather than as He instructed them. Previously King Ahaz had tried to hide his appeal to Assyria for help (ch. 7).
29:16 These politicians turned things upside down. They denied the LORD's distinctiveness, sovereignty, and wisdom, and attributed those characteristics to themselves (cf. v. 14; 45:9; 64:8; Gen. 2:7; Jer. 18:1-6; Rom. 1:25; 9:19-21). They told the LORD what to do rather than trying to discover what He wanted them to do.
"It is the forgetting of God's right as Maker that leads to ethical relativism."
29:17-18 The LORD would demonstrate His distinctiveness, sovereignty, and wisdom soon by reversing the conditions of the proud and the humble, symbolized by the forest and the field (cf. 2:13; 10:34; 33:9; 35:2; 37:24; 60:13; Matt. 5:5). This change will be literal in the Millennium. Note the mention of "just a little while" and "on that day," phrases that often introduce eschatological conditions. The deaf would hear and the blind would see (cf. vv. 9-12; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:4). Isaiah's point was that only God could do these things, not man. The fact that Jesus Christ was able to do this shows that He was God.
"Lebanon probably represents man in his self-pride."
29:19 The LORD would also cause the afflicted and the needy to be happy in the Holy One of Israel (cf. Matt. 5:3). True joy in worship would appear (cf. v. 13; Rev. 22:1-5).
29:20-21 God will destroy the mighty as well as elevate the helpless (cf. v. 17). He will correct social ills. The samples of wicked behavior that Isaiah offered here have been all too prevalent throughout history: The ruthless are unscrupulous in wielding their power (cf. v. 5; 13:11; 25:3-5). Scorners deny moral absolutes (cf. 28:14, 22). Those intent on doing evil bend law and order to achieve their ends. Specifically, those who abuse the legal system by committing perjury, tampering with witnesses, and withholding protection from the innocent, will come to an end. The prophet pictured false witnesses, crooked lawyers, and corrupt judges (cf. Hos. 4:1-2; Amos 2:6-8; 5:10-11; Mic. 2:1-2).
29:22 The LORD, who began a good work of redemption in Abraham, would bring it to completion (cf. Phil. 1:6). Jacob may have felt embarrassed by all that his descendants had done, as—Isaiah suggested—Jacob looked down from heaven on them. But Jacob would no longer feel ashamed of them, or fear God's dealings with them, when he saw the transformations that God would make in them. They would finally trust in the LORD as they should.
29:23 The LORD would halt the downward course of the history of Jacob's family, and transform his descendants. The Israelites would at last confess their God as holy and acknowledge His holiness as central in their lives. They would be fruitful rather than barren. The text gives no basis for interpreting the people in view as the spiritual seed of Jacob, the church, defined as God's people throughout history.
"It is awe inspired by wondering gratitude that will bring about this profound sense of 'the godhood of God.' It is this deep awareness of God's goodness to them as a nation that will produce a penitent and receptive spirit in those formerly wayward and complaining."
29:24 Those who are the work of God's hands, the Israelites, will demonstrate steadfastness in their lives. Their formerly incorrect understanding will be straightened out. Those who have been critical, feeling superior, will accept instruction. Deliverance leads to praise, which results in understanding, just as lack of understanding leads to pride, resulting in judgment.
"Just as Abraham was separated from the human race that was sunk in heathenism, to become the ancestor of a nation of Jehovah, so would a remnant be separated from the great mass of Israel that was sunk in apostasy from Jehovah; and this remnant would be the foundation of a holy community well pleasing to God."
When will all this happen? It will happen in "just a little while" (v. 17), "on that day" (v. 18), a day yet future but not specifically identified in the context. Since it has not happened yet, and since similar changes accompany Jesus Christ's millennial reign, that seems to be the "day" in view.
"The Redeemer will surely bring to pass his perfect plan for Israel, and forge them into a godly and reverent people, after they have repented and opened their hearts to the truth of Christ."
In the next three "woes" (chs. 30—33) Isaiah became more specific. In the first three (chs. 28—29) he stressed principles of God's dealings with His people, but in these last three (chs. 30—33) he applied the principles to the historical situation they faced. However, there is a blending of historical and eschatological emphases in these "woes," as has been the case in previous "woes."
The woe against rebellion by God's children ch. 30
There are several thematic connections between this chapter and chapter 28. The general structure of the chapter is chiastic.
"A Contemporary events: Egypt no help (1-7)
B Coming human events: the refusal of the word, the way of death (8-17)
B' Coming divine events: the waiting God, the sure glory (18-26)
A' Contemporary events: Assyria no threat (27-33)"
The first two parts stress human unfaithfulness, and the last two emphasize divine faithfulness. The first section (vv. 1-7) is divisible into two parts, the first dealing with the embassy to Egypt (vv. 1-5), and the second an oracle about the animals of the Negev (vv. 6-7). The whole woe is for stubborn rebellion against God by seeking foreign alliances.
The folly of seeking help from Egypt 30:1-7
30:1 In this pericope, Yahweh pronounced "woe" on the Judahites who were acting like rebellious children (cf. 1:2; Deut. 21:18-21). They were carrying out a plan that was not the LORD's plan. Specifically, they were seeking an alliance with Egypt. Yahweh had forbidden returning to Egypt (Exod. 13:17; Deut. 17:16). He knew that Egypt would tempt His people to do things contrary to His will. These Judahites added to the sin of acting without divine direction, the sin of seeking security from a source other than the LORD Himself.
Christians often do the same thing. God has said, Do not go there, regarding some places that we may think will provide satisfaction for us (e.g., pornographic websites, restaurants where we can go to fill up so we feel better about some sorrow in our lives, a mall where we can buy something new that we think will make us feel better, etc.). In rebellion, we sometimes go there anyway.
30:2 How ironic that God's people thought they could find life in Egypt, which had historically been a place of death for them and from which they had fled formerly (cf. Exod. 1:22). Furthermore, they had done this without even consulting the LORD, a failure that had resulted in the Gibeonite compromise generations earlier (cf. Josh. 9:14). However, it seems that failure to consult God's Word was their mistake here more than failure to pray. Rather than seeking safety under the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1), they had sought it under the shadow of Pharaoh.
"In Ashurbanipal's late reign and in those of his successors, Assyria had become less aggressive. But Psamtik I, Pharaoh of Egypt, increased in power and ambition. Jerusalem's leaders were determined to play the game of power politics, pitting one superpower against the one they thought would be its successor."
30:3 The safety they had sought would prove to be a delusion. The supposed protection that Pharaoh offered would result in the disappointment of hope, and the shelter that Egypt promised would turn to disgrace. The Pharaoh at this time was Shabako, who was a Nubian. The Egyptians were not even strong enough to provide a native Egyptian to rule themselves. This was a weak period in Egyptian history. I am assuming that the historical context of this prophecy was shortly before Sennacherib's invasion of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
30:4 Judah's ambassadors had reached Egyptian governmental centers at Zoan (Gr. Tanis), in the northern Nile delta, and Hanes, farther south, and were evidently received warmly.
30:5 Nevertheless, the Judahites were bound to be ashamed because the Egyptians would not help them fight against the Assyrians. Unwilling to humble themselves, Yahweh would humble His people by shaming them.
"From the feared killer (Assyria) they seek help in the proved killer (Egypt)! It is ever so when alternatives to the Lord's salvation are chosen."
"We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God."
30:6 Verses 6 and 7 may constitute an original separate oracle that Isaiah added to the preceding one, since it forms a fitting climax to his thought. Alternatively, the title "pronouncement" (lit. burden) may be wordplay with the objects of this prophetic message: the burden-bearers (the beasts) of the Judean ambassadors. The title is very similar to those in 21:1, 11, and 22:1.
Rather than going directly to Egypt through Philistia, the Judean ambassadors had taken the circuitous and dangerous route through the Negev, probably to avoid Assyrian detection. They had taken roughly the same route as their ancestors who left Egypt in the Exodus, only traveling in the opposite direction (cf. Num. 21:6; Deut. 8:15). This irony highlights the folly of returning to Egypt for help. The LORD expressed more concern for the animals that carried the ambassadors, than for the ambassadors themselves, since the ambassadors were rebelling against Him.
"A caravan loaded with treasure struggles through wild terrain infested with lions and snakes, all to buy the help of an old dragon who is in fact helpless. All the cost in effort and wealth will come to nothing, says the prophet."
30:7 Egypt, of all nations, would not be a help to God's people. She would live up to the nickname that the LORD had given her (cf. Ps. 87:4). "Rahab" means pride, turbulence, arrogance, boastfulness. There is no intended connection with Rahab the harlot (Josh. 2). In popular Ugaritic legend, Rahab was a sea monster, or a dragon. Rahab's promises of help would be worth nothing. Rahab was a "do nothing" ally. This dragon would prove to be toothless (unable to ward off Assyria).
Similarly, when God's people today go to places that God has prohibited, to find satisfaction apart from Him, the result is disappointing at best, and disastrous at worst.
Punishment for trusting in Egypt 30:8-17
The LORD now commanded Isaiah to record this condemnation for trust in Egypt so there would be a permanent record of it. There were two reasons he was to do this: First, Judah had refused revealed truth in general with the result that she incurred guilt before the LORD (vv. 9-14; cf. Luke 6:6-11). Second, she had refused a specific message that would result in destruction from an external enemy (vv. 15-17).
30:8 The LORD commanded Isaiah to write a public record on a tablet and a private one on a scroll: two enduring witnesses against His people's lack of trust in Him. The public record was for His people then to learn from, and the private one was for later generations. Other ancient Near Eastern nations recorded uniformly positive and complimentary things about themselves, in contrast to what Isaiah wrote here about Judah. The content of what he wrote is unclear, but it was probably this oracle in some form.
30:9 These two records were necessary because Israel had proved to be a rebellious, disappointing son of God who refused to listen to His instruction (Heb. torah). This is the general indictment.
30:10-11 In their attitudes and actions the Judahites had made the statements in these verses, though probably not with their mouths. They wanted innocuous preaching that did not confront them with the will of the Holy One of Israel.
30:12 But the Holy One of Israel would not let them escape His word. They had rejected His will and had rested their confidence on what seemed best to them.
30:13-14 Consequently their iniquity would lead to disaster, similar to the sudden internal collapse of a high wall, and the severe external smashing of an earthenware jar. This disaster would be complete, like when no useful pieces remain after the smashing of a pot. That judgment had not yet come was hardly grounds for concluding that it would not come (cf. Matt. 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-37; 2 Pet. 3:3-10).
"The interval from the first cracks until the actual collapse [of a wall] may be a long time, but when the collapse comes it is terribly sudden and irreversible. So it will be with this refusal to rely on God. Years may pass, but one day the Assyrians will stand at the door with all Judah in ruins behind them."
When God miraculously slew Sennacherib's besieging forces around Jerusalem in 701 B.C., the Assyrians had already destroyed much of Judah.
30:15 The second, more specific reason for Judah's coming judgment (cf. v. 9), was her refusal to listen to a particular message from the sovereign Lord Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah had called the people to repent and rest in the LORD for their salvation. He had promised that their quiet trust in Him would prove to be their strength (cf. 7:4, 10-12; 28:12; 32:17). He had commanded "not alliance but reliance." Yet the people refused to obey and trust in Him.
Jim Elliot, pioneer missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, wrote the following in a letter to his family:
"I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds."
30:16 Their punishment would be talionic; in other words, their punishment would fit their crime. They would flee before their very swift enemy, because they chose to run away on swift horses rather than to rest in the LORD (cf. Matt. 26:52). When we rely on our swiftness and strength, it is only a matter of time before someone faster and stronger comes along and overtakes us.
"The film Chariots of Fire illustrates what this looks like in real life. It tells the story of two men, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Both are great athletes on the same team, but there is a difference. Abrahams competes out of an inner drivenness. He is deeply insecure. He has a point to prove. It's all about him. Liddell also competes to win. But he runs out of a sense of God's goodness. He's not in bondage to himself. He runs for the glory of God. Two men, two motives, two inner lives — Eric Liddell competing in the Holy Spirit, Harold Abrahams running on sheer adrenaline. It's the difference between spirituality, even in athletics, and self-absorption."
30:17 The threat of only one man would so terrify a thousand Judahites that they would flee. The presence of only a few of the enemy would drive multitudes from their land (cf. Lev. 26:8; Deut. 32:30). Again, a double illustration (at the end of the verse) stressed a complete overthrow (cf. v. 14). A deserted flag or signal on a hilltop would be all that was left to indicate the former presence of the people of Judah (cf. 6:11-12). This is probably another reference to the remaining remnant.
Distant restoration in spite of unfaithfulness 30:18-26
Until now the emphasis in this "woe" was on human activity, but now divine activity takes preeminence, especially God's faithfulness ultimately (vv. 18-26) and imminently (vv. 27-33). Human unfaithfulness does not destroy divine faithfulness (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13). This section is also structurally chiastic.
30:18 Yahweh is a God of justice; He will do what is right at the right time. Since He promised to bless His people, He will also, after punishing them for their lack of trust, extend grace and show compassion to them. So those who long for Him will experience blessing when their waiting comes to an end.
30:19 After the tears will come comfort and caring. It is the people of Zion and Jerusalem that will experience this. God will answer their prayers and they will be joyful. This happened in measure at the return from captivity in Babylon, but the ultimate fulfillment will be at Christ's second coming.
30:20-21 After God hid Himself from His people, having given them privation and oppression as their daily food and drink—as a prison sentence—He would finally reveal Himself to them again. As their teacher, God would guide them in His moral will (cf. v. 15; 26:9; 28:9-13; 29:11-12). Then their eyes would see Him and their ears would hear His voice correcting their deviations from His prescribed path (cf. vv. 9-11).
Spiritualist mediums claim that these verses refer to the powers of clairvoyance (seeing clearly) and clairaudience (hearing clearly), which they claim to have. But the context clearly indicates that it is the "people of Zion" (v. 19) whom God promised to bless with His clear guidance.
30:22 The people of Zion will demonstrate a change of attitude and commitment as well. Idolatry will no longer appeal to them, and they will abandon false gods.
30:23-24 There will be plenty of rain so the harvests will be bountiful. The agricultural fruitfulness of Canaan depended totally on rain. There will be such abundant pastureland for the cattle that they will eat the best food.
30:25-26 There will also be an abundance of water, even on the hilltops, when the LORD defeats His enemies (at Armageddon; cf. v. 19; 2:12-17; 25:1-5; Rev. 16:16; 19:17-21). Increased light and the healing of God's formerly broken and bruised people will also mark that "day" (cf. 24:23; Rom. 8:21). The point is that things will be much better then than now. It may be impossible for life as we know it to exist if there were literally seven times as much light as there is now. Yet a major renovation of nature as well as humankind is clearly in view.
"Evidently [this is] a description of the glories of the Millennium (since this kind of prosperity has no appropriateness for a heavenly existence)."
Young interpreted these blessings as referring to the blessings of salvation, not to the rule of Christ on earth.
Imminent restoration in spite of unfaithfulness 30:27-33
From the distant future (as yet unfulfilled millennial blessings), Isaiah turned to the immediate future and promised deliverance from the Assyrian threat. In spite of the Judahites' sinful reliance on Egypt, God would spare them from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.
30:27-28 The LORD would involve Himself in Judah's situation personally, His name being the summation of His character (cf. Exod. 3:15; Ezek. 1:28). He would come from heaven to judge the nations. The imagery of the passage is strongly anthropomorphic and theophanic (cf. Exod. 13:21; 19:18; Ps. 18:7-15; 50:3; Nah. 1:3-8; Hab. 3:3-15). "Anthropomorphic" means in human form, and "theophanic" means Godlike in appearance. God's anger burned like fire, and His judgment would overwhelm people like a flood. He would sift the nations in judgment like grain in a sieve, and He would control them like a rider directs his horse.
30:29-30 The Judahites would rejoice as they worshipped the LORD because of His deliverance (cf. Exod. 15:21; 17:1-7). It would be spectacular. The storm god with upraised arm was a familiar motif in ancient Near Eastern art.
30:31-32 Assyria would tremble at God's judgment of her. The LORD's blows would be matched by His people's rejoicing at the defeat of their enemy (cf. Rev. 19:1-10).
30:33 "Topheth" refers to a funeral pyre. The Hebrew word means a disgraceful "burning place" or "fireplace." The LORD had prepared it long ago for the king of Assyria (cf. Rev. 19:20; 20:10; 21:8). Sennacherib met his defeat in Jerusalem when the LORD slew many of his soldiers there, but he personally died in Nineveh not long after that. Topheth was an area in the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the Israelites sometimes sacrificed their children to the Ammonite idol Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31).
"When the OT speaks of burning bodies it is taken as a sign of vengeance or degradation (cf. 1 Sam 31:12; Amos 6:10; Lev 20:14; 21:9; Josh 7:25; ISBE 1:812; IDB 1:475)."
The overthrow of Assyria took place at Carchemish, in northern Syria, when the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar II ended Assyrian dominance in the ancient Near East, and also defeated Egypt, in 605 B.C.
The woe against rejecters of God's help chs. 31—32
Like the third "woe" (ch. 30), this fourth one deals with the folly of trusting in Egypt for security rather than the LORD. It applies particularly the principles set forth in the first part of the second "woe" (29:1-14), as is clear from the many word and thought links in these passages.
Imminent disaster and later deliverance 31:1-5
The first five verses constitute a prologue to this "woe" and deal with imminent disaster followed by later deliverance.
"Without any particular break in the thought Isaiah continues his denunciation of those who look to Egypt for aid."
31:1 The prophet condemned those in Judah and Jerusalem who were relying on the brute strength, the military might, and the trained personnel of Egypt to provide security for their nation (cf. Deut. 17:14-20). Going down to Egypt to secure these things revealed a lack of trust in the Holy One of Israel, who had long ago proved His sovereignty over Egypt. Rather, the people should have simply looked to the LORD and cultivated a relationship with Him.
"The chief strength of the Egyptian armies lay in their cavalry. In their level and fertile plains horses could easily be used and fed (Exod. 14:9; 1 Kings 10:28). In hilly Palestine horses were not so easily had or available. The Jews were therefore the more eager to get Egyptian chariots as allies against the Assyrian cavalry. In Assyrian sculptures chariots are represented drawn by three horses, and with three men in them (see ch. 36:9; Ps. 20:7; Dan. 9:13)."
"… when any people feel that special weapons can relieve them of dependence upon God, they are on the road to destruction."
31:2 The politicians in Jerusalem who advocated alliance with Egypt undoubtedly considered their policy wise (cf. 5:21; 19:11-15; 28:14-15; 30:1-2). But Isaiah, in irony, pointed out that the LORD, who purposed disaster for those who refused to trust Him, was the truly Wise One. He would be faithful to His Word to oppose the party of evildoers and those wicked helpers in whom the Judeans trusted.
31:3 The contrast between the relative strength of humans and God is stark in this verse.
"To us 'flesh' seems so substantial, because visible and tangible, while 'spirit' may seem ethereal. … Nothing could be further from biblical thinking, as a glance at passages like Zechariah 4:6 and John 3:5-8 will disclose."
Yahweh would stretch out His hand in powerful judgment to defeat the helpers (Egypt) as well as the helped (Judah), because they trusted in human power rather than in God (cf. Deut. 4:34; 7:19; John 4:24).
"Reliance upon Egypt is again sarcastically represented as reliance upon horses, and as such opposed to confidence in God."
31:4-5 The LORD had told Isaiah that He would be like a lion and like a bird to Judah. Like a lion attacks its prey, with focused purposefulness, He would decimate the Judahites, and the shouts of the Egyptian shepherds that the Judahites had hired to protect them would not scare Him off. Like a bird that protects its young from other animals, the LORD would protect Judah from its predator: Assyria (cf. Exod. 12).
"He who protects is He who is strong as a lion to accomplish His purposes."
Another call for repentance 31:6-9
The prophet now called his audience to repent, with the prospect of salvation that lay in the future.
31:6 Many Israelites had been seriously unfaithful to the LORD, and Isaiah appealed to those of them in Judah to return to Him with their heart, not just because he had announced coming judgment.
31:7 "On that day" points to the eschatological revival of Israel (cf. 2:20). The Judahites of Isaiah's day needed to return to the LORD, because in the future, Israel as a whole would do so. The time for decisive action was now.
31:8 The immediate situation also called for Judah to repent. Since the LORD promised to defeat Assyria Himself, His people needed to get into a right relationship with Him. To say that the Assyrian young men would become forced laborers was to say that Assyria would herself be overcome.
31:9 The rock of Assyria, her king (cf. 30:29), would panic, and her princes would tremble at the evidence of divine intervention. The Assyrians would face a fire in Jerusalem that they could not endure. The LORD's judgment on Sennacherib's army at Jerusalem in 701 B.C. was the beginning of the demise of the Assyrian Empire.
"A friend of mine kept a card in his office desk that read: Faith Is Living Without Scheming. In one statement, that is what Isaiah was saying to Judah and Jerusalem, and that is what he is saying to us today."
Coming deliverance in the future 32:1-8
Having introduced the eschatological day of the LORD (31:7), and the interim day of the LORD (31:8-9), Isaiah proceeded to reveal more about these times. He also contrasted the king of the Assyrians (31:9) with the Messianic King to come.
"The destruction of the Assyrian army points prophetically to the final world conflict, which will usher in the rule of Christ, the perfect King of Israel. Christ's kingdom will fulfill God's ideal of a holy commonwealth, administering a perfect righteousness throughout the earth. God's King will provide complete shelter to all who seek refuge in him, and he will satisfy their thirsty souls with living water."
32:1 The king and the princes of the future will not panic but will rule righteously (cf. 31:9). This king is Messiah (chs. 9; 11), who embodies righteousness. His princes are His executives: His vice-regents. They stand in contrast to the unrighteous princes of Judah who advocated alliance with Egypt (cf. 29:15-16; 30:1-2).
32:2 Each of these future rulers will be a person of integrity and will be a source of provision and refreshment for the people of God, providing every form of beneficial care (cf. 29:20-21; Matt. 20:28; John 10:11).
32:3-4 God will transform all the shortcomings of humanity. Physical, but mainly spiritual, transformation is in view. People will perceive, receive, understand, and communicate the truth as they would not and could not before (cf. 6:9-10).
32:5 The characters of the previously amoral and the unscrupulous will experience transformation as well.
32:6-8 These verses expound further on the changes that will take place in fools and rogues. Their present characteristics are all too familiar, but these will change with the coming of Messiah. Fools disregard their moral and spiritual obligations. Rogues work deviously for their own advantage at the expense of others. In contrast, noble people are liberally outgoing to God and others.
An appeal to Judah's women to repent 32:9-18
Isaiah had appealed to the sons of Israel to return to the LORD (31:6), and now he appealed to the women of Israel to rise up in repentance (32:9; cf. 3:16-26). Appeal to both sexes stresses the importance of everyone repenting. As in his appeal to the men, the prophet also announced an immediate threat and a more distant disaster.
"The righteous kingdom described in verses 1-8 will be preceded by judgment."
32:9 The women of Judah naively assumed that nothing would disturb their present secure circumstances. Isaiah challenged them to listen to him. They were not secure.
32:10 In just over a year something devastating would happen that would preclude the harvest of grapes that these women must have anticipated eagerly.
32:11-12 These women needed to prepare for captivity and to mourn at the prospect of an enemy invasion and its consequences.
32:13-14 Land once cultivated would become deserted, and their homes—even the palaces—would be left empty. Animals would occupy what humans formerly inhabited (cf. 5:17).
"The devastation caused by Sennacherib's wind would be completed by Nebuchadnezzar's whirlwind."
Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., 115 years after Sennacherib besieged it in 701 B.C.
32:15 These reversals would not be final, however. God's Spirit would affect an even greater change later in the future (cf. Ps. 104:30; Ezek. 36:26-27; Joel 2:28; Zech. 12:10). Then the wilderness would become fertile, and what was presently considered fertile would become a veritable jungle, so full of large plants would it be (cf. 30:23-26). The creation will burgeon, the divine curse will be removed, and the damage that sin has caused will be reversed (cf. 29:17).
32:16-17 Justice and righteousness will be everywhere. The effects of this righteousness will be peace, rest, and security (cf. 11:4-9). This will come about because people will be right with God (cf. 30:15).
"The person who has received the grace of God's forgiveness is at peace with God. Knowing himself to be at peace with the Sovereign of the universe, it is no longer necessary to project his own turmoil upon those around him (Phil. 3:12-17). Furthermore, the person for whom God's character has become central will be less likely to oppress others in a frantic attempt to supply his or her own needs."
32:18 God's people who responded to the appeals in 31:6 and 32:9 would live free from external threats, not erroneously thinking that they were secure (cf. v. 9).
A summary of coming blasting and blessing 32:19-20
The last two verses of this "woe" serve as an epilogue (cf. the prologue, 31:1-5). Again there is an abrupt transition from present terror to future tranquility. Judgment and glory both lay ahead for the Israelites, and it was time for them to choose to return to the LORD. God has revealed the distant future, as well as the immediate future, so people will get right with Him now.
32:19 The forest is a figure of soldiers (10:18, 33-34) and of the fallen world (2:12-13). The "city" refers to Jerusalem, but it also represents humankind organized in rebellion against God (24:10). Thus both the near and the far views of God's actions blend here. God will destroy—the hail representing His devastating intervention in human life—both the Assyrian soldiers soon and the fallen world later (cf. 10:34). He would devastate Jerusalem soon and rebellious humankind later.
32:20 The blessed residents of the land in the distant future will enjoy the best existence, represented here in a pastoral setting. They will be in right relation to God, having responded to His invitations to return to and hear the LORD (31:6; 32:9). Their blessing will consist of divine favor (cf. Ps. 32:1), personal fulfillment (cf. Ps. 112:1), and total rectitude (cf. Ps. 2:12; 37:8-9). Many amillennial interpreters take the eschatological blessings of verses 1-8, 15-18, and 20, as well as 31:7, as marking the future heavenly reign of Christ throughout eternity.
In the near future, the Judahites could experience a measure of deliverance from the Assyrians by repenting. Some of them did repent. Sennacherib was not able to take Jerusalem, even though he devastated much of Judah, Because King Hezekiah and the godly remnant trusted in the LORD for deliverance (cf. 33:2-3). In the far future, the Israelites will enjoy salvation from all their enemies because they will repent at the second coming of Christ and put their trust in Him (cf. Zech. 12:10-14; 14:14). This did not take place after the Exile or after Pentecost (Acts 2) on the scale that Isaiah envisioned here. God does not wait for people to repent before He acts in mercy. Rather, the goodness of God leads people to repentance (cf. Rom. 2:4; 11:22).
"This concludes the four [five] woes, from which the fifth [sixth], that immediately follows, is distinguished by the fact, that in the former the Assyrian troubles are still in the future, whereas the fifth [sixth] places us in the very midst of them."
The woe against destroyers of God's people ch. 33
There is general correspondence between this sixth "woe" and the third one (29:15-24), but this one deals more with application and the third one more with principles. It is the most eschatological of the "woes," though it contains many references to the Assyrian invasion. It is the only "woe" directed against a foreign power, the others being addressed to the Judahites. This is a woe against Assyria for its destructive opposition to Yahweh and His plans.
The hope of the Judahites 33:1-6
The first six verses anticipate the salvation of Zion and contain a prayer for deliverance.
33:1 The destroyer and treacherous one in view is Assyria. So far Assyria had practiced destruction and treachery without having destruction and treachery come back on her, but eventually they would (cf. Deut. 19:18-19). Sennacherib accepted a large sum of money that King Hezekiah sent to him so that he would not besiege Jerusalem, but Sennacherib accepted the money and attacked Jerusalem anyway (2 Kings 18:13-17). That is treachery. Yahweh was the opposite of the Assyrian king. He was always true to His promises, and the Davidic kings were to follow His example as His vice-regents. To behave the opposite from how God behaves is to court divine discipline.
"As the royal annals demonstrate, Assyria took great pride in her capacity to destroy anyone who had the temerity to stand against her. By the same token, she had no qualms about breaking agreements which were not to her advantage, all the while punishing with great severity any who broke agreements with her."
33:2 The faithful remnant in Judah prayed to the LORD, evidently as the enemy approached Jerusalem. These godly Judeans asked for Yahweh's grace on the ground that they had trusted in Him (cf. 30:18-19). They asked Him to be the daily strength of those who opposed the destroyer: Assyria. They also requested deliverance for the Jerusalemites when Assyria attacked.
"Never underestimate the power of a praying minority."
33:3 The prayer continues as the remnant anticipated the LORD creating a tumult and rising up to defend His people. When He would do that, enemies would flee and their nations would disperse.
33:4 When the LORD arose against Israel's enemies, the battle would be over almost as soon as it had started (cf. Rev. 19:19-20). The Jerusalemites would take the spoils of war as voraciously as caterpillars and as swiftly as locusts (cf. 37:36-37).
33:5 The result would be glory for God. He is the sovereign ruler of the world. He would fill Zion with justice and righteousness (cf. 1:26-27; 32:1, 16). Here Isaiah began to speak of the distant future.
33:6 The LORD Himself would be the sure foundation of the blessed Zion. His people would then enter into their time in history: a time marked by salvations (plural) of many kinds, wisdom in following God's ways, and knowledge of the truth.
"Wisdom is the true and correct evaluation of things, whereas knowledge is the true recognition of what things are. It emphasizes the objective, whereas 'wisdom' brings to the fore the subjective aspect."
Fearing the LORD will be the key to the treasures that He has laid up for His people. The practical meaning of the fear of the LORD is admitting that one's destiny lies in His hands. Fearing the LORD Yahweh in the Old Testament is the equivalent of trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
Judah's lament and Yahweh's response 33:7-12
Verses 7-12 provide the background for the hope just articulated. This pericope describes Judah's judgment by the Assyrian invaders. It contains a lament (vv. 7-9) and God's response (vv. 10-12).
33:7 The siege of Jerusalem is seen as underway in verses 7-9. The brave warriors are weeping in the streets of the city, and the ambassadors who had returned from peace talks (probably with Sennacherib at Lachish, 2 Kings 18:13-16; cf. Isa. 36:22) also grieve publicly. Both "hawks" and "doves" realize that trust in humans rather than in God proved ineffective.
33:8 People are afraid to go out onto the highways to travel in the land (cf. Judg. 5:6). The enemy has broken his treaty, having no regard for the cities or the individuals he is now attacking.
33:9 All parts of Israel suffer because of the invading Assyrians. Lebanon was a forested region in the north, Sharon was a beautiful plain to the west, and Bashan and Carmel were fertile areas to the east and north respectively. Assyria had decimated all the best (most fruitful) parts of the land.
33:10 God's people having been punished in measure, it was time for the LORD to arise in their defense. The critical moment for Him to act had arrived, and He would now exalt Himself by delivering them.
33:11-12 The Judahites had done their best to bring forth victory through their own efforts, but all they brought forth was chaff and stubble, nothing substantial. Now God would thoroughly consume the little that they were able to produce. It is possible that the LORD addressed Assyria in these verses, but I think Judah is the more probable "you." He would also destroy Israel's enemies as thoroughly as limestone and as thorns.
"The tragedy of sin is that it ruins the life of the sinner; the danger of sin is that it excites the wrath of God."
The people of Zion 33:13-16
Isaiah now turned to focus on one aspect of the future hope of the nation: Zion. It will consist of a people and a king. The prophet described the people first (vv. 13-16) and then their king (vv. 17-24).
33:13 God summoned, through His prophet, the entire earth, those far and near, to pay attention to what He had done to His people. It has worldwide significance. God's powerful acts toward Israel in the past will cause the nations to stream to Zion in the future.
33:14 The spectacular demonstration of God's holiness in Assyria's defeat would terrify sinners in Zion, namely, those Jews who were unrepentant in Isaiah's day. They would realize that they could not reside in His holy presence because of their sins.
"That Yahweh is a devouring fire is understood throughout the OT as a symbol of his holiness. The essence of worship is to recognize the gift of his mercy which makes it possible and even desirable to live in near contact with the Holy One."
33:15 Only the righteous may dwell in Zion where God resides. Various activities mark the righteous person (cf. Ps. 15; 24:3-6); they do not make him or her righteous before God. The truly righteous person's righteousness is not just private but public. His speech is pure, he does not extort money from others, and he does not take bribes (because he does not love money). He does not listen to anything connected with hurting other people, and he will not look at anything vulgar, evil, or perverted (cf. Ps. 119:37). That is, he will not participate in these things. These last two characteristics are particularly challenging to us who live in an age of motion pictures, television, and Internet.
33:16 Such a righteous person will dwell with God, who dwells on the high places (v. 5). He will be safe from attacks by enemies since God is his refuge. And God will provide for his needs (cf. Matt. 6:33). In other words, he will enjoy God's fellowship, protection, and provision (cf. Ps. 15; 24:3-6).
"This is the picture of a man who has no need to be alarmed at the judgment of God upon Asshur."
The King of Zion 33:17-24
The subject now shifts from the people who will inhabit the future Zion to the king who will rule there. This is a revelation of Messiah's universal rule. It is a picture that stands in stark contrast to the one Isaiah painted of the present Jerusalem in chapters 28—31.
33:17 The prophet now spoke about his audience as righteous people. Not only will the righteous be with God in the future (v. 16), but they will even see the excellent king (cf. Ps. 45:3). They will also see a broad land in which there can be freedom of movement. An amillennial interpretation follows:
"It is the Messiah in the glory of His wondrous reign over His Church that is here in view."
Premillennialists believe that it is the Messiah in the glory of His wondrous reign over Israel that is in view here.
33:18-19 There will be no fear there of enemy officials who noted things down, weighed things out, and assessed Israel's strength by taking inventories. Neither will there be terror caused by invading armies that used incomprehensible speech (cf. 28:11, 19). Foreign tax collectors who spoke an alien language may also be in view. These were all fears that the Judeans had when the Assyrians invaded.
33:20 Zion had a future that Isaiah's audience needed to contemplate. It would be a place where God's people would feast and rejoice in fellowship with Him. It would be a peaceful, secure, durable habitation—in contrast to the temporary and vulnerable tents of their nomadic forefathers, and of all the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings. The seemingly endless pilgrimages of the Israelites would finally be over.
33:21 The mighty king over this Zion will be Yahweh Himself, a divine ruler—even Messiah (cf. 53:11).
"The meaning is, that, by virtue of Jehovah's dwelling there, Jerusalem had become a place, or equivalent to a place, of broad streams, like those which in other instances defended the cities they surrounded (e.g. Babylon, the 'twisted snake,' ch. xxvii. 1), and of broad canals, which kept off the enemy, like moats around a fortification."
33:22 Messiah will be the Judge (leader and governor), lawgiver (legislator and chief), and (permanent) ruler of His people. He will be the head of all branches of government—judicial, legislative, and executive. He will provide deliverance in every situation.
This verse, which is a climax to chapters 28—33, was the basis for the Mayflower Compact, the covenant that the Pilgrims made when they left England for America in A.D. 1620. It was also the basis for the government of the United States, which had its roots in the Mayflower Compact.
33:23 The enemy of Israel, represented here as a disabled ship, would not be able to overcome other cities or pursue trade by normal means. Some interpreters believe the ship refers to Israel or Jerusalem, but this seems less likely. Others take it to refer to Gog (Ezek. 38—39). Zion would take the spoil of a conquest, that her king had gained, which conquest was now past. The physically weak would take the plunder of the strong (cf. Matt. 5:5). Assyrian kings boasted of the spoil that they took in war, but even the lame among God's people will take plunder in the future.
33:24 Physical sickness and spiritual sin will be totally absent from eschatological Zion (cf. Ps. 103:3). This description pictures the absence of all disabilities. Iniquities will also be forgiven (cf. Lev. 16:21-22). The basis for this forgiveness is the sacrifice of Christ (cf. 53:4, 14; Heb. 10:17-18); God will do this because Christ has satisfied God's demands.
This is one of the grand pictures of life during the coming reign of Jesus Christ on earth. That kingdom will begin following His second coming, continue for 1,000 years, and then extend forever into eternity (cf. Rev. 19—22).
4. The consequences of Israel's trust chs. 34—35
This section concludes the major part of Isaiah that deals with God's sovereignty over the nations of the world (chs. 13—35). Here the lessons stand out clearly: Pride leads to humiliation, whereas trust in the LORD results in exaltation (cf. Matt. 23:12). Chapters 34—35 bring to a head chapters 28—33, just as chapters 24—27 topped off chapters 13—23.
"In both instances the special prophecies connected with the history of the prophet's own times are followed by a comprehensive finale of an apocalyptic character."
"These two chapters form a fitting climax to the judgment and salvation motifs which have been spoken of extensively by Isaiah. … Discussion of the judgment on Assyria (30:27-33; 31:8-9; 33:1, 18-19) naturally led to a discussion of God's judgment on the whole world in the Tribulation. God's vengeance on the world will be followed by millennial blessing on His covenant people, Israel."
These themes of judgment and blessing, of course, were prominent in the sixth "woe," so there is a strong connection with what precedes in chapter 33. Chapters 34 and 35 present the contrasting images of a productive land turned into a desert (ch. 34, in the Tribulation) and a desert turned into a garden (ch. 35, in the Millennium).
"To align oneself with the nations of the earth is to choose a desert; to trust in God is to choose a garden."
Yahweh's day of judgment ch. 34
This poem depicts the effects of Yahweh's wrath on the self-exalting nations. His judgment will be universal (vv. 1-4). Isaiah particularized it with reference to Edom, which he selected as a representative nation (vv. 5-17; cf. 25:10-12).
"Here we have depicted the scene of carnage that will ensue upon the Battle of Armageddon."
"This chapter is remarkable for its combination of the general and the particular, the universal and the local. It reminds us of the Greek word hekastos ('each one individually') used in so many descriptions of judgment in the NT."
"There are many passages in Jeremiah (viz. ch. xxv. 31, 33, 34, xlvi. 10, l. 27, 39, li. 40) which cannot be explained in any other way than on the supposition that Jeremiah had the prophecy of Isaiah in ch. xxxiv. before him."
Universal judgments 34:1-4
34:1 Isaiah called everyone in the world to hear what follows (cf. 1:2; Ps. 25:1; 96:1-3; 97:1; 98:1-2, 4). It has universal significance and scope.
34:2 The first reason (cf. vv. 5, 6, 8) everyone should listen is that the LORD is very angry with the nations. He has determined to devote them to destruction, to put them under the ban (Heb. herem; cf. 11:15; Josh. 6:21; 1 Sam. 15:3).
"In the Hebrew setting at least two implications [of the ban] are significant: spoils are devoted to God to show that God alone has won a battle (Jericho); when a nation has deliberately blocked the flow of God's love to the world, it forfeits itself into God's hands (Amalek)."
What humankind must hear, then, is a sentence of judgment on the whole earth (cf. Ps. 2:9).
34:3 The blood of the slain nations will stink and soak the mountains of the earth in such quantities that they will run red. This is probably "a strong poetical hyperbole descriptive of excessive carnage." Unburied corpses were, and still are, shameful things (cf. Ezek. 39; Rev. 19:17-18).
34:4 Evidently the whole universe will be involved in this judgment. The sins of nations, and the necessary divine reaction, affect all creation. The LORD will roll up the heavens like a scroll that He has finished reading. The sun, moon, and stars will wither and fall like grapes or figs (cf. Matt. 24:29; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 6:13-14). This implies also the destruction of the pantheon of gods that these heavenly bodies represented in the ancient world.
Edom as an example 34:5-17
The prophet now introduced Edom, as a case in point, whose end would be typical of the whole earth (cf. 11:14; 63:1-6). If Edom alone had been in view, Isaiah probably would have dealt with it as he did the other nations in the oracles earlier in the book (chs. 13—23). But why Edom? The Old Testament consistently treats Edom as the antithesis of Israel (cf. Obad.).
Isaac told Esau that he would live in an infertile area (Gen. 27:39-40).
"Recollecting 29:22 and the establishing of the family of Jacob, the overthrow of the people of Esau makes the end the exact fulfilment [sic] of what was promised at the beginning (Gn. 25:23)."
34:5 A second reason for God's worldwide judgment is that when God has had enough in heaven (when His patience has been exhausted), His sword—a symbol of His judgment (cf. Deut. 32:41-43; Josh. 5:13; Judg. 7:20)—will fall on the nations, represented by Edom.
Humans must pay. Everyone belongs to God. If human beings do not submit to Him voluntarily, He will force them to do so against their wills. This will be God's judgment on the world for rebelling against Him.
34:6-7 Using sacrificial imagery, the LORD will seek what is peculiarly His in judgment. He will take what He alone has a right to take. Sin is a matter of life and death. All sin must be atoned for with sacrificial blood (cf. Lev. 4:1-12; Isa. 53). Those who repudiate the sacrifice of Christ for their sins will forfeit their own lives as sacrifices to God.
A sacrifice is necessary, therefore, third (v. 6b), if the demands of divine holiness are to be met. No rebel would be spared. Bozrah (lit. "Impenetrable," modern Buseirah), the capital of Edom, stood about 25 miles south southeast of the Dead Sea.
"The sacrifice announced here is enormous. Not only lambs, goats, bull calves, and bulls are to be sacrificed, but also wild oxen … which are otherwise never mentioned for sacrifice. … Wildberger (1343) understands the passage to picture a sacrifice greater than any that has ever been offered."
"He who really takes offense at what is here related has no true conception of the heinous character of sinful rebellion against the Holy One of Israel."
34:8 A fourth reason for this slaughter is that the LORD will take vengeance on those who have trodden down Zion. He will act for His people against those who have cursed them (cf. Gen. 12:3). Even though we do not know when this will happen, God has a timetable for this judgment and will keep to it.
34:9-10 The prophet described Edom's overthrow in terms reminiscent of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 19:24-28; Deut. 29:23; Ps. 11:6; Jer. 49:18; Rev. 14:10-11), which lay in the same general direction as Edom from Jerusalem. Edom's actions brought on this destruction. The world's end will be total, and its territory will be uninhabitable from then on (66:24; Rev. 19:3; cf. Lev. 6:13).
The absence of specific references to Edom in verses 9-17 helps the reader appreciate that a judgment far beyond that one nation's future is in view, though Edom's judgment is still in view. The only reason people will be able to inhabit the earth during the Millennium, following the Tribulation, is because God will renovate it (chs. 35; 40—66). Human sin affects humanity's environment.
"Isaiah 13:20-23 and 14:23 pointed out that throughout the Messianic kingdom, Babylon will be a burning wasteland where the demons will abide. The land of Edom will suffer the same consequences. It will be a place of perpetual devastation."
34:11-13 Human leaders will be no more, and only wild animals and weeds will occupy the land (cf. 13:21-22; 14:23). "Desolation" and "emptiness" (v. 11; Heb. tohu and bohu, cf. Gen. 1:2) point to chaotic conditions that existed before Creation. Measuring the land indicates that the LORD has a standard by which He evaluates its inhabitants and distributes the land to whomever He will (cf. v. 17).
34:14-15 So devoid of human population will the earth be that animals that people have tried to control in the past will be safe enough to multiply. Even the "goat" demon and the "night-bird," will roam the land. The "night-bird" (Heb. lilith lit. nocturnal) was a feminine night monster in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology that was especially hurtful to children (cf. Tobit 8:3; Matt. 12:43). The "tree snake" and "hawks" would also increase.
34:16-17 In closing, Isaiah's thought turned back to what he wrote in verse 1. Those summoned to listen to this remarkable revelation might need to assure themselves of its certainty by referring to the written record of it in this prophecy and elsewhere (cf. 13:21-22). The LORD's mouth commanded this judgment, and His Spirit will execute it (cf. Gen. 1:2). God sovereignly gave Canaan to His people, and in the future He will give the Edoms of this world to the desert creatures.
How does this picture of devastation, so thorough that no human beings remain alive, harmonize with other revelation concerning the Tribulation? According to Revelation 6:8 and 9:18, half of the world's population will have perished by the end of the sixth trumpet judgment. Many more devastating judgments will fall on earth-dwellers after the sixth trumpet judgment, specifically, the seven bowl judgments, the worst ones of all in the Tribulation.
Therefore, what Isaiah pictured here, may be what the earth will look like at the very end of the Tribulation, just before Jesus Christ returns to the earth. There will be some people left alive on the earth then, but Isaiah's description was perhaps hyperbolic to make the point that God will judge all the earth's inhabitants. A common amillennial understanding of this chapter, is that it describes the final judgment of humankind, at the end of history—just before the beginning of eternity.
Yahweh's day of blessing ch. 35
In contrast to the preceding chapter, this one is full of joy and rejoicing. In chapter 34, God is seen as turning the world into a desert; here He transforms that desert into a garden. The order of events is significant because they rule out postmillennialism, which teaches that the world will get increasingly better—until the utopia (Millennium) described in this chapter comes about—following which Messiah will return to the earth. Genesis 12:3, one of the original promises to Abraham, even suggests the order explained in Isaiah 34 and 35: cursing followed by blessing, both on a universal scale.
References to rejoicing and gladness begin and end this poem, forming an inclusio. "Shout for joy" and "joyful shouting" appear at the beginning (v. 2), middle (v. 6), and end (v. 10). The structure is chiastic, centering on hope (vv. 5-6). However, Isaiah tantalized his readers by offering images that create questions in their minds that only further reading can answer. The chapter increasingly builds to an intellectual resolution and an emotional climax in the last verse.
35:1-2 References to "the wilderness" and "the desert" tie this chapter to the preceding one. The wilderness that God so thoroughly judged, personified here, will eventually rejoice because it will blossom profusely. The beauty and glory that formerly marked Lebanon and Carmel, before the devastation of chapter 34, will mark these places again—but more so. Their transformation, at the LORD's hand, will enable them to appreciate the inherent value and majestic dignity of Yahweh, Israel's majestic God (cf. Rom. 8:13-25).
"If we will give God his glory, then he will give his to us."
35:3-4 Those who are alive at the end of the Tribulation will be a small remnant of believers and some unbelievers. Isaiah called the (future) reader to encourage the exhausted and feeble believers of his or her time. They would need to keep their eyes on God. God would come to take vengeance for them and to deliver them (cf. Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Josh. 1:6-7, 9, 18; Rev. 13:9-10; 14:12). He would reward them: they will enter Messiah's millennial kingdom.
35:5-6b The former limitations of these believers will end, and they will rejoice (cf. 6:9-10; 29:9-12, 18; 65:20; Luke 7:18-23; Acts 3:8). The Israelites' blindness and deafness was in reference to God's call to participate in His work.
35:6c-7 Water gushing out in the arid wilderness and desert would be a sign of blessings that they would shortly experience (cf. vv. 1-2; 41:18; 43:19-20; 44:3-4; Deut. 28:1-14). The desolate resting place where only jackals lived would become verdant with grassy growth. A mirage, which is not uncommon in Canaan, would become a real lake. Reversal and transformation will mark this time.
35:8 A highway will be there leading through the then-lush landscape to Zion (v. 10). It will be used by the ransomed of the LORD (v. 10) to travel to Messiah's capital. It will be a highway marked by holiness, because only redeemed people will travel on it. Fools, the morally perverse, will not wander onto it, because they are unholy. Is this a literal road? It may be, but it certainly pictures God's people at that time streaming to Zion through a renovated earth.
35:9-10 Nothing will threaten or endanger the redeemed as they travel the holy highway to the holy city. This is the first of 24 occurrences of "redeemed" in Isaiah. The redeemed will come rejoicing into Zion, the New Jerusalem, where there will be no more sorrow or sighing, just unbreakable happiness, gladness, and joyful shouting (cf. 51:11; Ps. 23:6; Ezek. 36:24-28; 40—44; Zech. 14:16-19; Rev. 21:1-4).
While what Isaiah described here parallels to a limited extent the Jews' return from Babylonian captivity, the context of the chapter, as well as its terminology, point to a fulfillment in the future which that return only prefigured. Another foreview was the converging of pilgrims on Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the annual feasts of Judaism. Amillennialists normally interpret this chapter as depicting the blessings that would come to the church (the all-inclusive community of believers) through the first advent of Christ (cf. John 16:33). Another amillennial view is that it describes the "happy condition of the church after a period of suffering."
Verse 10 not only climaxes chapter 35, but also the whole section of Isaiah that deals with God's sovereignty over the nations (chs. 13—35).
"Chs. 7—12 posed a question: 'Is God Sovereign of the nations?' Can God deliver from an Assyria? Or is he just one more of the gods, waiting to be gobbled up by a bigger god? In short, can God be trusted? Chs. 13—35 have sought to answer that question in four main sections: chs. 13—23; 24—27; 28—33; 34—35. In the first, God's lordship over each of the nations is asserted. In the second, it is shown that God is not merely the reactor to the nations, but is in fact the sovereign Actor on the world's stage. In the third, the superiority of God's counsel over that of the merely human leaders is shown. Finally, the last two chapters show the ultimate results of the two courses of action, with ch. 35 ending at exactly the same point as chs. 11—12, with the promise that God can, and will, redeem. He may be trusted. However, the issue remains: is this merely abstraction or can it become concrete reality? Ahaz had proved that the nations cannot be trusted. But what of God? Can his trustworthiness be demonstrated or only asserted? Must his promises for the distant future be clung to blindly or can an earnest of their reality be experienced now? This is what chs. 36—39 are about."
Similarly, Romans 9—11 vindicates God's righteousness.
"How remarkable … is the expanding development in this first part of Isaiah! Glance back quickly through these thirty-five chapters again. In the first six we are limited to Judah. But after the transforming vision of Jehovah as King of all nations and ages, in chapter vi, the prophecies reach out more and more, until they have comprehended all nations and all history! If in the first six chapters we are confined to Judah, in the next six we reach out to the ten-tribed kingdom of Israel. Then, in the next group (xiii to xxiii) all the main kingdoms of Isaiah's day are girdled. Then, in the next four chapters (xxiv to xxvii) the whole world is revolving before the eye of prophecy. Next, in chapters xxviii to xxxiii, it is Jerusalem which becomes the focus-point as being the centre of all Jehovah's dealings and controversy with our race. While finally, in chapter xxxiv, we are plunged into the 'great tribulation' at the end of the present age, and then brought through to the lovely climax of the Millennium, in chapter xxxv! Is not that a wonderful expansion, development, progress, design? And does it not argue one human author behind the whole of it, even as it also indicates the one Divine Author behind the human?"
C. The tests of Israel's trust chs. 36—39
Chapters 36—39 conclude the section of the book dealing with the issue of trust by giving historical proof that Yahweh will protect those who rely on Him. In these chapters, King Hezekiah represents the people of Judah. These lessons from history should encourage God's people to trust in Him rather than in the arm of flesh. Chapters 40—66 contain oracles in which Babylonian captivity looms large. So the present section (chs. 36—39) forms a bridge: from emphasis on Assyria (chs. 1—35), to emphasis on Babylonia (chs 40—66). The section is also almost identical to 2 Kings 18—20 (cf. 2 Chron. 29—32), except for the inclusion of Isaiah's poem in Isaiah 38:9-20. The matter of which account came first (the one in Kings or the one in Isaiah) is of academic interest only. Many of the commentators have discussed the issue. I think Isaiah's account was probably the first one. These chapters consist of more narrative material and fewer oracles than the sections that precede and follow it, in which the opposite is true.
This section contains two parts. The first one (chs. 36—37) involved King Hezekiah's trust in God and deliverance when Sennacherib's Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem. The second (chs. 38—39) involved Hezekiah's failure to trust God and his consequent judgment by God when the Babylonian envoys peacefully visited Jerusalem. In chapters 36—37 we see Judah's deliverance accomplished, and in chapters 38—39 we hear Judah's captivity announced. Thus a major hinge of the book occurs between chapters 37 and 38, where emphasis on Assyria ends and emphasis on Babylonia begins.
"Hezekiah faced three crises in a short time: an international crisis (the invasion of the Assyrian army), a personal crisis (sickness and near death), and a national crisis (the visit of the Babylonian envoys). He came through the first two victoriously, but the third one tripped him up."
1. The Assyrian threat chs. 36—37
In chapters 7 and 8, Isaiah tried to persuade King Ahaz to trust God in the face of the Syro-Ephraimitic threat against Judah. Ahaz refused to do so and instead turned to Assyria for help, with disastrous results. Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, faced a similar challenge during his reign, but this time the threat came from Assyria. Hezekiah learned from his father's failure and from Isaiah's preaching, made the right choice, and trusted the LORD. The result was deliverance. Thus chapters 36—37 contrast with chapters 7—8.
"Here we are presented with a historical test to demonstrate once and for all whether Jehovah is the one true God, the Sovereign over all the earth."
"… chapters 36—37 put the rock of history under the fabric of eschatology."
"This is history at its best, no dull recital of statistics and dates but an account which enables us to sense the haughty arrogance of the Assyrian and the chilling clutch of despair at the hearts of the Israelites."
The Rabshakeh's challenge 36:1—37:7
This section of text demonstrates Hezekiah's commitment to God, but the next one (37:8-35) shows an even stronger commitment by the king to commit his own fate and the fate of his people to God. This section stresses Assyrian pride and its result: divine judgment (cf. 10:15-19). Isaiah did not record Hezekiah's attempt to buy off Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13-16), probably because he wanted to focus on the Judean king's good example of trusting God.
An ultimatum 36:1-20
36:1 The fourteenth year of King Hezekiah was 701 B.C. On an Assyrian record, Sennacherib claimed to have taken 46 cities of Judah during this campaign (cf. 2 Chron. 32:1). This record is on the Prism of Sennacherib, also called the Taylor Prism, now in the British Museum.
"He went from the north along the coast defeating (among others) the towns of Aphek, Timnah, Ekron, and Lachish. Lachish was then his staging area for attacking a number of other towns."
"The army of Sennacherib is swarming over Judah like a horde of Tolkienian Orcs, and only Jerusalem remains (Isaiah 8:8)."
36:2 "Rabshakeh" is a title that seems about equivalent to field commander. The word literally means "Chief Cup-Bearer," but this appears to have been the name of the original office from which the present one evolved. The chief cup-bearer was the king's personal advisor (cf. Neh. 1:11). Lachish stood about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. A bas relief, now in the British Museum, shows Sennacherib besieging Lachish. Interestingly, the place where the Assyrian commander took his stand, near Jerusalem, was the same place where Isaiah had stood when he urged Ahaz to trust God 23 years earlier (cf. 7:3).
Second Kings 18:17 records that three military officials represented Sennacherib, but Isaiah referred to only the speaker among them. It was because Ahaz had failed to trust God earlier, that the Assyrian official stood there now (cf. 8:5-8). The very nation that Ahaz had trusted proved to be the greatest threat to her safety—only one generation later. Father and son both faced a threat of destruction, both recognized the inadequacy of their own strength, but one trusted man and suffered defeat, whereas the other trusted Yahweh and enjoyed deliverance.
36:3 Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah were all important officials in Hezekiah's government (cf. 22:20-23). Some commentators believed that Isaiah's prophecy of 22:20-23 had been fulfilled at this time, since Eliakim was now the prime minister and Shebna was the secretary, which was a lower position. This may be true, or the exaltation of Eliakim and the humiliation of Shebna may have come later.
The point of the Rabshakeh's first speech (vv. 4-10) was that there is no salvation in faith; no deliverance would come from trusting Yahweh. Judah should surrender because Egypt would not help her (v. 6), Yahweh would not help her (v. 7), she did not have enough military manpower to win (vv. 8-9), and Assyria had authority from Yahweh to attack Jerusalem (v. 10). This speech challenged everything that Isaiah had been preaching.
36:4 The Rabshakeh told the Judean officials to give Hezekiah—he did not call him a king—a message from "the great king," a title the Assyrian monarchs arrogantly claimed for themselves (cf. 10:8; 30:33). He questioned Hezekiah's confidence that led him to rebel against Sennacherib. Clearly Sennacherib wanted the Judahites to know that he regarded Hezekiah as a minor chieftain incapable of resisting the massive power of the Assyrian Empire.
36:5 The commander claimed that Hezekiah's strategy lacked wisdom and arms, that it only amounted to "empty words" (cf. 28:9-11). Ironically, it would be the empty words of a rumor that would defeat him (cf. 37:7-9).
36:6 The Rabshakeh knew that some of the Judean nobles had put their trust in Egypt and had sent ambassadors there to make a treaty to secure Judah's defense (cf. 30:1-7). But he also knew—better than those officials—that Egypt was not only an unreliable ally but a dangerous one, an opinion that Isaiah shared (cf. ch. 20; 28:15; Ezek. 29:6). Sennacherib had already defeated the Egyptians, who for the first and last time had unsuccessfully come to the aid of the Philistines, at Eltekah northwest of Lachish.
36:7 The Rabshakeh knew about Hezekiah's religious reforms in which he had removed many of the altars from the land (cf. 2 Kings 18:1-7; 2 Chron. 29—31). Evidently the commander believed that removing altars would antagonize Yahweh, but Hezekiah was really purifying Yahweh worship when he removed those altars. However, many of the Judeans probably believed that the removal of those altars was a bad thing, and it was to those people that the Rabshakeh was evidently appealing.
36:8 Judah was so inferior militarily that the commander felt safe offering his enemy 2,000 horses. He believed that the Judeans did not have enough cavalry soldiers to ride them. His offer was the equivalent of giving one's rival a long lead in a footrace.
36:9 The Judeans did not have enough strength to repulse even a minor Assyrian officer or enough soldiers to man the horses and chariots that they were looking to Egypt to supply.
36:10 Perhaps the commander was referring to 10:5-6, Isaiah's prophecy that God would send Assyria against His people. Alternatively, he may have just been claiming divine authorization for Sennacherib's invasion when there was none; he was lying. It was not unusual for ancient Near Eastern conquerors to claim that the god of the invaded people had joined the invader.
Hezekiah's officials interrupted the commander when they heard this last unsettling claim.
36:11 Aramaic was the common language of diplomacy; politicians normally conducted diplomatic talks in that language. It did not become the common language of Canaan until many years later. The Rabshakeh, however, spoke to the kings' officials in the common Hebrew that all the people of Jerusalem understood. He probably did this so all the people, not just the king's officials, would understand his message and take it as an insult to the king's officials. By using Hebrew, the commander was also implying that they did not know Aramaic, that they were backwater ignoramuses.
36:12 He explained that his message was for all the people—many of whom were sitting on the city wall listening—not just the politicians in Jerusalem. All the people were, after all, doomed to the horrible conditions of siege warfare. He wanted to separate the people from their king and his policy of resisting Sennacherib. He also wanted to shock and terrorize the people by using the most crude and disgusting terms he could to picture siege warfare.
The commander then resumed his prepared speech. In his second speech (vv. 13-21), the Rabshakeh used the word "deliver" eight times (in Hebrew).
36:13-17 The Rabshakeh next addressed the people of Jerusalem who could hear him. He appealed to them to listen to Sennacherib's message to them. Hezekiah could not deliver them, he boasted, nor would trusting in Yahweh work. Evidently the Assyrians knew that Isaiah's policy of trusting Yahweh was a popular one with many of the Jerusalemites. The Rabshakeh promised that if the city surrendered, the people would enjoy peace and prosperity rather than war and starvation. They would be deported, which was a well-known Assyrian policy toward conquered peoples, but he portrayed the land where they would go as similar to their own land but even better.
36:18-19 The commander made the fatal mistake, however, of comparing Israel's God to the gods of the nations, specifically, the gods of Aram (Syria). Even Samaria had fallen to Assyria 21 years earlier; their gods, including Yahweh, had not delivered them. Of course, Yahweh had handed over the Northern Kingdom to Assyria because of her idolatry, but the commander viewed its demise as a result of Assyrian supremacy.
"The Assyrian accuses Hezekiah of seducing the people (v. 18); in fact, it is the Assyrian who has been seduced by his own power."
36:20 The Rabshakeh stated the people's choice in terms that the first part of this book presented: Was Yahweh able to deliver His people when they simply trusted in Him, or was He no better than all the other gods of the nations?
The response to the ultimatum 36:21—37:7
How would the Judeans respond to this blasphemous challenge? How they did, determined their destiny—not only at that moment, but for years to come.
36:21 The people listening to this invitation did not respond out loud because Hezekiah had commanded them to remain silent.
36:22 Hezekiah's officials then returned to their king, who had not dignified the occasion with his presence, to report what had happened. They tore their clothes as a sign of extreme distress over the present crisis.
37:1 Hezekiah's response was also extreme grief, but he went into the temple. He wanted to seek the LORD's wisdom and help in prayer.
"Happy the nation that has such a ruler."
It is not clear how involved Hezekiah had been in making the treaty with Egypt, but his personal repentance here set the pattern for the nation.
37:2 Then the king sent some of his highest officials and some of the leading priests, who were also in mourning, to visit Isaiah. Notice that Hezekiah did not summon Isaiah into his presence. This reflects the respect that the king felt for the prophet (cf. 2 Kings 6:12).
37:3-4 The leaders of Judah, speaking for their king, acknowledged that Hezekiah had come to the end of his rope. The Assyrian invasion of Judah had been like labor pains for the king, but now the crisis had peaked and there was no human strength left to expel the enemy. Hezekiah confessed that he deserved the crisis that had overtaken him, which had signaled an end of hope and resulted in great shame. Yet he did not appeal for divine help on the basis of his own needs, but because of the LORD's honor and the needs of His people (cf. 1 Sam. 17:26, 36). The king appealed for Isaiah's prayers on behalf of the remaining Judahites who had not already been devoured by the Assyrians.
"This kind of admission of helplessness is frequently a necessity before divine help can be received. So long as we believe that we only need some assistance, we are still treating ourselves as lords of the situation, and that latent pride cuts us off from all that God would give us."
The saying "God is my copilot" may reflect a similar attitude of only needing God's assistance.
37:5-7 So the officials came to Isaiah, and the prophet responded by sending them back to the king with a message from Yahweh. Hezekiah was not to fear the blasphemous claims of Sennacherib's underlings. The LORD promised to lead the invading king away from Jerusalem and back to his own country where he would die by the sword. A report placed in Sennacherib's ear would be the sovereign LORD's instrument. The lack of reference to the decimation of the Assyrian troops already gathered around Jerusalem (cf. 36:2) focuses the promise on the central issue: divine punishment for the king's blasphemy (cf. 14:24-27; 31:8).
King Hezekiah's challenge 37:8-35
This section contains two parts: Sennacherib's letter to Hezekiah, and Hezekiah's response to it.
The royal letter 37:8-13
37:8-9a The Rabshakeh returned to his master, having learned that Hezekiah would not surrender. He found him five miles closer to Jerusalem than Lachish, at Libnah, where he was fighting the Judahites. The message that Tirhakah, King of Ethiopia, was coming to engage him in battle, caused Sennacherib to decide to terminate further campaigns in Palestine temporarily and return to his homeland. Tirhakah was about 20 years old at this time and did not accede to the throne of Egypt and Ethiopia until 690 B.C. However, he was the military leader that Sennacherib did not want to engage at this time.
"… it is a common practice of Ancient Oriental writers to refer to people and places by titles and names acquired later than the period being described."
37:9b-13 Sennacherib warned Hezekiah, through messengers and a letter (v. 14), not to let messages from Yahweh deceive him into thinking that Jerusalem would survive. After all, all the lands that the Assyrian kings had invaded had fallen to them, he claimed. None of the powerful cities of the upper Euphrates received help to overcome Assyria from their gods. Likewise, the cities of Aram had not been able to resist takeover.
The response to the letter 37:14-35
37:14-15 When Hezekiah received Sennacherib's letter, he took it with him into the temple and laid all the enemy's words before the LORD in prayer.
"God 'knows our necessities before we ask Him,' but He delights in our unfolding them to Him with filial confidence (II Chron. 20:3, 11-13)."
37:16-20 Hezekiah began his prayer by acknowledging Yahweh's uniqueness. Yahweh was not like the gods of the nations but the only true God, who dwelt among His people—the Creator who rules and determines everything. Theologically this confession climaxes the whole first part of the Book of Isaiah. Hezekiah asked Yahweh of armies to pay attention to the reproachful blasphemies of the Assyrian king. He acknowledged the Assyrians' superiority over the nations that they had overrun, but he ascribed this to the fact that those nations had only gods of wood and stone to defend them. Finally, he asked the LORD to deliver Jerusalem so the nations would know that Yahweh alone was God. In short, he prayed for the glory of God.
"Like all true prayer, Hezekiah's is preoccupied with God: who he is (16); his honour (17); his uniqueness (18-19); and the revelation of his glory to the world (20). The heart of prayer is not its petitionary content but the acknowledgment of God."
"Hezekiah's prayer (Isa. 37:15-20) is saturated with biblical theology and is not unlike the prayer of the church in Acts 4:24-31."
God responded to Hezekiah's prayer by giving Isaiah a message for the king. The prophet first explained what God would do (vv. 21-29). Then he gave the king a sign that He would indeed do it (vv. 30-35).
37:21-22 The LORD explained that it was Hezekiah's trust in Him, expressed in his prayer, that led to his receiving information about what He would do. Hezekiah would see the LORD's hand at work more clearly because he had prayed.
Assyria had mocked the LORD's "virgin daughter," Jerusalem (cf. 1:8; 47:1), who was especially dear to Him. Jerusalem was like a virgin in that no foreign foe had penetrated Jerusalem—had broken through its walls and violated it. Assyria had incurred His anger by mocking Jerusalem.
37:23 Moreover, Assyria had spoken disparagingly of the Holy One of Israel. She had reproached, blasphemed, spoken out against, and lifted her eyes proudly against Him. As the person of God filled Hezekiah's prayer (vv. 16-20), so the person of God filled Isaiah's response.
37:24-25 Assyria's sin included her failure to recognize God's hand in her fortunes. She proudly thought that her own might was responsible for the victories that she had gained and that she controlled her own destiny. She considered herself omnipotent rather than acknowledging that Yahweh was omnipotent. These verses read much like the portions of the Assyrian annals in which the kings boasted of their conquests.
37:26-27 Assyria had not heard the truth. She lacked the divine revelation that helps people see the realities of life. It was the LORD, not the Assyrians, who was responsible for all of Assyria's conquests. He not only planned them long ago, but He also brought them to pass. That explains why Assyria was able to subdue her enemies and take over their territories. God is the real sovereign, not strong nations.
37:28-29 The LORD knew everything about the Assyrians, including their raging against Himself. Because they raged against Him and felt complacent about controlling their own destiny, He would teach them who was sovereign. He would lead them away as they had led prisoners that they had taken captive in war: by putting hooks in their noses. Assyrian monuments picture the Assyrians doing this. As they directed the horses that they took so much pride in, God would put a bit in their mouths and turn them back to their homeland.
Isaiah next offered a sign to Hezekiah in order to assure him that God would indeed do what he had said. Compare the sign that God gave believing Hezekiah's unbelieving father Ahaz (7:14; cf. 38:7; Exod. 3:12).
"Some signs are aids to faith, like that in 38:7. But others, like this one, aid later recognition that God was indeed at work."
37:30 The sign was that for two years normal agriculture would be impossible around Jerusalem, but God would cause the land to produce enough to sustain the inhabitants. Probably the two years of interruption resulted from Assyrian military activity in the region. Fruitfulness, in various forms, has always been God's blessing on those who trust Him. Then in the third year, planting and harvesting as usual would resume. It was particularly unusual that the Judahites would be able to plant vineyards and eat their fruit shortly after that because it often took several years for new grapevines to yield a crop.
37:31 Additionally, the surviving remnant of the Judahites would increase in numbers and become stronger, like the plants just mentioned. They would enjoy security and prosperity.
37:32 The LORD promised to preserve a people for Himself from among the Jerusalemites. This would include the Davidic line of kings, as He had promised earlier (2 Sam. 7:16; cf. Isa. 9:6). His own zeal to remain true to His Word and to bless His people would perform this (cf. 9:7; 59:17). It would not depend on the faithfulness of His people but on His faithfulness (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).
37:33-35 The LORD also promised Hezekiah, in closing, that Sennacherib would not even besiege Jerusalem, let alone attack it, either from close range or from farther away. He would, instead, return to his own land the same way that he had come. On a prism, discovered by archaeologists, Sennacherib claimed to have shut Hezekiah up like a bird in a cage, but it was really Yahweh who protected Hezekiah. Yahweh would defend Jerusalem and preserve it, not so much for the sake of Hezekiah and as a reward for his faith, but for the LORD's own reputation and for David's sake, to whom He had promised an everlasting dynasty, which culminated in Messiah.
The LORD's deliverance 37:36-38
Isaiah had predicted that God would break Assyria's power in the Promised Land (14:24-27). This short section records how He miraculously fulfilled that promise. This divine act of massive proportions settled the issue of Assyria's fate and provided the crowning demonstration that Yahweh controls world history. He will always fulfill His promises. The literal fulfillment of these near prophecies should encourage us to look for a literal fulfillment of Isaiah's far distant prophecies.
37:36 The LORD Himself slew "185,000" of the Assyrian soldiers in one night. Evidently this was an act of "the angel of the LORD" similar to the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn before the Exodus (Exod. 12:12-13, 23; cf. 2 Sam. 24:1, 15-16; Luke 12:20). "The angel of the LORD" may have been the pre-incarnate Christ, since He is identified as the LORD (Yahweh), and yet distinct from the LORD, in various Old Testament passages.
Some scholars believe that "the angel of the LORD" was an angel whom the LORD sent, who was intimately identified with the LORD in the Old Testament, because he represented the LORD and carried out His will precisely. Probably the phrase designates the pre-incarnate Christ in some places, and simply an angelic representative of Yahweh in others.
The verb "struck" implies striking with a disease. Sennacherib had sent a messenger to intimidate Hezekiah's people and, ironically, Yahweh responded by sending a messenger to destroy Sennacherib's army. George Robinson reproduced Lord Byron's famous poem "The Destruction of Sennacherib," which dramatically describes this event. Herodotus wrote that mice cause a disease that spread among the Assyrian army.
37:37 Sennacherib, the great "king of Assyria" (cf. 36:4, 13), then returned to Assyria, having lost a large part of his army, and having heard a rumor about the advancing Ethiopian ruler (vv. 7-9). He lived in Nineveh for 20 years before his death, and he conducted other military campaigns, but no more in Palestine.
37:38 Ironically, it was while worshipping in the temple of his idol in Nineveh that God affected Sennacherib's assassination, whereas it was while worshipping the true God in His temple in Jerusalem, that God moved to spare Hezekiah's life. Hezekiah went into the house of his God and got help, but Sennacherib went into the house of his god and got killed. The Babylonian royal chronicles recorded the assassination of Sennacherib and the accession of Esarhaddon in 681 B.C. It was not the Assyrian way to record their national disasters, so it is understandable that archaeologists have discovered no Assyrian accounts of Sennacherib's humiliations.
2. The Babylonian threat chs. 38—39
The events recorded in these chapters evidently predate those in chapters 36—37 by a few months (cf. 38:1, 6; 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chron. 32:24). Isaiah apparently placed them here, out of chronological order, to make them a historical prologue to chapters 40—66. Chapters 36—37 are a historical conclusion to chapters 1—35.
This section opens with Hezekiah contemplating death (38:1a) and ends with him contemplating life (39:8). In between, Isaiah delivered two messages to the king (38:1b-7; 39:3-7). Hezekiah's dedication (38:8-22) followed the prophet's first message, and his defection (39:1-2) precipitated the second message. Thus the structure of these two chapters is chiastic.
Hezekiah's illness 38:1-8
38:1 The phrase "In those days" evidently identifies the event in Hezekiah's reign just referred to in chapters 36 and 37, namely: the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (cf. 39:1). Verse 6 clarifies that Hezekiah became mortally ill before God delivered Jerusalem from Sennacherib. Consequently the events of chapters 38 and 39 must predate those of chapters 36 and 37. Since the LORD added 15 years to Hezekiah's life (v. 5), and since Hezekiah died about 686 B.C., the time when he became mortally ill was evidently early in 701 B.C., the year in which Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem.
The formal introduction of the prophet ("Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz") signals a new section of the book (cf. 1:1). Isaiah visited the king with a message from the LORD. Hezekiah was to set his domestic affairs in order, because he would not recover from his illness but die (cf. 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 2:1-9). Sometimes what God announced through His prophets seemed inevitable, but when His people prayed it became negotiable (cf. Gen. 32:26; Exod. 32:7-14; James 4:2).
38:2-3 Perhaps Hezekiah "turned his face to the wall" to concentrate, or to make his prayer private. Perhaps he felt completely devastated and withdrew into himself (cf. 1 Kings 21:4). His motivation remains a mystery. He requested God's mercy in the form of lengthened life, though he did not voice the request in so many words. He based his appeal on his godly walk before God and his wholehearted devotion to God.
Hezekiah was a good king who reformed his nation spiritually by leading the people to trust in Yahweh (cf. 2 Chron. 29—31). So he appealed for longer life on the basis of his godliness, because God had promised to bless the godly, who lived under the Old Covenant, with long life (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:33; 7:12-15; 30:16). His bitter tears showed the depth of his sorrow. He would apparently die without an heir to the throne, in the full strength of his manhood, and with his nation in an unsettled state.
38:4-5 God sent His answer to Hezekiah's prayer back to him through Isaiah (cf. 2 Kings 20:4). The LORD identified Himself as the God of David, his forefather. Perhaps the reference to David helped Hezekiah to remember God's promises to David about the perpetuity of his dynasty (2 Sam. 7). This reminded the king that God would remain faithful and care for His people.
God said that He had heard Hezekiah's prayer and seen his tears, and they had touched Him. The LORD graciously promised him 15 more years of life. Long life was a blessing that God had promised the godly under the Old Covenant, as noted above, so His grace was in harmony with His promises.
38:6 The LORD furthermore promised, unconditionally, to deliver Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. This deliverance happened later in the same year: 701 B.C. (chs. 36—37).
"The close association of Hezekiah's recovery with the city's deliverance suggests that the king epitomizes the city. Both Hezekiah and Jerusalem came to the threshold of death, but both were given a new lease on life because of the king's faithful deeds."
Verses 21 and 22, which describe Hezekiah's recovery, fit chronologically at this place in the narrative. These verses are probably out of chronological order to present Hezekiah's recovery as the climax of the chapter.
38:7-8 The LORD also graciously gave Hezekiah a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised, in response to Hezekiah's request for a sign (v. 22; 2 Kings 20:8).
The "stairway of Ahaz" was evidently an exterior stairway that led to his upper room on the roof of the palace, where, by the way, Hezekiah's father Ahaz had erected altars (2 Kings 23:12). This stairway was probably not built originally as a sundial, but it served that purpose, as the sun cast its "shadow" on more or fewer steps depending on the time of day. On the other hand, that stairway may have been constructed as a sundial, or a different stairway constructed for that purpose could be in view. One writer believed it was an obelisk that rested on a stepped base and served as a sundial. Another believed that it was some other type of sundial that King Ahaz had imported from Babylon, where, according to Herodotus, sundials were invented. Evidently, whatever it was, Hezekiah could see it from his sickbed. The passing away of daylight on the stairway suggested the passing away of Hezekiah's life, and the return of sunlight symbolized the restoration of life.
Was this a local miracle, or was it part of a global phenomenon? What the LORD promised was the movement of the shadow, not the sun that cast the shadow. This opens the possibility for a local miracle in which the shadow moved backward while the earth continued to rotate as usual (cf. 2 Chron. 32:31).
The reference to King Ahaz recalls the earlier incident involving the sign that God gave that king. God had told him to request a sign as high as heaven (7:11). Now God gave Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, a sign from heaven. Ahaz had refused to ask for a sign because he did not want assurance that God would destroy his allies. Hezekiah requested a sign because he wanted assurance that God would spare his life. Ahaz did not want to trust God, but Hezekiah did.
Hezekiah's record of his crisis 38:9-22
The bulk of this section of text is a psalm of lamentation and thanksgiving that Hezekiah composed after his recovery (vv. 10-20). It is the only extant narrative in the Old Testament written by a king of Judah after the time of Solomon. Compare King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon's similar testimony of praise, after God delivered him from insanity (Dan. 4:34-35).
This psalm is also chiastic in structure. It begins with reference to the gates of Sheol and sorrow at the prospect of shortened days (v. 10), and it ends with reference to the house of the LORD and joy at the prospect of lengthened days (v. 20). The king began by referring to the land of the living being exchanged for the departed (v. 11), and he ended with reference to the land of the departed exchanged for the land of the living (vv. 18-19). In the middle, he contrasted God's hostility (vv. 12-14) with His restoration (vv. 15-17). Hezekiah described his condition first (vv. 9-14), and then he praised God for His mercy (vv. 15-20).
38:9 King Hezekiah wrote the following song after his illness and recovery. This verse is quite similar to the titles of many of the psalms in the Book of Psalms.
38:10 When the king had heard Isaiah's prophecy of his impending death (v. 1), he bemoaned the fact that he would enter Sheol, the place of departed spirits, in the prime of his life. Evidently the king felt that God was depriving him of years that He owed him, possibly because he was a righteous man or perhaps just because most people think they will live a normal lifespan.
"God [sometimes] sends sickness to teach man not to calculate on the morrow, but to live more wholly to God, as if each day were the last."
38:11 Hezekiah sorrowed because his contact with God and with people as a living human being would end. He was not saying anything about his relationship with God after death. He only meant that his present relationship with God and people would end when he died.
38:12 Hezekiah viewed his life as fragile as a shepherd's temporary tent, which shepherds frequently moved from place to place. His life was like a weaver's finished piece of cloth that the weaver cuts off decisively and rolls up to take away. Both images are of objects that suddenly disappear from their expected places. Before the day of his life had run its expected length, the LORD would end it prematurely.
"The thought is that in the morning one did not expect anything untoward to occur, and by evening, when darkness had come, the event had already taken place (cf. Job 4:20)."
38:13 The king had composed himself; he had prepared for a normal future. But the LORD had interrupted his plans like an attacking lion surprises its prey and springs on it, breaking its bones.
38:14 His incessant prayers to the LORD reminded Hezekiah of the twittering of birds. He looked to the LORD for help in the oppression of his illness and for security.
38:15 The king was amazed at the change of events (cf. v. 5). Nevertheless the bitter disappointment that had come into his heart, because of the prophet's announcement of impending death (v. 1), was something he would never forget.
38:16 He prayed that others would learn from his experiences, as he himself would, and that the LORD would indeed restore his health and his life. Another interpretation of the last line of this verse sees the king rejoicing that the LORD would restore him.
38:17 The LORD's announcement of his impending death, at first bitter to Hezekiah, had turned into a learning experience for him (cf. Rom. 8:28). He had learned that God loved him, and he rejoiced in that. God had forgiven his sins, and he would not descend into the grave—having received God's assurance that he would live 15 more years. The figure of God casting sin behind His back pictures Him throwing it away, out of His sight, because it is of no further interest to Him. Evidently Hezekiah believed that his premature death would have been a punishment for sin.
38:18 Those who die cannot thank and praise God for delivering them from death, but Hezekiah could because God had promised him mercy.
38:19 Rather it is the living who can praise the LORD and tell their children about His faithfulness to His promises to them.
38:20 Hezekiah concluded his poem of praise by affirming his belief that God would be faithful to him and would keep him alive for as long as He had promised (v. 5). This would be the basis for his continuing public praise of God in His presence for the rest of his life.
38:21 The poem having ended, Isaiah now added a postscript giving more detail about Hezekiah's recovery. Verses 21 and 22 are more smoothly integrated into the story of Hezekiah's recovery in 2 Kings 20 than they are here. This fact has led scholars to speculate about which account was first, which was second, or did both draw from a common source? There is no way to answer this question for sure.
Hezekiah had evidently suffered from a boil, but the boil was probably only a symptom of a more serious disease (cf. v. 1). When Isaiah, acting as a physician, applied a fig poultice to the boil, the king recovered (cf. James 5:14).
"This is an example of healing occurring because of a combination of prayer, medicine, and God's work."
38:22 Hezekiah had requested the sign that God had sent (vv. 7-8). He wanted assurance that he would recover so he could worship the LORD again in public. He did not just anticipate recovering, but he looked forward to worshipping Yahweh after he recovered.
Should Hezekiah have asked to God extend his life? Some students of this passage have concluded that he should not have, because, during the additional 15 years that God gave him, Hezekiah became proud, and Manasseh was born, who turned out to be the worst king of Judah. Others believe that asking was not wrong. I tend to think it was not wrong, because many good things undoubtedly happened to Hezekiah during those 15 years. The king made some bad choices during those extra years, but long life was a blessing from God under the old covenant. Furthermore, godly parents—and Hezekiah was one—are not necessarily responsible if their children choose not to follow the LORD.
This chapter can stand alone in the text as a positive lesson on prayer, faith, and worship. But, as the next chapter reveals, chapter 38 also records the LORD's preparation of Hezekiah for another very significant incident in his life. Ahaz had refused to trust God and had refused to ask for a sign. Hezekiah trusted God but then failed to continue to trust Him in spite of a sign. Jerusalem, like Hezekiah, had received a reprieve from God, but it would only be a temporary one, for the same reason: failure to trust Yahweh.
The Babylonian envoys ch. 39
39:1 The phrase "At that time" (cf. 38:1) anticipates a specially significant event and ties it to what preceded in chapter 38. As this verse explains, the events that follow happened after Hezekiah had recovered from his illness (38:5). This was most likely during the year 701 B.C. but before Sennacherib's attack on Jerusalem (chs. 36—37; cf. 38:6; 2 Kings 18:16; 20:12-19; 2 Chron. 32:24-31).
"Merodach-baladan" (Cuneiform "Marduk-apal-iddina," lit. "the god Marduk has given a son") raised Babylon to a position from which it threatened and eventually overthrew Assyrian dominance in the ancient Near East (cf. 21:1-10). He was the first king of Babylon, and he led that nation during two separate periods: 721-710 B.C. and 703-702 B.C.
The historians vary in their dating of the ancient Near Eastern kings' reigns by a few years, but I believe the dates above are fairly accurate. In 710 B.C. Sargon, another Babylonian leader, ousted Merodach-baladan, and in 702 B.C. the Assyrians defeated Merodach-baladan. After this second defeat, Merodach-baladan continued to foment revolt against Assyria in the Fertile Crescent. This seems to have been his motivation for cultivating Hezekiah's friendship by sending letters and a present when he heard of Hezekiah's recovery.
"The miracle of the sundial (38:8) would have held special interest for the astronomy-minded Babylonians (2 Chr. 32:31)."
39:2 Hezekiah received Merodach-baladan warmly, since he had expressed sympathy toward him ,and because the Babylonians shared Judah's antagonism toward Assyria. But showing the Babylonians all of his wealth and military resources went beyond what Hezekiah needed to do for such a friendly visitor. The Lord Jesus' responses to the flattery of Nicodemus (John 3) and the rich young ruler (Mark 10) provide examples of how Hezekiah should have responded: He should have not allowed flattery to influence him. Hezekiah's response expressed a desire to share Judah's resources with an ally who might help Judah oppose Assyria. Thus Hezekiah's act demonstrated trust in Babylon and reliance on her for safety rather than on God.
"Here was a ready-made opportunity for Hezekiah to glorify God before the pagan Babylonians, to tell of his greatness and of his grace. Instead, he succumbed to the temptation to glorify himself and to prove to the Chaldeans that he was a worthy partner for any sort of coalition they might have in mind. There is no indication that they were interested in such an alliance, however. Much more likely they simply wished to encourage someone whom they viewed as a petty kinglet without making any commitment on their part."
This visit constituted a divine test of Hezekiah's heart. Second Chronicles 32:31 reads, "Even in the matter of the messengers of the rulers of Babylon, who were sent to him to inquire about the wonder that had happened in the land [Hezekiah's recovery or possibly the sunlight's retrogression]; God left him alone only to test him, so that He might know everything that was in his heart."
39:3-4 God's Spirit and Hezekiah's failure to trust the LORD undoubtedly moved Isaiah to confront Hezekiah. First, the prophet asked about the visit of the Babylonian ambassadors and what Hezekiah had done with them. Hezekiah told the truth and put his actions in the best light, but he did not relate what the envoys had said or explain his motives. He put the best possible light on his actions. Nevertheless he put his own neck in the noose by answering Isaiah's simple questions as he did (cf. Gal. 6:7).
"It is after the hour of great spiritual triumph [ch. 38] that our worst defeats come."
39:5-6 Isaiah informed the king that the Babylonians would end up taking everything that Hezekiah had shown the ambassadors back to Babylon—not as resources for opposition to Assyria, but as the spoils of war. This is the first explicit reference to the Babylonian captivity in Isaiah.
Many critics of the Bible who do not believe in predictive prophecy have used this reference as evidence of a much later date of writing than Isaiah's day. The ambassadors had come "from Babylon" (v. 3), and they would carry everything off "to Babylon" (v. 6). Hezekiah had shown them "everything" (v. 4), and they would take "everything" (v. 6) to Babylon. This happened finally in 586 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kings 24:13; 25:13-15; 2 Chron. 36:18; Jer. 20:5). Isaiah's mention of Babylon as the enemy undoubtedly shocked Hezekiah, because at this time Assyria was the great threat to Judah. Furthermore, Isaiah had previously predicted the demise of Babylon (ch. 14).
"… Isaiah's message to Hezekiah is the same as it was to Ahaz, whose trust was in Assyria. 'That which we trust in place of God will one day turn and destroy us.'"
This one sin of Hezekiah's did not doom Judah to Babylonian captivity. However, it illustrates the pride that the whole nation and its leaders manifested that ultimately resulted in the Babylonian Captivity.
39:7 Some of Hezekiah's descendants would also be taken (captive) to Babylon. It is very probable that at the time of the events in chapters 36—39, about 701 B.C., Hezekiah had no children. His son, Manasseh, began reigning when he was 12 years old, and Hezekiah died a year later, in 686 B.C. Thus, Isaiah's announcement here may have sparked a hope—in Hezekiah's mind—for some descendants. As usual, God's promise of judgment contained some hope. This prediction of Hezekiah's descendants became true of the king's physical seed: his son Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:11), King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12), and King Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:7). It also became true of many of Hezekiah's people, his children in that sense, when Nebuchadnezzar carried three groups of Judahites off to Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 24:12-16; 2 Chron. 33:11; Dan. 1:3-4, 6).
39:8 Hezekiah's response to Isaiah's announcement of God's punishment for his lack of faith seems disappointing. Formerly, when Isaiah had announced coming divine judgment, Hezekiah had mourned and fasted (38:1-2), and God had relented (38:5-6). This time, Hezekiah simply rejoiced that it would not come in his lifetime. Perhaps Hezekiah was simply thankful that God was being merciful to him personally. The king acknowledged that Judah deserved divine judgment, but his lack of concern for his people's welfare shows that he did not really have the heart for them that the predicted Davidic ruler would need in order to rule in righteousness. Hezekiah could not be the promised child of 7:14.
"Hillel [the famous Jewish rabbi who lived before Christ] maintained that Messiah has already come in the person of Hezekiah."
The chronological relationship of the events in chapters 36—39 is difficult to understand, but clearly all these events happened at about the same time, probably within a year or two. During this period Hezekiah trusted God twice and failed to trust God once. This should teach us that it is possible for a person to trust God in very difficult circumstances and turn right around and trust in people and things with the next temptation. We need to demonstrate consistent trust in the LORD, by His grace. We can do this by maintaining a daily intimate relationship with Him, marked by humility (acknowledged dependence on God) and prayer. We also need to learn not to trust in human leaders, because their faith, like ours, wavers, but in the LORD Himself, whose faithfulness never varies.
"… chs. 36—39 make chs. 40—66 a necessity. Given that God may be trusted, what then? Given that salvation is not in Hezekiah, where is it? Given that one-time trust is not enough, how is a life of continuous trust possible? Given that the best of God's people fail, where is our hope?"
IV. Israel's calling in the world chs. 40—55
This part of Isaiah picks up a theme from chapters 1—39 and develops it further. That theme is God's faithfulness to His promises to give His people a glorious future after He disciplined them for their unfaithfulness. Yahweh did not have to make these promises, but He did so in grace. Israel would have a glorious future, not because of, but in spite of, herself.
"The second half of the Book of Isaiah, consisting of the last twenty-seven chapters, is the sublimest and richest portion of Old Testament revelation. It forms a single continuous prophecy which occupies the same position in the prophetic Scriptures as the Book of Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch, and the Gospel of John in relation to the Synoptic Gospels."
"Isaiah's rhetorical approach in chapters 40—66 may be compared to an aging grandfather who writes a letter to his baby granddaughter and seals it with the words, 'To be opened on your wedding day.' The grandfather knows he may not live to see his granddaughter's wedding, but he understands the challenges she will face as a wife and mother. He projects himself into the future and speaks to his granddaughter as if he were actually present on her wedding day. One can imagine the profound rhetorical impact such a letter would have on the granddaughter as she recognizes the foresight and wisdom contained within it and realizes just how much her grandfather cared for her. When God's exiled people, living more than 150 years after Isaiah's time, heard his message to them, they should have realized that God had foreseen their circumstances and that he cared enough about them to encourage them with a message of renewed hope."
"When one turns from the thirty-ninth to the fortieth chapter it is as though he steps out of the darkness of judgment into the light of salvation."
"Whereas the first portion of the book (chaps. 1—39) is filled with messages of judgment, this portion emphasizes restoration and deliverance."
"It is striking to discover how far the Exodus theme dominates the thought of Second Isaiah [i.e., chs. 40—55]; it is so central that it forms the introduction and the conclusion to his work (40.3ff. and 55.12-13)."
The focus is on Assyria.
The focus is on Babylon.
The primary theme is judgment.
The primary theme is deliverance.
Historical details are present.
Historical details are absent.
Messiah is the "shoot from Jesse."
Messiah is the "Servant of the LORD."
The life of Isaiah is prominent.
The life of Isaiah is absent.
Some students of Isaiah have seen an emphasis on each of the members of the Trinity in the three sections of this part of the book: the Father in chapters 40—48, the Son in 49—57, and the Spirit in 58—66. G. Campbell Morgan titled these three sections: the purpose of peace, the Prince of Peace, and the program of peace. Walter Kaiser Jr. pointed out that each of the three sections focuses on a central figure: Cyrus, in 40—48, the Servant of the LORD, in 49—57, and the Spirit-filled Messiah, in 58—66.
Isaiah's audience was not in Babylonian captivity when he wrote these chapters; they were the same people that he addressed in chapters 1—39. He was prophesying about the people of God that would be in that captivity. Chapters 40—66 presuppose the Babylonian Exile, which Isaiah has previously prophesied.
A. God's grace to Israel chs. 40—48
These chapters particularly address the questions, raised in the minds of Isaiah's contemporaries, about the coming exile: Could God deliver—and would God deliver the Israelites?
"We emerge in 40:1 in a different world from Hezekiah's, immersed in the situation foretold in 39:5-8, which he was so thankful to escape. Nothing is said of the intervening century and a half; we wake, so to speak, on the far side of the disaster, impatient for the end of captivity. In chs. 40—48 liberation is in the air; there is the persistent promise of a new exodus, with God at its head; there is the approach of a conqueror, eventually disclosed as Cyrus, to break Babylon open; there is also a new theme unfolding, to reveal the glory of the call to be a servant and a light to the nations."
"In these chapters the prophet reminded the people of their coming deliverance because of the Lord's greatness and their unique relationship with Him. He is majestic (chap. 40), and He protects Israel and not the world's pagan nations (chap. 41). Though Israel had been unworthy (chap. 42) the Lord had promised to regather her (43:1—44:5). Because He, the only God (44:6—45:25), was superior to Babylon He would make Babylon fall (chaps. 46—47). Therefore Isaiah exhorted the Israelites to live righteously and to flee away from Babylon (chap. 48)."
1. The LORD of the servant ch. 40
Would the coming Babylonian exile prove that God could not deliver His people or that He would not because they had been so sinful? Isaiah's answer was a resounding no! The new historical situation did not signal a change in God or His plans. Rather it would show even more clearly than ever that God is sovereign and that people can trust in Him to deliver.
Alexander believed that this chapter does not apply to the Babylonian Captivity but is a general promise of consolation, protection, and change for the better—for the church. This reflects his amillennial interpretation. Premillennialists believe that Israel means Israel, not the church. Amillennialists use the term "the church" to describe all believers throughout history.
This chapter is an introduction to the remainder of the book in that it deals with the basic issues and sets the stage for what follows. It also serves as a bridge carrying over such themes as comfort (ch. 12), the highway (chs. 11; 19; 33; 35), and hope (ch. 6). Also, the revealed Word of God is prominent again as the source of hope for God's people. Chapter 40 also contains an expansion of Isaiah's call (ch. 6; cf. 40:1-11 and 6:1-13; 40:3 and 6:3; 40:5 and 6:3; 40:6 and 6:4; 40:9 and 6:11).
"The occasion of God's renewing comfort is our failure. It's as if Isaiah had fallen asleep at the end of chapter 39. While he slept, Judah was taken into exile. And it's as if, in a prophetic dream, Isaiah was lifted into God's heavenly court to hear Judah's predicament being discussed (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23). But now in chapter 40, Rip Van Winkle-like, Isaiah wakes up in (to him) a new historical situation. He reveals to the Jews what he heard in the heavenly throne room. God has summoned his prophets to take a message of hope to his demoralized people."
The comforting LORD 40:1-11
This first section of encouraging revelation stresses the comfort that God has planned for His people Israel. We can break it down into three strophes (sections).
God's intention for Israel 40:1-2
The first strophe of this poem (vv. 1-2) sets the tone for the rest of the chapter and for the rest of the book. It is an introduction to an introduction (cf. ch. 1). In spite of affliction that lay ahead for the Judahites, God's ultimate purpose for them was life, not death—and salvation, not enslavement.
40:1 As chapter 1 began with a command (1:2), so does this second major part of Isaiah's prophecy. In both places the Word of God is prominent, and in both places Israel is God's people (1:3).
The God of Israel commanded His mouthpieces, especially Isaiah, to comfort His covenant people. Forms of the Hebrew word translated "comfort" appear 13 times in chapters 40—66. One writer believed the comforters were the Jewish exiles in Mesopotamia who called out to the city of Jerusalem (v. 2), announcing its revival, rebuilding, and rehabilitation, following the exile. He saw chapters 40—55 predicting the Jews' return to Judah from Babylon following the exile, not an eschatological return from all over the earth. Another view is that all of the faithful Old Testament prophets from Isaiah onward are the subjects of this command.
This is the language of covenant (37:35; cf. Exod. 6:7; 2 Sam. 10:2; Jer. 16:7). We may imagine a heavenly court scene in which God issued this command (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). The double imperative "Comfort" suggests emotional intensity. "Keeps saying" is a better translation than "says" and stresses the importance of this message.
40:2 Jerusalem, the personification of God's people, the Israelites, needed persuading to respond to the LORD's love for her. Her lover had not cast her off. Judah's period of educational discipline, involving duress (the Babylonian Captivity), was over. Punishment for her iniquity (by the sacrifice of the LORD's servant) had been accepted as satisfactory.
"Here is the first intimation of the truth to be more fully revealed in the fifty-third chapter of the book."
Indeed, Israel had received a double pardon, by God's grace (cf. 61:7). She had also suffered a double penalty for her sins (cf. 51:19), possibly referring to her two captors: Assyria and Babylonia. As Yahweh's firstborn son (Exod. 4:22), Israel received twice as much blessing and well as twice as much punishment from the LORD. Or paying back double may be an expression indicating proportionate payment, making the punishment equivalent to the crime. I tend to believe that the meaning is that Israel will receive twice as much blessing as she had received judgment (cf. Jer. 16:18; Zech. 9:12; Rev. 18:6).
"Jerusalem had not suffered more than its sins had deserved; but the compassion of God regarded what His justice had been obliged to inflict upon Jerusalem as superabundant."
This verse is programmatic (summarizes what follows) for chapters 40—66 of Isaiah. Chapters 40—48 assure that Judah's captivity in Babylon will end, that "her warfare has ended."
"This can only, in a very restricted sense, hold good of Judah's restoration after the first captivity [i.e., in Babylon]. For how can it be said her 'warfare was accomplished,' when as yet the galling yoke of Antiochus and also of Rome was before them?"
Chapters 49—57 promise that God will provide a sacrifice for sin, that "her guilt has been removed." And chapters 58—66 guarantee that Israel will receive her promised kingdom blessings, that "she has received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins." Throughout, deliverance is in view.
"… no one will ever reverence God but him who trusts that God is propitious [i.e., favorably disposed] to him."
Divine intervention 40:3-5
Here begins explanation of how God could offer sinful people comfort: He would break into history (cf. 52:7-10).
40:3-4 Isaiah announced that someone was calling out to prepare a highway in the desert, because the LORD was coming to His people's aid (cf. Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23; 3:30). It was customary to construct processional avenues for approaching dignitaries and for idols carried in parade. The wilderness and desert represent the barren waste of Babylon where God's people lived, complete with obstacles and impediments to overcome, and through which He would come to them with refreshment, as He did formerly at Mount Sinai. The idea is that He was certainly coming, and His people should prepare for His appearing.
40:5 God would appear, acting for His people, and by that acting, manifest His glory to the whole world (cf. Matt. 24:29-30). All flesh would marvel at His liberating the Israelites and bringing them back into their land. Even more, everyone would stand amazed at His saving humankind through the coming of Messiah. Still more impressive would be the eschatological demonstration of His glory that would accompany Messiah's return to the earth to rule. All these occasions of salvation are probably in view in this verse. This revelation was certain because it was an announcement from the mouth of Yahweh.
"Isaiah's tendency to add some emphatic statement like 'for the mouth of the LORD has spoken' (v. 6; cf. 9:7; 37:32) anticipates Christ's 'truly I say to you.'"
Human inability 40:6-8
The third stanza of this poem stresses the opposite of the second one, namely, the inability of humans to deliver themselves.
40:6 The same divine voice continued to call out (cf. v. 3). This time a messenger (Isaiah) asked what to call (cf. ch. 6), and the voice instructed him. He was to announce the brevity of human life, comparing it to the grass that quickly turns brown in Canaan and to the wildflowers that only last a few weeks (cf. 1 Peter 1:24). Israel's oppressors were no stronger or more reliable than grass. Their loveliness (Heb. hesed, constancy) was ephemeral.
40:7 The breath (Heb. ruah, sometimes translated "Spirit") of the LORD not only brings life (cf. Gen. 1:2), but it also brings death to people, even His people, as well as to their enemies and to the grass and flowers. The Apostle James combined these figures into one: "flowering grass" (James 1:10). The hot winds that blew into Israel from the east quickly withered the grass, and the prophet likened this wind to God's wilting judgments on humankind.
40:8 In contrast to this withering and wilting, the Word of Yahweh remains forever alive and fresh (cf. 55:10-11). That is, what God says will stand regardless of time or tragedy (cf. Mark 13:31; 1 Pet. 1:25; 2 Pet. 3:8-10). God's promise of hope could overcome the devastation of His judgment.
Worldwide blessing 40:9-11
God's deliverance of His people was not just for their own blessing, however. It was to be for the blessing of the whole world.
40:9 The voice now summoned the people of Israel, collectively identified with Zion and Jerusalem, to announce the coming of their God. They were to go up on a high mountain and speak loudly without fear, so that everyone else would hear their message of good news (cf. Acts 1:8; Rev. 11:3-13).
"The essence of the message is: 'Look, it's God.'"
40:10 The sovereign Yahweh was coming to exercise His strong rule (cf. 53:1; Deut. 4:34). He was bringing His "compensation" and "reward" (synonyms) with Him for His people (cf. Rev. 22:12). These are the fruits of His victory, which He will share with His people (cf. 61:6; 66:12).
40:11 However, He would rule like David, the shepherd-king. He will be very sensitive to the needs of His people as He rules over them. Intimate and loving care will mark His reign. The two different uses of God's arm in this verse and the preceding one illustrate the two complementary sides of God's activity. Chapters 1—39 feature His arm of judgment, and chapters 40—66 emphasize His arm of compassion and deliverance.
The incomparable LORD 40:12-26
The preceding section answered the question that the people of Isaiah's day had about God's desire to deliver them. Yes, He wanted to deliver them. This section answered their question about whether He could save them. Yes, He could save them. Isaiah used the doctrine of God to assure the Judahites of their security and of God's faithfulness. He is the sole Creator, and He is infinitely greater than the created world. The passage has two parts (vv. 12-20 and 21-26), each introduced by several questions.
The incomparable Creator 40:12-20
40:12 The opposites of "waters" and "heavens," and "dust" and "mountains," express the totality of God's careful and effortless workmanship in creation. The question "Who has …" is rhetorical (cf. Job 38:41). No one but the LORD is the Creator. His omnipotence and immensity are in view in this verse.
40:13-14 The questions in these verses call for the same response as the question in verse 12. God was not only alone in the work of creation, but He is alone in the wisdom needed to execute it (cf. Job 38:2—39:30).
"He who has measured the creation cannot be measured by the creation."
"In Babylonian mythology, the creator god Marduk could not proceed with creation without consulting 'Ea, the all-wise', but the Lord works with unaided wisdom. In both Babylonian and Canaanite creation stories the creator must overcome opposing forces before the way opens for the work of creation."
The Spirit of the LORD was the executive of the Godhead in creation (cf. Gen. 1:2). It is very difficult to tell how much of the triune nature of the Godhead the ancient Israelites understood. In Jesus' day (and in ours) Jews resisted the idea that God exists in three persons, as do Moslems today. It is the New Testament that clarifies the relationships of the persons within the Trinity.
In Old Testament times, monotheism, as opposed to polytheism, was the distinctive belief of the Jews and the emphasis of the prophets. The issue for them was not how many persons compose the Godhead. So when they read "the spirit of the LORD," they did not think of a Person in the Godhead who was distinct from the Father and the Son, but of an aspect of God in a more general sense.
We could interpret "Spirit" as the mind of the LORD (cf. Rom. 11:34; 1 Cor. 2:16). This is how the Septuagint translators rendered the Hebrew word ruah here and in 1 Chronicles 28:12 and Ezekiel 20:32. It may refer to the volitional, effective, and cognitive aspects of God's intelligence, in other words: His inner workings. God alone saw to the heart of things in creation and made the correct decisions at the proper time. No one advised Him in His creation or in His administration of the world. His omniscience is in view in these verses.
"To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. But it is more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn."
"Someone has asked the rather facetious question, 'What is it that you have seen that God has never seen?' The answer is very simple. God has never seen His equal. I see mine every day."
40:15-17 The product as well as the process of creation reflect on God's immensity. He is larger than human collective strength, than the inanimate creation, than human worship—larger even than the totality of humankind. The creation is no challenge to the Creator. God's sovereignty is in view in this verse.
40:18 The transcendent God (Heb. 'el) is incomparable; no one and nothing approaches Him in His greatness and glory.
40:19-20 How ridiculous, then, it is to practice idolatry (cf. 41:6-7; 44:9-20; 46:5-7). Idols were likenesses of gods, but Yahweh is beyond compare. Ironically, the value of an idol depended on the financial condition of the devotee.
"See how these idolaters shame us, who worship the only living and true God. They spared no cost upon their idols; we grudge that as waste which is spent in the service of our God."
Idols are less impressive than the metals that people use to make them and less strong than the trees from which they fashion them. The best idols are immobile; they will not topple over (cf. 1 Sam. 5:2-5). But the living God is active in life, not just a product of the earth. Isaiah poured on the irony in these verses.
"Egyptian relics show that idols were suspended in houses by chains. [v. 19]."
"Right now two idols dominate our world. One idol is enormous. The other is smaller but influential. The big idol is secularism. I mean not only naturalism as a technical philosophy but also a general outlook that makes man the measure of all things. … The other rival to God, the smaller idol, is alternative spiritualities. … Secularism and superstition—despite their obvious differences, they're both allied against the God who loves rationalists and pagans and is inviting them into his glorious kingdom with open arms. The door stands open to both atheists and witches and everyone in between."
The incomparable Sovereign 40:21-26
The prophet's emphasis shifted from God as Creator to God as Ruler, but still the point is His incomparability.
40:21 There are lessons that people should draw from the uniqueness of God as Creator that He has revealed. God has given both the objective revelation of Himself and the ability to understand its implications to human beings. The Israelites possessed this knowledge of God because He revealed it to them. Special revelation is probably in view here rather than natural revelation.
"According to this verse there are two reasons why men who practice idolatry are without excuse. On the one hand, the very foundation of the earth is a testimony that God is the Creator. On the other, from the beginning the truth has been taught by word of mouth, so that those who have not been willing to hear it are without excuse [cf. Rom. 1—2]."
40:22 The same God who created the world presides over its affairs. He creates history as well as the material universe. The vault or "circle" of the earth probably refers to the heavens above as people perceive them (cf. Job 22:14) or, perhaps, to the horizon (cf. Job 26:10; Prov. 8:27). Isaiah was not revealing that the earth is round. God sits above both the heavens above and the horizon. He is so great that people are as small as grasshoppers in comparison. The whole of the universe, the heavens and the earth, are like a tent to Him because He is so immense. This verse emphasizes the transcendence of God.
40:23-24 People of position and office, as well as the decision-makers of the world, may appear to wield power, but they are really under the enthroned God's authority. He can dispose of any human leader because He is over all of them. He can dispense with them just as easily as He can make flowers wither and as He can blow chaff away (cf. vv. 6-8). He can reduce them to a state of comparative nothingness (Heb. tohu; cf. Gen. 1:2). Thus He is not only superior but sovereign. Furthermore, He is immanent as well as transcendent: God did not just create the world and then abandon it, as deism teaches, but He is actively involved in its affairs.
40:25 This verse restates the question in verse 18, but puts it in the mouth of God this time. Not only is God infinitely superior to anyone else—in power, wisdom, dignity, sovereignty, and authority—but, even more significantly, He is superior in His holiness. He is unattainable and unassailable in His moral perfections; He is wholly "other."
40:26 The stars were objects of worship and were signs of divine activity in Babylonian and Canaanite worship (cf. 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3). But they were only creations. The pagan cults assigned them names, but the LORD summons and directs them using their real names, the names that He as their sovereign assigns them. In the ancient world, to know the name of something was to know its essence and so to have power over it. This verse highlights the great power of God. Innumerable as they may be to humans, the LORD knows and controls each one of the heavenly bodies.
"Isaiah has insisted on the absolute transcendence of God: he is not part of the cosmos in any way, and the cosmos is not part of him [in contrast to pantheism, which equates the universe with God, and panentheism, which views the universe as within God]. But to carry that line to its logical conclusion as Aristotle did is to end with a passionless, colorless force as the source of everything. It is to say that personality is an accident in time. Isaiah will not go that way. He insists on transcendence, but leaves no doubt that the Transcendent is a person with all that that means. When all is said and done, the combination of these two may be Israel's greatest contribution to human thought."
"Why does the glory of God sit lightly on believers today? It may be the fault of those of us who are preachers. Is our constant message to the people, 'Behold your God'? Or have we changed the subject? We seem to have sunk to the level of quick-stop churches where God is expected to lubricate the vehicle of American selfishness."
God's Superiority to All Possible Opposition
His superiority to the nations is shown by His creation of the earth.
His superiority to idols is seen in the fact that they are created by craftsmen.
His superiority to the rulers of the earth is seen in the fact that He is transcendent while they are temporary.
His superiority over other "deities" is shown by His creation of the heavenly bodies.
The dependable LORD 40:27-31
Isaiah now applied this knowledge of God to the discouraging prospect that the Judahites faced, namely, Babylonian captivity (cf. 39:6). Even though Isaiah spoke to the nation from the perspective of the captivity being past in this chapter, he still addressed his pre-exilic contemporaries. He encouraged them by pointing to the sufficiency of their God. Since the Creator knows the name of everything in His complex creation, how could He, the God of Israel, possibly forget His covenant people? Since He is as powerful as He is, how could He be incapable of helping them?
40:27 The Judahites kept saying: How can God do this to us? He has forgotten us and no longer cares about us. They questioned God's nature (He could not see them) and His dealings with them (He would not defend them). They did this in the Babylonian Captivity, and they will do it again in the Tribulation.
Perhaps the double names "Jacob" and "Israel" are more than poetic synonyms as used here. Isaiah may have been implying that the Judahites, God's covenant people, were in a position as desperate in their own eyes as was Jacob, when he came to the end of himself, and God changed his name (Gen. 32:22-32). This happened, they would remember, after his exile in Mesopotamia.
God is not too great to care. He is too great not to care (cf. Gen. 18:25).
40:28 The people needed to open their eyes and ears to what they already knew about their God (cf. v. 21). He is eternal, not bound to the present, as human beings are. He is Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God. He is the Creator of all the earth, not restricted to only one locale at a time. He does not grow tired, because He is omnipotent. He is inscrutable (impossible to understand completely), because He is omniscient. This is why we cannot always understand why He allows things to happen as they do. He is unlimited by time, space, power, and understanding.
"Their God is such (eternal, Creator, untiring) that they need never doubt his capacity; he is also such (possessing unfathomable wisdom) that they must never expect to understand all his ways."
"Everything that matters in life hangs on who God is."
40:29 God does not just possess all these qualities, but He shares His strength with those who need it. He has all energy, and He has energy to spare and to share. Whether we buckle under life's pressures or lack innate strength, He provides durable, stable power (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).
40:30-31 Circumstances may overcome even the strongest young people in their prime, either through lack of inner resources or because of the hardness of life. Yet those who continually rest on, trust in, and wait for Yahweh will receive renewed and different—divine—strength. The Hebrew verb translated "gain" (v. 31) suggests an exchange of strength: our inadequate strength for His abundant strength.
"This expression ["those who wait for the LORD"] implies two things: complete dependence on God and a willingness to allow him to decide the terms."
"… the Old Testament applies to faith a number of synonyms denoting trust, hope, and longing, and thus describes it according to its inmost nature, as fiducia [confidence] and as hope, directed to the manifestation and completion of that which is hoped for."
They who wait on the LORD will be able to overcome natural drawbacks, endure with energy to spare, and keep on living without becoming excessively tired.
"The threefold description [mounting up, running, and walking] forms a climax, not its opposite; for the exceptional flying and the occasional running do not require, as does the constant walking, an ever-flowing stream of grace."
The intent of this great chapter was to encourage the Israelites, as they looked forward to captivity, to continue to depend on, and submit to, the LORD. He could and would deliver them eventually. The Christian can also find encouragement here, too, in view of the greatness of our God and His promises to deliver us.
2. The servants of the LORD 41:1—44:22
There is an emphasis on the uniqueness of the LORD compared to other gods in this section of Isaiah, a theme that the prophet introduced earlier (in ch. 40 especially). Isaiah particularly stressed Yahweh's ability to control history in this connection. He did this to assure Israel that God loved her and had a future for her beyond the Exile, specifically, to serve Him by demonstrating to the world that He is sovereign over history. These emphases become increasingly apparent as this section unfolds. Calls to praise form bridges from one pericope to the next (42:10-13; cf. 44:23; 45:8).
God's promises to His servants 41:1—42:9
The intent of this unit of material was to assure Israel that God had both the power and the desire to deliver her and to bring salvation to the whole world. It contains three basic themes: the pagans' inability to refute Yahweh's sovereignty, the promise to deliver fearful Israel, and the divine plan to use an ideal servant as redeemer.
Fear of the future 41:1-20
The LORD, through His prophet, assured fearful Israel in this segment of text. Israel need not fear the nations (vv. 1-7) because Yahweh remained committed to His people and would use them to accomplish His purposes in the world (vv. 8-20). This expression of God's grace would have encouraged and motivated the Israelites to serve their LORD.
The courtroom setting pictured in verses 1-4 enabled Isaiah to make God's transcendent monotheism clear and compelling (cf. 1:18; 43:26; 50:8). Verse 1 is a call to judgment, verses 2-4 set forth God's case, namely, His acts in history.
41:1 The "coastlands" were the farthest reaches of the Gentile world: nations that bordered the seas, the ends of the earth then known, not just islands as such (cf. Jer. 25:22). By summoning them to be silent, the LORD was appealing to all the Gentiles to listen to Him (cf. 1:2). In chapter 40 Isaiah spoke of God in the third person, but in this chapter God Himself speaks. Note this oscillation in the chapters that follow as well. By heeding Yahweh the Israelites would gain new strength, the same strength that was Israel's privilege (cf. 40:31). The Gentiles were to be fellow heirs with Israel (cf. 19:24-25; 27:13). But before that could happen, they had to meet with the LORD and arrive at a decision (cf. Job. 38:3).
"The words are addressed to the whole of the heathen world, and first of all to the inhabitants of the western islands and coasts. This was the expression commonly employed in the Old Testament to designate the continent of Europe, the solid ground of which is so deeply cut, and so broken up, by seas and lakes, that it looks as if it were about to resolve itself into nothing but islands and peninsulas."
41:2-3 The LORD asked the nations a question: Who had righteously summoned a conqueror from the East who would defeat nations and overcome kings as easily and swiftly as one blows away dust and chaff? Later, Isaiah would identify this conqueror as Cyrus the Persian (44:28; 45:1), but here the emphasis is on the One who sovereignly called him into action, namely, Yahweh.
The four Mesopotamian kings who invaded Canaan in Abraham's day and took Lot captive were the prototypes of this invader, as were Sargon, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar. Jesus Christ will be the ultimate fulfillment of this passage when He returns to the earth east of Jerusalem (to the Mount of Olives), and overcomes His enemies, who will have assembled in Palestine. Cyrus came from Persia (modern Iran), which was east of Mesopotamia. This invader would proceed safely over previously unused routes.
41:4 The LORD has always been the one who has called forth such conquerors to carry out His will in the world. The military history of the world is simply the outworking of God's sovereign plan. As A. T. Pierson used to say, "History is His story." God is the ultimate strategist who controls history. It has always been so, and it will always be so, because no other god preceded Yahweh, neither will any other succeed Him. He has no genealogy (cf. John 8:58; 18:5; Rev. 1:8, 17; 22:13).
"In these passages [Isa. 41:4 and 48:12] the expression: 'ani-hu, I am he, is it would appear, the best commentary on Exodus 3:14 where the revelation of a God is found who in speaking of himself says: I am ('ehyeh) and of whom men affirm: he is (yihyeh)."
Verses 5-7 relate the frightened response of the Gentile nations to the preceding questions. Rather than submitting to the only true God, the pagans typically seek help from idols.
41:5-6 Upon hearing this message of Yahweh's sovereignty, the nations will fear and try to encourage each other. They do not bow before the LORD but will gather together and quake (cf. Ps. 2:1-2).
41:7 Furthermore, they will proceed to build idols. Rather than turning to the LORD, they will make gods to whom they turn. In 40:18-20, Isaiah contrasted the idols with the God of creation, but here he contrasted them with the God of history. It is not these idols who strengthen their worshippers, but the worshippers who strengthen their idols.
"What a god he must be that needs a common laborer to pass inspection and declare that he is in good condition!"
"The purpose of all this detail is not clear, but the prophet may want to heighten the ironic effect by showing what a complex and arduous task idol making is. Thus he is implicitly asking his hearers if simply trusting the sovereign Lord is not a great deal easier. Another purpose may be to point out how dependent the gods are. They cannot be created by just one person; it takes a whole host of people to keep them going."
Verses 1-7 record a near prophecy of the coming Cyrus. Verses 8-20 record far prophecy of Israel's final deliverance.
Regardless of the nations' refusal to acknowledge Yahweh, He will intervene in history for the welfare of His fearful servant Israel. Israel did not need to fear like the nations, because the LORD would be with His chosen people and protect them.
41:8 The LORD now turned from addressing the nations to speaking to Israel. God had chosen the Israelites for special blessing. Election rests on love (cf. Deut. 7:7-8). The reference to Jacob recalls the unworthiness of the Israelites, and the mention of Abraham recalls the fact that Abraham loved God (Gen. 18:17-19), the proper response to electing love (cf. 1 John 4:19). Both references also connect to God's covenant with the patriarchs. God had called Israel to be His servant. This is the first of 31 references to a servant of the LORD in Isaiah.
"Old Testament slavery/servanthood must never be thought of on the model of the West Indian slavery of the Christian era. Mosaic legislation extended protection to the slave and—such was the institution—had to make provision for the slave who loved his master and would not leave slavery (Ex. 21:2ff.). Such a 'slave', as a matter of social status, may have been at the bottom of life's heap, but in another sense he was as powerful as his master, for should he ever have been molested, it was the master the molester had to reckon with."
41:9 God reminded His people that He had called them from the remotest part of the earth to be His servant. He did this in Abraham's case when He called him out of Ur into the Promised Land, and He did it in Jacob's case when He brought him back into the land from his sojourn near Haran. God had determined not to reject His people. Therefore Israel had nothing to fear (cf. John 15:14-15).
Isaiah wrote of three servants of the LORD: the whole nation of Israel, the faithful remnant of Jews within that nation, and Messiah. The context enables us to identify which servant is in view in each reference.
41:10 Moreover, the Israelites did not need to fear because God was with them, and He had committed Himself to them (cf. Matt. 28:20). They did not need to look one way and then another trying to find safety (cf. vv. 5-6). Furthermore their God promised to help them in every way with His powerful right hand, a symbol of strength, and to do what was right (cf. 40:10-11).
"Even though no exiled nation had ever before in history been brought back to start life anew in their ancestral homeland, and even though the Gentile government would have no practical means of inducing the Jews to return home, nevertheless God would bring this seeming impossibility to pass."
41:11-12 "Behold" urges continued attention to more promises to come. The anger of Israel's enemies against her would prove to shame these enemies. Their claims against Israel would come to nothing, Israel's opponents would vanish, and her enemies would cease to exist. Increasing opposition would become increasingly ineffective. Those nations that would meddle with this servant would have to contend with an all-powerful Master.
41:13 Yahweh restated His promise and His exhortation from verse 10. Israel's God would strengthen, encourage, and help His people. He would stand with them while He defended them because He was Yahweh their God (cf. Exod. 20:2).
41:14 The LORD employed a second picture to comfort the Israelites. He would enable what was essentially weak to become strong (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10). Israel was like a "worm" in that she was insignificant, despised, weak, and vulnerable. However, she had a next of kin (Heb. go'el, redeemer)—the Holy One of Israel—who would take on her care and provide all that she, His family, needed—and more. This is the third time in this passage that Yahweh explicitly said that He would help His people (cf. vv. 10, 13).
41:15 The LORD would transform the helpless worm, a tiny thresher of the soil, into a powerful "threshing sledge"—by giving her His power. Threshing sledges were heavy wooden platforms fitted with sharp stones and pieces of metal underneath. Farmers dragged them over straw to cut it up in preparation for winnowing. The sledge that Yahweh would make of Israel, however, would be so good that it could chop down mountains and hills, not just straw. The modern equivalent would be giant earth-moving equipment.
41:16 Yet this sledge would do more: It would winnow the nations as well as threshing them. The strong wind that God would provide would drive Israel's enemies away, like the wind separated the wheat from the chaff and blew the chaff away.
"… every hindrance to God's ultimate purposes in the international scene is overcome through a judgment executed through Israel [cf. Mic. 4:10-13]."
Israel would then rejoice and make her boast in her great God, who had both empowered her and removed her enemies.
Though presently in a drought-like condition, the LORD promised to bring His people into a paradisiacal garden-like existence.
41:17 A third picture unfolds. It is of Israel thirsting in the wilderness. The LORD promised to answer the prayers of His crushed and helpless people Himself. He promised to come to their aid and not forsake them because He is their God.
"… whenever the words 'poor' and 'needy' are used together [in Isaiah], it is always a reference to the faithful remnant."
41:18 Yahweh would provide by innovation (water where it did not usually appear, on hilltops), multiplication (more water where there was some, in valleys), and transformation (water where it never existed, in deserts; cf. 35:6-7).
41:19 He would also provide the other necessity in the wilderness of life's experiences beside water, namely, shade. All the trees mentioned (seven in all) were shade trees, but they did not normally grow together. This enhances the picture of God working wonders to provide for His people. Seven may symbolize the complete perfection of God's work in this connection. The emphasis on water and trees also marks Genesis 2:10-17, suggesting a return to Edenic conditions.
41:20 The LORD would do this so the afflicted and the needy (v. 17), His people, would reflect and learn that their God had done a powerful creative work for them.
"The righteous God of verse 8:13 and the Redeemer of verses 14-17 is now the Creator (20), transforming his creation (18-19) for the benefit of his needy ones (17)."
The Creator of history 41:21-29
How is it clear that Yahweh, and not other objects of worship, directs world history? Yahweh alone can predict the future and then bring it to pass. The court case with the nations—begun in verses 1-4, but interrupted with comfort for the LORD's servant Israel in verses 5-20—now resumes. Before it ends, however, the LORD will explain the ministry of His Servant, Messiah (42:1-9). The emphasis in verses 21-24 is on the inability of any other god to predict the future and explain the past.
41:21 The LORD, through Isaiah, challenged the idolaters to prove that their gods were truly deity. The LORD presented Himself as the King of Jacob, from the nations' perspective no more than one national god among many, but He is really the King of kings.
41:22-23 Yahweh ordered the idolaters to bring their gods in and have them explain the flow of past history. Can they explain history? Are they able to explain how past events will unfold in the future? Can they predict the future and bring it to pass? In a word, are they transcendent? If they can, this would prove that they were really gods. Indeed, the LORD challenged: Have them do anything, good or bad, so that they might have some real effect on people.
41:24 Since these challenges go unanswered—the idols cannot reply—the LORD judges the idols as nothing, and their supposed work amounts to nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4). Furthermore, people who worship them are an abomination, because they follow such nonentities, and because in doing so they become like their gods.
"It is not the idea of polytheistic idolatry that is abominable [in itself], but rather the act of replacing the truth with that system [cf. Rom. 1:18-23]."
Verses 21-24 record Yahweh's challenge to the idols, and verses 25-29 record His sentence.
In contrast to the idols, the LORD predicted that He would raise up, from the northeast, one who would serve Him. Exactly what God would do is not revealed here, except that this individual would dominate his enemies. The emphasis in verses 25-29 is on God's ability to predict this man's appearance ahead of time.
41:25 The LORD, in contrast to the idols, claimed that He would do something in the future and predicted what it would be. He would arouse a conqueror from the north, one who was presently dormant, as if sleeping. This individual proved to be Cyrus the Persian (44:28; 45:1), who originated in the East and the North in reference to Palestine. He would call on the LORD's name in that he would proclaim the reputation of the LORD by fulfilling His prophecy (cf. Ezra 1:2-4), not by worshipping Yahweh exclusively. He would thoroughly defeat his enemies.
41:26 Yahweh is the only predictor of Cyrus, and His prediction proves Him unique among the "gods." In Isaiah's day the pagans claimed that their gods sent them messages, but these messages were vague and not specific. The fulfillment of this prediction would prove that Yahweh was the true God.
Many scholars believe that the writer of this part of Isaiah, if not the whole book, lived after Cyrus began his conquests about 545 B.C. If that were so, the whole point of this passage loses its force: Yahweh can not only predict the future, but He can also bring it to pass.
41:27 Yahweh had announced to His people that Cyrus' invaders would come. Cyrus would be a messenger of good news in two senses: his coming would validate the truthfulness of Isaiah's prediction of his coming, and his coming would mean return from captivity for the Jewish exiles (cf. Ezra 1:2-4).
41:28-29 When the LORD looked for a messenger from another god who predicted the coming of Cyrus, He could find none. Not one of them could give any information about his coming (cf. 40:13). So He concluded as He began (v. 24), but this time passing judgment on the idolaters rather than on the idols. "Behold" ends each subsection (vv. 24, 29). The idolaters are false in the sense of being untrue and delusive. Their works—the idols—are worthless, and their idol images amount to nothing.
The greatest Servant of the LORD 42:1-9
Since Yahweh is the God of Israel, does He have any regard for the Gentile nations? Yes, a servant of the LORD will bring forth justice to the nations (42:1-9). That is the point of this pericope.
Yahweh had challenged the nations to behold the folly of idols (41:24) and idol worshippers (41:29), but now He urged them to behold His Servant (42:1). This Servant would reveal God to the world, something the idols could not do. The LORD first spoke about His Servant (42:1-4) and then to His Servant (42:5-9). Who this Servant is does not become clear until later (cf. Isaiah's later identification of Cyrus after His description of him).
Earlier (41:8-16), the servant was Israel, so the readers would naturally assume that Israel is the servant here too. Other references to Israel as the servant of the LORD are verse 19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; and 48:20. Only later does it become clear that this Servant must be an individual, namely, Messiah. The context and the characteristics ascribed to the servant in each reference to him dictate his identity. That the Servant is not Cyrus is clear from the contrasts between them. He will be the ideal representative of Israel who will accomplish for the LORD what Israel did not regarding the world (cf. Gen. 12:3). Matthew quoted 42:1-4 as finding fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Matt. 12:18-21).
"Isaiah's unique contribution to Old Testament theology is his anonymous suffering servant songs."
"The idea of 'the servant of Jehovah' assumed, to speak figuratively, the form of a pyramid. The base was Israel as a whole; the central section was that Israel, which was not merely Israel according to the flesh, but according to the spirit also [i.e., saved Israelites] ; the apex is the person of the Mediator of salvation springing out of Israel [i.e., Messiah]. And the last of the three is regarded (1) as the centre of the circle of the promised kingdom—the second David; (2) the centre of the circle of the people of salvation—the second Israel; (3) the centre of the circle of the human race—the second Adam."
The "Servant Songs"
Bernard Duhm coined the term "Servant Songs" in his German commentary on Isaiah published in 1892. The commentators vary somewhat in how much of the context they regard as part of these songs. John Martin, for example, took the first song as running through 42:17. The first two postscripts (see the chart above), or trailing passages, are divine confirmations of the Servant's work. The last two postscripts are exhortations to respond to the Servant. Likewise the number of "Servant Songs" has been disputed. Some scholars view only the first four (above) as "Servant Songs," and others include the fifth passage as one.
The LORD revealed that He would raise up another Servant who would establish justice on the earth (vv. 1-4).
42:1 "The hen (behold) in ch. xli. 29 is now followed by a second hen [in 42:1]. With the former, Jehovah pronounced sentence upon the idolaters and their idols; with the latter, He introduces His 'servant.'"
Yahweh called on the nations to "behold" (give attention to) His Servant, in contrast to the idols (cf. 41:29). The Old Testament used the word "servant" to describe the relation of God's people to Himself (cf. Ps. 19:11, 13). Individuals described themselves this way (e.g., Moses in Exod. 4:10; Joshua in Josh. 5:14; and David in 2 Sam. 7:19 and 1 Chron. 17:17-19, 23-27), and others described them this way (e.g., Moses in Exod. 14:31; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exod. 32:13; and David in 1 Kings 8:24).
"Servant of the LORD" describes Moses 21 times and Joshua twice in the Old Testament. The LORD referred to the following entities as "my servant": Israel (14 times, including seven times in Isa. 40—55), Moses (six times), David (21 times), the prophets (nine times), Job (seven times), and Nebuchadnezzar (twice). Isaiah's explicit references to Cyrus call him Yahweh's "shepherd" (44:28) and His "anointed" (45:1).
Yahweh would "uphold," or grip firmly, this Servant, meaning that He would sustain Him with deep affection. This Servant would be one in whom the LORD delighted wholeheartedly, not just one that He would use (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The LORD would place His Spirit on this Servant, blessing Him with His presence and empowering Him for service (cf. 11:2-4; Num. 11:16-25; 1 Sam. 16:13; Ps. 33:6; 139:7; Matt. 3:16; Luke 4:18-19, 21). And this Servant would bring forth justice to the nations of the world (cf. 9:7; 11:3-4; 16:5).
"Justice" (Heb. mishpat) connotes societal order as well as meaning legal equity. The Gentiles would not find this justice on their own, but the Servant would bring it to them (cf. 11:1-5; 32:1). Jesus Christ will do this at His second coming. The Targum (see my comment on 4:2) equated the Servant with Messiah. Modern Jews believe the Servant is Israel or the faithful within Israel. This was also the interpretation of Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest copies of the Bible available, but the following explanation of the Servant passages should rule out this view.
42:2 This Servant would not serve the LORD ostentatiously, nor would He advertise Himself. His ministry would be quiet, non-aggressive, and unthreatening. Obviously Cyrus was not this Servant.
"In verse 1 we met the quintessential servant; here is quintessential service. It was forecast by Isaiah, exemplified perfectly in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is to be reproduced in all who would serve the Lord with true service."
42:3 The LORD's Servant would be gracious and patient. He would not discard what seemed to others useless, and He would not extinguish what seemed to others too spent. His calling was to save, not destroy. He would be faithful to His calling to bring forth justice to the nations (v. 1; cf. 11:3-4).
42:4 Not only would this Servant not break or extinguish others, but the pressures and blows of others would not break or extinguish Him. This reflects the Spirit's empowerment in His life (cf. v. 1). He would complete His mission of establishing justice on the earth. The furthest reaches of the earth will, therefore, anticipate the coming of His law, as Israel did at the base of Mount Sinai (Exod. 19; cf. Isa. 2:3). They would do so eager for justice to come to the earth, though not necessarily eagerly anticipating it to come through the LORD's Servant.
The LORD now turned from describing His Servant's task by speaking about Him to confirming His task by speaking to Him. This is a pattern in the Servant Songs: confirmation follows description (cf. 49:7-13; 50:10-11; 54:1—55:13; 61:4-9). Two aspects of the LORD's glory that earlier exposed the plight of the Gentile world, namely, that the Gentiles do not know the only true God, and that they worship idols, bracket this passage dealing with Gentile hope. The task of the Servant, not His identity, continues to be the focus of attention. Each segment begins with a reaffirmation of the identity of the true God (vv. 5, 6, 8).
42:5 The speaker identified Himself, for the benefit of the idol-worshipping nations (cf. 40:1). He was the transcendent God who created all things (Heb. ha'el, cf. 40:18), namely, Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God of Israel. He described Himself further as He who established the earth and who alone cares for it and sustains its inhabitants. The Servant's ministry will fulfill the Creator's original intention for the earth.
42:6 Yahweh not only called an invader, in harmony with His righteous purposes for humankind (41:2), but He alone also called this Servant at the right time, in the right place, and for the right purpose.
"The righteousness of God is the stringency [preciseness] with which He acts, in accordance with the will of His holiness."
Cyrus would destroy, but Messiah would build. The LORD promised again to uphold His Servant (cf. v. 1). The Servant would fulfill the covenant requirements and promises that God had given His people—becoming a covenant to them in that sense—and so bring them into intimate fellowship with Himself (cf. 49:6-8). Thus this Servant cannot be all of Israel or even saved Israel or the prophets.
Some commentators view this covenant as the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), which Christ would ratify with His blood. I favor this identification. Possibly the Old and the New Covenants are in view, since Christ ended the Old and inaugurated the New. Still others believe that this is a reference to the so-called "covenant of grace" that Christ made available to people by dying on the Cross. The coming conqueror would drive the nations further into idolatry (41:5-7), but the Servant would lead them to God by serving as "a light to the nations" who sit in darkness (cf. Luke 2:32; John 14:6). The LORD Himself would do all this through His Servant (cf. Exod. 3:15; 6:3).
42:7 Like "light," the Servant would heal disabilities (physical and spiritual), end restrictions that others imposed, and transform individual circumstances (cf. Luke 1:79; John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5, 39-41; 12:46; Acts 26:18). He would bring people out of bondage, including their bondage to sin (cf. 61:1; John 8:32; Col. 1:13).
42:8 The LORD—Yahweh is His covenant name—is a distinct person with His own name (cf. Exod. 3:13-15). He would keep His covenant with Israel. He is not an idol that someone made and received the glory for making. The praise for His great acts belongs to Him, not to some image fashioned by one of His creatures (cf. 41:21-29).
42:9 "Behold" concludes this passage as it began it, forming an inclusio (cf. v. 1). The former things that God had predicted through the prophets—that had come to pass already—provided assurance that the new things that Yahweh just revealed, about Cyrus and Messiah, would also happen. Another view is that the former things are the predictions concerning Cyrus, and the new things are the things having to do with the restoration of Israel.
But the predictions about Cyrus had not yet come to pass. Yahweh had revealed all these things before they happened, thus proving His uniqueness and superiority over the gods of the nations. This is the first of six times God claimed the ability to predict the future in Isaiah (cf. 44:7-8; 45:1-4, 21; 46:10; 48:3-6).
Thus ends Yahweh's disputation with the gods (41:1—42:9). The appearance of Cyrus, more than 150 years after Isaiah's prophecies about him, would be a kind of sign that the prophecies about the ultimate Servant would also come to pass—in the more distant future.
God's purposes for His servants 42:10—44:22
The section of Isaiah that I have titled "God's promises to His servants" (41:1—42:9) sets the stage and introduces themes that Isaiah proceeded to develop in this section. Those themes are the certainty of redemption (42:10—43:7), the witness to redemption (43:8—44:20), and the memory of redemption (44:21-22).
The certainty of redemption 42:10—43:7
God had not forgotten, nor was He unable to deliver, His people (cf. Exod. 3:7-9). Their redemption was certain.
"This vision of what God will accomplish through his Servant is so exciting that Isaiah breaks into the ecstatic hymn of praise (vv. 10-13), which then functions as a bridge from this section, 41:1—42:9, into the next, 42:10—44:22."
42:10-12 A "new song" arises in Scripture when someone has learned of something powerful and good that God has done or will do (cf. ch. 12; Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; Rev. 5:9; 14:3). Here it is salvation through the Servant that prompts this new song of praise (cf. 6:3). Isaiah called on everyone to praise the LORD because the Servant's ministry would benefit the whole earth. People living on the farthest seacoasts and in the desert lands should praise Him. "Kedar," a son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13), was also the name of a town in the Arabian Desert (cf. 21:16-17; 60:7). "Sela" was near modern Petra, and was the mountain fortress city of Edom (cf. 16:1). These people in various places represent diverse sources from which universal praise should come to the LORD.
42:13 This verse gives the reason for the praise just called for. Isaiah gloried in the fact that Yahweh would one day arise as a mighty warrior to overcome His enemies. He did this when He moved Cyrus to allow the Israelites to return to their land. He did it more mightily when He sent Messiah to accomplish redemption from sin's enslavement. And He will do it most dramatically when Messiah comes back to the earth to defeat His enemies at Armageddon (Rev. 14:14-20; 19:17-19).
42:14 God Himself explained that He had kept silent for a long time, but in the future He would cry out, like a pregnant woman does just before she gives birth. His cry (cf. v. 13) will signal a mighty act. God would bring forth a new thing.
42:15 Nothing in all creation would be able to resist and prevent the LORD from acting. His coming to judge sin and sinners would be as devastating to them as the searing east wind was to the residents of Judah.
42:16 However, Yahweh would lead His own people, those unable to find their way through the blinding storm of His judgment, to safety (cf. Rev. 12:14). The people of Israel were blind and could not bring the Gentiles into the light, but God would lead His blind servants (cf. v. 7). He promised definitely to do this.
42:17 That deliverance would spell humiliation (shame) for idolaters because they, and others, would see the impotence of their gods compared to Yahweh. Return from the Exile provided a sign of what God would do for His people in the eschaton. Both acts of God seem to be in view here.
The rest of this chapter addresses Israel's present condition of blindness (cf. Rom. 10). Yahweh now disputed with His people, not with pagan idolaters, as formerly. Motyer analyzed the structure of this part of Isaiah differently and saw a parallel between national redemption in 42:18—43:21 and spiritual redemption in 43:22—44:23.
42:18 The Israelites had concluded that Yahweh was blind and deaf to their situation, namely, impending destruction. Now He revealed that it was they who were blind and deaf to what He would do for them. He challenged them to comprehend what they had missed.
42:19 It is this servant of the LORD: Israel (cf. 41:8-16), that was blind and deaf. How ironic it was that God's messenger to the world, the one that He had brought into covenant relationship with Himself, was blind and deaf, blinder and deafer than any other. Israel, above all others, needed to be able to see and hear what her Master told her, so that she could tell it to the world (cf. ch. 22). The nations were blind (cf. vv. 6-7), but Israel was both blind and deaf (cf. 6:9-10; 30:9-11; Amos 2:4).
"As Isaiah was the messenger of God to Israel, so Israel was called to be the messenger of God to the world. But the still unanswered question was: What kind of coal from the altar would it take to bring the nation to its senses and cleanse its lips for service?"
42:20 As the LORD had told Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry (6:9), the Israelites saw but did not perceive, and heard but did not comprehend (cf. Deut. 29:2-4). The Israelites' response to the Mosaic Law is primarily in view.
"The cardinal sin of the people of God is to possess the divine word and to ignore it."
42:21 Here is what the Israelites were blind and deaf to: the teaching of Yahweh. The "Law" in view here probably includes all of what God had revealed to His people that enabled them to come into relationship with Him and to live lives of fulfillment as His creatures. The LORD glorified this instruction (Heb. torah) because He is righteous; He does what is right for the welfare of people, and that involves revealing His gracious will to them.
42:22 In contrast to God's purpose for Israel (cf. Exod. 19:5-6), Israel was in a position, because of her own sin and God's discipline of her, from which she could not deliver herself, much less lead the Gentiles into the light (cf. 45:14-25; Deut. 28:49-53). Each description of Israel in this verse contrasts with what she should have been in the will of God.
42:23 The prophet despaired that no one among the Israelites was learning from God.
42:24-25 God's people needed to perceive that sin had led them into their present wretched condition, and that whenever their ancestors had gotten into such a condition, repentance brought restoration to usefulness. Their relationship to God was the key. The Torah, of course, explained what God promised to do if His people obeyed or disobeyed Him (cf. 1:4-8; Lev. 26; Deut. 28—29), but the Israelites had not paid attention to this teaching. Since they chose to go their own way, the judgment of God had burned them. Most of Isaiah's contemporaries were still claiming that they did not deserve the hardship that God had sent them.
Chapter 42 thus contains a strong contrast. It opens with one Servant who will discharge His ministry successfully, and it ends with another servant—in servitude to her captors—having failed to minister effectively. The Servant Messiah obeys God and fulfills His task, but the servant Israel refuses to listen to God and draws His judgment.
Even though Israel had failed to learn from the LORD (42:18-25), He would still deliver her in the future out of pure grace (43:1-7). He had not cast off His covenant people (cf. Rom. 11:1).
43:1 The LORD called His people not to fear, even though they were blind, deaf, and suffering for their sins. God had created the nation with painstaking care, had redeemed (Heb. ga'al) it in the Exodus, and adopted it as His special treasure at Mount Sinai. His acts for her, not her acts against Him, guaranteed her future. The dual reference to Jacob and Israel stresses God's tenderness in dealing with the nation He had created.
"Thirteen times within the compass of chapters 40—49 Isaiah uses this double designation, and with one exception (41:8), in this order. Jacob was the deceiver and had to become an Israel ["Prince with God"]. Hence in this order of the names there may be a hint that the Jacob character of the nation had to be abandoned. Implied also may be the thought that in Israel is expressed the true destiny of the people. They are to become an Israel, and as such the heirs of the promises that had once been made to their ancestor Israel."
43:2 Water and fire are traditional symbols for testing that suggest totality when used together (cf. Ps. 32:6; 42:7; 66:12; James 1:2). God promised to protect His people from total destruction when they underwent their various trials. He had done this in the past, and He would do it in the future, because He would be with His special people (cf. Dan. 3; Rom. 8:31-39).
43:3 Three names ("the LORD your God," "the Holy One of Israel," and "Savior") heighten God's unique relationship to Israel. The Exodus and Sinai experiences had taught their meaning to the Israelites. God would even sacrifice other nations to preserve Israel for Himself. Perhaps the LORD meant that He would give Persia rulership over Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba, as rewards for allowing the Israelites to return to their homeland. I tend to favor this view.
Another option is that He meant that He had given over Egypt and its southern extremities to redeem Israel at the Exodus. A third view is that these nations represent the heathen nations in general, whom God did not favor when He redeemed Israel. In another larger sense, God sacrificed His Son as a ransom in the place of many whom He had called (cf. 53:8-12; Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:21).
43:4 Yahweh would sacrifice other nations for Israel because of what the Israelites were to Him, in spite of themselves, as well as because of what He was to them (v. 3).
43:5-6 Again, the Israelites should not fear (cf. v. 1; 7:4; 8:10). The reason is, again, that God was with them (cf. vv. 1, 2, 3). Worldwide scattering would not prevent Him from fulfilling His promises and giving them a future in the Promised Land (cf. 11:11-12; 27:13; 49:12; 60:4; Deut. 30:3-6). He would reassemble His sons and daughters from the ends of the earth (cf. Jer. 30:10-11; Ezek. 37). Return from Babylonian captivity would not be from the four compass points and so does not qualify as the complete fulfillment. He will do this when Jesus Christ returns to the earth (cf. 5:26; Matt. 24:31). Amillennialists often take this as the spiritual gathering of lost sinners to Jesus Christ.
43:7 What qualifies these people for such treatment is their relationship to Yahweh. They are called by His name and are, therefore, part of His family (cf. Deut. 28:10; Jer. 14:9; 15:16; Ezek. 36:20). Furthermore, God brought them into existence to glorify Himself (cf. v. 1). Their condition reflects on Him, and unless He restores them they cannot fulfill His purpose for them in the world.
There are many allusions in this section to Creation, the Exodus, the Exile, and the return from exile. However, complete fulfillment of these prophecies of restoration awaits the eschaton (the culmination of history).
The witness to redemption 43:8—44:20
Isaiah continued to show that Yahweh was both willing and able to deliver His people, a theme begun in 42:10. He confronted the gods, again (cf. 41:21-29), but this time he challenged them to bring forth witnesses to their deity, namely, people who could confirm their ability to predict the future. The captive Judeans were Yahweh's witnesses. They would, despite their spiritual blindness and deafness, give witness to His ability to predict their salvation and to accomplish it.
God would make His people the evidence of His deity (vv. 8-13).
43:8 Isaiah summoned an unidentified authority to bring out the Israelites: the spiritually blind and deaf (cf. 42:18-25; cf. Deut. 29:4; Jer. 5:21). The setting of this scene is a courtroom. The prophet was summoning them so that God could address them (v. 10) as His witnesses. Imagine calling blind and deaf people as witnesses in a court of law! Yet the LORD would use even them to testify to His greatness.
43:9 Isaiah pictured all the nations in this courtroom. Some had already assembled, and others were on their way. Who among them, the prophet asked, could proclaim former things? These "former things" probably refer to things predicted in the past that had since come to pass. No one among the nations, none of their gods, could predict the future and then bring it into existence. Only Yahweh could do this. Furthermore, no one could serve as a witness that the idols could do this or confirm the testimony of someone else that they could.
Undoubtedly some pagan prognosticators (false prophets) claimed to be able to foretell the future and that their predictions had come to pass, just as today some psychics make such claims. However, none of them could predict with the specificity and accuracy that Yahweh did through His prophets. The biblical prophecies that had already been fulfilled were in an entirely different class than the predictions that marked the nations. If this were not the case, Isaiah would not have dared to claim what he did here.
43:10 Yahweh pointed to the people of Israel, His servant, as those who would be His witnesses that He could predict the future and bring it to pass. For example, He had promised to make Abraham a great nation, to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, to give them Canaan, and to make David's dynasty secure. He had fulfilled all these promises and more. In the process He had made the Israelites His witnesses so that they would learn that He alone is the true God (cf. Exod. 3:14). Similarly, Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). They had witnessed His works for several years and could testify to His uniqueness, even His deity. Thus the early confession of the church became "Jesus is Lord."
43:11-13 Yahweh alone, among all the "gods," is the only real deliverer, the one who knows the future, and the ultimate sovereign. He is unique. None of the idols was Yahweh. The Israelites could bear witness to that, but they were blind and deaf. Therefore the LORD had to testify in His own behalf.
"In the first part of his book, Isaiah had demonstrated that God alone can be trusted, that all other resources, especially the nations, would fail. Now he is showing that when we have refused to trust and have reaped the logical results of our false dependencies, God alone can save."
Yahweh was the only God from the very beginning. Since He is the only deliverer, no other god can deliver people from His hand or overrule His decisions. It was foolish, then, for the Israelites—as it is for all God's people—to look to anyone or anything else for salvation. Someone said, "In our world it's cool to search for God, but uncool to find him."
In the future, God would use Israel to demonstrate to the world in a fresh way that He was the only Savior, as He had done in the past. He would make His people the evidence of His deity by delivering them from captivity in Babylon (43:14—21) and from their sins (44:1-5). His salvation would be in spite of their lack of righteousness (43:22-28).
43:14 Yahweh, Israel's Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel (cf. 41:14), would bring judgment on Babylon for the sake of the Israelites. His judgment would be for their sake in two senses: it would demonstrate His sovereignty to them in a fresh way, and it would fulfill His covenant promises to preserve them. The Babylonians would flee as fugitives from the LORD and His instrument of punishment, the Medo-Persians. Isaiah pictured them fleeing in boats, sailing south down the Euphrates River. Note the similarity between the Babylonians in their ships on their river and the Egyptians, who also sailed ships on their river, the Nile. The Chaldeans, so-called by the Assyrians, were the warriors of southern Mesopotamia who forged the Babylonian Empire.
43:15 Reminders of who Israel's God is (vv. 14a, 15) bracket the promise of deliverance (v. 14b). God would not deliver His people because of who they were but because of whose they were. He was Yahweh, who had revealed Himself to them at Sinai and made a covenant with them. He was their Holy One who had showed them how to share in His holiness and so enjoy His fellowship. He was the Creator of Israel who had brought them into existence from nothing. And He was their King who was the true sovereign and father of their nation, who owned them, and to whom they owed their allegiance.
43:16-17 The prophet gave an unusually long description of the Giver of the promise to follow (vv. 18-21) because of the unusual content of the promise. The One giving the prediction was the One who in power, love, and faithfulness had delivered His people from Egypt in the Exodus. His destruction of the Egyptian adversary had been complete.
43:18 Obviously God did not want His people to forget what He had done for them in the Exodus, but neither did He want them to look back on that event and conclude that it was His only act of redemption or the only method that He could use to redeem them. The Exodus exemplified God's ability, but it did not set a pattern that He had to follow thereafter (cf. Jer. 23:7-8).
43:19-20 God was going to do a new thing for Israel, something that would appear unexpectedly, like a sprout from barren soil. The Israelites would become aware of it even though they had no knowledge of it at that time. He would do for the captives in Babylon what He had done for their ancestors in Egypt, namely, make a highway for them through the wilderness and provide them with water (cf. Exod. 17). Instead of turning a sea into dry land, He would turn the dry land into waterways (cf. 35:6-7). These images picture a second Exodus. Even the animals would acknowledge God's greatness as they observed His acts and benefited from His goodness to His people.
"Here we see the acts of God bringing the whole world into harmony, a feature which will be perfected in the Messianic day (11:6-9[; 65:25]). Here, the journeying people are met by a transformed world (19cd) into which the animal creation gladly enters with benefit."
"Plainly the future restoration of Israel is the event ultimately meant."
One writer took the water as symbolic of God's sustaining provision for the Jews, and the animals as figures representing Gentile nations that will benefit from the witness of the restored Jews.
43:21 More important, God's chosen people, whom He carefully formed for Himself—not ultimately for their own welfare—would praise Him. God created Israel for His own praise, as human witnesses to His greatness. This continues to be the function of God's people (cf. Luke 1:74-75; Eph. 1:4-6; 1 Pet. 2:9).
"Still a third and more glorious 'Exodus' will take place when the Messiah returns to regather His people (cf. 43:5-6) and establish His millennial reign on earth."
Isaiah now emphasized that the reason for this great blessing, which God promised the Israelites, lay in Himself, not in them (43:22-28). Their salvation would come out of His grace; it would not be a reward that He owed them for their obedience (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).
43:22 The Israelites would genuinely worship God for His coming deliverance of them (v. 21), but at present they were not doing so. They had forsaken their God, and their praise was only formal rather than heartfelt (cf. 1:11-14; 66:3; Jer. 7:5-10; Hos. 6:6; Amos 4:4-6; Mic. 6:3-8; Mal. 1:13; 2:17; Matt. 15:9).
43:23-24 The people had brought few sacrifices and offerings to the LORD, even though His requirements of them in this regard were not excessive, and even what they had brought had not touched Him. "Sweet cane" (calamus) was an ingredient in the anointing oil (cf. Exod. 30:23; Jer. 6:20). What they had brought to Him in abundance was sin and iniquity. He was wearier of their worship than they were.
43:25 The LORD Himself (cf. v. 11) would forgive His people for His own sake, not because they had earned forgiveness with their worship. Forgiveness of sin is a divine prerogative (cf. Matt. 9:2-6). Yahweh pictured forgiveness as erasing something previously written on a record (cf. 44:22; 2 Kings 21:13; Ps. 51:1, 9). Another figure, not remembering sins committed against Himself, strengthens the promise of forgiveness (cf. Jer. 31:34; Mic. 7:18-19). Since God is omniscient He never forgets anything (cf. Amos 8:7), but in this promise He compared Himself to a person who chooses not to remember things (an anthropomorphism, cf. v. 24) in order to illustrate the fact that He would not hold their sins against them. He would not call their sins to mind with a view to punishing them.
"When God forgives, He forgets; i.e., treats the sinner as if He had forgotten his sins."
It was sin, not captivity, that was the root trouble that needed dealing with for the Israelites. Later, Isaiah revealed that God would deal with sin through His Servant's ministry (53:10-12).
43:26 Here God offered His people the opportunity to correct Him if what He had said was false, or to remind Him of something that He may have forgotten (v. 25; cf. 1:18). This heavily ironic offer should have drawn a silent admission of guilt from honest Israelites. Their sin was the root of their troubles, and all their goodness could not get them out of their difficulties.
"… until we recognize our need for grace, all our energies, energies designed for the praise of God [v. 21], will be spent in fruitless self-justification."
43:27 Israel's sin was traceable all the way back to her ancestor: Jacob (v. 22; cf. Deut. 26:5; Hos. 12:2-4). Other possibilities are that Adam or Abraham is in view. Even the leaders of Israel had consistently sinned against the LORD (cf. 9:15; 28:7; 29:10; Jer. 5:31); it was not just the present generation that was unacceptable to Him.
43:28 God would also "profane" (disrespect) the priests with guilt, since they had for generations polluted His sacrifices with their guilt (cf. 2 Chron. 24:5). They, of all people, should have been holy, since they dealt with the holy things connected with Israel's worship (cf. 65:2-5; Lev. 10:3). God would consign the whole nation to the ban (Heb. herem): something devoted to destruction. Israel had become like Canaan (cf. 1:9-10; Josh. 6:17; 1 Sam. 15:21), and it would become the object of Gentile reviling, like Canaan had been for the Israelites.
God would make His people the proof of His deity by delivering them from captivity in Babylon (43:14-21)—and from their sins (44:1-5). The next pericope expands the focus of God's promise from physical to spiritual deliverance, and extends it from a near fulfillment to a more distant fulfillment.
44:1 The LORD again summoned His chosen servant Israel to pay attention to what He was about to say (cf. 43:1). Judgment was not Yahweh's final word to His people. This new word would be good news in contrast to what had immediately preceded (cf. 43:28).
44:2 Yahweh, the covenant God who formed Israel into a nation, would help her. Therefore His chosen servant should not fear (cf. 41:10, 14; 43:1) even though Israel had fallen far short of God's desires for her. The endearing name "Jeshurun" means Upright One (cf. Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26). Even though Israel had stumbled badly, she was still upright because God had held her up. "Jacob" (the deceiver) may represent what Israel was in the past and "Jeshurun" (the upright) what she would be in the future.
44:3 The LORD promised to pour out His Spirit on the Israelites in the future. This gift would have the same effect, for the nation, as pouring water on dry ground would have for the landscape. It would bring refreshment and new life, indeed, a whole new spiritual attitude (cf. 32:15; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:7-10; Joel 2:28-29). Blessing would come to the descendants of Isaiah's audience. Isaiah in this verse may have meant that God would bring both physical and spiritual refreshment. Other passages reveal that He will send physical refreshment (cf. 35:6-7; 41:18).
Since this is a promise specifically to the Israelites, they would be the special recipients of this outpouring. Thus it must still be future. The giving of the Spirit in the apostolic age, first on the day of Pentecost and then on several subsequent occasions, was not a gift to Israel but to the church, not to Jews uniquely but to Jews and Gentiles equally (cf. Acts 11:15). Both outpourings have the result of making the recipients witnesses.
44:4 At this future time the Israelites would grow like flowers among the grass and like poplars planted beside streams of water (cf. Ps. 1:3; Jer. 17:8). The Old Testament writers often regarded numerous descendants as a sign of divine blessing (cf. Gen. 15:5; Ps. 127:3-5).
44:5 In that day it will be an honor to be a member of the nation of Israel (cf. Ps. 87:4-6), not a dishonor (cf. 43:28; Ezek. 36:19-20). Many people will come to Yahweh because of His blessing on Israel. It is difficult to know whether the "ones" mentioned here are Israelites or Gentiles. Some will even write their identification with Yahweh on their hands. The Mosaic Law forbade the Israelites from disfiguring their bodies (Lev. 19:28). These Israelites will not be living under the Mosaic economy, which Jesus Christ ended.
Besides, these inscribed names may not be permanent disfigurements. This type of tattooing was a practice of some people in the ancient world, who wanted to make their commitment to some individual prominent (cf. Deut. 6:8). A soldier sometimes wrote the name of his commander on his hand, a slave bore the name of his master, and a devotee did the same with the name of his god. This is probably not a reference to people taking the mark of the Lamb and His Father during the Tribulation (Rev. 7:3; 14:1). That mark will appear on the foreheads of the 144,000. Moreover, the Tribulation will not be when people will honor the Israelites. That will follow, in the Millennium.
The Israelites would be God's witnesses (44:6-8), but the idols have no true witnesses (44:9-20). This is the climactic section of 42:10—44:22: "God's purposes for His servants." God's claims (44:6-8) contrast with the folly of idolatry and the worldview from which it springs (44:9-20). God's initiative also contrasts with human initiative.
44:6 With the titles "King of Israel," "Redeemer," and "the LORD of armies," Yahweh highlighted His special relationship with Israel, His intentions for the nation, and His ability to fulfill those intentions. As Israel's near kinsman (Redeemer), He would not allow her to perish. He is incomparable; there is no one like Him. The gods are not God. The same terminology used in this verse describes Jesus Christ later in Scripture (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13).
44:7 The proof of God's uniqueness is His ability to foretell the future and then bring what He predicted to pass. Anyone who claims to be able to do this must prove to God that he has done it. God's creation of Israel and His revelation of the future to and through her is the great proof of His deity.
44:8 The Israelites should not fear even though they were heading for captivity. God had told them that they would return from captivity as well as go into it. When they did return, they would be able to witness to the world that the LORD had predicted and performed both events. In the meantime they could seek refuge in their "Rock," their only support and protector.
"The character of God is the ultimate assurance of His people."
Seeking refuge in idols is not only fruitless but fatal (vv. 9-20). The idols have no witnesses to their ability to forecast and control the future. They are nothing (vv. 9-11), and their worshippers are confused (vv. 12-17) and blind (vv. 18-20). If Isaiah could show that it was foolish to think that supreme power resided in an idol, he could expose the heresy of paganism. This he did in this pericope.
"This extended exposé was doubtless intended to strengthen the Jews against the allurements of paganism during the long captivity in Babylon."
44:9 The prophet began by stating his premise: Idol makers engage in futile (Heb. tohu) activity because the idols they make do not profit people. Those who promote idol worship do not see the folly of idolatry themselves, and they will be ashamed by the failure of their gods.
44:10 This rhetorical question means: Who would be so foolish as to fashion an idol when it does not profit anyone? The whole idea of making idols seemed beyond ridiculous to Isaiah (cf. 40:18; 43:7, 10).
"Isaiah points to the mere humanity of the craftsmen (10-11), their frailty (12) and the man-dominated conceptions governing their theology (13)."
44:11 All the companions of the craftsman who makes an idol (other idolaters) will be put to shame: idol worshippers as well as idol makers. The reason is that the makers of these gods are mere men. Rather than God creating man, man creates gods (cf. Rom. 1:23). This makes man superior to his gods. The fact that there are many people in this group of idol makers and worshippers does not change the fact that all of them will be ashamed by the impotence of their gods.
Verses 12-17 describe the construction of an idol, which process witnesses to the inability of idols to do anything. This whole section bristles with sarcasm.
"… man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols."
44:12 The man who would make a god has to expend a great deal of effort on it. Some English translations give the impression that in this verse the blacksmith is fashioning a tool with which to make an idol, but the idol itself is really in view. Making an idol is a laborious and exhausting process. God, of course, did not grow weary making man; He made him with a word. Furthermore, because God made the Israelites, they did not need to grow weary (40:28-31). Because He carried them (45:20; 46:3), they did not need to become hungry and thirsty (43:19-20).
44:13 Idol-making is a complex process involving many steps and requiring much activity and some human skill. The whole idea is to create a god in the likeness to man, which is supposedly the highest form of life—complete with man's needs. Here a carpenter rather than a blacksmith is the craftsman. The type of craftsman really does not matter since any human will do. One idol may be in view in verses 12 and 13, first carved out of wood and then adorned with metal, or Isaiah may have had in mind two different idols: one metal and the other wood.
"We have not progressed beyond that today. The doctrine called humanism is only an abstract form of this age-old effort. We will be God, and God will be us."
44:14 Like shepherds raised some sheep for sacrifice, so the idol craftsman, here a forester, planted a tree with a view to making a god out of it one day "for himself." He wanted wood that would not rot, but the type of wood itself really does not matter. The god is perfectly passive and dependent on its human creator throughout the whole process. How can such a creation possibly help people?
44:15-16 The craftsman uses one piece of wood to make an idol, and he uses another piece of wood out of the same tree as fuel to warm and feed himself. Actually, the piece he burns does him more good than the piece he worships. The piece burned serves man and delivers him from the cold and hunger, but the piece not burned demands human service and only promises deliverance but cannot provide it (cf. Acts 17:29; 1 Cor. 8:4-8). Instead of thanking the Creator for the wood, the idolater uses what the Creator has made to make a god in his own image that he thanks (cf. Rom. 1:18-23).
44:17 The leftover piece of wood becomes the idol. How can what is the result of human effort and care, an idol, put forth any effort and care for its builder? Worshipping and praying to a carved image is absurd (cf. Matt. 6:7-8)!
"Diagoras of Melos, a pupil of Democritus, once threw a wooden standing figure of Hercules into the fire, and said jocularly, 'Come now, Hercules, perform thy thirteenth labor, and help me to cook the turnips.'"
"John Knox, in decrying the idolatry of the Mass, parodied this passage with devastating effect: 'With part of the flour you make bread to eat, with the residue you fashion a god to fall down before'."
Isaiah concluded his exposé of idolatry by highlighting the blindness of idol worshippers.
44:18-19 Pagans do not see the folly of idol-worship because God has blinded their minds (cf. 6:9-10; 29:14). Having chosen to refuse the revelation of God that He has given them in nature, He makes it impossible for them to see the truth (cf. Rom. 1:18-24; 2 Thess. 2:10-11). If this were not the case, they would understand and abandon their practices, since it is so clear that man-made gods are impotent.
Modern man is in the same position as his ancient counterpart. Westerners do not cut down trees and fashion blocks of wood into idols that we put on shelves in our houses and bow down to. But we work long hours to be able to purchase some man-made object (of clothing, jewelry, transportation, communication, entertainment, etc.) that we then hope will provide us with what only God can provide. Tragically, we do not even view this as idolatry because we, too, are blind.
44:20 Pursuing idols is like feeding on ashes. No satisfaction, but instead eventual disgust and death, follow. The idol is good for nothing but burning (v. 15), and the person who worships an idol will finally find himself or herself with nothing but ashes instead of an idol. The person who pursues this path to satisfaction has been deceived by his own heart. He cannot deliver himself out of such a trap. He has become addicted. He must cry out for deliverance to Another—who has the power to enlighten the blind.
The memory of redemption 44:21-22
This brief section is a call to God's people to embrace God's promises. It concludes this section of the prophecy (42:10—44:22) by affirming that God would not abandon the Israelites because of their sins, but would deliver them, and even use them to demonstrate His unique deity. His redemptive power contrasts with the impotence of idols.
44:21 This chiastic verse reiterates a theme from Deuteronomy, namely, remembering what God has revealed (cf. Deut. 8:2, 11, 18; 9:7). God called His people to remember the truths about Himself that this section of the book emphasizes: He is the only God who foretells and then creates history, and the idols of the nations are nothing. Bearing these truths in mind would enable Israel to fulfill her purpose in the world, namely, to be the LORD's faithful servant. The nation had not yet fulfilled that purpose, and the LORD would not forget her but would enable her to fulfill it. He would not cast her off because of her failure.
"Within the immediate context the call to 'remember' (21) forges a link with what has preceded: (i) the idolater has been busy 'fashioning' (9-10, 12) his idol, but Israel has been 'fashioned' (21; NIV made) by the Lord; (ii) the idolater is bound to his idol (18-20), but Israel is the Lord's bondman (servant; 21); (iii) the idolater prayed pathetically Save me (17), but to Israel the Lord says I have redeemed you (22-23); (iv) the idolater bowed to a block of wood/'tree stump' (bul 'es; 19), but now every tree (kol 'es) is summoned to rejoice in the Lord (23)."
44:22 What Israel needed above all else was forgiveness and cleansing from her sins (cf. 43:25). The LORD had taken the initiative to provide this for His people. He would blow their sin away as quickly and as easily as a wind blows a cloud or mist away.
"The clouds intervene between heaven and earth as sin and transgressions intervene between God and His people."
"Jehovah has blotted out Israel's sin, inasmuch as He does not impute it any more, and thus has redeemed Israel."
Yet God's people must respond to His initiative by returning to Him. He had provided redemption in the Exodus, but it was only the first of several redemptions that He would provide. He would redeem them from captivity by using His servant Cyrus (v. 28), and He would redeem them from sin by using His Servant Messiah at His first advent. He would also redeem them from captivity in the Tribulation by using His Servant Messiah at His second advent.
The summary reference to redemption in verse 22 (cf. 42:10—44:22) prepares the reader for the next section of Isaiah's prophecy.
3. The LORD's redemption of His servant 44:23—47:15
Isaiah began this section of the book, which deals with God's grace to Israel (chs. 40—48), by glorifying God as the incomparable Lord of His servant Israel (ch. 40). Then he explained God's promises to (41:1—42:9) and His purposes for (42:10—44:22) His servants. This leads into a more particular revelation of the redemption that God had in store for Israel (44:23—47:15).
The announcement of redemption 44:23-28
The section begins with an announcement of the salvation that God would provide for His chosen people.
44:23 This verse concludes the thought expressed in the preceding one, so many translations and commentators regard it as the end of the preceding section. However, it is a hymnic call to praise similar to the one in 42:10-13, and it seems to introduce what follows, like that earlier call to praise did. The content of the praise also points ahead to what follows, rather than backward to what has preceded. It provides a very smooth transition.
Isaiah again called on all the elements of the created universe to witness something. Earlier they witnessed Israel's rebellion (cf. 1:2), but now they witness Israel's salvation. As in the previous verse (44:22), redemption is spoken of as already complete. This is the translation of the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense verb that speaks of things in the future as though they had already happened in the past—because they are certain to occur. A future redemption is in view that will manifest Yahweh's glory. This becomes clear in the verses that follow.
44:24 Verses 24-28 are one sentence in the Hebrew text—one of the longest in the Hebrew Bible. Its length stresses the character of Yahweh as a basis for trusting His announcement concerning the coming king.
The LORD prefaced His stunning prediction with a reminder of who was making it. He was Yahweh, Israel's covenant God who had redeemed her and would yet redeem her. He had brought her into existence by Himself, as He had created all things, including the heavens and the earth (cf. 40:12-14, 21-22). The often repeated phrase "This is what the LORD says" in this part of Isaiah engenders confidence in the promises of redemption that follow (cf. 45:1, 11, 14, 18).
"Isaiah 44:24—45:25 centers on the man who would deliver the Jews from Babylon [Cyrus]."
44:25 God embarrasses astrologers, diviners, and fortunetellers by controlling history in ways that deviate from past patterns. Ancient and modern forecasters of the future usually base their predictions on the belief that things will work out in the future as they have in the past. But Yahweh can move future events in entirely new directions. Archaeologists have discovered many predictions of the future of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires among Babylonian writings, but they are consistently optimistic. None are messages announcing the fall of these kingdoms. Yahweh can do things never before done.
44:26 Conversely, Yahweh could bring the predictions that He had revealed to His servant Isaiah (cf. 20:3), and His messengers the prophets, to pass. Here he predicted that Jerusalem and the cities of Judah would be rebuilt, after their destruction by the Babylonians.
44:27 God is the one who dried up the Red Sea during the Exodus. He could likewise dry up rivers in the future to bring His will to pass (cf. 48:21). Herodotus wrote that Cyrus overthrew Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River that ran under its walls. Cyrus then used the riverbed to storm the city. But Young claimed that cuneiform records from the region have shown that Herodotus' account was in error. God's promises covered both the rebuilding of Judah's cities (vv. 26, 28) and the exiles' return home.
44:28 God announced that Cyrus would be the person who would allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt and the temple foundations to be relayed. The mention of Cyrus' name climaxes this prophecy (vv. 24-28). Cyrus would be the LORD's shepherd, the one who would lead the Israelites back into their land by permitting its restoration. He would carry out all God's desire (cf. 41:2-3, 25).
The title "My Shepherd" was one that God used of the Davidic kings (cf. 2 Sam. 5:2; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:23). The fact that He used it here to describe a pagan monarch shows that God would use pagans to fulfill His wishes—since the Davidic kings had proved unreliable (cf. 7:13; 39:7). This was indeed a new thing that God had not done before (cf. 43:19).
"In a wonderfully ingenious way, just as the foreigner, Ruth, became an ancestress of David (Ruth 4:13-22), the foreigner Cyrus typifies the Davidic Messiah (Isa. 53:10; Zech. 11:4; 13:7; John 8:29; 10:11)."
Cyrus, who ruled Persia from 559-530 B.C., issued his decree to allow the Jewish exiles to return and rebuild Jerusalem in 538 B.C. This happened about 190 years after Isaiah announced this prophecy. Josephus recorded that Cyrus read Isaiah's prophecy predicting that he himself—Cyrus—would send the Israelites back to Palestine to rebuild the temple, and that he desired to fulfill this very prediction. Josephus also dated Isaiah's prophecy 140 years before the destruction of the temple, namely, about 726 B.C. The Persian monarch had not even been born when Isaiah gave this prophecy. When Isaiah made this prophecy his hearers probably said to one another: Who did he say would do this? Who is Cyrus?
This prophecy is the primary reason that critics on the unity of Isaiah have insisted that Isaiah of Jerusalem could not possibly have written this prediction. It must have been written, they say, sometime after Cyrus issued his decree. However, the point that Yahweh was making throughout this book was that He alone could predict and create the future. For a similar prophecy involving Josiah, who had not yet been born when it was given, see 1 Kings 13:2.
Motyer noted parallels between 44:24—48:22 and 49:1—53:12. These sections provide the solutions to Israel's double need: national bondage (captivity; cf. 42:18—43:21) and spiritual bondage (sinfulness; cf. 43:22—44:22).
The work of Cyrus
The work of the Servant (Messiah) (49:1—53:12)
The task stated and the agent named (44:24-28)
The task stated and the agent named (49:1-6)
The task confirmed: to Israel and the world (45:1-7)
The task confirmed: to Israel and the world (49:7-12)
The response: prayer (45:8)
The response: praise (49:13)
Israel's disquiet (45:9-25)
Israel's despondency (49:14—50:11)
• The LORD's purpose affirmed (45:9-13)
• The LORD's love affirmed (49:14-16)
• Israel and Gentiles (45:14-22)
• Israel and Gentiles (49:17-26)
• Those who find righteousness and strength in the supreme LORD and those who oppose Him (45:23-25)
• The Servant, the exemplar of those who find strength and vindication in the Almighty LORD (50:1-11)
The LORD's care for Israel - from the beginning through to the coming salvation (46:1-13)
The LORD's care for Israel - from the beginning through to the coming salvation (51:1-16)
Babylon: from the throne to the dust
Zion: from the dust to the throne
Redemption from Babylon (48:1-22)
Redemption from sin (52:13—53:12)
The instrument of redemption 45:1-13
This section of text begins with God's promise to Cyrus (vv. 1-8; cf. Pss. 2; 110) and concludes with a vindication of God's right to use whom He will to accomplish His purposes (vv. 9-13).
God's promise to Cyrus 45:1-8
The promise to Cyrus was, of course, for the benefit of the Israelites who wondered how God would restore them to the land as He promised.
45:1 Yahweh shockingly referred to Cyrus as His "anointed" (Heb. mashiah), a title normally reserved for Israel's prophets, priests, and kings. Another exception is Hazael, whom Elijah was to anoint as King of Aram (cf. 1 Kings 19:15-16). Hazael was also the LORD's anointed. This title also refers to the Messiah. The Israelites thought of their anointed leaders as those whom God uniquely raised up to accomplish His purposes. By calling Cyrus His anointed, the LORD was teaching them that He was the sovereign of all the earth, not just Israel. He could and would use whomever He chose to deliver His people.
"Sometimes we forget that God can use even unconverted world leaders for the good of His people and the progress of His work."
"Traditionally, the ruler of Babylon took the hand of Bel [a Babylonian god] in the New Year's festival. Assyrian rulers coveted this affirmation of their authority. Here Yahweh claims that he has seized Cyrus by the hand (42:6) and strenghtened [sic] his hold on his realm."
Cyrus' election for this task of deliverance was not due to anything in himself (cf. Rom. 9:16). The LORD had taken him by the right hand, like a parent does with a small child, and would enable him to conquer and subdue those nations and kings that he would.