Monday, September 05, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #7 (Chapters 58-66)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Today we conclude the study of the book of Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. The final section focuses on the glorious future kingdom that is coming for Israel and for all nations. 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…

The final section, which focuses on the glorious future of God's kingdom, begins with Chapter 58. But, the section begins, just as the whole book of Isaiah begins, by pointing out how the behavior of Israel in Isaiah's day keeps them from experiencing God's blessings. They need to change their heart attitudes or they will be removed in the Assyrian and Babylonian purges. The problem is that they see religion as a way to get something from God, rather than truly humbling themselves, seeking God, and accomplishing the mission He has given them to serve others. "To seek blessings to the neglect or harm of others is selfish, and to attempt to use God and the religious practices he has instituted as means to our selfish ends dishonors him and deprives us of fellowship with him. True blessings come indirectly as we seek God and his will." (259)

When people truly humble themselves before God, they come to desire what God desires. Rather than complaining about God’s failure to respond to their virtuous acts of piety, they act to relieve the suffering of those for whom God cares. They seek to satisfy the needs of the oppressed (v. 10) rather than their own. Isaiah 58, 259

Like the suffering servant passage, this chapter acknowledges humanity’s guilt and helplessness before God. In neither case is there any hope on the basis of human merit. Only the character of God provides hope, and thankfully in both contexts God works salvation for him[self] on the basis of his own righteousness. Isaiah 59, 267

Isaiah 60-62 begins to explain this hope with the figure of light. The hope of the exiles is that God will keep covenant and will shine the light of his presence on them again. God will not forget his covenant promise to change the hearts of his people. This will be done through the ministry of the servant (61) who will complete God's work of judgment and salvation. Gentile enemies will be turned into friends and covenant partners (62), who will join Israel in the kingdom.

Only as God manifests himself to his people and they receive and are transformed by him can true progress occur. Apart from this divine initiative, humanity continues to grope hopelessly in the dark for meaningful solutions to the problems of a fallen world. Isaiah 60, 270

The work of the person who speaks at the opening of Isaiah 61 is the kind of work Isaiah has revealed to be beyond the capabilities of the ordinary people with whom God enters into covenant. Only the one God has singled out as his anointed servant can accomplish the transformation these verses describe. Isaiah 61, 280

It is proper to exhort people to seek God (cf. 55:1), but one of the distinctive traits of the God of the Bible is his determination to seek even those who refuse to seek him...The story of Israel in the Old Testament reveals this transforming truth in a powerful way. Isaiah speaks originally to those who are tempted to interpret the exile as the end of God’s pursuit of Israel. As understandable as that conclusion is from a human perspective, God promises to make his people aware that they will always be his “Sought After.” Isaiah 62, 290

Chapter 63 begins with God's commitment to righteous judgment. He will remove those who are oppressing His people so that they can fully experience His blessing. Isaiah responds with a passionate prayer asking God why he has not already done this. Isaiah's intercession reminds God of His promises and admits Israel's sin. He then asks that God would provide another Exodus. He prays that God would forgive as He did in the past and that He would intervene and change the people's hearts.

Once again Isaiah ties redemption closely to judgment. God’s salvation extends to all who will accept it, but his saving work cannot come to completion without the judgment of those who reject him and threaten the security of the faithful. Isaiah 63.1-6, 291

Whatever God reveals about the future aims not to satisfy human curiosity but to point out the way one should live in the present...Prayer lays claim to God’s promises and in the process boldly confronts the apparent failure of those promises to come to fruition. Isaiah 63.7-64.12, 292–293

God responds with the promise of a "new heavens and a new earth," a world that will be so wonderful it can only be described as a new creation. But, this world will be only for those who accept God's gracious offer. As in Egypt, God differentiates between those who trust Him and those who don't. God will keep all his promises. The reference to "dust" as the "serpent's food" opens up this passage to the whole scope of God's plan to not only redeem humans, but the whole creation and the spiritual realm as well.

The real problem is that “we want God on our terms; when he does not respond, we blame him for being unresponsive. The result is, as 30:18 puts it, that God must simply wait until someone is ready to accept his terms—his ways and his thoughts—so that he can deliver them.” Isaiah 65.1-2, 304

As the prophets look to the future, they anticipate a better world. Jeremiah envisions it on the basis of a new covenant (31:31ff.). To that picture Ezekiel adds God’s renewal of human hearts and the bestowal of his Spirit (36:24ff.). Isaiah’s contribution to the prophetic vision of the future is the creation of new heavens and a new earth. Not only humanity, but the physical creation also has been marred by sin. Isaiah 65.17-25, 309

Isaiah ends with one final prophecy of judgment and restoration. This judgment will mean that those who oppress, hurt and live selfishly will be removed from the earth. Those that come through that great judgment will have their hearts changed to trust God wholly. This change is so radical it will be seen as God creating a "new heavens and new earth."

Isaiah’s intended effect is to isolate God’s gracious, powerful, creative work as humanity’s only hope. God steps in to defeat his people’s enemies when no other possibility exists. God succeeds through his servant when his people fail to respond. God turns the hearts of his people back to him when the downward spiral of sin has apparently hardened them beyond repair. Isaiah 66, 311

Thus Isaiah’s great book comes to its end in ways not unlike those in which it began, with a reaffirmation of the great choice that lies before the human race: judgment or hope. But there is one great difference. The hope that the final chapters affirm is on the other side of judgment. Indeed, what they tell us is that since the Holy One of Israel is the Creator and the only God, even judgment can be turned to hope if we will let him do it for us. No tragedy, no disaster, no fate that has befallen us because of our stubborn self-worship need be the final word for us while we yet breathe. Isaiah 66, 318

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