January 16, 2014.
Today’s Reading: Isaiah 6-11.
Background: Isaiah 1-5.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The fear of the Lord and His righteousness: The sixth chapter of Isaiah opens with an impressive scene, much like the one that is described in Revelation 4, in both instances where seraphim are praising the Almighty saying things to the effect of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.” It was such an awe filled scene, Isaiah cries out “Woe is me!” He, one who was not righteous, who was not deserving, plagued by sin, had seen the King, the Lord God. Fear came over him, so much that he thought he was ruined (see Exodus 33:20). Often when we read the phrase “Fear God” or “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, we are quick to say that this means “reverence” or “respect” and not necessarily “fear” as we know it. But this does not fit well with the whole of scripture, for there was a legitimate fear of the Lord. The Hebrew writer explicitly says that it is a fearful think to fall into the hands of the living God (see Hebrews 10:31). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge because we must first know our place in respect with the Almighty, the creator of the universe. We must understand His righteousness and our unrighteousness. We must be like Isaiah, and truly fear God.
But then we must fear not (see I John 4:8). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but the love of God is its maturation. Many times in scripture we are told to “fear not”, often in reference to anything that man could do to us. If the Lord is on our side, we should have no fear of what lies ahead, for the Lord is our Rock and our Guide. There is an aspect of fear when we talk about the Lord, but there is then also an aspect of peace and security, knowing that the Lord has taken away our sin. In this extraordinary scene that Isaiah finds himself in, one of the Seraphim takes a coal from the alter and touches it to Isaiah’s admittedly “unclean” lips to take away his sin. This can be viewed as an archetype of what Jesus’ blood does for us when we are washed in it for the remission of our sins. Our guilt is taken away, our sin atoned for. We are like Isaiah, caught up in the presence of the Lord about to be consumed, until our sin is taken away by His grace.
2. Answering the call of the Lord: The Lord called forth “Who shall I send?” and Isaiah doesn’t hesitate to answer “Here am I, send me!” What a phrase, a phrase that has motivated many Christians to answer the call of the Lord. Note here that the Lord doesn’t go directly to Isaiah and say “Isaiah, I want you to go,” but rather He simply asks the question for all to hear, and Isaiah responds. Though it is true that the Lord has given us each a unique set of talents for us to use for His glory, the great commission to proclaim the good news of Christ has been sounded to all (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16). The fields are white for harvest, but the laborers are few Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 10:2. Isaiah readily answered the call of the Lord, but the call was not an easy one. Isaiah was given a difficult message to preach, one that not many of the children of Israel wanted to hear. We too sometimes can have a very difficult message to preach. Though it is true that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, people must understand the bad news first. We are all sinners, we are all unrighteous and we are all headed for eternal destruction, for we have all fallen short of the glory of God (see Romans 3). Once we understand the bad news, we should be ready and open to receiving the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to offer His life as a perfect sacrifice for us, defeating sin and death and atoning for our sin though the blood He shed. The invitation is open to all, and it is our job to spread the gospel. God has asked “Who shall I send?” Here we are. Send us.
3. The holy seed: Time and again we see in prophecy this concept of a remnant that will be saved. This concept is portrayed in the latter part of this chapter as the holy seed that has been purified with fire. Israel would be burned (both literally and figuratively), but a remnant would remain, just as a stump remains when a tree is cut down. The heart of the people would be made dull, ears heavy and eyes blind. This would be a type of refining, until those who were left were the remnant that would be saved- the holy seed.
1. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all: Ahaz, king of Judah, was going through a rough time with his enemies pressing in around him. Isaiah is sent to the king to let him know not to fear, for the Lord would not let the attacks from Syria and Ephriam stand. At the end of His denouement on these two nations, the Lord charges Ahaz to be firm in faith, lest he not be firm at all. This concept of fully trusting in the Lord can be seen in several places throughout the bible, such as when David said “some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God” (see Psalm 20:7). James makes a similar statement to the one given to Ahaz when he tells the Christians he is writing to to ask in faith, nothing doubting, saying that the one who doubts is wave of the sea driven by the wind (see James 1:6). We see that the Lord wants a strong confidence in Him that He is able to deliver us out of the hands of our enemies. It is interesting to note that right after this is said to Ahaz, the Lord tells him to ask Him for a sign, but Ahaz refuses, saying he didn’t want to test the Lord. Ahaz was unable to show the kind of faith in God that He wanted, but the Lord would send a sign regardless. This sign would be the Christ, born of a virgin, come to save the world.
2. Immanuel: Isaiah is a book that is filled with Messianic prophecy. There are notable sections such as Isaiah 53 that strike the hearts of many each year. But there are many other prophecies about the Christ found in this book that are much lesser known. Here, God tells Ahaz that He will give Israel a sign, a virgin who would conceive and give birth to a son who would be named Immanuel, “God with us”. Most scholars see this prophecy as having a double fulfillment (as a lot of prophecies do), one that was immediate with the time period (there are different interpretations on this) and then the ultimate fulfillment with the Christ. What is perhaps most relevant for us, however, is the ultimate fulfillment, when Mary, a young virgin betrothed to Joseph, conceived a Son by the Holy Spirit who would be called Immanuel, God with us.
3. Shear-jashub: Names were a big deal in the Old Testament, especially when it came to prophets, as God would often use a physical example to covey what He wanted to say or was about to do. One of the most easily seen examples of this is the prophet Hosea who is told to marry a prostitute to depict the adultery of Israel who had left God for other gods. Here, one of Isaiah’s sons is name Shear-jashub, which means “A remnant shall return.” The concept of the remnant that would be saved is one that is truly conserved throughout prophecy of the Old Testament.
1. Maher-shalal-hash-baz: As we saw in chapter 7, Isaiah was told to name his sons according to different messages that God wanted to get across to the people. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens.” This was a prophecy of the coming captivity of the Northern tribes of Israel to the king of Assyria.
2. Immanuel: As we saw before, the sign of Immanuel was likely a double prophecy, with one child being born during the time following the prophecy as a sign to the people. Some interpret this as Isaiah’s son, other’s as a child of Ahaz, and still others as a child of a young princess at the time. Regardless, the sign was given as a word of hope for Judah (who would not get captured by Assyria, though would later be captured by Babylon as the prophets would tell), written in beautiful poetry. Prophecy was often written in poetic language, and one of the main motifs of Jewish poetry is repetition. We see this repetition in verses 9-10 where it is said that though a people rise up, they will be shattered, for God was with them, Immanuel.
3. Do not fear what they fear, but fear God: The Lord called Isaiah to come out and be separate from the people, not thinking like they did. The people were not holding to the right things, nor were they fearing the right God. When they would find out spiritual things, they consulted necromancers and mediums instead of inquiring of the Lord. Isaiah couldn’t think like the people because the people were not seeking out and following the Lord. In I Corinthians 15:33, Paul gives a similar warning to the church at Corinth saying that bad company corrupts good morals. We need to be mindful who we surround ourselves with. It is true that Jesus ate with sinners, but He had an influence on them rather than them influencing Him towards sin. We can often use this excuse for justifying our actions and who we surround ourselves with, when in reality they are having much more of a bad influence on us than we are having a good one on them. Isaiah was called to not be like the people in mind. We too have the same calling (see Romans 12:2).
1. For unto us a child is born: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” For unto us a child was born who would establish the throne of David forever. Christ Jesus, the root of Jessie, tribe of Judah and son of David, would come to this earth to once and for all set things right. He would come to defeat death and offer salvation. He would come to lift the burden of sin, and wash us in His blood. He would be a light to the Jews and further to the Gentiles. The beginning of this Messianic monolog is cited in Matthew 4:15-16 when Jesus withdrew to Galilee after hearing of John the baptizer’s death. His yoke would be easy, and His burden light (compare Isaiah 9:4 with Matthew 11:29). The government would rest upon His shoulders, not in the sense of the physical government, but spiritually, as all authority would be given to Him in heaven and earth (see Matthew 28:18), and He is reigning now (see I Corinthians 15:25).
2. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still: This phrase appears three times in the end of this chapter, not to mention the times it has appeared in previous chapters. God was sending a punishment on the people, and his hand was not relaxing. The people of Israel were arrogant, for even in destruction they would proudly say “we will build it back.” The Lord of Hosts was not one to be trifled with, but the people of Israel did not seem to care all that much. They did not return to the Lord, and for this reason, the had of the Lord was stretched out still.
3. Leaders who lead the people astray: We have seen before how the leadership receives more responsibility and judgement, as is further pointed out in James 3:1. In verses 13-17, we see a specific rebuke to the spiritual leaders of Israel who had lead the people astray. Notice that even though the leaders had a higher responsibility to guide the people, this did not relax the people’s own responsibility for following the Lord. This concept is echoed in Ezekiel 3 and 33, when the Lord sets Ezekiel as a watchman over Israel, to warn them. If he would not warn them, the people would still be destroyed, but their blood would be required of him. We need to be conscious of the responsibility we take on when we assume a position of leadership. It is one thing to believe something wrong ourselves; it is an entirely different thing to teach this wrong thing to other people.
1. The Lord’s love for justice: Another theme that God holds to throughout property is His call for men to seek justice for the oppressed and the poor. The opening of this chapter reveals His line of thinking towards those who seek for their own gain at the expense of others. There is a woe issued to those who give unfair decrees, turn away from justice, rob the poor and oppress. This section seems to be a continuation of the last chapter, rebuking the arrogance of Israel, for it finishes with the phrase “For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.” The repetition of this statement reinforces its importance to the audience, showing that God was very angry at what they had become and was not relenting in His punishment. The people were non-repentant, which did not bode well in the sight of the Almighty.
2. Instruments of God’s will: It is interesting to see here how God uses whoever He wants as instruments of His will. The Assyrian nation was not a godly nation. They were not righteous, nor did they serve the Lord God Almighty. But God used them to punish Israel for their disobedience and hardness of heart. He calls Assyria the “rod of His anger” and relates their staff to His fury. But Assyria would become arrogant over what God had given them, for they did not serve God. They would not credit their victory over Israel to the Almighty. They would say that by their strength they had done this, and the Lord would too punish Assyria for their arrogance, for the axe cannot boast over him who hews it, nor can the staff lift him who is not wood. In this way Assyria would be thwarted, and the Holy One of Israel would become a flame, setting a light for Israel.
3. The remnant: Again we see the concept of the remnant returning, this time specifically to lean on the Holy One of Israel. Israel would be purified with fire; though they numbered many now, only a remnant would be saved though the fires that were to come. God promises here that His fury from the Assyrians would only be short lived, for His anger would soon be turned on Assyria for their arrogance. The power of the Lord would be shown to the nations of the earth.
The Righteous Branch: Chapter 11 is all about the Righteous Branch that would shoot forth from the stump of Jessie. Describing Christ as have come from Jessie instead of David here is likely in reference to His humble beginnings. Jesus was born to a family who was not wealthy, nor one who had many connections to prominent people. In this prophecy, there are seven spirits that are said would rest upon Christ: the spirit of the (1) Lord, (2) wisdom, (3) understanding, (4) counsel, (5) might, (6) knowledge and (7) fear of the Lord. Seven was a perfect (complete) number to God, as it is often representative of Him. In Revelation, John refers to Jesus as the one who has “the seven Spirits of God” (see Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6). In the middle of this chapter we see a motif that is commonly used in conjunction with Messianic prophecies, where a predator live in harmony with its prey, such as a lion lying down with a calf or a would dwelling with a lamb. This is representative of the peace that the Messiah would bring. Christ would be a signal for all the nations, and He would bring back the remnant of Israel that were scattered abroad into His house. Paul goes into some detail about the remnant of Israel who were called back and how the Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree that was representative of God’s chosen people. Christ, the Lord, is the Righteous Branch who would hold the seven Spirits of God.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 3-4.
Ask to be sent into the field white for harvest.