Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #6 (Chapters 49-57)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This week we continue in the second major section (40-66) of the book of Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. This section focuses more sharply on the “Servant” who was introduced in chapter 42. 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…

Chapter 49 begins a new section which changes the focus from the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, to the "servant" who bring an even greater deliverance. The problem is that Israel is still rebellious, does not take responsibility for their own sin and exile and does not take the salvation that God provides. Thus, the servant must bring Israel back to God before he can accomplish the big mission of Israel to bring the "ends of the earth" back into relationship with God. The servant takes on the role of suffering Israel, but, surprisingly, it is rebellious Israel that causes his suffering. Isaiah calls to the remnant who will listen to the servant's message and experience God's blessing. In 51 Isaiah announces that Israel will "drink the cup of wrath" in the Babylonian exile, but they need to recognize what God is doing and be ready for when he calls them to return (52).

As with the servant, Israel should not expect triumph without struggle. The servant’s experience demonstrates that “to be the chosen of God does not mean glory along the way, but it does mean glory at the end of the way.” Isaiah 49.7, 189

The one who fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant trusts in God to illuminate his way through the darkness. Such a person may not always be able to see the way from the struggles of the present to the end of the journey, but he has heard the testimony of the servant and believes God will vindicate all who trust in him. Isaiah 50, 197

God’s cup of wrath can be fatal, but his purpose for his people precludes that possibility in this case. By removing the cup God allows Israel to regain her senses and resume a place in God’s work of redemption. It is vital, however, that Israel accept this message. Isaiah 51, 204

The big barrier to Israel receiving blessing and accomplishing its mission to bless all the nation is sin. The final servant song prophecies a solution to that problem. The servant will accomplish Israel's mission, but, surprisingly, will be rejected. However, this is part of God's plan (53.10) as the servant bears and redeems the sin of Israel and accomplishes the mission of the nation to bring the good news (“Our God reigns”) to all the world.

The final servant song (52:13–53:12) brings together the distinction between the servant and Israel and the theme of suffering, taking each to a higher level. The servant suffers because of Israel’s failures and on behalf of Israel’s failures...By taking Israel’s sins upon himself, the servant makes it possible for Israel’s relationship with God to be restored and through Israel for God’s saving power to be revealed to the nations. God thus begins his work of restoration by returning his people from exile through a powerful pagan king, but he accomplishes a greater work of restoration through a suffering servant. Isaiah 53, 221–222

This closes the section with a call to praise God for the redemption and salvation he has provided (54) and an urgent invitation to accept the gracious offer to trust in what he has provided.

When someone’s life is battered and chaotic, the primary desire is for stability. The work of the servant provides hope for the fulfillment of that desire, whether communicated through the picture of a reconciled marriage or a fortified city that gives its inhabitants peace and safety. All other blessings depend on that solid foundation. Isaiah 54, 232.

God extends grace not only by self-revelation and his willingness to forgive, but also by his patience and long-suffering (cf. Exod 34:6–7). Yet the opportunity to respond to God’s self-revelation does not last forever. God’s removal of his protective presence from Jerusalem before the Babylonian destruction (Ezekiel 10) illustrates this danger. In addition, a refusal to respond to God tends to debilitate the person through a hardening of the heart. Isaiah 55.6, 236–237

Chapters 56-57 close this section of Isaiah. The surprising thing in this section is that, despite Israel's disobedience, the obedience of the servant "expands the scope of God's grace" to the "eunuchs and foreigners," that is, those who were excluded from worship in the temple under the old covenant. God will complete his plan to bless ALL the nations through the seed of Abraham. To do this He will purge Israel of idolatry, and change the hearts of his people through the work of the servant.

To keep the Sabbath meant, among other things, that you served the God who created the world and cared for everyone and everything in it. It also had to do with perfection or completeness. It recalled the completeness of God’s original work of creation, and looked forward to the time when his work of re-creation would also be complete...So there is no petty legalism here. The Sabbath is viewed not as an end in itself, but as a sign that the whole of life was to be lived in submission to God, and that meant sharing his concern for justice. Isaiah 56, 242–243

The willing praise that God deserves from his redeemed people is not possible until sinners realize their condition and recognize God as the one who can save them. This change, in turn, is not possible unless God reaches out to humanity to make his righteousness and his love known. Isaiah 57, 253

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