Monday, February 24, 2014

CCXXXVIII - The Book of Isaiah

This post begins the section of the Bible known as the “Major Prophets”.  They are considered “major” due to the length of the books, rather than an assumed superiority of importance.  We will begin in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s name in Hebrew means “The Lord is Salvation” and was a common name for that period.  Isaiah himself was a well-educated man, capable of the extensive writing we see in this book.  Actually, he is considered to have been a member of the royal family being the son of Amoz.  Isaiah served Judah as God’s spokesman for about ninety years.  He began his ministry the last year of Uzziah’s reign, and ministered through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  Isaiah had seen the emergence of a new empire, Assyria, and saw the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He saw Judah taking the same path of idolatry and disobedience to God that doomed Israel, and tried his best to redirect their path.

This book, like no other in the Old Testament, points directly to Christ as Savior of the world.  Although this book was written over 700 years before Christ, it explains in some detail what He would come to do and how He would do it:  first through suffering, then through crowning glory.

People who have been Christians for a number of years and have studied the Scripture have had exposure to the book of Isaiah.  Many regard him as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament due much to fact that he is considered the “Prophet of Redemption”.  Many of the verses and passages are considered among the finest in Judeo-Christian literature.  To quote Frank Thompson,  Some modern scholars have studied this poetical prophecy as a botanist studies flowers, dissecting and analyzing them.  By the use of this scientific method the beauty and unity of the book, like that of the rose, is almost forgotten as the different parts are pulled to pieces for examination.”

This is one of the lengthier books of the Bible, containing sixty-six chapters.  This is one of those books of the Bible that I could spend months teaching, but that is not my plan, as it is too easy that way to lose sight of the main themes of the book.  Therefore I hope to do this in no more than ten to twelve posts.

This book divides itself into two major themes, the first of which (chapters 1-39) is primarily historical and contains mostly indictments against Israel and Judah.  The second theme in chapters 40-66 is about the glorious future of Israel, containing prophesies of blessings.

We are all familiar with the encounter Paul had with Christ.  Like Paul, Isaiah had an encounter with God, during which he volunteered to be His spokesman.

Chapter 1

To appreciate Isaiah’s words, one must understand what was happening in Judah and its capital Jerusalem.  Corruption, crime, injustice, and idolatry ran rampant throughout Judah and even in the Temple and among the priests.

Verses 1-9  -  The indictment  -  Isaiah does not mince his words in his opening statement as he wanted to get the people’s attention.  The situation called for direct language so there would be no misunderstanding of the severity.  He says that they have forgotten and forsaken God.  He states that even an ox or a donkey recognizes their master, but not Israel.  He says that they are totally corrupt from head to toe.  The land of milk and honey was now being besieged by strangers (pagans) and they are on the verge of being punished like Sodom and Gomorrah (vs 9)
Just in case you are uncertain as to God’s attitude toward His choses people, read verses 10-15.  Isaiah even calls them Sodomites, which would be an insult.  God, through Isaiah, tells them that their sacrifices mean nothing to Him.  He speaks with words of disgust.  God is fed up with their behavior and disregard of Him.

Verses 16-20  -  Call to Repent  -  The people have backslidden so far, Isaiah probably does not know where to start.  So he opens this call for repentance with a general plea of “cleanse yourselves”.  Then he tells them where to start:  Seek justice; defend the oppressed; take care of the orphans and the widows.  At least that would be a start.  He then goes on to tell them that it’s not too late.  If thy return to God, their sins will turn from “crimson” to “white as snow”.  All they need to do is “clean up their act”, and Isaiah would be around to guide them if they were truly serious about it.  In verses 19 and 20 Isaiah states the ultimatum quite simply:  If you repent and follow God you will return to eating the good of the land.  But if you continue to rebel against Him and His commandments, you will die by the sword of your enemies.  Then in the final phrase of verse 20, Isaiah says “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”.  Isaiah is proclaiming the authority of his commission.  He is saying “these are not my words, but God’s”.  In this he was proclaiming himself as a prophet appointed by God Himself.

The remaining verses further describe the situation in Jerusalem and how much God is disappointed.  He says the city has become a prostitute, a city which once was occupied by righteous people now houses murderers.  The rulers were partners with thieves.  Bribes were the only way anyone can get what they want or need.  The orphans and widows have no one to take up their cause.  In fact, verse 23 says the widows cases do not even make it to the docket of the courts.  In verse 24 God refers to them as His enemies and forecasts the curses that are about to befall them.

I’m going to end this opening now and will pick up on chapter 2 in the next post.  I must take care to avoid getting bogged down, so the pace will pick up quite a bit.

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