Lecture 10: Isaiah
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Introduction to the Latter Prophets
We now know what has happened. In the next stage of our study we need to ask ourselves why these things happened. And for that answer we now turn to the latter prophets. We turn to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 Minor Prophets. Because you have already studied and read through Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, you will have a fairly good idea of what happens, what is the background, rather, of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the first nine of the Minor Prophets. We start with the prophetic literature, the latter prophets. These books will tell us why the events we have just studied occurred.
How to Read the Prophetic Books
First a bit of introduction to how we can read the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve. I found through the years that most readers need some help to understand how to read prophetic books. They do fairly well as they read through Genesis to 2 Kings. Up to that point, they’ve had narratives, they’ve had stories with characters and plots that they can follow.
But when they come to the prophetic books stories are fairly rare. Poetic speech has replaced prose narrative as the main type of writing. Major characters appear yet they seem to have different functions than those of in Genesis through 2 Kings. Therefore, many readers have to develop some new skills to be able to read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 effectively.
A scholar named B. D. Napier notes seven themes that dictate the action and the argument in prophecy. Through the years I’ve found these themes to be very helpful as I’ve tried to read prophetic books. These concepts emerge from Israel’s history so you will already be familiar with them. Anytime you are reading in poetic, prophetic material just ask yourself which of the following themes is being emphasized and I think you will be able to find your way.
There are seven basic themes according to Napier. First, over and over again the prophets stress ‘Thus says Yahweh.’ In other words their books are about God giving His word through the speech, the writing and the actions of the prophets. The second major theme after word and symbol is election and covenant. God stresses the fact that He has chosen Israel to be His people so that they might bless the other nations. They are not chosen so that they can have special privileges and do as they wish. They are chosen to minister to the rest of the world, as we have been emphasizing throughout our study.
The third theme is rebellion. God’s people and all the other nations of the world have rebelled against His word; they have rebelled against His authority. He is the great King of Kings and Lord of Lords and yet they want to serve other kings, other gods, other rulers. And in Israel this sin is particularly terrible because they have had special privileges of knowing God and knowing who He is and being ministered to by His prophets. The prophets speak through word and symbol. They emphasize election and covenant. And they emphasize rebellion against the covenant.
The fourth theme is judgment. God judges sin. We’ve seen this throughout the Scriptures – from the Garden of Eden to the flood of Noah to Israel being driven from the land. God judges sin. Just as a great and mighty king like Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria will come and judge insurrection in his kingdom, so Yahweh the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will judge rebellion. Often the prophets call this Day of Judgment the Day of Yahweh – the day Yahweh fills the picture of the world. And fills the horizon with His power and with His judgment. And yet that is not the last theme.
The fifth theme is God’s compassion. He does not give up on people. He does not give up on the nations and He does not give up on Israel. He loves the people He has made and He reaches out to them through His word, through the prophets through events - compassion. The sixth theme is redemption. In fact, God always judges in order to redeem. He gives His word and symbol through the prophets. He has elected and made covenant with Israel. Israel and the nations have rebelled against Him. He judges that sin. He has compassion as He judges and He uses judgment to redeem. God is merciful and kind. He will not clear the guilty but He redeems sinners. We have seen many, many times in the Bible that God has accepted frail, failed human beings as His own.
The seventh and final theme is consummation. That is there is coming a day when God will create the heavens and earth anew. As William J. Dumbrel writes “In the Bible we are moving from creation to new creation. God who created the heavens and the earth will recreate the heavens and the earth and make them without sin, sorrow, suffering or death.”
These ideas can be compressed into three main emphasizes: sin, judgment, and renewal. Sin, judgment, and renewal. Sometimes as I teach I call judgment, punishment. Sometimes I call the renewal, restoration. But it is these three main ideas. We understand that sin is breaking God’s standards and breaking our relationship with Him.
Judgment comes in life as God tries to correct us. And it will come at the end of time as He sets all things new and restoration. God forgives, God renews, God makes us new and God will make all creation new. Each of these three themes sin, judgment and renewal follow naturally. God has loved, redeemed, and made covenants with Israel. So the Lord sends the prophets to correct Israel for breaking the mosaic covenant. God has been faithful but the people are corrupt and ungrateful. Therefore as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28 warn God punishes Israel by sending them into exile.
God waits patiently for repentance before allowing Assyria and Babylon to conquer people. And we know that despite this rebellion God promises to restore the nation, recall Deuteronomy 30. In fact the punishment He sends helps cleanse and renews the people. Punishment is not solely negative in these books. Punishment is God’s tool for bringing about a brighter future for the people who turn back to Him.
Now you will find as you read that declarations related to sin, punishment, and restoration crisscross the next few books helping us follow the texts argument. If you are confused by a passages contents you can normally determine whether it is sin, punishment, or renewal that is being stressed and understand the book again. When most readers learn to recognize these fundamental notions they can begin to enjoy prophecy.
Most scholars stress the sin and punishment aspects of the prophecy. This tendency is legitimate since the prophets do constantly expose Israel’s covenant breaking and its consequences for individuals and society as a whole. However it is important to remember that God always punishes as a last resort and only to create a brighter future. The brighter future will also ultimately result in a bright future for all nations not just Israel.
Books of Prophecy Stress How to Live for God
As you will see these books of prophecy really stress how to live for God. Most of the time the prophets stress how we are to live for God now. They do in fact talk about the future. They do predict some things about the future. But I want to remind you that the prophets are mainly talking about how to live effectively for the Lord. They aren’t just books that try to give you details about the coming days.
I also want to remind you that several of the things that the prophets predicted have already come true. For instance, many times the prophets speak about the Messiah coming, that is the special Son of David, the Special One who will defeat sin as Genesis 3:15 promises, this Messiah is already come, Christians believe Jesus is the Promised King, the Promised Messiah, the Promised Savior. The prophets also predict that Assyria and Babylon will also destroy the 12 tribes of Israel, and that’s already happened.
We do know however that the prophets say that there is coming a final day of judgment and that God will judge all peoples and remove sin. That day is yet to come, but as we learn to live for the Lord now as we follow the principles as taught by the prophets, which by the way are the principles also taught by the apostles Paul and John and Peter in the New Testament, as we follow these teachings we will be prepared for the final day of judgment whenever it may happen.
Isaiah is the first of the great Latter Prophets. He is an extraordinary thinker, writer and lover of God. As we turn to the book of Isaiah we see in the first few verses or rather in the very first verse the basic historical background. The texts says, “The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah.” You will at least recall that Hezekiah was king of Judah from 715 to 687 B.C. Ahaz, Jotham, and Uzziah were his predecessors. You can read about them in the book of 2 Kings beginning with chapter 15. And you will recall Hezekiah’s days are recounted in chapters 18 to 20.
As the book unfolds we find that Isaiah was a prophet beginning as early as 745 B.C. and served perhaps as late as 680 B.C. So he had a long career of about 65 years. He was probably about 20 years old when he became a prophet and he served for a long period of time, retirement not being an issue in those days. These were days of momentous happenings in the history of Judah as you know.
Isaiah 1:1 says that Isaiah does serve in Judah and preaches about Jerusalem. Jerusalem was probably his home town. It is impossible to know but it seems likely to me that he was a priest who also had access to a lot of information about the government’s decisions, plans, and he had a lot of information about what foreign governments were deciding to do. I noted when we talked about the temple that it was next door to the government headquarters in Jerusalem. It could be that Isaiah worked as a priest and as a government official or he just might have been someone who had information about both areas of life.
These were momentous days as we talked about in our study of 2 Kings. By 745 B.C. Assyria was beginning to assert itself as the great nation of the time. And Assyria was the dominant nation during the entirety of Isaiah’s ministry. Assyria dominated Northern Israel from 733 B.C. onward. And they really dictated much of the policy in the absence of Judah from the same time period.
Isaiah warns his people about the folly of idolatry. He warns them about sinning against one another through injustice and oppression. He warns about many things but ultimately he has few followers. But Isaiah doesn’t just talk about what is going on in his day. He looks far into the future to the time when God will send the Messiah. He looks far into the future and looks forward to the time in which God will judge all sin on earth and create new heavens and new earth.
In fact, we need to think of Isaiah as someone who is always moving from creation to new creation. He is always one who is moving from the fact that God created the heavens and the earth, that people on earth sin against God. But that God will send a Savior, judge sin and create a new home for His people. It’s no wonder with this constant emphasis of going from creation to Messiah to judgment to final victory of God over sin and the new creations, new earth, that the New Testament writers cite Isaiah so often.
He is giving a great example of God’s gospel: that the Creator has been sinned against but will send a Redeemer who will remove sin from the redeemed and will remove sin from the earth and take the redeemed to live with Him forever. This is the way the book of Isaiah unfolds, always moving from creation to sin to the Savior to transformation.
The Structure of Isaiah
In fact, there are at least seven of these cycles in the book of Isaiah and I want to use these cycles as a structure for the book. And I will cite this structure and then describe the contents for you.
The First Cycle (1–4)
The first cycle is chapters 1 through 4. In chapter 1 Isaiah calls the heavens and earth as witnesses to the sins committed in Jerusalem and calls the heavens and the earth to hear that Yahweh will change Jerusalem. All this in chapter 1. He asks the people of Judah to realize that they are according to 1:4 a sinful nation a people laden with inequity. He asks them to come to their senses. He says in 1:18, “Come now let us reason together says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow. Though they are red like crimson they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Going on from chapter 1, in chapter 2, Isaiah describes the coming Day of the Lord that is the coming Day of Judgment, in which all sin will be destroyed. In the destruction of sin God will gather many nations to live with Him in Jerusalem, which is now called Zion after the mountain upon which Jerusalem was. Throughout the book of Isaiah, Jerusalem, the city that he knows, is constantly becoming Zion, the city he envisions, the place where God lives with His people in the absence of sin forever.
And in chapters 3 and 4 Isaiah completes the first cycle by stating that Yahweh will create a covering over Zion to shield His people. That God is the maker of Israel is clear in chapter 1. That they have sinned against God is clear in chapters 1 and 3. That God will judge this sin is clear in chapter 2.
But in chapter 4 the section ends gloriously. In 4:3 and following it says, “And he who has left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem shall be called holy. Everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem. When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the blood stains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole side of Mount Zion and over her assemblies, a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat and for a refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.”
Chapter 4 ends with God’s people who are written in His book, who are recorded for life, living with Him forever, in a city that is protected from the heat and protected from the rain and protected from sin forever. So we start with God as Israel’s maker and the Judge of all the heavens and earth who will then bring His people to Himself in a wonderful city.
The Second Cycle (5–12)
The second cycle is chapters 5 through 12. In chapter 5 the Lord declares that Israel is like a wild, unruly vineyard that simply refuses to grow what is planted. Israel has sinned against God. Israel has oppressed one another. Israel has not been a light to the nations.
So in chapter 6 God declares to Isaiah what kind of ministry he will have from now on. He says that he must preach until there is little left. He must preach until there is only, as verse 13 says, only a tenth of the land remaining. And yet verse 13 also says even if there is only a tenth of what was once Israel and Judah, yet from that tenth God will raise up a faithful people. That even though there is only but a small remnant of faithful ones in Isaiah’s day, from that remnant will grow followers of the Lord.
How will this happen? Well Isaiah declares in chapter 7 that the days of the Northern kingdom of Israel are coming to an end. Assyria is going to destroy them. Not only that, Assyria is coming to Jerusalem. And Assyria will destroy everything but Jerusalem in Judah. We read about this prediction in chapter 10. So Isaiah knows well before it happens, in fact 30 years before it happens that the Assyrians are going to invade the land during Hezekiah’s time.
Well, if this is the immediate future what is the long term future? Isaiah tells us that God will send a King, a Savior. Here are some of the passages. In 7:14 he tells the doubting king Ahaz, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and she will call His name Emmanuel. But before the Boy knows how to refuse the evil and chose the good the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
People of this day are worried about an invasion from their neighbors Assyria and Israel. But Isaiah tells them that these things will not unfold. God will protect the Land and not only that He will send a King whose name will be Emmanuel.
As the people continue in the darkness of their sin, Isaiah writes in 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in deep darkness on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, You have increased its joy. They rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end. On the throne of David and over His kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth forever more the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.”
This passage 9:2-7 Isaiah looks well into the future and he sees that God will send a King from David’s lineage. He will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. When he says that He is Mighty God he is saying the coming Messiah will indeed be God. This is the only time in the Bible that we read of a prediction of a coming person who is given deity status. So the coming one from David’s lineage will be the perfect ruler and He will be God.
As he looks into the future, what else does Isaiah say? Again the people continue in darkness year after year. The rulers of Judah before Hezekiah takes the thrown remain rather corrupt. But Isaiah looks down the years and he says there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jessie, that is from David’s father, from David’s lineage. Chapter 11 verse 1 continues, “and a branch from his root shall bear fruit and the spirit of the Lord shall rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what His eyes see or decide disputes by what His ears hear but with righteousness He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. And He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist and faithfulness the belt of His loins.”
Chapter 11 verse 10 says, “In that day the root of Jessie,” again the family of David, “shall stand as a signal to the people. Of Him shall the nations inquire of its resting place shall be glorious.” The text goes on to say that wherever Israel has been driven in exile God will bring them home to the Messiah, to this new King. And not only that, other nations will serve Him.
How does Isaiah foresee the end of things? In chapter 12 he speaks of a time when God’s people will draw water from the wells of salvation in Zion. He says then in 12:5-6, “Sing praises to the Lord for He has done gloriously. Let this be known in all the earth. Shout and sing for joy oh inhabitant of Zion for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Isaiah sees only judgment ahead but beyond that judgment is a people who will not repent. He does see the Messiah coming who will be the Perfect King, who will be God with us, who will be Mighty God, who will bring righteousness and justice and peace. And His kingdom will have no end. Thus, when His people are gathered to His great city they can live with Him with peace and justice and righteousness forever. That’s cycle two, chapters 5 to 12, again begins with Israel and the world as an unruly place and it ends with the righteous ones of God living with God forever because of the work of the Messiah.
The Third Cycle (13–27)
The third cycle in Isaiah is chapter 13 through chapter 27. And these chapters declare the future of many nations. Often in these chapters Yahweh is described as the maker of humanity or of humanity’s future (17:7-8; 19:25; 22:10-11; 25:1; 25:6). All these state that Yahweh is the maker of heaven and earth and of humanity’s future. He is the ruler of history. There are also several texts that says He plans human history. I’ll give you two examples, 14:26 and 19:11. So Yahweh makes people and He makes their future. He plans for them and He plans their future.
According to chapter 24 through 27, the whole earth will be eventually ravaged by judgment and that God will remove sin from the world. Having removed sin God will gather people to Himself. Chapter 25 verses 6 to 8 tells us that God will give His people a wonderful gift. On this mountain, on Mount Zion, where He lives, the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples, not just Israel, all peoples, a feast of rich foods, a feast of well aged wine, a rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And God will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all people, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. And the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth for the Lord has spoken.
In other words, as first Corinthian 15 indicates God will take away death from all His people. Death will be no more, sorrow, suffering, sin and death will all be removed when God judges the nations and brings His people to Zion, He is their Creator and He is the One who gives them a place to live forever.
How will God do this? According the chapter 26 and verse 19, “Your dead shall live their bodies shall rise. You, who dwell in the dust shall awaken, sing for joy for your dew is the dew of light, and earth shall give birth to the dead.” Again the New Testament rightly picks up on this passage as an understanding that God raises the dead. He will raise some up to judgment, but He will raise His people up for glory, for victory over sin, death, and the grave. And again this is for all nations.
Isaiah not only says that God will remove death from all nations in chapter 25, in chapter 19 he has already said that God is reaching out to all the peoples of the world. It says indeed that He will reach out to Assyria and to Egypt, not just to Israel. And that the day is coming when God will say blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria the work of My hands and Israel My inheritance (19:25).
God has not given up on His promise to Abraham, to bless the nations through Israel. And Isaiah envisions a time when God will gather believers from the nations, gather them to live with Himself forever and ever. God is the creator of the nations. He is the One who will judge the nations. He is the One who will give the nations a home with Himself through His power according to chapters 13 to 27.
The Fourth Cycle (28–35)
Cycle four is chapters 28 to 35 and again Isaiah calls Yahweh the planner and maker of human beings and of their history in chapters 28, 29, and 31. He identifies Yahweh as the One who makes the earth mourn because of judgment, and rejoice when the judgment ends according to chapter 32 through 34. And in chapter 35 in a triumphant song Isaiah says God is the One who will bring His people to Zion. Again God is the planner of history according to chapter 28. He is the maker of all people. He is the One who will bring His people to Himself. The text is moving from God being the Creator to God being the One who creates a new place for His people as He redeems them from sin.
The Fifth Cycle (36–56:8)
Cycle five is chapter 36 through chapter 56 verse 8, that’s chapter 36 through chapter 56 verse 8. These chapters are some of the most important in the entire Old Testament. For they help us to understand a great deal about our savior Jesus. New Testament writers cite these passages repeatedly as they try to teach the people of their day who Jesus was. This cycle includes the highest concentration of terminology related to Isaiah’s approach to a new creation.
In chapters 36 and 37 Isaiah reveals that his earlier promise of an Assyrian invasion of the Jerusalem has come to pass. It is described in chapters 36 and 37. In chapter 36 verse 16 and chapter 37 verse 26, Isaiah declares that Yahweh has planned Assyria’s defeat from of old. He still remains the Lord of history, the creator of nations, and the planner of those nation’s history. God saves Jerusalem as He promised in Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 10.
But of course as you know from 2 Kings 18 to 20 and you see again in chapters 38 and 39, all of Judah, except Jerusalem, has been devastated. Therefore in chapter 40 Isaiah speaks words of comfort to Judah and to Israel. He uses language in 40:12-41, language of creation to comfort. He reminds them that Yahweh has laid out the heavens and the earth. That the nations in His hands are like dust on the scales. That the kings of the earth who seems so prominent and important are really under Yahweh’s control. He sets them up and He takes them down. Therefore, the people can be refreshed. They can mount up with wings like eagles they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint as they put their trust in God who is their creator.
Yahweh continues to encourage Judah and Israel in chapter 41 and following by introducing the concept of God’s servant. In 41:8-10 God calls Israel His servant, “But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham My friend, you whom I took from the ends of the earth called from its farthest corners saying you are my servant, I have chose you and not cast you off, fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous hand.”
So God encourages Israel by calling Israel His servant. The one who He will redeem from the ends of the earth. He has chosen them He has not cast them off. He is their creator and their sustainer. He will not forget them.
But then the servant image grows and perhaps changes a bit in chapter 42. There the servant appears again in a passage that is cited in Matthew 12 :18-20, “Behold My servant whom I uphold, whom I chosen, whom My soul delights. I’ve put My spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations.” We stop here for a moment and remind ourselves that this language sounds very much like Isaiah 11. where the Messiah will have God’s spirit on Him and bring justice to the nations. Again not just to Israel but to the nations.
Continue in verse 2, “He will not cry out loud or lift up His voice or make it heard in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break. A faintly burning wick He will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged until He has established justice in the earth and the coastlands wait for His law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out and who spread out the earth and what comes from it. Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it. I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness. I will take you by the hand and keep you. I will give you as a covenant for the people a light for the nations to open the eyes that are blind to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is My name. My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols. Behold the former things have come to pass and new things I now declare before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
So this description of the Servant sounds very much like the Messianic passages of chapter 7, 9, and 11. And indeed the New Testament says that’s what they are in speaking of the Messiah and the One who is coming. That it is the Messiah who is God’s best, brightest servant. That the God who created the heavens and stretched them out is choosing a servant and sending Him to the people. He will be a light to the nations. Thus fulfilling the promises to Abraham. And He will be a Davidic Messiah, a servant who God will put His spirit on and have rule the nations, just as God promised to David.
So, it seems as if we have shifted from Israel being the servant to the Messiah being the servant. Now of course on the one hand this is not so drastic an issue in the Bible. Moses is God’s servant. David is called God’s servant. Israel is called God’s servant. Later on in the Bible, Jesus is called God’s servant. Paul is called God’s servant. So in this section we see that Israel is God’s servant and so is the Messiah.
In chapter 43, 44, and 45 and following Jacob is again encouraged by the Lord, Israel is encouraged, Judah is encouraged by the Lord. God promises in chapter 44 and 45 that Babylon and Assyria will not always rule. God will give power to Persia in the future and Persia will defeat Israel’s enemies. We continue on with God encouraging the people to know that Israel has been set apart for God’s glory until we come to chapter 49 where there is another mention of the servant occurs. In 49:1: “Listen to Me, O coastlands and give attention you people from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb, from the body of My mother He named My name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword. In the shadow of his hand He hid me. He made me a polished arrow in his quiver he hid me away. He said ‘You are My servant Israel in whom I will be glorified.’”
So to stop for a moment 49:10-3 make it clear that Israel is God’s servant. Verse 4, Israel is discouraged, “But I said, ‘I labored in vain I spent my strength for nothing in vanity.’ Yet surely my right is with the Lord and my recompense is with my God.’ And now the Lord says, ‘He who formed me from the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the eyes of my Lord and my God has become my strength.’ He says, ’It is too light a thing for you to be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel. I will make you as a light for the nations that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’”
In 49:5-6 we see another person called a servant who is ministering to Israel who is also called God’s servant. As we have already seen in the book as we seen in the Old Testament as a whole God will send His servant the Messiah to minister to His servant Israel. And this servant Messiah will bring Jacob, that is Israel, also God’s servant, back to Him. That Israel might be gathered back to God, and that this servant would help the tribes of Jacob be a light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. So the Messiah servant will help Israel the servant. And together they will glorify God’s name among the nations.
As we come to the New Testament we see that Jesus the Messiah, God’s servant does minister to His servant Israel. In fact, He founds a new Israel with 12 disciples like the 12 tribes of Israel and with Jewish persons placing their faith in Him. He sends them out to the ends of the earth to take a message of salvation to all the nations. So, we see God the Creator sending His servant to Israel for His glory.
The servant mentioned in 50:4-11 as one who is abused, mistreated, suffering. And that emphasis on a suffering servant finds its greatest expression in 52:13–53:12. It is in this passage that all the text about Christ’s crucifixion that we find in the New Testament find their shape. They seem to all portray Christ as He is found in Isaiah 53.
Listen to some of these familiar verses, 53:1ff, “Who has what he has heard from us and to and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He had no form or majesty that we should look on Him and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised and we esteemed Him not.
“Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we esteemed Him not, stricken, smitten by God, afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. And we have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away and as for His generation who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living stricken for the transgressions of His people. And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence and there was no deceit in His mouth.
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him. He has put Him to grief. When His soul makes an offering for guilt He shall see His offspring. He shall prolong His days. The will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied. By His knowledge shall the Righteous One, my servant, make many be counted righteous. And He shall bear their inequities. Therefore, I will divide to Him a portion with the many and he shall divide the spoil with the strong. Because He poured out His soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet He bore the sin of many and makes intersession for the transgressors.”
I read that whole chapter of Isaiah 53 because it so thoroughly expresses what the Bible teaches about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. He died for our sins. It was because of our griefs, our sorrows, our transgressions, that He died. And yet even though He had a grave, according to verse 9, He is an offering for guilt and the Lord somehow prolongs His days. The Lord is going to raise Him up and give Him a portion with the many. So 53:1-10 talk about how the Lord is going to put the servant to death as an offering for our guilt. And by the way this is the only time the Bible speaks approvingly of a human sacrifice. This person’s death will be for others and will remove their sins as a guilt offering. But yet according the verses 11 and 12 that is not the end. He will see His offspring. He will divide spoil. He will rise again.
As we then proceed into chapters 54 and 55 and 56 the Lord continues to encourage His people and to remind them to come to this Messiah. But not just the people of Israel. As 56:1-8 ends the section the text reminds us foreigners may come to the Lord. That He is going to gather people from all nations to His Mountain, to His house of prayer, according to chapter 56:7-8. God again is the creator. God again points out the sins of human beings. God again provides a sacrifice, this time His Son, His Servant, His Special One, who will die and rise again for the people. And for the people who put their faith in Him will come from many nations. They will come to His holy mountain and they will be received forever.
The Sixth Cycle (56:9–62:12)
The sixth cycle of Isaiah is 56:9 through 66:12. I will summarize this very quickly. In this passage once again we are reminded of the wickedness on the earth. Blind watchmen and slack shepherds rule God’s people. Righteous persons die without an advocate. Idolatry continues but Yahweh will end idolatry. He will bring His people to Himself.
How will He do so? Chapter 61:1-3 are passages Jesus cites when He begins His ministry. You can find this passage cited in Luke 4:18 and following. The text says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me.” And you will recall that is a phrase that applies to the Messiah in chapter 11 and also in chapter 42. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the Day of Vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn. To grant to those who morn in Zion, to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planning of the Lord that He may be glorified.”
God’s anointed One, His Messiah, will open the eyes of the blind, He will bring good news to the poor, and He will proclaim both judgment and renewal and He will be the means by which God will bring His people to Zion, according to chapter 62.
The Seventh Cycle (63–66)
Our last cycle of Isaiah is in chapters 63 to 66. In chapter 63:1 to 65:16, Isaiah states once again that Yahweh’s judgment will create a people who will bless themselves in Him. In chapter 65:16 he says that for these people the former troubles of life and history will be forgotten. This will happen when, according to verse 17, God promises, “I create new heavens, and a new earth and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
What is it that God will do in this new heaven and new earth? Verse 18: “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create. For behold I create Jerusalem to be a joy. Her people to be gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people. No more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days or an old man who does not fill out his days.”
The passage goes on to describe that death will be gone. That displacement and exile will be gone. That God’s displeasure will be finished. And a hostile environment will no longer exist. These will simply no longer be issues because God has created a new heavens and a new earth. And when the apostle John is on the island of Patmos and writing about future things in Revelation 21 he cites this passage as he thinks about how God will remake the world that we know. He will give His people a new home where sadness, sickness, sorrow, and death are no longer possible.
Isaiah 66 concludes the book by reminding us in versus 18 to 21 that God will call priests and servants of His from all nations. Yes, God’s promise to make Israel a kingdom of priests will be fulfilled. His promise that those priests will bless all nations and bring them to themselves, promises made to Abraham, will come true.
And yet the book ends with a final warning against not believing in God. Chapter 66:22 says, “For as the new heavens and new earth that I make shall remain before Me so shall your offspring in your name remain. From new moon to new moon and from Sabbath the Sabbath all flesh shall come to worship before Me declares the Lord.” Reminds us of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
But as a final warning in 66:24, a final warning of judgment, “And they,” that is those who serve the Lord, “shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Isaiah warns that there is eternal judgment for those who turn against God, who reject His ways, who reject His servant, who will not be His priest, who will not worship before Him; they shall be cast off forever.
So Isaiah expresses and preaches God’s gospel. The good news is that though we have sinned there is mercy and pardon, as the old gospel song says. That God judges sin but He also offers His servant, a Savior who dies for sins, who rises from the dead. Who gives new life to His people and resurrects them and provides a home for them with God forever.
So as Isaiah moves from creation to new creation at least seven times in the book he presents God’s pathway to forgiveness and new life for the people of Israel and for the people who come from all nations. Clearly Isaiah is a perfect way for the Latter Prophets to begin. The book unfolds during the crisis years of Israel and Judah’s history. It explores extensively sin, punishment, and restoration. And it clearly portrays a great coming of the Messiah who will bring all of history to a perfect conclusion when He judges the heavens and the earth and provides a home for His people.