April 25, 2011

"I saw the Lord": Isaiah 6

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

3 And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

The whole earth is full of His glory!”

4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 So I said:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King,

The LORD of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;

Your iniquity is taken away,

And your sin purged.”

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,

And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

In chapter 6, Isaiah pauses briefly in his written prophecy to describe his experience of his call to ministry. In chapter 1, Isaiah calls his prophecy a “vision . . . which he saw” (1:1); now, in chapter 6, is fills in some details. Today we will consider Isaiah’s vision (1-4), his reaction (5), his forgiveness (6-7), his commission to prophesy (8), and the message God gave him to preach to a hard-hearted people (9-13).

One remarkable aspect of Isaiah’s account of seeing the Lord is that John notes in John 12:27-41 that the vision Isaiah saw was the glory of Jesus Himself:

27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:

“ Lord, who has believed our report?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[f]

39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:

40 “ He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,

Lest they should see with their eyes,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.”

41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

Isaiah’s vision (1-4)

Isaiah gives us the date of his call: the year King Uzziah died, which historians pinpoint to 739-740 B.C. In addition, he reports his ministry spanned the time of four kings—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This is about 50 years, from about 739 B.C. until about 689 B.C.

The first part of chapter 6 is Isaiah’s account of his vision and call to prophesy. In writing this record of his call to prophetic ministry, Isaiah interrupts his prophecy. He may have chosen to interrupt briefly the prophecies to reinforce, by his testimony, how God called him and inspired him to speak.

“Sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (6:1)

In the vision, Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, perhaps a vision of the temple in Jerusalem or a heavenly temple. Since Isaiah does not go further in his description, my view is that he sees the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem. Most of his readers had been in the temple, and simply noting that he saw the Lord in “the temple” would have been sufficient. The Lord and his throne were “high and lifted up,” a position of power and judgment, like a king on his throne or a modern-day judge in a courtroom.

Isaiah saw Seraphim (2-3) around God. Seraphim are a class of servants or attendants at God’s throne. Their main role seems to be to worship and offer praise. All we know about seraphim comes from Isaiah 6:1 and 6:6. They are beings with six wings, two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying. Their position is above and around the throne. All we can infer from these two verses that the seraphim are a type of attendant hovering over and around God and praising Him.

Seraphim are not to be confused with cherubim, which are mentioned numerous times in the O.T. and N.T. Cherubim carry out missions given by God and are seen carrying Him on His throne. In Genesis 3:24, we find that God sent cherubim to prevent mankind from re-entering the garden of Eden. In Exodus 25:18-21, gold statues of cherubim with outstretched wings were placed on the top of the ark.

The seraphim are most likely the “four living creatures” of Revelation 4:8. In both places in scripture, we find them worshiping and praising with the words “holy, holy, holy” giving emphasis to His sinless perfection and His position above His creation.

Isaiah says the seraphim’s cry of praise to God shook the doorposts, and the temple was filled with smoke. I think this may be the glory cloud, which represented the Lord’s presence to the Israelites in the wilderness. Regardless, however, the scene Isaiah saw was magnificent and captivating to him.

Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of being in God’s presence (5)

Isaiah had an immediate and full realization and understanding of his guilt before holy God (Verse 5—So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”).

He fully realized his sinfulness by just experiencing the vision of being in God’s presence. He knew he was unworthy before God—unworthy to be in His presence, unworthy to join the seraphim in praise, and unworthy to be His prophet.

The forgiveness and purification of Isaiah (6-7)

The forgiveness of Isaiah’s sins is symbolized in the text by one of the seraphim taking a live coal from the altar of incense and flying to him to touch the live coal to his lips. The incense was a symbol of the prayers and intercession of the people going up to God as a sweet fragrance, a symbol that people could approach Him. In the temple in Jerusalem, the altar of incense was made of gold and positioned just in front of the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was located. God instructed (Exodus 30: 1-10) the priests to keep incense burning in the altar all the time, symbolic of the pleasing aroma of His people’s prayers. The incense was put on smoldering coals brought from another altar, where burnt offerings were given for forgiveness of sins. The symbolism is a little complex—sins forgiven (the burnt offerings) related through use of the same smoldering coals to the burning of incense, which symbolized the sweet aroma of prayer and communion with God.

The seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with the smoldering coal, declaring “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged” (purged could be translated “atoned for” or “removed”).

With his sins forgiven, Isaiah could now serve His Lord as holy and pure

Isaiah’s commission as prophet (8-13)

God asks the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Note that even here, the true nature of God is affirmed as one God in more than one person or nature—who will go for Us. This is a truth consistent throughout scripture. In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .”; John 1:1, 14 tells us: “the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . “

Isaiah’s response: “Here am I! Send me.” In the vision, Isaiah had seen God’s power and holiness and experienced His complete forgiveness. He was free from guilt and ready to serve. His ministry was to deliver God’s word to a people whom God knew would not respond:

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

How many people would tell others about their faith if they knew in advance they would never listen? How many missionaries would go to the mission field if they knew in advance that when they retired, not one person would have been converted from their ministry? God is telling Isaiah that they will hear but not understand. His words will make their hearts dull, their ears heavy (tired of listening), and they will shut their eyes to the truth. They will do this on purpose and willingly for the purpose of not seeing, not hearing, not understanding, and not being reconciled to their Lord.

So the question comes to mind: Why bother to preach to people God Himself has told me will never listen, that all of my efforts to get them to turn away from their sin will be rejected? The reason is that so when the time for judgment comes, those who willingly turn away will know why they were being judged. Even more important, since we know “the rest of the story” from scripture, there are always a few people—the Bible calls them a remnant—who are listening.

Isaiah asks “Lord, how long?” (11). There is a sense of anguish. Isaiah seems to be horrified that the people will willingly turn their backs on their Lord in the face of the coming judgment.

2) Verses 11 and 12 give a brief summary of the judgment to come to the nation—cities laid waste and abandoned, desolate land, the people sent into exile (“removed . . . far away,” v. 12), the land forsaken:

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

Verse 13 gives both despair and hope:

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

The bad news is that even if 10% of the Judeans remain, they, too, will fall prey to the invaders. My guess is this refers to a kind of “mopping up” operation by an army that has invaded and conquered.

The good news is that out of the few “stumps” left, the “holy seed” will come, the Messiah. (An alternate interpretation of the “holy seed” is that it refers to the remnant of faithful Jews, who will return to the land and faithfully follow their Lord. I do not subscribe to this interpretation, which is not the majority interpretation.)

If you are a little confused in v. 13, welcome to the club! It is difficult to interpret in Hebrew, let alone translate to English! The main message in verse 13 is that while God would judge His nation because they willingly turned from Him, He will not abandon them totally and forever. There will be a few stumps left, even after the land is laid desolate.

April 16, 2011

He Arose! 1 Corinthians 15:1-28

A Sermon for Easter

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
—1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Throughout the church age, there have been a few in every generation who have speculated that Jesus did not really rise from the dead. This speculation grew especially beginning in the 18th century, when some influential scholars began questioning the source of the scripture and subjecting its claims to scientific validation.

Their theories to account for the gospels’ accounts of his crucifixion, death, and resurrection go to great lengths to support their position as skeptics. Some postulated that Jesus merely fainted on the cross, rather than dying. Others say the disciples took His body from the grave and His appearances after that were spiritual, not physical. One of the most far out theories is that His crucifixion and death were merely shared hallucinations.

The doubts about His resurrection were planted in the very beginning, according to the gospel of Matthew, when on the morning of the resurrection the chief priests and elders bribed the guards and told them to say that Jesus’ disciples came during the night and stole His body:

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
—Matthew 28:11-15

In our passage for today (1 Corinthians 15:1-28), Paul explains the truth about the resurrection of Jesus. He addressed this subject in this letter because, among all of the other problems in the Corinthian church, the Corinthian Christians were arguing about whether or not there was a resurrection from the dead.

Paul makes three primary points in verses 1-28:

Christ rose from the dead (verse 4)

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very substance of the gospel, which Paul preached in all his missionary travels and in his epistles. Here in verses 3 and 4, Paul makes it clear what the Gospel is: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

That is the gospel: that Jesus was crucified and buried and then rose from the dead, just as the Scriptures reveal. Jesus’ rising from the dead often is the most difficult part for people to accept. After all, rising from the dead is not something within our experiences. So Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that hundreds of people witnessed the risen Christ. And, suspecting that there would have been some skeptics who might say, “Yeah, right, Paul,” he noted that most of these eyewitnesses are still living at the time of his writing, which was about 25 years after the resurrection (verse 6). Paul was telling them, “if anyone has any questions, go and talk to these people who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes.”

Paul goes on to say in verse 8, “and last of all he appeared to me also, as one born out of due time” (some translations, “one abnormally born”). Jesus appeared to Paul within the first couple of years after the crucifixion and resurrection. We remember that Paul, then called Saul, was on his way to Damascus to find and arrest Christians, when Jesus appeared to him. That encounter enabled Paul to become an apostle even though he was not an original eyewitness of the resurrection, as were all the other apostles. So Paul refers to himself as “one born out of due time” (or “one abnormally born”), compared to the other apostles. He, too, had seen and talked to the resurrected Savior, just as the other apostles but at a later time.

Paul’s second point is:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen (verse 13)

Paul was puzzled by some of the thinking in Corinth, because the resurrection was already established as fact and part of the experience of hundreds of Christians still living and worshiping in the early church. Since Christ rose from the dead, then the resurrection exists; but if the resurrection did not exist, then Christ could not have risen from the dead. But He did rise from the dead.

In verse 12, Paul asks his readers how they could preach that Jesus rose from the dead, while at the same time some of the people in that church argued that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul saw an essential link between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of other believers. To deny one, he is telling them, is to deny both. To say that one could not happen, is to imply that the other could not happen. The conclusion of his logic is that if one believes that believers in Christ who have died will not be resurrected, then that implies that Jesus could not have risen from the dead. He then goes on to declare what the impact of that would be. Look at the points Paul makes that would necessarily stem from a belief that Christ is not raised:

Our preaching would be empty (meaning "useless"): it makes no sense at all to go out and tell others about Jesus if he is still dead (verse 14)

Our faith would be empty (useless, verse 14)

The apostles would be false witnesses (that is, they had to be lying if there is no resurrection, verse 15)

Our faith would be futile (verse 17)

We would still be in our sins rather than forgiven (verse 17); that is, His death did not redeem us

Those Christians who have already died were still lost (verse 18)

We of all people are to be pitied: because we have a false hope (verse 19; in other words, we would have no reason to believe any of the promises Jesus made, if He did not make good on his promise to rise from the dead).

Paul's third point is:

Christ is the first of those risen from the dead (verse 20)

Paul firmly tells them that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. He is “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep. “Firstfruits”refers to the first of the harvest, which Christians dedicated to God by giving it to the church. In Jewish history, the firstfruits of the harvest was given at the Temple. This was an important tradition. The Christians brought their tithes and offerings to the church in the form of the firstfruits of the harvest. This is thought to be the major source of income for the 1st century church.

When Paul refers to “those who have fallen asleep,” He is using the 1st century euphemism for those who have died. The resurrection, he reasons, makes our death something temporary, so in a sense our bodies are sleeping in the grave, waiting to be awakened by the Lord at the resurrection.

In verses 21 and 22 he notes that Jesus is the source of resurrection and life, just as Adam was the source of sin and death. In verse 23, he repeats that Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits. Jesus’ resurrection is the demonstration of the promise that those who trust in Him will be resurrected as well.

But, he points out, this will not happen until the end of the age. Look at verses 24-26: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

Paul is making a strong doctrinal point, but also offering assurance of the resurrection to the Corinthian Christian s. The resurrection of Jesus, he reasons, is the solid evidence of the conquest of death and our assurance that death has been totally defeated for us, a fact we will experience when Christ returns and our resurrection occurs. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of the reign of sin and death.

Some personal applicatons

Because He arose we do not need to fear death

As Christians we know that there is much to look forward to in death: we will be in heaven with our Lord, and we will be changed, with no more sin, no more pain, and no more sorrow. At His return, we will be raised to be with Him, unlike those who are without Christ, who have no hope: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

The reason we have that hope and can face death with courage, knowing that we will be raised, is the resurrection of Jesus.

Because He arose we have confidence in the power of God

Raising Jesus from the dead is the ultimate evidence of God’s mighty power:

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
—Ephesians 1:15-20

Because He arose we can see our lives in context

Finally, the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us gives us knowledge of the true context of our existence.

For example, the car we drive or the home we own are not so important as how we treat people around us. That is the true context that helps give meaning to life in the eternal prospective in which we live. The size of our bank account is of no importance, compared to our willingness to share what we have with others in need. Our successes—academic achievements, building a large business, our accomplishments as athletes, etc.—are unimportant compared to our faithful service to the Lord and to His church.

Because the resurrection is a reality, the most important goal we can have is that one day, when this life is over, the Lord will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

April 14, 2011

Isaiah 2-5: Messages in the Early Years of Isaiah’s Ministry


We studied in chapter 1 a stern message from God to the people of Judah, delivered by Isaiah, who experienced a vision from God. The messages he delivered are in the form of a prosecutor or judge (God) listing the charges against the defendant (Judah), detailing her lawbreaking (sins). The charges include rebellion despite past judgments (5-6); Judah’s futile, empty worship (10-15); a call to repent (16-20); and the particularly sinful condition of the people of Jerusalem (21-31, “How the faithful city has become a harlot!” ). At the same time, however, God gives promises: those who repent will be restored (27), and those who continue in rebellion will be judged (28).

While chapter 1 briefly describes the spiritual condition of the people of Judah, the next four chapters (2-5) contain messages about both the present and the future of Judah and Jerusalem.

A wonderful future for Judah (2:1-4)

The future of Judah and Jerusalem is foretold, with the capital and seat of power in a future peaceful world to be in Jerusalem:

1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days

That the mountain of the LORD’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains,

And shall be exalted above the hills;

And all nations shall flow to it.

3 Many people shall come and say,

“ Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

To the house of the God of Jacob;

He will teach us His ways,

And we shall walk in His paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

4 He shall judge between the nations,

And rebuke many people;

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

This is a glimpse of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies—the time when our Lord returns to establish His kingdom on earth. Notice the conditions:

First, the kingdom will be established and all the nations will be subject to His rule. “The mountain of the Lord’s house” refers to the temple mount in Jerusalem. Second, throughout the world, people will willingly look to Jesus as ruler and master: “Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . He will teach us His ways and we shall walk in His paths’” Third, Isaiah also gives us a brief glimpse of Christ’s judgment of the nations, the outcome being true peace among all the peoples of the world (verse 3)

This is the message of hope repeated again and again by the Old Testament prophets, by Jesus in the gospels, by the writers of the epistles, and by John in the book of Revelation. The message is a consistent one of a glorious future with Christ as king.

Isaiah, like all of the Messianic prophets, shows what we call “prophetic foreshortening” in his glimpses of the future. It’s similar to what we see when we look off into the distant at many mountain peaks. They all look so close together, but in fact they are not. In the same manner, Isaiah does not talk about many details and he does not understand there will be two advents, the first when Christ came to seek and save the lost and the final advent when He comes again to establish His kingdom. But Isaiah sees and describes the end result: a world at peace and serving the Lord.

The church—that’s us—is what we might call the first installment. Look at v. 2 . . . aren’t we like that? Don’t we exalt Him above the hills (i.e., above creation, above everything)? And then look at v. 3 . . . don’t we daily “go up to the mountain of the Lord” and try to learn His ways and walk in His paths?

The culmination of Isaiah’s prophetic vision will be Jesus’ return to rule. But right now, as Christians we can accurately experience in our inner selves what all the world will experience when Christ literally establishes His kingdom on earth.

The shamefulness of Zion and God’s call to repent (2:5-4:6)

After briefly describing the future hope of Zion (Jerusalem), Isaiah returns to the present: the people of Judah had forsaken their Lord. They had left Him to practice pagan customs (“they are filled with eastern ways”-verse 6), to gain wealth and power like their pagan neighbors (verse 7), and to worship and bow down to idols (verses 8 and 9). He goes on to show that the Lord will continue to judge in order to turn the people back to Him: the arrogant will be humbled, there will be no good and righteous leaders, and the people will be disciplined.

And then he reminds his readers that the day of the Lord is coming (2:10-22):

10 Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust,

From the terror of the LORD

And the glory of His majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled,

The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,

And the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the LORD of hosts

Shall come upon everything proud and lofty,

Upon everything lifted up—

And it shall be brought low—

13 Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up,

And upon all the oaks of Bashan;

14 Upon all the high mountains,

And upon all the hills that are lifted up;

15 Upon every high tower,

And upon every fortified wall;

16 Upon all the ships of Tarshish,

And upon all the beautiful sloops.

17 The loftiness of man shall be bowed down,

And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low;

The LORD alone will be exalted in that day,

18 But the idols He shall utterly abolish.

19 They shall go into the holes of the rocks,

And into the caves of the earth,

From the terror of the LORD

And the glory of His majesty,

When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

20 In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver

And his idols of gold,

Which they made, each for himself to worship,

To the moles and bats,

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks,

And into the crags of the rugged rocks,

From the terror of the LORD

And the glory of His majesty,

When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

22 Sever yourselves from such a man,

Whose breath is in his nostrils;

For of what account is he?

How the Lord will deal with disobedient Judah (3:1-4:1)

1 For behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts,

Takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah

The stock and the store,

The whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water;

2 The mighty man and the man of war,

The judge and the prophet,

And the diviner and the elder;

3 The captain of fifty and the honorable man,

The counselor and the skillful artisan,

And the expert enchanter.

4 “ I will give children to be their princes,

And babes shall rule over them.

5 The people will be oppressed,

Every one by another and every one by his neighbor;

The child will be insolent toward the elder,

And the base toward the honorable.”

6 When a man takes hold of his brother

In the house of his father, saying,

“ You have clothing;

You be our ruler,

And let these ruins be under your power,”[a]

7 In that day he will protest, saying,

“ I cannot cure your ills,

For in my house is neither food nor clothing;

Do not make me a ruler of the people.”

8 For Jerusalem stumbled,

And Judah is fallen,

Because their tongue and their doings

Are against the LORD,

To provoke the eyes of His glory.

9 The look on their countenance witnesses against them,

And they declare their sin as Sodom;

They do not hide it.

Woe to their soul!

For they have brought evil upon themselves.

10 “ Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them,

For they shall eat the fruit of their doings.

11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him,

For the reward of his hands shall be given him.

12 As for My people, children are their oppressors,

And women rule over them.

O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err,

And destroy the way of your paths.”

13 The LORD stands up to plead,

And stands to judge the people.

14 The LORD will enter into judgment

With the elders of His people

And His princes:

“ For you have eaten up the vineyard;

The plunder of the poor is in your houses.

15 What do you mean by crushing My people

And grinding the faces of the poor?”

Says the Lord GOD of hosts.

16 Moreover the LORD says:

“ Because the daughters of Zion are haughty,

And walk with outstretched necks

And wanton eyes,

Walking and mincing as they go,

Making a jingling with their feet,

17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab

The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion,

And the LORD will uncover their secret parts.”

18 In that day the Lord will take away the finery:

The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents;

19 The pendants, the bracelets, and the veils;

20 The headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands;

The perfume boxes, the charms,

21 and the rings;

The nose jewels,

22 the festal apparel, and the mantles;

The outer garments, the purses,

23 and the mirrors;

The fine linen, the turbans, and the robes.

24 And so it shall be:

Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench;

Instead of a sash, a rope;

Instead of well-set hair, baldness;

Instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth;

And branding instead of beauty.

25 Your men shall fall by the sword,

And your mighty in the war.

26 Her gates shall lament and mourn,

And she being desolate shall sit on the ground.

4:1 And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying,

“We will eat our own food and wear our own apparel;

Only let us be called by your name,

To take away our reproach.”

Isaiah has told his readers that they will not enjoy good and righteous leadership. In judgment, God will remove not only needed material supplies, but also judges, prophets, elders (wise leaders), honorable leaders, craftsmen, and even religious leaders (verses 1 to 3). In other words, the Lord is telling them that since they so desire to turn from Him and His standards, He will leave them to fend for themselves.

Why? Because of the wickedness of the people of Judah and Jerusalem (verses 8 and 9). Their declarations and their actions are against their Lord, and they do not even try to hide their sin from Him or from each other. In the midst of judgment, God will care for the righteous but not for the wicked (verses 10 and 11). And He will judge the proud women of Judah because of their arrogance (3:16-4:1): He will take away their jewelry, perfume, and fine clothing; their husbands will die in warfare; and they will no longer be arrogant, but will be desolate.

Hope for the future (4:2-6)

Isaiah repeated uses the phrase “In that day” throughout the book (see verse 2, for example). This phrase is the one the prophets generally use to refer to the coming of the Lord in what we often refer to as the “end time” or “last days.” But in verse 2, we may have the only exception in the Old Testament, because Isaiah may not be referring to the return of Christ, but to the return of the remnant from Babylonian captivity.

In verses 2 through 6, Isaiah briefly describes a future hope for the people. His description seems fit the time more than a century and a half later when Ezra and Nehemiah would lead the faithful remnant back from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, restore worship of Yahweh in the temple, and live as Yahweh’s people in the land He gave them. There is some debate about verses 2 through 6 because of the reference to “the Branch of the Lord” in verse 2. This is a common term for the Messiah.

In deciding which future it is to which Isaiah is referring (the return of Christ or the return of the people to the land from captivity), it should be remembered that while the description of Zion in verses 3 through 6 are of a restored Jerusalem and Judah, it is also just as easy to see this as a description of Jerusalem after Jesus returns to reign.

This passage is one used by the skeptics of the 17th century and after to claim a later date for the writing Isaiah, since it describes the restored Jerusalem and worship established when Ezra and Nehemiah led the remnant back from Babylon.

Judah, God’s vineyard (5:1-30)

1 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved

A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:

My Well-beloved has a vineyard

On a very fruitful hill.

2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones,

And planted it with the choicest vine.

He built a tower in its midst,

And also made a winepress in it;

So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,

But it brought forth wild grapes.

3 “ And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,

Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.

4 What more could have been done to My vineyard

That I have not done in it?

Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,

Did it bring forth wild grapes?

5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:

I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;

And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

6 I will lay it waste;

It shall not be pruned or dug,

But there shall come up briers and thorns.

I will also command the clouds

That they rain no rain on it.”

7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,

And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.

He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;

For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

Impending Judgment on Excesses

8 Woe to those who join house to house;

They add field to field,

Till there is no place

Where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!

9 In my hearing the LORD of hosts said,

“ Truly, many houses shall be desolate,

Great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant.

10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath,

And a homer of seed shall yield one ephah.”

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,

That they may follow intoxicating drink;

Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!

12 The harp and the strings,

The tambourine and flute,

And wine are in their feasts;

But they do not regard the work of the LORD,

Nor consider the operation of His hands.

13 Therefore my people have gone into captivity,

Because they have no knowledge;

Their honorable men are famished,

And their multitude dried up with thirst.

14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself

And opened its mouth beyond measure;

Their glory and their multitude and their pomp,

And he who is jubilant, shall descend into it.

15 People shall be brought down,

Each man shall be humbled,

And the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.

16 But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment,

And God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness.

17 Then the lambs shall feed in their pasture,

And in the waste places of the fat ones strangers shall eat.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity,

And sin as if with a cart rope;

19 That say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work,

That we may see it;

And let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come,

That we may know it.”

20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;

Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;

Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,

And prudent in their own sight!

22 Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,

Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,

23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe,

And take away justice from the righteous man!

24 Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble,

And the flame consumes the chaff,

So their root will be as rottenness,

And their blossom will ascend like dust;

Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts,

And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

25 Therefore the anger of the LORD is aroused against His people;

He has stretched out His hand against them

And stricken them,

And the hills trembled.

Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.

For all this His anger is not turned away,

But His hand is stretched out still.

26 He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar,

And will whistle to them from the end of the earth;

Surely they shall come with speed, swiftly.

27 No one will be weary or stumble among them,

No one will slumber or sleep;

Nor will the belt on their loins be loosed,

Nor the strap of their sandals be broken;

28 Whose arrows are sharp,

And all their bows bent;

Their horses’ hooves will seem like flint,

And their wheels like a whirlwind.

29 Their roaring will be like a lion,

They will roar like young lions;

Yes, they will roar

And lay hold of the prey;

They will carry it away safely,

And no one will deliver.

30 In that day they will roar against them

Like the roaring of the sea.

And if one looks to the land,

Behold, darkness and sorrow;

And the light is darkened by the clouds.

Chapter 5 is in the form of a “song” or chant, meant to be delivered verbally, not just in written form. Can you imagine Isaiah in the temple courtyard chanting this message?

The song from the Lord is a metaphor about the vineyard he planted (Judah), which He cultivated, but which did not bear fruit. (“My Well-beloved”: Isaiah’s term here for God.) The vineyard produced wild grapes (1-2), and therefore the vineyard therefore will be laid waste (3-6)

He identifies the vineyard as Israel and Judah (7). God intended that His people display justice and righteousness, but this “vineyard” produced oppression instead. The people did not seek Him, but sought only gain, and the wealthy added to their landholdings and built great and beautiful houses. The houses, He says, will be desolate and the land will be unproductive (8-10). Verse 10 is interesting. The land will be so unproductive that 10 acres of vineyard will produce only about six gallons of wine (“one bath” would be about six gallons of liquid), and so unproductive that one homer of seed (which is about six bushels) will produce only a half-bushel (an ephah) of grapes. These are famine conditions.

The song goes on to say that the people seek only pleasure (intoxicating drink, the harp and strings, tambourine and flute) and not the work of the Lord; they will go into captivity and be humbled, while God will be exalted (11-17). They taunt the Lord, sarcastically daring Him and His prophets to do His work (18-19). They call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness, bitter sweet and sweet bitter, and see themselves as wise and prudent in their own eyes (20-21). Instead of being mighty at doing the will and work of their Lord, they are mighty at drinking, taking bribes, and taking away justice from righteous people (22-23)

Notice how the song draws sharp—even sarcastic—contrast between what God intends for His people and what they had become. And notice a couple of other aspects of the descriptions of a people who had turned away from their Lord. First, I notice how similar God’s charges against the people of Judah are to the charges he could level at our western culture. Also, I notice the contrast between the wisdom of God and the foolishness of mankind as our culture sees good as evil, darkness as light, etc.

Future judgment

Judgment is coming because the people of God have hated and rejected God and his standards of living (24). This has aroused the Lord’s righteous anger; He has already stricken them and continues to strike them in judgment (25). The unspoken message here is that despite the judgment already delivered, the people persist in their sin and rejection of Him. They have accepted no amount of correction from their Lord, and soon will be the time for drastic action on His part.

God will summon strong nations to invade the land (26-30). They are ready for battle, and their weapons are at hand (27-28). They will roar into the land, carry away their prey (referring to the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites, which began about 586 B.C.) (29). And no longer will the light of the Lord shine in the land. The land will be dark and desolate (30)


So ends the song of the Lord regarding His vineyard, the land of

We are struck by God’s disappointment and the desolation that is left. But we also remember the message of hope given to the people of Judah and to God’s people of every age. For the people of Judah, they were invaded and carried into Babylonian captivity about a century and a half later, in 586 B.C. But around 530 B.C., a remnant returned, restored the temple. A brief period of revival followed, only to become the legalistic religion under the Pharisees by the first century A.

When you compare the messages of the O.T. prophets and Jesus, you find a great similarity: God wants our hearts and lives that reflect the Holy Spirit that lives in us, not just our outward expressions of belief while we continue to live sinful, secular lives.