Saturday, August 06, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #1 (Chapters 1-12)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This week we move from the books of Deuteronomic history to the major prophets of Israel beginning with Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. Isaiah is one of the most important books in the Bible for understanding what the Bible is all about and is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament. Chapters 1-12 introduce most of the concepts within the whole book. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Isaiah is a two-part book that revolves around the historical chapters 36-39. The first half of the book focuses on the coming judgment (exile) for Judah with small glimpses of the hope that will follow. The second half of the book does just the opposite. It focuses on the coming salvation from exile which the Servant) will bring in a new Exodus. This will purify the people and usher in the Edenic age to come. The people are urged to make themselves ready for this age by people totally devoted to God in the present.

The key point for the people of Isaiah’s day, however, is that the divine purpose through the covenant people and their Davidic king will not be overturned by God’s disciplinary actions. In fact, God’s discipline is a necessary prerequisite to the work of the Messiah. 36–37

The first section of Isaiah (1-12) follows this pattern of focus on judgment with a little bit of hope. Chapter 1 begins with a covenant lawsuit against Judah. They have rejected exclusive love for God. This is very dangerous because they have rejected the source of life and healing. Their regular worship is rejected because they have rejected the essence of worship, imitation of God's character. God's intent was that they resemble him, but instead they resemble Sodom. At this point, the short glimpse of hope is seen in 2.1-5. God still promises that he will honor Jerusalem by someday making it the center of proper worship again from which his word will go out to all nations. However, chapter 2 goes on to say that Judah's pride will make its people ineligible to participate in this kingdom if they do not repent. Without repentance they will experience the full consequences of their lifting themselves and their own interests above God's.

Ahaz and Hezekiah, on the other hand, in contrasting fashions embody Isaiah’s message. Ahaz evidences a lack of faith and an openness to ungodly alliances which invite disaster. Hezekiah manifests the kind of faith that makes possible God’s deliverance and blessing. In the end, however, even a leader like Hezekiah proves to be inadequate, prompting one to wonder how God can accomplish his purpose through this nation. Isaiah 1.1, 37–38

A passage such as this one refutes the notion of some Christians that in the Old Testament period God was not concerned with the heart, but only with outward performance...For worship to be acceptable to God, there must be a consistency between the life and the offering of the worshiper. What was true in Genesis applied in the time of Isaiah as well, and continues to be true to this day. Isaiah 1.16-17, 44

The fundamental problem was not idolatry but the exaltation of man. The exhortation to Stop trusting in man exposes the source of Judah’s idolatry in at least two possible ways. First, idolatry tended to infiltrate God’s people when they made alliances with other nations. On a deeper level, however, idolatry and trusting in man are related because the pagan gods can be manipulated, allowing the worshipers to be the ones actually in control. Isaiah 2.17-21, 66

Chapters 3-5 contain prophecies of judgment sandwiched around one prophecy of deliverance in chapter 4. The prophecies of judgment in chapter 3 condemn the male leaders of Judah for misusing their positions to enrich themselves and the women for living in luxury at the expense of the poor. The judgment will happen in the coming exile. Chapter 5 condemns Israel for failing to fulfill God's calling in the world (vineyard song) and living to indulge themselves apart from God's authority. The chapter pronounces "woe," death, upon the greedy, the pleasure seekers, deliberate sinners, the self-deceived, the arrogant, and the self-serving. Covenant demands that God remove his protection from these people. Chapter 4 makes it clear that the purpose of this judgment is that evil be purged so that God's people can live in His presence in the coming kingdom.

Isaiah’s alternation of messages of judgment and salvation reflects the truth that in a sinful world, these two are inseparably linked. God’s purpose cannot be accomplished apart from either the conversion or the destruction of those committed to evil. Isaiah 3-4, 78

The laws of the literal harvest do not operate in the realm of free will and personal relationship, but God has placed within human beings the capacity to respond to his promptings. The same principle applies in Jesus’ parable of the sower, which need not be understood simply as describing the condition of those who hear the word, but also as exhorting hearers to decide to be fertile soil. Isaiah 5.1-7, 85–86

When human beings set themselves up as the ultimate authority, they feel free to define terms and rules according to their own tastes. This presumption has been the essence of sin from the beginning. A value system contrived apart from God inevitably results in a convoluted moral standard. The deception grows when such a standard is cited often enough that it becomes accepted as objective truth. Isaiah 5.20-21

Chapter 6, with its vision of a Holy God, provides the hinge which joins the judgment prophecies of 1-5 to the Immanuel prophecies of 7-12 which provide some future hope to the nation. Isaiah is reminded that God is still in control, but this is only good news if the nation will trust God and allow him to purify them. Sadly, Isaiah's "commission" reveals that it will not happen, except for a minority, and Isaiah will speak to a nation that will not listen to him.   

God’s question, Whom shall I send? and Isaiah’s response, Here am I. Send me! are both rooted in Isaiah’s cleansing. God cannot use Isaiah, and Isaiah cannot bring himself to serve, apart from God’s gracious forgiveness. No human being is worthy to serve and represent God, but anyone can be made fit for his service by purification. Isaiah 6, 100

Chapter 7 begins the Immanuel section. Isaiah's (or palace) children provide signs that God is with the nation for opportunity (7), for judgment (8) and for future hope (9). In chapter 7 God, through Isaiah, gives the Judean king an opportunity to trust God for preservation rather than his planned solution of making an alliance with Assyria. When he refuses the sign, he is given the sign of Immanuel (a child who will be born in the palace and named Immanuel) that the threat to his throne will quickly disappear, but his Assyrian solution will devastate the nation. Human scheming may give one relief from a temporary problem but it will never produce the rest and peace that God provides and usually worsens the long-term problems.

The name Immanuel represents the possibility of deliverance by trusting in God’s presence, a possibility which God assures his people is real. It cannot, however, be realized by the self-serving machinations of a petty human ruler. The sign of Immanuel finds fulfillment in the one who, by his special nature, is truly “God with us” and who therefore has the power to bring deliverance on a grander scale to those who put their trust in him. But in the same way that the first Immanuel bears witness to the judgment which will come upon those who refuse to trust God, so Jesus brings judgment as well as salvation. Isaiah 7, 127

In chapter 8 Isaiah makes another Immanuel prophecy, with witnesses, for future generations to ponder. Another (or possibly the same child is given another name) child is given a sign name, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, "Hurry and take the plunder." This is a sign that Ahaz' "solution" to his problem will bring on the devastation of the Assyrian invasion. The continued use of the name Immanuel in the chapter links this prophecy to the previous one. In the invasion, the Assyrians destroy every city in the land except for Jerusalem, which God miraculously delivers. Only a small percentage of the people will be left in the land.

(God) graciously reveals himself and his will, but which of these contrasting roles he takes depends upon the way individuals respond to him. Those who trust in him will know him as a refuge, but those who deny him or ignore him will know him as one who brings about their destruction. In the end it is impossible to deny or ignore God. Isaiah 8.14-15, 134

Isaiah 9-10 completes the Immanuel prophecy and sets the stage for the ending of the section in 11-12. In 9 another (3rd?), future Immanuel is introduced, who will bring in final salvation and peace. He is described with Divine Names as a Son of David who will be much more than just that. He will end the cycles of war and death and complete God's kingdom program. Israel and Ahaz should note this and trust God but they fail to do so. So the rest of 9, and most of 10, become a message of (almost) total devastation on Israel and Judah. The Assyrian army is described as wiping out the land until they get to the walls of Jerusalem, where God stops them. The Assyrian "razor" is stopped as it is about to cut the throat of God's people. The section ends with an assurance of God's righteous judgment on Assyria for what they have done to Israel.

Isaiah 9:1–7 promises something greater, however, because the answer of verse 5 is that God will bring an end to war, one of the greatest causes of human misery...Once again, God’s deliverance is connected to a child. This child is the third, and most foundational, answer to the question of how God will bring light into the darkness...the son born to them will be a special gift from God. According to the context he will be a Davidic ruler, but the language used to describe him and his rule challenge the notion that he is an ordinary descendant of David. Isaiah 9.1-7, 139–140

Righteous kings are all too often succeeded by corrupt heirs to the throne. Gains that had been made as a result of God’s favor are quickly lost. By contrast, however, it may be said of the ruler anticipated in this passage that Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, and that his righteous reign will last from that time on and forever...the message confronts them with the reality that only God, not a quantitatively better human king, can transform their situation. Isaiah 9.7, 141–142

When a nation seeks to destroy others and in the process blasphemes God, there will be a divine response...The freedom God grants human beings is real, but he limits its extent, especially when it threatens his redemptive purpose. As in Psalm 2:4, God finds attempts to oppose him laughable. Believers who fret over the apparent success of wicked people should remember this fact. Isaiah 10.5-19, 150–151

The first major section of Isaiah ends with the description of promised kingdom, when Edenic conditions characterize the world. The nation will be exiled but the return will herald that God is still working through them and a new, much better Davidic king will come from the "stump" of exile and complete God's purpose for the world. The proper response will be to praise God and take His message of salvation throughout the entire world.

The conquest God desires is later revealed to be spiritual, not military (cf. 2 Cor 10:3–5), a capturing of the hearts and minds of people from all nations. In the opening verse of this section (v. 10), God makes it clear that “the Root of Jesse” will become a rallying point for “the nations.” That goal, not a past or future restoration of ethnic Israel, is the ultimate concern of this passage. Isaiah 11, 162–163

God’s people are to proclaim that his name is exalted, not only because he deserves to be exalted, but also because the salvation of his people is designed to lead to the salvation of all peoples. This result will occur only if his people make God known to all the world. Isaiah 12, 166–167

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