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.

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