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Monday, June 30, 2014

Isaiah 8: The Witnessess (Part 1 of 4)

Isaiah 8: The Witnessess (Part 1 of 4)

The LORD directs Isaiah to seal the documentation concerning the future Assyrian invasion of Israel, again using Isaiah's child as a sign. The LORD compares Assyria to a mighty river flooding all of Israel and Judah, all the land belonging to God's Chosen: Immanuel.

The LORD gave Isaiah a stern warning: do not allow Israel's fear to infect you: "Fear God alone". Isaiah responds in the voice of Immanuel: "I will hope in the LORD". Those who seek the occult forces of necromancery will be thrust into thick darkness.

This chapter will be divided into four parts, each part posted weekly for the next four weeks:

  • The Witnesses
  • The Flood
  • The Conspiracy
  • Waiting And Hoping

The Tablet

Isaiah writes the words of the LORD on a tablet and has two witnesses seal it for authenticity. The prediction is accompanied by a symbol: Isaiah's child.

The tablet is large, and Isaiah is to write on it in "common characters":

The tablet (made of skins, papyrus, wood, metal or stone; sometimes coated with wax) would be marked with a pointed instrument or iron stylus in ordinary characters which the humblest could read, rather than in hieroglyphics (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

The Priest

Why did the LORD choose Uriah as witness? Uriah the priest was an accomplice with King Ahaz in idolatry:

2 Kings 16:2-16 (ESV) "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree...

"When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus...

"And King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, saying, On the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering and the king's burnt offering and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. And throw on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice, but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by. Uriah the priest did all this, as King Ahaz commanded."

It would be to Uriah's interest to discredit Isaiah. Uriah would be a reliable witness only because he would not be likely to conspire with Isaiah after the fact by supporting a false testimony.

The LORD wanted the people to be forewarned, not that they would escape the invasion, but that they would know that the LORD was sovereign over the invasion. Only after the fact would the people realize the truth of Isaiah's incredible prediction.

What do you think?

The Child

The LORD directed Isaiah to document on a tablet the prophecy concerning Assyria, and the tablet was to be sealed with the name of Isaiah's son:

Isaiah 8:1 (ESV) "Then the LORD said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz."

The boy's name symbolized the speed and purpose of Assyria's invasion. Before the boy would be old enough to talk all the wealth of Damascus (capital of Syria) and Samaria (capital of Israel) would be carried away by the Assyrian king.

The "prophetess" perhaps was the same as the "virgin" in the previous chapter. Perhaps only one child was born, and the LORD gave the boy two symbolic names. Whether one child or two, whether Isaiah's child or not, the basic intention of the LORD is to emphasize his power and the certainty of invasion.

The LORD went to great lengths to authenticate the prophecy and give the people warning. Two witnesses, a sealed tablet and a child's pre-determined birth.

What do you think?

photo credit: vintagedept via photopin cc

Monday, June 23, 2014

Isaiah 7: God With Us

Isaiah 7: God With Us

Two generations after the downfall of King Uzziah, Jerusalem was attacked by two enemy nations: Syria and Israel. How could Israel have become an enemy of itself, an enemy of Judah's capital city, Jerusalem?

The LORD spoke to the prophet Isaiah, giving him a message for Ahaz, king of Judah: Do not let your heart be faint. The two enemy forces would be shattered within 65 years. The LORD gave to Ahaz a sign of his sovereign power over people and events: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son who shall be named Immanuel, and the king of Assyria will sweep away the nation of Syria and the rebellious state of Israel. The remnant remaining will enjoy abundance and comfort.

THE ATTACK: Verses 1-2

The political situation in Israel was chaotic. Civil war had divided Israel north and south. The northern state, still called Israel, joined with Syria to attack the southern state, called Judah. The king of Judah, Ahaz, a descendent of David, was shaken to his core with fear.

The civil war had begun during the last years of King Solomon's reign:

1 Kings 10:23, 26 (ESV) Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom...and Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 11:1,3-4 (ESV) Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women...He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart...For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God.

1 Kings 11:9 (ESV) And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel.

1 Kings 11:11,13 (ESV) Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant...However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.

The servant of Solomon was named Jeroboam, of the Israel tribe of Ephraim. After the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam reigned over all Israel. Jeroboam challenged Rehoboam:

1 Kings 12:4 (ESV) Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.

Rehoboam's response was harsh:

1 Kings 12:14-15 (ESV) He spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions. So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD.

1 Kings 12:16 (ESV) And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.

1 Kings 12:19-20 (ESV) So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.

Twelve generations after Solomon, Israel and Judah were still at war. Ahaz is the king of Judah, and Remaliah is the king of Israel. Remaliah has joined with the king of Syria in an attempt to wrest control of Jerusalem from Judah.

And Ahaz feels his world falling apart.

Isaiah 7:2 (ESV) The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

What do you think?

  1. Tell about a recent time in which you were faced with anxious expectations or fear of the future. For how long did you have to endure uncertainty and worry? Was the situation many months in arriving, or did it suddenly develop?
  2. How does worry and uncertainty affect your faith?

THE MESSAGE: Verses 3-9

The LORD directed Isaiah to take Shear-jashub, Isaiah's son, to meet King Ahaz with a message: Do not fear; the evil plan of Syria and Israel will not come to pass; have faith in God.

Isaiah had at least two sons during his life, and it appears that the LORD used Isaiah's family as an omen of his plan for his people.

Isaiah 8:18 (ESV) Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Isaiah's first son's name suggests the restoration of a remnant of Israel:

Isaiah had a second son:

Isaiah 8:3-4 (ESV) And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry My father or My mother, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.

"Booty" is from German "buite", meaning exchange or distribution. (Our modern usage of "booty" derives from quite a different root: buttocks.)

"Plunder" is also from German plundern, meaning to rob of household goods.

Isaiah's elder son symbolized merciful protection for a remnant, while his younger son symbolized the coming invasion of Assyria.

Isaiah was to meet King Ahaz at the "end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field" (verse 3)).

"Conduit" meant a raised irrigation canal. A spring called Fount Siloah or Gihon on the west of Jerusalem was collected in to pools: the Upper, Old or King's Pool, and the Lower Pool. There likely was an area near the canal that was used for washing cloth (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

The meeting place suggests that the message would involve some type of "cleansing" or removal of sin.

The LORD referred to the kings of Syria and Israel as "smoldering stumps of firebrands". The Hebrew words mean "flapping tails" and a "poker" used to rake embers in a fire.

In the eyes of King Ahaz, the two enemies were dreadful gargantuans threatening certain and complete destruction. In the eyes of the LORD, the two enemies were puny sticks, feebly shaking in anger.

Why did the LORD use Isaiah's son as part of his message to King Ahaz? Certainly the boy's name was a powerful message, but is there anything particularly important about a father and his son that connects with the LORD's message?

Isaiah 7:9 (ESV) If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.

The words "firm" and "faith" are the same word in Hebrew:

Literally, the LORD said to King Ahaz, "If will not trust me as your father, you will not be treated as a son."

The Hebrew word for "firm" and "faith" carries a deep sense of care, protection and support. To believe God's words is more than agreement with doctrine. It's a feeling of utter dependence upon his care, protection and support.

Isaiah's love for his son was to be a powerful reminder to King Ahaz of God's love for his people.

What do you think?

  1. What was the origin of your name? What moved your parents to name you?
  2. In what way have your children or grandchildren carried on with your heritage of serving the Lord?
  3. In what situations do you most deeply feel loved by God? In what situations are you most forgetful of his love?

THE SIGN: Verses 10-17

God's message to King Ahaz was important. The LORD emphasized its importance by using Isaiah's son as part of the message, and he doubled its importance by offering a sign: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son named Immanuel. Before the child becomes an adult the threat of Syria and Israel against Judah will vanish: the King of Assyria will usher in a new age for God's people.

The LORD wanted King Ahaz to trust him utterly. He offered to give the king a sign:

Isaiah 7:10-11 (ESV) Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

The Hebrew text does not say "Sheol"...it simply says "deep". "Deep" could imply a place far from God (Isaiah 29:15). It could also refer to Tophteh, a place of cremation (Isaiah 30:33). "High" implies distanced from earth and near to God (Job 35:5, Psalm 113:5).

God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign (a signal, such as a flag, beacon, monument, omen or evidence) that God alone could accomplish. Ahaz's imagination failed, probably because he feared asking something beyond God's ability. But God was insulted by Ahaz's lack of faith.

Isaiah 7:13 (ESV) O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?

Israel's shallow religious rites and lack of bold faith tired and disgusted the LORD.

The LORD himself chose a sign:

Isaiah 7:14-16 (ESV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

"Lass" is from Old Norse laskura, meaning unmarried. The Hebrew word implies that young boys and girls were kept out of sight until they were old enough to deal with the world on their own.

It may be that "the virgin" refers to a woman known to Isaiah and Ahaz, a woman soon to become a wife. The age of discrimination for a child was then about three years. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Other instances of "virgin" and similar words in the Old Testament show that the LORD's sign involved a young woman who had not yet married a man, a woman having not been intimate with a man.

This does not seem to be a miraculous sign. It's not "deep" or "high" in any way. Many young women have married and borne sons.

Not many, however are named Immanuel.

"El" occurs many times and it often referred directly to God Almighty. "Immanuel" occurs only one other time:

Isaiah 8:6-8 (ESV) Behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.

Here, the LORD refers to Immanuel as a third person, distinct from Isaiah, distinct from the people of Israel.

"Immanuel" appears to be much more than the name of a child who lived and died during the time of Isaiah.

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Matthew connected "Immanuel" with Jesus Christ:

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew called the child "Immanuel", yet Joseph had named him "Jesus".

Joseph undoubtedly knew the prophecy of Isaiah, and he took "Immanuel" to be a description, rather than a label, of the One chosen by God. "Jesus" and "Immanuel" both refer to God as our Helper, our Rescuer.

"The virgin" spoken of by Isaiah was very likely a real woman, known by Isaiah and Ahaz. She very likely did give birth to a son.

Before the child reached the age at which he would choose good food over trash found on the floor, the people of Judah would be free of terror from the two invading enemies. The army of Assyria would overwhelm the whole region.

It's just as likely that the woman and son lived and died as all people do within seventy years or so after the LORD gave Ahaz this sign. The Assyrian army came and went and life continued for hundreds of years much the same.

Not much of a sign. Nothing of importance for people living in the 21st century, right?

What do you think?

  1. What is the boldest request you've ever made in prayer?
  2. Have you ever experienced a time in which you were sure that you had "wearied" the Lord?
  3. In what way was the "small" sign given to Isaiah made tremendously powerful centuries later in the birth of Jesus? What advantage did God gain by hiding such a powerful prophecy in a commonplace event, that of a woman bearing a child?

THE FLY, THE BEE AND THE RAZOR: Verses 18-20

The LORD refers to two instruments of his sovereignty over nations: the fly and the bee. Those two instruments will be used as a man uses a razor to remove hair from his head and face. The figures of speech point directly to the nation of Assyria, the land beyond The River, whose army will devastate the population of Judah, Israel and Syria. The remnant remaining will find themselves living in a wilderness of wild plants and animals.

The LORD described the army of Assyria as a fly and a bee, suggesting pain, speed and organization. As a man uses a razor to remove hair, so the LORD would use Assyria to remove people from the land of Syria, Israel and Judah. To cut the beard is the greatest indignity to an Easterner (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

King Ahaz himself intiated contact with Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria:

2 Kings 16:7-9 (ESV) So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me. Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.

King Ahaz was shaken with fear and filled with doubt that the LORD would protect him. He desperately sought something real that could save him: the Assyrians. But the Assyrian army became as flies and bees, indiscriminately stinging and displacing thousands of Israelites.

Such was the tool used by God to bring his people to their knees in humility and trust.

What do you think?

  1. Did King Ahaz sin in seeking the help of the king of Assyria, or was it the result of faithfully following God's promptings?
  2. Have you ever asked for, and received, something you later regretted? How was that experience related to your trust in the Lord?

THE LAND: Verses 21-25

The remnant left in the land of Syria, Israel and Judah will find their land a wilderness. A few livestock will be more than sufficient to meet the needs of the population. Much of the land will be covered with briers and thorns, suitable only for hunting and grazing.

What do you think?

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Isaiah 6: A Vision and a Commission

Isaiah 6: A Vision and a Commission

Isaiah describes a vision of the LORD, holy and glorious, and it shook Isaiah to his core with guilt and fear. But the Lord forgave Isaiah's guilt and sin, and Isaiah gladly offered his life as servant to the Lord.

The Lord set Isaiah on a mission to preach a warning of judgement upon the people of Israel. Cities would be ravaged and the land wasted, with only a tenth of the population remaining.

HOLY IS THE LORD: Verses 1-7

Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned in a temple, attended by seraphim who sang of the LORD's holiness and glory. The temple shook and filled with smoke, and the Lord's robe covered the entire temple. Isaiah cried out in fear, knowing the depth of his dirtiness compared to the holiness of the King. But the seraphim touched Isaiah's mouth with a burning coal and pronounced his sin atoned for and his guilt taken away.

Isaiah's vision was connected with King Uzziah:

Isaiah 6:1 (ESV) In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne...

Uzziah reigned as king 52 years in Jerusalem, doing what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Under his governance Israel prospered. Enemy nations were no match for Uzziah's military force and weapons. He built towers, raised large herds of cattle, farmed many acres of land, and his fame spread far (2 Chronicles 26).

But Uzziah's reign ended in disaster.

2 Chronicles 26:16 (ESV) But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah's brazen usurping of priestly duties removed him abruptly from the throne.

2 Chronicles 26:19-21 (ESV) Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.

Ancient historian Josephus records an earthquake being felt at the moment Uzziah lifted the sacred censer (see Amos 1:1).

What do you think?

  1. How did Uzziah's downfall parallel Israel's condition as described in the first five chapters of the Book of Isaiah?
  2. What would be a modern-day equivalent of Uzziah's sin in offering incense in the temple?

God's holiness was proclaimed by seraphim.

Isaiah 6:2-3 (ESV) Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!

Isaiah's description of the seraphim was simple, almost matter-of-fact, implying that his readers knew of such beings, as if their existence was undisputed.

"Seraphim" or fiery serpents, appears first in the Bible in the Book of Numbers, as punishment for the people's faithless grumbling:

Numbers 21:6 (ESV) Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

Deliverance from the fiery serpents required Moses making a bronze serpent, raised high on a pole (Numbers 21:4-9).

Fiery serpents appear again in judgement against Philistia:

Isaiah 14:29 (ESV) Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you, that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.

The description of the seraphim provides a strong symbol of the holiness of God. Faces veiled as unworthy to look on the holy God, unworthy to pry into his secret counsels. Feet covered, or rather the whole of the lower parts of their persons, a practice usual in the presence of Eastern monarchs, in token of reverence (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

The LORD proclaimed his holiness to Isaiah in the form of a dreadful vision of flying, fiery serpents. The LORD's glory was symbolized by a high throne, with his robe filling the temple and shaking the foundations.

Isaiah was overwhelmed.

Isaiah 6:5 (ESV) And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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!

Isaiah's anguish was focused upon his foul, unclean lips.

A man's face will naturally grow hair, but there is a margin around the mouth that is hair-free, or "shaved" clear, creating a boundary between beard and mouth. That boundary came to be known as "lips".

The LORD responds to Isaiah's cry:

Isaiah 6:6-7 (ESV) Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.

The burning coal is a powerful symbol of sacrifice, the killing of one in atonement for the sin of another.

"Crook" is from Old Norse krokr (hook), meaning literally the hooked staff of a shepherd. Informally it came to mean a person who is dishonest or a criminal.

"Atone" does not seem an accurate translation of the Hebrew word. "Atone" literally means "at one", to make united or reconciled. However, modern usage of "atone" does mean to make ammends or reparation.

"Expiate" literally means "out of piety", putting an end to rage or sorrow by obediently suffering it to the full.

The seraphim touched Isaiah's lips with a burning coal which "covered with bitumen" his perverse, habitual sinfulness and "putting an end to God's rage or sorrow by obediently suffering it to the full".

What do you think?

  1. What is it about unclean lips that would make them the focus of Isaiah's guilt?
  2. Would you say that your lips are a major source of guilt for you? Why?
  3. How might a burning coal reflect the death and resurrection of Jesus?
  4. Has God "covered our sin" or "cleansed our sin"? Is there a difference between the two?

ISAIAH'S COMMISSION: Verses 8-13

Immediately upon having his sin atoned for, Isaiah received his commission from God: Go and preach warning to the people. The people would not understand Isaiah's message, and God would lay waste to their cities, leaving only a remnant to survive his wrath. But within that remnant would be hidden a holy seed.

A heart of glad service replaced Isaiah's heart of guilt and fear.

Isaiah 6:8 (ESV) And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here I am! Send me.

Jesus has commission his followers in a similar way:

Mark 16:15-16 (ESV) And he said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The message given to Isaiah was less about God's wrath and more about the people's refusal to hear and understand:

Isaiah 6:9-10 (ESV) And he said, Go, and say to this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

Jesus would later repeat this same message:

Matthew 13:10-14,16 (ESV) Then the disciples came and said to him, Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive...But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

Matthew 13:34-35 (ESV) All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world."

The disciples of Jesus rarely understood his parables, but at least they wanted to understand:

Matthew 13:36 (ESV) Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.

After explaining the meaning of the parable, Jesus encouraged his disciples to hold to their understanding:

Matthew 13:51-52 (ESV) Have you understood all these things? They said to him, Yes. And he said to them, Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

What do you think?

  1. What were you like before you trusted Christ? What was your attitude toward Scripture and faith?
  2. How does this chapter in Isaiah blend together the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of Man?
  3. Do you tend to rely upon your own intelligence more than God's blessing? Is that even a fair question to ask?
  4. What is your typical response when encountering verses of Scripture which do not make sense?

Holy Seed

The people will remain dull of hearing and hard of heart, and God will make the land desolate, removing most of the people to a far away country. But the stump of the people, the essential root of which God regards as holy, will remain.

Isaiah 6:12-13 (ESV) The LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.

"Seed" easily became a synonym for children or descendents. When Seth was born to Eve she thanked God for giving her "seed" or "offspring":

Genesis 4:25 (ESV) And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.

"Offspring" is the same Hebrew word as "seed".

Paul spoke of the offspring of Israel:

Romans 9:6-8 (KJV) Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

Paul refers as well to the remnant left alive after God's wrath:

Romans 9:27-29 (ESV) Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay. And as Isaiah predicted, If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.

This remnant of Isaac's offspring endures to even now:

Romans 11:5 (ESV) So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

Finally, Paul speaks of the hard-heartedness that God has brought upon the people of Israel:

Romans 11:25-28 (ESV) I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins. As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

God has not utterly forsaken the people of Israel. He yet regards them as his own people, and he's graciously allowed even non-Jews to enter into his love.

Romans 4:13, 16-18, 24-25; 5:1 (ESV) For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith...That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring - not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, I have made you the father of many nations...It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification...Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The very root of "offspring", as in Abraham and his offspring, refers directly to Jesus Christ:

Galatians 3:16 (ESV) Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, And to offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one, And to your offspring, who is Christ.

What do you think?

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Isaiah 5: The Parable of the Vineyard

Isaiah 5: The Parable of the Vineyard

Isaiah sings. His beloved had a vineyard, planted with vines, provided with a watchtower. But the vineyard yielded only wild grapes. Now the Beloved takes up the song: Why did my vineyard yield only wild grapes? He plans to destroy his vineyard, trampling the vines, commanding the rain to withhold its rain.

The vineyard is the nation of Israel. God had made the nation his people and he had looked for justice and righteous, but got only bloodshed and outcry. Through Isaiah God pronounces judgement upon his people. Their haughty affluence would become desolate. Their disregard of the LORD will bring them into exile, hunger, thirst and death. God will exalt himself as holy when the land is broken and empty. Those who are wise in their own eyes, those who treasure their lies and wickedness, those who reject the law of the LORD and despise his holiness will be struck by the LORD's anger. Invaders from far away will lay siege and bring dark distress to the land.

Verses 1-7: God rejects his vineyard.

Isaiah asks the reader to imagine the nation of Israel as a vineyard planted by the LORD. The vineyard has been well provided and carefully tended, but it yields wild grapes, completely useless. In anger the LORD tramples the vineyard, making it a dry wasteland of weeds.

Isaiah 5:1-2 (ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

There evidently grew a type of plant which had the appearance of grapes, yet was poisonous.

Isaiah's parable describes the LORD's desire to make of Israel a chosen people, rich and beautiful in his sight. Yet their hearts had become full of the stink of poison.

Long before Isaiah, Moses was inspired to use a similar reference to describe Israel's future apostasy and faithlessness:

Deuteronomy 32:32-33 (ESV) For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.

The LORD had provided everything the people had needed. There was nothing lacking or poorly done in order for them to thrive spiritually and physically. Why had their lives fallen so short from God's desire? Through Isaiah, God answers that question in an earlier chapter:

Isaiah 3:8 (ESV) For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.

In consequence of their sin, the LORD ruins the vineyard.

Isaiah 5:5-6 (ESV) And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

In verse seven, the LORD intended the nation of Israel to be a pillar of justice and righteousness, but they disregarded their God. Notice Isaiah's play on words:

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. ("Parable" is from Greek "parabole", placing side by side.) Isaiah plainly connects the story of the vineyard with the history of Israel.

What do you think?

Verses 8-23: God Brings Condemnation

Isaiah condemns sin that demonstrates the people's disregard and ignorance of the LORD. For their sin the LORD decrees upon them exile, suffering and death.

Isaiah describes six instances of woe:

  • Accumulation of houses and fields (verse 8)
  • Addiction to alcohol (verse 11)
  • Adoration of iniquity and falsehood (verse 18)
  • Alternating evil for good (verse 20)
  • Acting wise in one's own eyes (verse 21)
  • Adjudicating perversely (verse 23)

What do you think?

Look back over the six references to "woe". For each reason for woe, can you determine why they are a slap in God's face? How does each act of sin described here contradict an eternal, unchanging truth about God? What lies are being passed off as truth?

Verses 24-25: God Erupts In Anger.

The six woes in the previous section may be summed up by the condemnation found in verse 24:

Isaiah 5:24 (ESV) ...They have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

The LORD's anger erupts against the rebellious, ignorant, perverse hearts of the people.

Isaiah 5:25 (ESV) Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

Amos was a prophet in north Israel, preaching at the same time as Isaiah. God appears to have also revealed to Amos the impending earthquake.

Amos 1:1 (ESV) The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Uzziah and Jeroboam both reigned as kings in the years 792-793 BC.

Isaiah previously revealed the object or purpose of God's anger:

Isaiah 5:15-16 (ESV) Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Many people may point to a devestating earthquake as evidence of the lack of any divine Protector or Sovereign. Others may see the earthquake as proof of a harsh, unloving, self-serving divine Tyrant.

Over one hundred years after Uzziah and Jeroboam, after the predicted invasion and conquest by enemy nations, one of the last kings of Israel, Josiah, experienced the humility of being brought low through neglect of God's Word.

2 Kings 22:13 (ESV) Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.

The king pleaded for mercy and repented in tears, and God comforted him.

2 Kings 22:19 (ESV) Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.

This was the objective of God in making the earth to quake. This was the purpose of God sending Isaiah and the other prophets to warn the people.

What do you think?

Verses 26-30: God Brings War

The earthquake was to serve as a warning of even greater wrath to come.

Isaiah 5:26 (ESV) He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come!

"Whistling" is a reference to beekeeping. Bees were drawn out of thier hives by the sound of a flute, or hissing, or whistling (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Later, Isaiah will reveal more detail regarding the invading armies.

Isaiah 7:18 (ESV) In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

About seven centuries earlier, Moses had warned the Israelites of the same doom:

Deuteronomy 28:49-50 (ESV) The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.

The beginning of the end for Israel began in the days of Pekah and Hoshea, kings of Israel:

2 Kings 15:29 (ESV) In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.

2 Kings 17:6-7 (ESV) In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God.

The days of Pekah and Hoshea were from 752-722 BC, about 40 years after Isaiah's warning given to King Uzziah.

This section ends as if one were to be on a ship at sea, with the waves growling amid a terrible storm. The sailors look toward land, hoping for safe harbor and escape from the angry sea. But all they see is darkness and distress.

All of us have experienced dark, narrow places, and it's easy to relate to spiritual and emotional darkness and distress. Yet we know that God is sovereign. We know that God is good. If he allows dark, narrow circumstances to crowd and and cramp us, what is his purpose? What does he expect from us in the difficult times?

What do you think?

What does this passage teach us?

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Isaiah 4: From Reproach to Restoration

Isaiah 4: From Reproach to Restoration

The previous chapter ended with a description of the Lord taking away from Israel all sources of strength and beauty, and the violence that would bring death to most of the men of Israel. Chapter 4 describes the end of that sorrow and the beginning of their salvation. Isaiah proclaims the future exaltation of "the branch", and the reversal of fortune for the survivors left in Zion. Judgement will bring pride and honor, holiness and safety.

Verse 1: God brings reproach.

This verse seems a conclusion of the previous chapter. In the wake of God's removal of support and supply, the political and religious leadership will crumble, and war will decimate the male population (Isaiah 3:25). The ratio of men to women will plummet. Women will suffer reproach.

Isaiah 4:1 (ESV) And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, "We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach."

Women will be desperate to escape reproach, willing to marry without any promise of support as long as they belonged to a man.

"Contumely" means arrogant rudeness or contempt, from Latin tumere (to swell with wrath). "Pudenda" means human external genital organs, especially of a woman, from Laten pudere (to make or be ashamed). "Carp" means to find fault or complain, from Old Norse karpa (to boast) and Latin carpere (to pluck).

The reproach suffered by the women would not be caused by poverty: the women would work for their own food and clothing. Their reproach came from not having a name.

"Appellation" means a name or title, from Latin appellare, to address.

What do you think?

Verse 2: God brings restoration.

The women described earlier desperately desired a name of honor. In the second verse Isaiah exalts such a name: The Branch.

In that day of the LORD's judgement of his people, The Branch would be seen as beautiful and glorious, and worshiped with pride and honor. The survivors would be judged holy, with their sin washed and cleansed away. The LORD would cover all of Mount Zion with his protection.

Isaiah 4:2 (ESV) In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Verse two is written in the form of two parallel clauses. "The branch" and "the fruit" could be considered to be the same object. "The Branch" would be beautiful and glorious, and it would be the pride and honor of the people. "The Fruit" would be another title for "The Branch".

An early instance of "branch" in the Bible is found in the description of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 19:25 (ESV) And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

"Grew" is the same word as "branch". It was a literal reference to grasses, shrubs and trees...any kind of plant. The related form of this word, meaning "to sprout" can be found in the Genesis account of Creation.

Genesis 2:5 (ESV) When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,

"Sprung up" is the same word as "to sprout".

These are literal references to plants. But God inspired his prophets to use the words "to sprout" or "sprout" in reference to one special person. Isaiah spoke of "sprout" in both a literal and figurative sense, describing how righteousness and praise will grow like plants:

Isaiah 61:11 (ESV) For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

The Psalmist refers to an anointed "horn" sprouting from the family of David:

Psalm 132:17 (ESV) There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.

"Horn" refers to a person of power. Joseph was described by Moses as a prince among his people, as a bull with the horns of a wild ox, goring tens of thousands of people (Deuteronomy 33:17).

Jeremiah described the Branch as a descendent of David, becoming king of all Israel:

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (ESV) Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD is our righteousness.

Jeremiah 33:15 (ESV) In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Zechariah declared a high priest, Joshua, to be a forerunner or type of the Branch.

Zechariah 3:8-9 (ESV) Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.

Zechariah 6:12 (ESV) And say to him, Thus says the LORD of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.

Zechariah prophesied of the time in which the LORD's wrath against his people would end. The enemy nations which had been a tool of correction would in their turn be chastised by the LORD for their part in ruining the nation of Israel.

In the day of the LORD's deliverance of his people, The Branch would be seen as beautiful and glorious, the pride of the people.

"Splendor" comes from a word meaning to shine, or be bright. "Conspicuous" means clearly visible, from a word meaning to look at with intensive force. To "amass" means to gather together a large amount of material or things. "Turgid" means swollen, distended or congested, from a word meaning to swell. To "array" means to create an impressive display, or an ordered arrangement of a thing, from a word meaning to prepare. "Copious" means abundant in supply or quantity, from a word meaning plenty.

Isaiah was urging the people to look to the future with eyes of faith: from the LORD will come someone small and inconsequential at first, but they will grow to be someone of splendor, someone great, filled with beauty and order and abundance. This anointed One would rise to majestic honor and magnificence.

What do you think?

Verses 3-6: God keeps record.

The last section of this chapter describe God's restoration of his people. Through his judgement the LORD will wash away all filth, cleanse all stains, rendering all who are left alive as holy. The LORD will cover over the whole assemble a refuge and shelter.

In verse three Isaiah connects holiness with those who have been "recorded for life":

Isaiah 4:3 (ESV) And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem.

We find reference to God's book in Exodus. Moses saw clearly a connection between forgiveness and being "recorded" in God's book:

Exodus 32:30-33 (ESV) The next day Moses said to the people, You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin. So Moses returned to the LORD and said, Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin — but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. But the LORD said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.

God appears to have a book in which is written all who have no sin held against them.

This phrase is found in Psalms 69, decribing those not found "recorded for life":

Psalm 69:27-28 (ESV) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

Being "recorded for life" means to have the LORD's forgiveness of sin, rescued from punishment, regarded by the LORD as completely righteous.

Not long after Isaiah, Daniel received a vision:

Daniel 12:1 (ESV) At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.

The later prophetic word from Daniel supports the idea that the trouble endured by the people of Israel was not relieved in Isaiah or Daniel's time.

Jesus refered to a heavenly book of names:

Luke 10:20 (ESV) Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Paul rejoiced in this same book:

Philippians 4:3-4 (ESV) Help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews makes a solid connection between the survivors of Israel with the called out ones of Christ:

Hebrews 12:22-24 (ESV) You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.

The promise of relief and restoration was made by the LORD through Isaiah, but it was not realized during the lifetime of Isaiah, nor any of the prophets who followed Isaiah. But for Christians, it seems that the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished all that the LORD had promised, at least in a spiritual sense.

"Recorded for life" refers to an action completed in the past. God knows the name of every person who has lived and will live, and he's enrolled in heaven those he has chosen. Through thick and thin he'll bring them to himself.

What do you think?

What does this passage teach us?

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