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Big Picture and Details: Isaiah Journal 2.13

By Christina M Wilson. Originally posted at https://justonesmallvoice.com/big-picture-and-details-isaiah-devotional-2-13/.

The Big Picture and Some Details

The Big Picture: Chapters 40-42

MESSIAH

The overarching theme of the second volume of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) is the advent of Messiah. Isaiah 40:1-11 announces and describes his coming. Chapter 41 repeats and establishes this theme. It announces Messiah’s righteousness and peace to his believing remnant (Isaiah 41:8-20). Then God in Isaiah 42:1-9 speaks of Messiah his Servant. He even addresses him directly in verses 6-7. Isaiah 42:1-16 very much resembles Isaiah 40:1-11. In both passages, descriptions of a changing landscape announce the social upheavals with respect to God’s spiritual comfort that Messiah will bring. Comparing these passages with Gospel descriptions proves their fulfillment in Christ. That is, Christ lifts the poor and needy in his speech and ministry. He also brings down the unbelieving religious elite by speaking against them.

IDOLS

Interwoven with the theme of Messiah as God’s true representative is the counter theme of the falsity of idols. The conflict between God’s truth and lifeless idols forms the backdrop to the whole. For example, Isaiah defends God against idols in Isaiah 40:12-26. Chapter 41:1-7 and 21-29 also concerns God’s rejection of idols and those who worship them. These idol-worshipers appear to be among the Gentile nations. However, Chapter 42, verses 8, 17, and 18-25 are also against idols. But this time, those who trust in them belong to the nation of Israel, God’s “servant,” plural (Isaiah 42: 8, 17, 18-25).

GENTILES AND ISRAELITES TOGETHER

God welcomes Gentiles to believe and receive his good news in Isaiah 42:10-12. These verses flow right into verses 13-14. Verses 13-14 describe God in metaphors. One is of a strong soldier marching out to battle. The second describes God as a woman laboring intensely to give birth. These metaphors describe God overpowering his spiritual enemies through the advent of Messiah. Isaiah 42:15-16 again picks up the theme of changes to the landscape (see Isaiah 40:3-11). These changes indicate the spiritual reality of God’s care for the blind, verse 16. Gentiles are embedded without transition in this entire section, Isaiah 42:10-16. And, God of course includes his own believing people, verse 16.

SUMMARY

Believers Versus Non-believers

In summary, Isaiah in these chapters distinguishes between those who believe and those who do not believe. Both of these groups include Israelites and Gentiles. Chapters 40-42 reveal that God’s real enemies are those who refuse him, preferring rather to call upon their idols. Both the Gentile nations (Isaiah 41:21-29) and Israel (Isaiah 42:18-25) harbor those who shape and trust in their powerless idols. God rebukes and rejects both of these groups.

Comfort and Peace for Believing Israel and Gentile Nations Alike

When God speaks “comfort” for his people, he does not include those whose stance is arrogant hardness of heart and idol worship. God favors the poor and needy among his own people. These are those whom he blesses. (See Isaiah 41:8-20). Likewise, God also welcomes those of the Gentile coastlands (isles) who joyfully receive the good news of Messiah. (See Isaiah 42:1-13.)

In a Nutshell

In a nutshell then, the dividing line is between believers and non-believers, between God-followers and idol worshipers. There is no line between Gentiles and the sons of Jacob. God rejects the idol worshipers among his “own” people and from among the Gentiles. Conversely, God gives his singular Servant Messiah to believers from among his own people and to believers among the Gentiles. Thus speaks Isaiah, God’s prophet.

Details: Three Metaphors in Isaiah 42:10-16

I. METAPHOR ONE-GOD AS WARRIOR

13 The Lord God of hosts shall go forth, and crush the war: he shall stir up jealousy, and shall shout mightily against his enemies. (Isaiah 42:13 LXE)

  1. The Verse in Context

This verse appears almost out of place. If it were to be interpreted concrete-literally, it would be out of place. Isaiah 42:1-12 continuously and solidly presents Messiah joyfully and with song. Messiah is gentle and quiet. He is compassionate and just. His presence makes people glad. It seems odd, then, to abruptly find God going forth as a warrior to fight against his enemies. This segment presents no enemies, not until verse 22.

2. Great Spiritual Sense

Spiritually, however, in light of Messiah, the verse (Isaiah 42:13) makes a great deal of sense. Who are God’s enemies but the powers of darkness that wage war against God through idols that appeal to men? God’s great enemy is Satan. At what point in human history did God defeat Satan? There is only one answer: at the Cross. Christians know that the cross is the place of God’s victory over all his enemies, including death. Psalm 18 portrays God’s rescuing his Son from death after he died on the cross (see Psalm 18 at JustOneSmallVoice).

II. METAPHOR TWO-GOD AS A WOMAN IN HARD LABOR

14 For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14, ESV)(1)

  1. The Verse in Context

Here again, unless the reader understands Isaiah’s metaphor, this verse may appear shocking. First, is Isaiah still using the God-as-mighty-warrior metaphor? No, I don’t believe so, contra the subject note of one study Bible. How many writers seeking to glorify a mighty warrior would compare him to a woman in labor? No…

2. Its Meaning

God does, however, acknowledge and honor women in this verse. What unites this verse with the prior verse is the theme of strong, focused effort. Giving birth is sometimes similar to a battle. But why use two so very different metaphors, if the underlying meaning is the same? The reason is that they are not the same. A warrior destroys. As verse 13 states, God will “crush…” The outcome for a woman in labor, however, is new life, a new creation. The woman brings forth something entirely new, something that was not there before.

Not just this verse, but the entire context speaks of newness.

  • new things Isaiah 42:9; 43:19; 48:6
  • new hymn Isaiah 42:10
  • good news Isaiah 52:7
  • new name Isaiah 62:2; 65:15
  • new heaven and a new earth Isaiah 65:17; 66:2

Revelation 12:1-6 uses the metaphor of a woman giving birth to describe the advent of Christ and the birth of his church.

III. METAPHOR THREE-A CHANGED LANDSCAPE

15 I will make desolate mountains and hills, and will dry up all their grass; and I will make the rivers islands, and dry up the pools. 16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will cause them to tread paths which they have not known: I will turn darkness into light for them, and crooked things into straight. These things will I do, and will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:15-16)

1. The Verses in Context

As mentioned already, these verses resemble those of Isaiah 40:1-8. All four Gospels refer to the verses in Chapter 40 in connection with John the Baptist. Therefore, the reader knows that the landscape imagery is metaphorical. That is, the mountains, hills, crooked places, and rough places indicate spiritual realities, spiritual obstacles, possibly people and powers who stand opposed to God. Plus, Isaiah 40:6 identifies grass as humanity. The best a human puts forth is no more glorious than a flower of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Finally, Isaiah 40:11 speaks of Messiah as a husbandman, feeding his flock as a shepherd (cf. John 10:11, 13-14).

2. Their Meaning

So, what does it mean in Chapter 42 when God speaks in first person and states, “I will make the rivers into coastlands and dry up marsh-meadow… I will turn darkness into light… and make crooked places straight,”? (SAAS). Is God announcing a concrete-literal landscape renovation complete with lamps and lanterns? I think most would agree that these metaphors are spiritual. The new thing that God announces will be completely different from all that has gone before. We might say in common speech that God is about to turn the world upside-down. And this is exactly what Jesus did.

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:16 ESV)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
(Matthew 5:3-6, 10-11 ESV)

The poor man [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (Luke 16:22-23 ESV)

Summary

The majority of the world’s people both in biblical times and now are Gentiles. The majority of the world’s people are poor and needy. And, a very small remnant of Israel in both the Old and New Testaments (think weak, overlooked, poor, and powerless)  clung to their loyalty to their one true God. For all these, the gospel of Jesus Christ, Messiah, is very good news indeed.

Against Tyre: Isaiah Devotional Journal 45

Simultaneously posted at: https://justonesmallvoice.com/against-tyre-isa…ional-journal-45/

By Christina Wilson on 

Isaiah 23:1-18    Link to LXE Modernized

Tyre in Its Setting

Tyre in Isaiah’s day was a great port city. Located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it traded as far west as Spain (Tarshish) and as far east as Babylon (Chaldea). Its ships touched Egypt and Carthage in Africa. Just offshore from this Phoenician trading city, Cyprus also became a home base. Isaiah’s prophesies “against the nations” began in Chapter 13, against Babylon. If Babylon had dominated by land, Tyre dominated by sea.

Why Does Isaiah Prophesy Against Tyre?

Isaiah 23:9 is the key verse of this chapter.

The Lord of hosts has purposed to bring down all the pride of the glorious ones, and to disgrace every glorious thing on the earth.

Likewise,

11 … the Lord of hosts has given a command concerning Canaan, to destroy the strength thereof.

But Why?

Isaiah 40:13 Who has known the mind of the Lord? And who has been His counselor, to instruct Him?

It’s easy enough to say that the Lord did such and such and for such and such a reason. But as Isaiah states later in his book, Who has know the mind of the Lord? All this writer’s small voice can

say with certainty is that the Lord wanted to destroy the strength of Canaan, where Israel and Judah were located. And he wanted to dislodge every glorious and prideful thing. He did not spare his own chosen people. Them, too, he dislocated and judged.

But why?

I can think of several examples when humans destroy. For one thing, a farmer destroys and turns under last year’s field. For another, city planners tear down buildings. Often dating couples, or even married couples, break up. An artist smashes her paintings, and a writer throws it all into the waste basket, yet again.

In each of the above examples, something is torn down in order to build something better in its place. For example, a farmer ploughs under last year’s crop in order to prepare the soil for a new crop. Old buildings get torn down, so that new ones can be built in the same space. Couples who break up often work things out and give it another go. Or, just as likely, the persons move on to better relationships.

God Has a New Way and a Better Plan

Humans are made in God’s image. Humans demonstrate their tremendous creativity by tearing down the old in order to build the new. God created, and it was good. But an enemy came in and destroyed God’s good work. So God destroyed it all in the Great Flood of Noah’s day. Then he built again.

He chose a special people to be his representatives on earth. They failed, rebelled, and disobeyed. So God used their neighbors to destroy them. But these neighbors were no better than God’s people. In fact, they often were worse. So God proposed to destroy them as well.

If readers quit reading Isaiah right after he prophesies the punishment of all the nations of the whole world in Chapter 24, they might think that God was a bad character who really disliked people. But this is not the case. God’s ways are always good. We are similar to God in some ways. Just as our destruction of something worn out, old, and dysfunctional is often the first step of our building something new and better, so in Isaiah’s prophesy, God first destroys in order to rebuild new and better. The second half of Isaiah explores details of what his new creation will be like.

The Second Portion of Chapter 23

The content of Isaiah 23 has two clear parts: first, destruction, and second, a comeback. Of the two, the first is the easier to understand. The metaphors in the second portion are more difficult.

Songs of a Harlot

First, verse 15 states that Tyre will be pushed off to the sidelines, abandoned, left behind, for seventy years, which is approximately one full generation. The prophet Daniel also discovered this number in Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2 and Jeremiah 25:11-12). Why seventy? It would seem that this number corresponds with the removal of the old and the birth of the new. Much can be lost and reformed in the span of one generation.

But the latter portion of this same verse is more difficult to understand. (This is a verse for which it profits to read as many translations as possible. Scroll down and click on “all versions”.)

15 … Tyre shall be as the song of a harlot. 16 Take a harp, go about, O city, you harlot that have been forgotten; play well on the harp, sing many songs, that you may be remembered. (Septuagint)

How can a city be like the song of a harlot?

Descriptive words come to mind applicable to both the ruined city of Tyre and an old harlot: wasted, discarded, abandoned, broken. Nevertheless, even an old harlot can be sung about and remembered for her past fame.

Isaiah 23:17 interprets verse 16.

17 And it shall come to pass after the seventy years, that God will visit Tyre, and she shall be again restored to her primitive state, and she shall be a mart for all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. (CAB, LXE)

17 At the end of seventy years, the LORD will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. (ESV, Masoretic)

A POINT TO NOTICE: Tyre itself does not repent. Its new condition appears similar to its old. Nevertheless…

Tyre to Be a Provision to God’s People

18 And her trade and her gain shall be holiness to the Lord; it shall not be gathered for them, but for those that dwell before the Lord, even all her trade, to eat and drink and be filled, and for a covenant and a memorial before the Lord. (CAB, LXE)

What can this verse mean? On the one hand, verses 15-18 give no indication that Tyre would repent and change its ways. New Tyre appears to be much the same as old Tyre (i.e., a prostitute). Nevertheless, God’s intention is that the sea trade of the new Tyre will somehow bless his people.

WARNING: A reader’s presuppositions can influence the conclusions she draws from a text. For example, NET notes indicate that Isaiah is making reference to Israel in verse 18. “Tyre will become a subject of Israel and her God.” However, even the NET translation does not use the word “Israel”. The text states, “Her profits and earnings will be set apart for the Lord. … her profits will be given to those who live in the Lord’s presence” (Isaiah 23 | NET Bible). In the book of Isaiah, “those who live in the Lord’s presence” does not equate with national “Israel”. Isaiah–in what we have seen so far, and especially in what we will see in later chapters–prophesies the message of hope and redemption to all the world, even to Israel’s enemies (Isaiah 2:225:6-740:5). History bears out that the Christian message bore fruit in Tyre (Matthew 11:21-22 and Acts 21:4).

I much prefer the commentary of Robert Hawker:

Who shall calculate to what extent in the present hour the Lord is accomplishing his purpose, in the commotions of the earth, among kingdoms and people, in order to gather his dispersed to himself, from all the varieties of the earth? (Hawker, Studylight.org).

But How Does This Work?

We have parallels in a specific, material sense that can help us to understand how God will bless his people with provision supplied by a sinful city and commerce. For example, this country in which I live was founded on godly principals. In its former days, it acknowledged God publicly and officially. Who would say that many people, including “those that dwell before the Lord,” have not been blessed simply by living here?

Jeremiah provides a biblical example of the teaching that the Lord’s people benefit through the prosperity of the ungodly:

Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (ESV)

Looking Ahead

There is one more chapter of God’s judgment, even judgment against the whole world. After that, Isaiah breaks into peals of praise in chapter 25.

Eliakim or Shebna? Isaiah Devotional Journal 44

Simultaneously posted by Christina Wilson on  at Eliakim or Shebna? Isaiah Devotional Journal 44 – justonesmallvoice.com

Isaiah 22:15-25     Link to LXE Modernized

Does Isaiah 22:25 Refer to Eliakim or Shebna?

Eliakim or Shebna? Today’s readers have a habit of reading chronologically, in a string. We are used to statements that flow sequentially. Latter statements attach to statements made immediately prior. Read this way, Isaiah 22:25 would naturally appear to belong with the immediately prior passage concerning Eliakim, the Lord’s servant. But Isaiah, embedded in the traditions of Hebrew written literature, did not necessarily, nor even by preference, write sequentially, in a string. It is possible that verse 25 refers to Shebna, rather than Eliakim.

An Analogy with “Power Paragraphs”

Can we think back to our early school days here in America? Many school districts required graduating high school students to successfully write an essay on a given topic. The most commonly accepted format was based on a series of “power paragraphs.” The multi-paragraph essay needed to contain a clearly identifiable topic sentence. Near the end of the essay, judges of the paper looked for a conclusion. The conclusion would most often refer back to the topic sentence.

In some disciplines, college students write many papers. These, too, must have a “thesis” statement near the beginning. Near the end of the paper, teachers required a conclusion. The conclusion would often repeat the thesis, but in somewhat different words.

It is possible to outline the structure of Isaiah 22:15-25 (Septuagint) as a “power paragraph.”

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

The beginning phrase is nearly the same as the final phrase. A fancy word for this structure is inclusio.  Everything that lies between the beginning and ending statements is included in the passage. The beginning and ending statements are like bookends on a book shelf. What makes the argument convincing that such is the case here in this Isaiah passage is the fact that the phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” or, “for the Lord has spoken,” occurs nowhere in-between. So, the entire passage is a packet that opens and closes with the claim that what lies between was spoken directly by the Lord. It’s roughly analogous to an introduction and conclusion, a topic and conclusion, or a thesis and conclusion. Isaiah used a specific structure in his writing.

A Second Inclusio

The entire passage from Isaiah 22:15 to Isaiah 22:25 has two main topics. First, Isaiah prophesies concerning the wickedly prideful Shebna, who is to be deposed. Second, Isaiah prophesies concerning the Lord’s highly favored choice, the one whom he calls, “my servant,” Eliakim. Our outline now looks like this:

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

A. Prophecy concerning Shebna (15-19)

B. Prophecy concerning Eliakim (20-24)

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

But, the question still remains, does the content of verse 25 belong with Section A concerning Shebna, or Section B concerning Eliakim? Note that as Christian readers, we are most likely cheering for Eliakim. That makes us potentially biased in our analysis. For example, in verse 25, we don’t want to read that Eliakim, a type of Messiah, “shall be removed… be taken away… shall fall…” and that his “glory… shall be utterly destroyed.” On the other hand, the way we normally tend to read in English appears to make this interpretation possible. We begin to make “excuses” and find reason for this decidedly gloomy portion.

First, perhaps Isaiah is prophesying that the human Eliakim, rather than the future Messiah, is the only one to whom these events will occur? In other words, perhaps this verse alone ceases to be messianic and refers only to a time frame closer to Isaiah’s own day?

Second, perhaps Isaiah is prophesying that Messiah will be cut off during his crucifixion? That would be true. He was. But then, where is his joyful resurrection? And isn’t his glory and kingdom eternal?

So, let’s look at the linguistic structure of sections A and B. Perhaps that will shed some light.

A New Beginning and Ending Phrase

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

A. Prophecy concerning Shebna (15-19)

B. Prophecy concerning Eliakim (20-24)

1. 20 And it shall come to pass in that day,…

2. 24 …they shall depend upon him in that day.

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

The section concerning Eliakim, the type of Messiah, both opens and closes with the phrase, “in that day.”  This phrase serves as the bookends for another inclusio. Since the phrase in vs 24, “in that day,” is a bookend, it belongs with the metaphorical books on the shelf. These concern Eliakim, the Messiah. In other words, the opening and closing statements of an inclusio belong with the material included in-between.

A Grammatical Difficulty

When the reader compares several of the biblical translations available today, she will realize that most translators place the period before the phrase, “in that day.” Others place it after. So what? Simply this, if the period falls before “in that day,” then the phrase introduces and refers to verse 25. But if the period falls after the phrase “in that day,” then the phrase closes out the prior section and definitely connects with Eliakim and Messiah in verse 24. Grammatically, it could go either way. It makes sense both ways.

Translations which place, “In that day,” as the introductory words of verse 25 are the KJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and NET. In other words, seemingly all the versions based on the Masoretic textual tradition read something like, “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 22:25 ESV)

It is important to point out that the “peg that was fastened in a secure place” could conceivably refer to Shebna in any event, period or no period. However, the manner in which we normally read language in strings causes many readers to place the reference upon Eliakim and Messiah.

The Greek text Brenton used places the period after “in that day.” Rahlfs’s Greek text places it before. NETS, the New English Translation of the Septuagint, by Moíses Silva, places the period after “on that day.” He translates the phrase as part of the prior clause, although it falls at the beginning of verse 25.

Where Do I Stand?

Personally, I like Brenton’s translation and the great sense it makes structurally. Further, I like the Greek text upon which his translation is based. It highly favors the presence of Messiah in the books of Isaiah and the Psalms. My eye of faith prefers his edition.

Other Reasons to Find an Inclusio

1. The major reason, of course, to place “in that day” as the concluding phrase of verses 20-24 is that it forms a beautiful inclusio, as outlined above, for verses 20-24.

2. A second reason to interpret “in that day” as descriptive of Eliakim, rather than Shebna, concerns vocabulary. Isaiah says of the wicked Shebna, “Behold now, the Lord of hosts casts forth and will utterly destroy such a man, and will take away your robe and your glorious crown,” ( Isiah 22:17 LXE, CAB). Isaiah calls Shebna “a man.” On the other hand, he speaks honorably of Eliakim/Messiah, “My servant,” (vs 20), “a father,” (vs 21), and “ruler,” (v23). In verses 20-24, Isaiah never refers to Eliakim/Messiah as “man.” However, verse 25 prophesies against “the man” that is “fastened in the sure place,” (Septuagint). (The Septuagint text never uses the word “peg.” That word appears only in the Masoretic.) The use of “man” in verse 25 (LXE) seems to refer back to Shebna, rather than Eliakim.

3. A third reason to place verse 25 back with verses 15-19, rather than with the embedded inclusio of verses 20-24, are the verb tenses. When Isaiah prophesies, who at that time, strictly according to this passage, is in the “priestly chamber” (Silva, NETS)? It is Shebna. The verbs the Septuagint uses throughout verses 15-19, about Shebna, indicate that he is presently in the priestly chamber and will be removed. Contrasting with this, the verbs in the portion about Eliakim/Messiah, verses 20-24, are every one future tense: “will” or “shall.” Verse 25, however, abruptly switches back to present tense, “The man that is fastened in the sure place…” Notice the less-than-admirable subject, “man,” and the present tense, “is.” These combined give strong evidence that the text in verse 25 refers to Shebna, rather than Eliakim/Messiah.

4. Finally, the vocabulary of verse 25 best matches the vocabulary used of Shebna, rather than that used of Eliakim/Messiah. For example, Isaiah writes that this “man” shall be “removed” and “taken away,” and that his glory shall be “utterly destroyed.” Correspondingly, Isaiah writes in verses 17-19, concerning the wicked Shebna, that the Lord will “cast(s) forth and will utterly destroy,” will “take away” his robe and crown, will “cast [throw]” him into “a great and unmeasured land,” where he “shall die.” The Lord will bring his “fair chariot to shame” and the house of his prince would be “trodden down.” He would be “removed” from his stewardship and from his place. Verse 25 fairly sums up and repeats the entire passage from verses 17-19, concerning Shebna.

25 The man that is fastened in the sure place shall be removed and be taken away, and shall fall; and the glory that is upon him shall be utterly destroyed;

5. In conclusion, it appears far more likely that for the reasons of structure and language just given, verse 25 should be applied to Shebna, rather than to Eliakim/Messiah.

Summary

Isaiah 22:15-25 presents an inclusio with a second inclusio embedded within. Verses 15 and 25, introduce and conclude the passage. Both of these verses, set off by the phrases, “Thus says the Lord… ” and “for the Lord has spoken,” refer to the wickedly proud Shebna, here a type of Satan.

The second inclusio embedded within the first is Isaiah 22:20-24. The phrase, “in that day,” (beginning of verse 20 and end of verse 24) sets off the boundaries of this inclusio. The first inclusio is about the wicked Shebna. The second refers to Eliakim, a type of Messiah, Christ.

Significance

Isaiah, up until now, at least, has given predominantly bad news. The section popularly called the prophecies, judgments, or oracles “against the nations” is particularly painful to read. On many levels and for many reasons, this portion of Isaiah will relieve and gladden the hearts of tender readers. He predicts the good news of a better priest/ruler to come.

First, he is God’s special servant, the whom God approves and sets in place. His authority will be great and his majesty glorious. He will be a father to many, and everyone, from least to greatest, will trust in him.

Second, because Isaiah prophesied of him a good 600 years before his appearance, those who hear know that he was indeed chosen in advance by God. His credentials are real. That Isaiah speaks of a good, faithful, humble, and wise servant/ruler is good news for the whole world.

Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–6

[continuing from previous post]

The prophecy continues in its judgmental strain. Using the Septuagint as the main text, Isaiah 3:1 identifies that Judea and Jerusalem are still the subject. Whereas the bulk of chapter two describes God’s judgment with images of lowering, bringing down, humbling, Chapter 3 describes the same judgment with images of taking away, stripping, impoverishing.

Verses 1-3 in the Septuagint, and even in the ESV, read like poetry with well-balanced rhythmical lines:

Behold now, the Lord

the Lord of hosts

will take away from Jerusalem

and from Judea

the mighty man

and the mighty woman,

the strength of bread,

and the strength of water,

the great and mighty man,

the warrior and the judge,

and the prophet, and the cousellor,

and the elder, the captan of fifty also,

and the honourable counsellor,

and the wise artificer,

and the intelligent hearer (LXE, Brenton).

Verses 4-7 describe a topsy-turvy, backwards, upside-down, chaotic condition, one that breaks all the norms and rules. Youths will be the princes, rather than the elders; mockers shall have dominion, not the wise, helpful, and steadfast. In verse 5, the people shall fall: man upon man, every man upon his neighbour. The child shall insult the elder man, and the base [shall do likewise] to the honourable. [Reflection: Does this sound anything at all like our country today?] Verses 6 and 7 describe the lack of leadership, when men desperately grab at anyone and beg to be in subjection, but the situation is so bad that no one wants to take on that role.

In verses 8-12 God comments upon and interprets the situation. Verse 8 reads, “For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judea has fallen…” A footnote in the LXE for “ruined” refines the meaning as “forsaken, or, let go.” This is the same Greek (LXX) word we saw in Isaiah 2:6, where Brenton translates it as, “forsaken.” Thayer’s lexicon includes the definitions, “to leave, not to uphold, to let sink.” He cites Deuteronomy 31:6 and its quotation in Hebrews 13:5, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” This had been Moses’s words to Joshua before he died. While Moses’s words to Joshua were fulfilled, here we have the opposite. The conditions God describes are what happens when he forsakes his people, abandons them, loosens the cords that bind, allowing them to perish when left on their own. It is as though they have lost their moorings, as a boat that loses its anchor in a safe harbor is carried by wind and wave out to sea, where it is overwhelmed, capsizes, and sinks. How tragic for anyone, let alone for the “people of God.”

Why has God done this? What could his people possibly have done that was so bad that he treated them this way? Verses 8-12 begin to answer these questions.

Interestingly, the very first item that God mentions in his explanation of why he has “ruined” (forsaken) Jerusalem and allowed Judea to fall is, “Their tongues have spoken with iniquity, disobedient as they are towards the Lord.” Comment: God does not consider “their tongues” to be a personality quirk that he should tolerate because their actions are good. Rather, their “words” (NET) and “speech” (ESV) are the very first item God considers. Their actions follow their tongues; those too display disobedience. No surprises here. Actions proceed from what is in the heart (Matthew 15:19, Luke 6:45), and the tongue reveals what the heart contains (Matthew 12:34, 15:18).

Verse 9 in modern language would read, I know you’re guilty by the look on your face. The depth of their depravity in God’s eyes is revealed by the phrase, “… like the people of Sodom they openly boast of their sin,” (NET).

The Septuagint text reads differently in verse 10 than the Masoretic. While the Masoretic (ESV and NET, for example) bring in “the righteous” in verse 10, the Septuagint more consistently sticks with the faults of God’s wayward people. It reads, “Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works.” When a people condemn and imprison or otherwise hinder or gag a just person, this stands against them in God’s court of law. For example, the fact that the Israelite people in their latter days crucified the just Lord of glory, this fact stands against them in God’s eyes. Jesus also condemns their actions, “… the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation,” (Luke 11:47-51 ESV). Verse 11 declares that the current evil is happening to them as a turnaround of their own deeds. Basically, the verse states, What goes around comes around.

Verse 12 describes in greater detail the nature of the evil Jerusalem and Judea are reaping as a result of their silencing the just person among them, “Oppressors treat my people cruelly; creditors rule over them, (NET). The Septuagint contains an interesting statement, also in verse 12, “O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.” Comment: This is a very sad situation, when the leaders of the people are those who take financial advantage of them, while at the same time calling them, “blessed.” Clearly, God’s people have been deceived; they are being led astray and the paths they walk are crooked (verse 12). The fact that they don’t realize this is happening to them does not prevent God from punishing them. God’s allowing this to happen to them is itself the punishment, the result of their having rejected and silenced the true voice of God’s just person among them (verse 10). Today’s evangelical church in America needs to become aware and pray against deception, because, personally, I strongly feel that this is happening to them, as well.

Verses 13 and 14a declare that the Lord is about to bring his specific charges against them (“enter into judgment,” verses 13, 14, LXX). What are the specific charges God brings? NET clearly spells out their crime, “…”It is you who have ruined the vineyard! You have stashed in your houses what you have stolen from the poor,” (3:14). The Septuagint calls it, “my vineyard,”–God’s own vineyard–rather than “the vineyard.” This is better, because it allows the reader to interpret the phrase more metaphorically and indicates whose vineyard, which particular vineyard they have “set…on fire,” (LXX). “But why have ye set my vineyard on fire,” (verse 14, LXX). By using the phrase, “my vineyard,” God’s word makes clear that he means people, people he cares about. God is not talking about grapes they have destroyed with flames, but people, his people. Verses 14b and 15 make this clear, “… why is the spoil of the poor in your houses? 15 Why do ye wrong my people, and shame the face of the poor?” This is the most specific sin Isaiah has mentioned in this entire section, which began in verse 8. And what is it? It is the crime of robbing the poor. Comment: God is definitely angry. His anger is revealed by his having abandoned Jerusalem and Judea to reap the harvest of what they have sowed. And what have they sowed? They have robbed the poor and made their own homes comfortable with what they have taken. Forgive me, please, but I can’t help but ask, Why does the Scripture here make no mention of Marxism or socialism or even worse, communism? When certain of our own political candidates wish to shift the burden of taxation away from poor and the by-no-means-rich middle class to the wealthiest few percent, why is there such protest? I don’t find that kind of protest representing God or his word. God-is-concerned-about-the-poor. Isaiah 3:14-15 declares this.

Because verse 16 opens a new section of God’s complaint against Jerusalem and Judea, and because there is still quite a bit of text between this point and the next reprieve, which begins in Isaiah 4:2, we will stop here. And, Lord willing, we will continue.

 

 

Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–5

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NOTE: My presupposition in all my reading of Scripture is that the main point is always Jesus the King. The King first, then the kingdom. There is no kingdom of God apart from the King. The King preexists before the kingdom. The kingdom exists to honor the King. Israel is not the focus of prophecy–Christ is the focus. Prophecy is not about Israel; prophecy is about Jesus Christ. Christ the King himself is infinitely larger and grander than all his kingdom. The kingdom is glorified in its current form as the body of Christ in its union with Christ, as the branches to the vine. Apart from Christ, there would be no kingdom. Words cannot describe the great love with which Christ loves his body, his people, his kingdom, for whom he died.

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This material will require two posts–this one and at least one other.

Isaiah 2:5-4:1 describes the judgment of God against his people in Jerusalem and Judea. Verse 5 is transitional from the prior, much shorter section, describing God’s glory in Zion in the last days. Looking back, verse 5 indicates a call to repentance, so that the house of Jacob will be able to participate in the glory just shown. Looking forward, the same verse indicates an invitation to walk with the prophet and see what the Lord’s light will reveal. It’s interesting to think that all the judgment on display in chapters 2:6-4:1 is what God’s light reveals. That is, we usually think of God’s light revealing the good things of the Lord, including his Law, but here we see the Lord’s light revealing the sin and God’s punishment upon the sinners.

Verse 6 was covered in some detail in two prior posts: Journal 3 and Journal 4. Whereas God’s purpose was to have a holy people set aside to worship him in holiness and shine his light to the world, “his people” had disobeyed. They intermarried with nonbelievers, practiced their divinations, and bore children to these unconsecrated marital alliances. The result was that their nation, after 500 years, was indistinguishable from what it had been before their arrival. Therefore, the Lord “has forsaken his people the house of Israel,” (LXX, Brenton’s translation).

Chapters two and three continue with extensive descriptions of the people and behaviors God, through Isaiah, condemns, alongside descriptions of what he intends to do. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is reminiscent of the type of poetry these chapters of Isaiah use. Specifically, Isaiah writes lists of items, as though in a catalogue.

The first portion (vss. 7-8) calls out the silver, gold, horses, chariots, and man-made idols filling their land. In verse 9, it’s not clear if the first clause is a description of people worshiping the idols or a description of what will happen to them as God punishes. One arrives at the conclusion of non-clarity by examining the text itself and also how various translations handle it. The NET follows the first possibility and the NIV the second. Interestingly, NETS and Brenton, which both follow the Septuagint, leave the uncertainty in place. This allows the reader the opportunity to think through both possibilities and arrive at her own conclusion. What is agreed upon is that Isaiah includes all people, regardless of their wealth and social standing.

Revelation 6:15-17 reproduces Isaiah 2:10 and its immediate context, vss. 8-11. I believe that in both locations the imagery is poetically symbolic of the spiritual truth being conveyed.

Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Isaiah 2:8-11 (LXX, Brenton) And the land is filled with abominations, even the works of their hands; and they have worshipped the works which their fingers made. 9 And the mean man bowed down, and the great man was humbled: and I will not pardon them. 10 Now therefore enter ye into the rocks and hide yourselves in the earth, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth. 11 For the eyes of the Lord are high, but man is low; and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

Placing this portion of Isaiah within the context of Revelation 6 causes one to marvel again at the fact that the Lord is speaking to “his people the house of Israel” in Isaiah.

Verses 12-21 repeat and expand, using different imagery, the concepts of verses 7-11. This section very much sounds like pages out of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (I searched Google and found that indeed Whitman did use Isaiah as a model.) One theme word difficult to miss is “high.” The word “high” occurs 7 times in verses 11 through 15. Verse 11 states the real truth that, “the eyes of the Lord are high, but man is low; and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Following are phrases with the word “high.”

  • 11 For the eyes of the Lord are high
  • 12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one… that is high and towering
  • 13 upon every cedar of Libanus, of them that are high and towering,
  • 14 and upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill,
  • 15 and upon every high tower, and upon every high wall,

Verse 12 opens with a literal statement that closes with the abstract descriptor “high and towering.” Isaiah 2:12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and haughty, and upon every one that is high and towering, and they shall be brought down; (LXX, Brenton). The literal, easily understood “proud and haughty” describes what is intended by “high and towering.” Common sense tells us that the remainder of the list is poetically symbolic. We must ask ourselves, is the Lord really resentful of the cedars that grow in Lebanon and the mighty oaks (an extremely useful and strong hardwood) that grow in Bashan? Do the heights of the mountains and hills really bother him that much? How could he in fairness to his people hold them responsible and accountable for the physical attributes of the geography surrounding them? Although one can debate concerning God’s minding the height of the towers and walls used in warfare against their enemies, common sense I believe weighs upon the reader to realize that God is poetically describing in a variety of ways the pride and haughtiness of the people who call themselves by his name. He also condemns their placing their trust in these items rather than in himself.

Other imagery that needs to be noted before moving on is that found in verse 16, “and upon every ship of the sea, and upon every display of fine ships.” Chapter 18 of Revelation, in describing the fall of Babylon, uses this same imagery in an expanded way in verses 11-19. Revelation 18:17-18 reads, “For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” (ESV). The entire chapter of Revelation 18 is written in a style very similar to that of chapters 2 and 3 of Isaiah.

Verse 17 sums up this section with a literal statement that gives the interpretation of what precedes it, “And every man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall fall: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Verse 17 is repetitious of verse 11, both stating in literal terms the poetic meaning of the images sandwiched between (an inclusio.)

Then, verses 18-21 repeat verse 10 in expanded fashion. This is also an inclusio. This term means a section that is bracketed on both sides by similar material, like a sandwich made with two slices of bread.

18 And they shall hide all idols made with hands, 19 having carried them into the caves, and into the clefts of the rocks, and into the caverns of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth.
20 For in that day a man shall cast forth his silver and gold abominations, which they made in order to worship vanities and bats; 21 to enter into the caverns of the solid rock, and into the clefts of the rocks, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth. (Isaiah 2:18-21 LXE)

This section is, of course, reminiscent again of Revelation 6:15-17 (See these verses quoted above). Realizing this, the reader cannot help but wonder what time frame these “last days” (Isaiah: 2:10) refers to. Clearly, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587-86 BC, which was future to Isaiah’s writing. It was also destroyed in 70 AD. Pinning an exact time frame for “the last days” here and in Revelation 6 is exceedingly complex and beyond the scope of my understanding.

There is still quite a bit of text between this point and the next reprieve, which begins in Isaiah 4:2. Lord willing, we will continue.

 

 

Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–2

RECAP: As mentioned previously, God in Isaiah addresses two groups of people. He is pleased with one group and blesses them. The other group receives his condemnation. Unless the reader understands that God constantly and abruptly switches back and forth between these two groups, she might form the opinion that God is “schizophrenic,”–now he is happy; now he is angry. The groups are usually not labeled per se. Most often, everyone is referred to as “they.” So how does the reader know when God has left off addressing one group and switches to the other? The answer lies in the content. Someone who knows God well might say, “God would never speak to his loved ones using words like these.”

The two groups, though usually not labeled, are labeled in Chapter 1. Verse 2 introduces the rebellious children. Verse 9 introduces the “few survivors,” (LXX seed) the Lord “left,” (LXX left surviving, Thayer Def. 2), that is, spared. He spared a remnant. The concept of remnant derives from a root meaning “forsake, abandon.” Most often, biblically, the word is not used in a good way. Israel “forsakes” or “abandons” God’s law. But when judgment comes, and God sweeps away the wicked, it is good to be part of the leftovers, the small group not taken, the ones left behind. The image of a seamstress cutting a pattern works well. The scraps left over after the usable portion has been removed are “left.” Seamstresses actually call this leftover portion the “remnant.”

Isaiah’s whole concept of a “remnant” spills over into Romans 9:6, “… For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” and 9:27, “And 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.'” Understanding the concept that Isaiah flips between addressing two distinct groups of people is critical. Unless the reader grasps this and learns to identify the two groups, she might get whiplash. God in Isaiah 1:25-27 addresses the remnant, who will be cleansed by the removal of greater Israel, whose judgment is described in verses 28-31.

Chapter 2 opens, “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem,” (ESV, unless otherwise noted). Judah and Jerusalem formed the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Judah is the tribe that birthed Jesus, according to his flesh. Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s worship, location of the temple of God. Isaiah’s prophecies span four Judean kings (1:1), and the timing is just over 100 years before the Babylonian captivity. God sent Isaiah to call his people to repentance (1:16-20).

Verses 2-4 are positive words prophesying goodness and blessing. These are addressed to the remnant, the “seed,” (1:9). In verse 2, the words “mountain,” “mountains,” and “hills,” are symbolic. Isaiah is not speaking of literal elevations of literal landscape features, nor of a cataclysmic, literal lifting up (a seismic earthquake?) of a massive amount of earth and rock, even though it is true that Jerusalem was built on a high hill. The “mountain of the Lord” represents the dwelling place of God, the figurative seat of his power (see also Isaiah 30:29, Micah 4:1-2, and Zechariah 8:3). The hills in this verse represent other, smaller powers. “Zion” is first mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:7 and is a name for the City of David, the capital of that great king. David in turn becomes a New Testament type (a model New Testament writers claim from the Old Testament) of the Great King, Jesus Christ. Taken together, the words of verse 2 speak of the physical location of the center of the Lord’s kingdom, where he is to be worshiped.

Still in verse 2, what time period do “the latter days” refer to? The Septuagint (Old Greek translation) calls these “the last days.” We find this phrase again in Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:2, and elsewhere in the New Testament. Hebrews 1:1-2 declares, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Based upon its New Testament usage, the “last days,” or “latter days,” refer to a time future to Isaiah, a time of Messiah’s reign, that is, after the resurrection and ascension. Yet, the question still remains, “latter days” of what? Taken as a whole, verses 2-3 speak of a time of restoration and righteousness in God’s kingdom, a time when his center of worship will be a beacon of light to the whole world.

Verse 4 is extremely well known among Christians. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and 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.” It speaks of the peaceful, enlightened reign of the Lord, Christians would say of Messiah. Whether this age of spiritual peace and prosperity refers to the current church age in its entire extent, or to a still future reign, cannot be known. In either event, God’s intention, as expressed by Isaiah, is to bless his worship by many peoples, not just the Israelites.

Verse 5 transitions from Group 1, the blessed, to Group 2, the judged. It can be read with the previous section, or the following. It’s as though God is saying to his own people, the house of Jacob (paraphrasing), Look, I just showed you the future of my kingdom and my worship. Now won’t you come and be part of this? Verse 5, “And now, O house of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Could the Apostle John have been thinking of this when he wrote in John 1:4-5, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,”? See also John 12:35-36 and Luke 1:79.

Verses 2:6-4:1 address in an unbroken stream the group God chastises (to be continued).

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