Friday, March 28, 2014

CCL - The Book of Jeremiah - Introduction Plus Chapters 1-6

Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Book of Jeremiah is categorized in the “Major Prophets”.  As stated before, the qualification for being considered among the major prophets is the length of the book, rather than being of superior importance.  Jeremiah has been called the “weeping prophet” due to his experiences, seeing the fall of Judah and Jerusalem.  He wrote of these events with a heavy heart.  As we read Jeremiah we can sense a sincere sharing of the suffering of the people during this tragic time in the History of God’s people.  We can sense how it made his heart ache when his attempts to warn the people of God’s imminent judgment fell on deaf ears.  Also like Isaiah, the Book of Jeremiah is rather challenging to study, as the order is jumbled and difficult to arrange in chronological sequence.  At times the dates are clear, but more often they are difficult to determine.  Many theologians have explained this as being in a somewhat hectic order because Jeremiah’s life and times in Jerusalem was during a hectic time.

Jeremiah acted as a spokesman for God for a period of forty years.  His ministry spanned the reigns of five different kings of Judah:  Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.  His closest contemporary was Habakkuk.  Jeremiah had witnessed so much tragedy and violence.  He was in Jerusalem when one of Judah’s kings was killed in an ill-advised war with Egypt.  Another was taken captive to Egypt.  Judah’s last sitting king was captured by the Babylonians, was forced to watch his sons killed, was blinded, then taken away to Babylon in total disgrace.  Jeremiah knew this was not what God had planned for His people, and tried to subvert it with his preaching.  Jeremiah was also around when there was so much turbulence in the world.  The aggressive Assyrians had already conquered and taken Israel into captivity, only to be later destroyed by the Babylonians.  It would have seemed to a man like Jeremiah that the whole world was becoming large and powerful except Judah.

Jeremiah Chapter 1

The first three verses serve as somewhat of a preface to his entire book.  This seemed to be all the information one needed as a preface.  It says his father was Hilkiah, a priest.  They lived in Anathoth, which was a small suburb of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin.  It goes on to state the dates of Jeremiah’s ministry as beginning in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign through the captivity and exile.  This would be approximately 627-580 BC.

Verses 1:4-19  -  God Calls Jeremiah

Verses 4 and 5 is the actual call from God to Jeremiah.  It says in verse 4 that “the word of the Lord came to me…..”  That in itself puts Jeremiah in a special group.  God had not spoken directly to many individuals.  Then God says in verse 5 something I find interesting.  He says that He chose Jeremiah as His spokesman even before Jeremiah was born.  I believe many servants of God are chosen this early.  Jeremiah’s response was not surprising:  He said he was too young.  This is just another way of saying that he was not qualified, or that he was not qualified YET.  But God seems to have chosen only humble people.  Notice in verse 8 when God gave to him the most comforting and encouraging words possible:  “Don’t be afraid…..I am with you and will protect you.”  Verses 9 and 10 are both special.  First God placed His hand on Jeremiah’s mouth, assuring him that his words will be directly from God Himself.  Then in verse 10 God is forewarning Jeremiah that his task will be filled with turbulence, resistance, and difficulty.  The task ahead was not going to be pleasant.  {God knew that only a very special person would be able to withstand what was ahead and still deliver God’s messages to the Israelites.  Then in this calling of Jeremiah, God previews some of the difficulties Jeremiah will experience.  But God warns him not to let up or compromise the word of God.  If you read 17-19 you will see God telling him something I have often said:  It is easier to stand against the threats of men that to try to stand against the threats of God.  And then it says “if God be for me, who can stand against me”.  {This is an excellent saying to memorize and get into the habit of saying to yourself.  It has gotten me through a number of difficult situations.}

Chapter 2 - God’s Indictment Against His People

God’s charge against His people is simply about his faithfulness compared to their unfaithfulness.  He mentions throughout the chapter the thing He hates:  Idol worship, even naming a few of the specific idols they have yielded to.  Then in verse 35 God mentions through Jeremiah that the people insist that “I am innocent”.  {They just don’t get it.  No wonder God is so fed up.}
Chapter 3:1-4:4  -  Judah Needs to Repent

God appeals to Judah through Jeremiah throughout these verses.  He uses the analogy of a husband-wife relationship.  Look how many times God pleads with His people to “Return” to Him.  He makes it clear in verse 18 that if they do not repent they will follow the path of Israel and see themselves as a nation destroyed, but His words seem to have little if any impact on a people too entrenched in a sinful and Godless lifestyle to understand they have been on the wrong path.

Chapter 4:5-6:30  -  The Imminent Punishment

In these chapters Jeremiah repeats two points over and over: 1. God’s judgment was inevitable, and 2. He has good reasons for His disappointment.  Look at verse 18 where He says, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you.  This is your punishment.  How bitter it is!  How it pierces to the heart!”  As you read this book you will notice unmistakable words, such as 5:7 saying “Why should I forgive you?”  He accuses them of not only idol-worship, but also adultery, lying, injustice, greed, forsaking the orphans and widows, picking on the poor, stealing land and other property, just to mention a few.  But then in 6:15 he says, “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct:  No, they have no shame at all…”  Also included in these verses is the announcement that an army from a foreign land will invade Judah and defeat them, which is exactly what is about to happen.

Next Post:  Jeremiah Continues to Appeal to Judah

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CCXLIX - Think on These Things

As I mentioned before, periodically I will send a list of things for you to think on as a review of what we've covered thus far.  If you are unable to bring to mind significant thoughts concerning each of these, you might want to scan the pertinent blog posting.  This list will get lengthy as we proceed through our study.  Also helpful is the Timeline in post CXCI.

The Creation
Adam and Eve
The Fall
Cain Kills Abel
Noah and the Ark
Noah's Son:  Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Tower of Babel
Sodom and Gomorrah
Isaac Is Born
Hagar and Ishmael
Abraham Tested
Isaac and Rebekah
Jacob and Esau
Stolen Birthright
Jacob's Ladder
The twelve sons of Jacob = Israel
Joseph the Dreamer
Joseph and Potifer's Wife  =  Prison
Cupbearer and Baker
Joseph and Pharaoh
Jacob's Son's Reunite
Israel Goes to Egypt
400 Years of Slavery in Egypt
Moses is Born
God Commissions Moses
Ten Plagues of Egypt
The Exodus
Israel Through the Wilderness
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle
The Ark of the Covenant
The Golden Calf
Levitican Law
Forty Years in the Wilderness
Twelve Spies sent to Canaan
Moses Gives Final Sermons
Joshua Replaces Moses as Leader of Israel
Rahab the Canaanite Prostitute
Crossing the Jordan; 12 Stones
Battle of Jericho
Land Allotments for the 12 Tribes
Baal and Ashteroth
Gideon Lays Out the Fleece
Samson and Delilah
Ruth and Boaz
Hannah Dedicates Samuel
Saul - Israel's First King
David and Goliath
Jonathan, David's Friend
The Ark Returns to Jerusalem
David and Bathsheba
Solomon Crowned King
The Temple in Jerusalem
Rehoboam and Jeroboam
Leaders Matter
The Ungodly Kings of Israel
The Godly Kings of Judah
The Fall of Israel to Assyria
The Fall of Judah
The Three Groups Return and Rebuild Jerusalem
Queen Esther and Mordecai
Job Afflicted by Satan
Psalm 23
Proverbs – Wise Sayings and Aphorisms
Ecclesiastes – Soloman’s dark years

Isaiah Foretells the Coming of the Messiah

Monday, March 24, 2014

CCXLVIII - Concluding Isaiah - Chapter 60-66

These last seven chapters of Isaiah speak of the coming of the Messiah (Christ) and how God was going to bring to conclusion His divine plan for all people.  This of course includes His plans for Jerusalem as well.  Although, as in the previous fifty-nine chapters, Isaiah jumps abruptly from subject to subject, this passage is a bit easier to follow.  It will be easier to read these chapters if you reference this post while doing so, as I will be careful to identify the subjects and audiences as Isaiah continues his style.

Chapter 60 – The New Jerusalem

First verse says “Arise, shine; for the Light has come”.  Although this is prophesy for the future, Isaiah is telling them that there will be reason for celebration and that God has not forsaken them.  Note that the phrase “the glory of the Lord” always meant God’s presence.  God’s actual presence will be in Jerusalem.  Verse 2 says that Jerusalem’s light must shine.  Light takes away darkness, and people will always move toward light.  Here Isaiah is prophesying that the whole world will come to Jerusalem to worship and acknowledge God as the only God that is, was, and always will be.  He gets more specific in verse three as he indicates than all non-Jewish nations will come to Him and He will welcome them.  As for the rest of this chapter, Isaiah describes a time when people and wealth from all nations would move to Jerusalem (vss 4-10).  Then he says in 11-17 that the gates would always be kept open and the Light would be everlasting (18-22).

Chapter 61 – The Role of God’s Servants

This chapter deserves a few moments, as Jesus Himself chose to read from Isaiah 61:1-3 when He was in the synagogue in Nazareth.  This reading was the Sanhedrin’s most damaging evidence against Him, as it was here that Jesus pointed to Himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy (Luke 4:16-21).  Note in verse 1 the word “anointed”.  The ceremony of anointing one is to symbolize he person’s authority and endowment to serve.  {This is the reason people here to follow their king, as the kings of Judah were always “anointed”, giving them the authority from God to fulfill their commission.}  The word “poor” includes all who were oppressed.  The word “proclaim” means to preach.  This message in verses 1-3 offered hope for Jerusalem’s mourners, who were about to become celebratory instead.  In the remainder of this chapter Isaiah specifies four of these good tidings upon the Israelites.  1. Rebuilding of the destroyed cities (61:4-5).  2. A priestly ministry for all of Jerusalem’s citizens (61:6-7).  3. An everlasting covenant with God (61:8-9).  4. Israelites would become a permanent model for the world (61:10-11).

Chapter 62

Verses 1-5 in this chapter says that God promises to establish Israel as a righteous nation in spite of its sinful past.  Jerusalem’s name would change from “Deserted” which means desolate, to Hephzibah which means “My Delight is in Her”.  In verses 6-9 God places watchmen to guard over Jerusalem.  These guards would not only serve as protectors, but would also be in constant prayer for all of the inhabitants.  In the next three verses Isaiah urges the current citizens of Jerusalem to prepare for and welcome the returning exiles who would be considered a holy people.  (In previous chapters we saw that Isaiah was urging the exiled Israelites to return.)

Chapter 63

In verses 1-6 Isaiah pictures God as the ultimate Warrior.  As He returns from dealing with the other nations His garments are red, indicating that He had destroyed the enemy nations.  In much of the Old Testament the name of Edom is used to refer to all nations who had been cruel to Israel.
63:7 – 64:12 is an intercessory prayer by Isaiah.  He starts with a recap of Israel’s History and a review of God’s redemptive acts, all of which were grounded in His love for His chosen people.  Then starting in verse 15 Isaiah asks for God to again act out of love for His people and deliver them.  He confessed the people’s sins of idol worship and declared that they deserved bondage or a similar punishment.  But then he appeals to God not to remember their sins forever.

Chapter 65  -  God’s Answer to Isaiah’s Prayer

God had reason to be angry with Israel, mostly because of idol worship, but it went beyond that.  Remember, God loved Israel, but Israel did not love God, as described in the beginning verses of this chapter.  These verses describe an attitude of indifference toward God.  {When asked “what is the opposite of love?” most people will say “hate”.  This is not true.  The opposite of love is indifference.  To hate is to have feelings and thoughts toward something or someone, howbeit unfavorable.  To be indifferent is placing no value on them at all.  Think about that.}  This passage says that God is repeatedly holding out His hands saying “Here I am.  I love you.  I want to help you.”  But they ignore Him, pretending He is not there.  But in response to Isaiah’s intercessory prayer, God promises not to destroy all of them, but only those who deliberately forsaken Him.  (This probably was more of a concentration on the leaders, pagan priests, and sorcerers.)  Then starting in verse 17 God speaks into the more distant future as He promises to create a new heaven and a new earth, emphasizing that the old earth will not even be remembered.  He says in verses 18 and 19 that in the new Jerusalem there will be total, indescribable happiness as opposed to sorrow and mourning.  The following verses are specific examples of the comparison between the old and the new Jerusalem.  It says that no more will babies die while they are still babies.  Men will grow to be a hundred years old.  They will dwell in the houses they build, instead of building them for someone else.  It goes on to say they will not labor in vain.  {This is a reference not only to slavery, but also to the situation that foreigners would regularly raid and steal everything they labored for.}  It repeats that there will be no more weeping, but only joy in the hearts of the inhabitants of the new Jerusalem.  I like verse 24.  God says “I will answer their prayers before they speak them”.  Think about that.  Then in the last verse He describes peace the best way they could have understood it.  To paraphrase, He says “the lion will lie down peacefully with the lamb”.

Chapter 66, the final chapter of this Book of Isaiah reiterates both the harsh judgment of God’s enemies and the great salvation of His people.  In this conclusion you will find Isaiah making one last appeal for the people to pay attention and listen to his words of condemnation, warnings, hope, and redemption.

Next post:  The Book of Jeremiah

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CCXLVII - Isaiah Chapters 56 – 59

Often in the reading and studying of the book of Isaiah we are uncertain of exactly which group is being addressed at what specific time in History.  However, that is not a problem in this post as in these four chapters Isaiah is speaking exclusively to the exiled Jews who have return to Jerusalem, which would place the time at shortly after the year 538 BC.  At this particular time the exiles’ attempt to rebuild the city had been held up (probably because of Sanballat and Tobiah.  Remember them?)  But here in Isaiah we find that Sanballat and Tobiah were not the only problems.  A more severe problem were the returning Jews themselves.  These people were disobedient and defiant toward God.

Chapter 56:1-8 – Everybody Can be welcome into God’s Temple

In these eight verses Isaiah addresses the issue of foreigners entering the Temple.  I’m not certain exactly what brought this on, but it must have been a particular event that was probably disruptive.  Isaiah was very simplistic in the qualifications for being allowed in the Temple.  There were three requirements:  They practice justice, observed the Sabbath, and refrained from evil.  This is stated in verses 6 and 7, allowing no question about it.  {Jesus did not use these exact words in reference to the Gentiles, but this shows that God’s intentions always were to allow non-Jews into fellowship with Him.

56:9 – 57:13  -  Condemnation of the Exiled Jews

I’ve stated many times in this entire blog that “Leaders Matter”.  In this passage we’ll see that most of Isaiah’s words of condemnation are pointed to the leaders who were among the exiled Jews.  But the people at large were morally degenerate.  They had temple prostitutes; they practiced child sacrifice; and their practice of idol worship had about gone beyond the point of no return.  In verse 56:11 the word “shepherds” means leaders.  Verse 5 in chapter 57 speaks of child sacrifice.  Then verse 9 mentions the name of Molek, the dreaded pagan god who demanded worshipers to burn their children in fire.  {These people had a lot to learn.  Isaiah had his work cut out for him.}  Note the sarcasm in verse 13:  “When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you”.  {Throughout our study of the entire Bible thus far we have seen that nothing angers God like idolatry.}

57:14-21  -  God’s Effort to Restore Sinners Back into His Fellowship

This brief passage speaks of God’s respect for a contrite heart and a lowly spirit.  Evidently there were a few among the exiles whose hearts were right in the sight of God, whom He immediately welcomed into His fellowship.

Chapter 58  -  Condemnation of Empty Rituals

{I’m going to take this opportunity to speak a word on rituals.  The inherent danger in rituals is two-fold:  1. The monotony of them waters down their meaning, and 2. People can come to assume that the ritual itself becomes a redeeming act.  That is almost never true.  A ritual is an outward display of an inner thought or emotion.  That inner thought or emotion is what is considered redeeming.}  This passage clearly teaches us that God is not interested in a ritual being performed by people with wicked hearts.
Isaiah delivers his scathing message to the exiled Jews starting in verse 1. 
In verse 2 he says that the people seek to “know My ways”.  They do not seek to know God’s ways, but rather they are seeking to satisfy His demands.  Their hearts are wicked at all times they are exercising these rituals.  In verse 3 the people are making a weak case to God, saying “haven’t we fasted? And You refuse to be pleased with us.  Verse 4 says their fasting ended in quarreling and fighting among themselves.  I like the last part of verse 5 when Isaiah speaks for God and says “is this what you call a fast?”  These people have it all wrong.  Then Isaiah goes on to speak further about fasting saying in verses 6 and 7 that during their fasting they placed even heavier burdens onto their laborers and disregarded the poor.  Isaiah suggests that when they fast, they should donate the food they forsake to the poor and hungry.  This is the right heart to have when fasting.  Isaiah begins verse 8 with the word “then”, meaning that when they made their hearts right, THEN God will accept their ritual of fasting.  Read verses 8 and 9 carefully.  They are beautiful and exciting.  At the end of verse 9 he says then God will say “Here I Am”.  Also in this chapter is a stern warning about the Sabbath and how much God considers it holy and to be set aside as such.  {I made mention way back in the Book of Genesis about how we perhaps were in error when we abandoned Saturday as the Sabbath.  I say that because of such passages as this, making its importance very clear.}

Chapter 59

Verses 1-8  -   Sin Separates Us From God
In the KJV the first word in this chapter is “Behold”.  This word was used to emphasize the importance of what is about to be said.  It is alerting the reader to “Pay attention to what I am about to say”.  He goes on to say that it is their iniquities (immorality) that is the reason God is not hearing their prayers.  They cry out to God for help and when He does not answer their prayers, they blame Him rather than evaluating themselves (big lesson to be learned here).  The following six verses go on to list specifically some of their iniquitous acts such as Lying, saying wicked things about God and their fellow mankind, perversion of justice, and murder.  {Note again the mentioning of justice.  This is important to God.  He hates injustice, going in either direction, which was mentioned in an earlier post.

Verses 9-14  -  The Exiles Respond to Isaiah’s Words
We know these are the words of the listeners by the use of the pronouns “us” and “we”.  {As you read these verses you will be convinced that these people were sincere in their confession of their shortcomings and are acknowledging that they are the ones who have been at fault.  But not so fast.  It is one thing to confess sins.  It is yet another to reverse lifestyle.  We’ll speak on this more in depth when we get to the New Testament.}

Verses 15-21  -  God’s War Against Sin
God will punish sin and He will do it properly and in His time.  Verse 17 looks familiar as we have often looked at what Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning putting on proper clothing for our war against sin.  As it says in verse 19, God “will come like a pent-up flood”.  When He finally decides to lash out against sin, it will be more devastating than the bursting of floodgates.  And to wrap up this section, Isaiah speaks for God as He makes a promise of a future covenant, using the Redeemer as the Forerunner.

We will finish Isaiah in the next post which will focus mainly on the redemption of God’s people and the re-glorification of Zion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

CCXLVI - Isaiah 54-55

I’m going to cover only chapters 54 and 55 in this post.  I believe this passage to be one of the more vivid examples of Isaiah’s writing style.  Here the prophet used both historical and eschatological language.  Eschatological is the opposite of historical as it denotes not just the future, but the “end of time” or the “conclusion” of time as Isaiah’s readers understood it.  Remember, this man is intelligent, educated, and articulate.  As one reads these two chapters, he/she must exercise care to discern which he is speaking of in each verse, historical or eschatological.  He goes back and forth rather abruptly.

Chapter 54

In this chapter Isaiah is definitely speaking both to and about the exiled Jews in Babylon.  The subject is Jerusalem and God’s plans for His chosen city.  The Babylonians had all but destroyed Judah, and Jerusalem in particular, because of the Temple and the splendor of the rest of the city.  Isaiah speaks not only of rebuilding the city, but the spiritual renewal also.  In verses 1-8 the prophet refers to the exiled Jews as the wife and God as the husband.  He is describing the barren situation that exists, but God will use the returning Jews to create what we would call a population explosion in the land of Judah.  The barren situation is used to accurately describe Jerusalem, which was desolate and almost completely empty of any Jews.  {Nothing looks more pitiful than a city with no people or activity.}

Verses 9-17 – Establishing the New Jerusalem

In verses 9 and 10 Isaiah compares the re-population on Jerusalem with the flood of Noah.  Not so much for its impact on the earth, but rather the promise God made at the conclusion of the flood.  He promises, with a rainbow as a token, that He would never again flood the earth.  Here in Isaiah 54 God is promising He will never again allow Jerusalem to be taken captive after He repopulates it.  In the verses following, Isaiah tries to describe the splendor with which God will rebuild His city.  {This is a good example of him writing eschatologically.  This is the Jerusalem we will see in heaven.}  He goes on not only to describe the physical building of Jerusalem, but also to describe life for the children of God.  There will be total peace and contentment.  Righteousness and justice will exist at all times, in all places.  Tyranny and terror will be such a distant memory that the thought of it will be vague.  There would be no use for weapons, as God Himself will protect the city.  {I believe Jesus when He told us that He is preparing this place for us at this very moment.}

Chapter 55  -  Isaiah Urges Jews to Return from Babylon

In 539 BC Cyrus led his Persian military to utterly defeat the Babylonians, ending their cruel reign as the world’s power to the east.  Cyrus freed the Jewish slaves and offered any and all to return to their home land of Judah, and he would even give them protection in their journey back.  But since the Persians removed the burden of slavery from the Jews, many of them were inclined to stay in Babylon and build lives with their families there.  After all, it was now the only home they knew.  In the very first verse Isaiah is urging all Jews to return to Judah.  Then he seems to skip to the eschatological and it seems to abruptly shift to God’s offer of salvation as offered by the Messiah.  In verse 2 he speaks of buying bread that will not satisfy hunger.  He is offering in verse 1 free wine and milk, which is obviously referring to redemption through Christ, the redeeming Messiah.  In verse 3 he says “come to me that you may live”.  This is not to be confused with him suggesting that they come back to Judah or they will die in Babylon.  He is speaking of the Living Water:  Christ.  As we acknowledge and accept Christ, he is making an everlasting covenant with us.  In verses 4 and 5 Isaiah prophesies that we as Christians will bring the world to a saving knowledge.

Isaiah 55:6-13 – God’s Call to Repent and Be Saved

 Verses 6 and 7 is Isaiah’s voicing of the urgent call that will come from the Messiah, but the Jews must be ready because their chance for salvation will be brief and fleeting.  But these verses also depict the simple plan of salvation.  Accept His gift of taking the punishment for your sins, and then repent and turn toward God and His commandments for a new lifestyle.  {Oversimplified?  Perhaps, but it’s a good start.}  Only God can pardon us and only a person without blemish can be punished in one’s behalf.  The premise never changes.  Verses 8 and 9 need to be written and said.  These people, like modern day people, find this simple salvation too good to be true.  In these two verses he is saying “It’s OK that you cannot understand this.  You cannot be expected to understand the mind of God.  His thoughts are too high for you.”  Verses 10-11 are saying that God’s promise to forgive ungodly sinners when they have met His conditions is not just idle chatter.  His Word to forgive is as certain as the rain falling and returning to the sky, just to fall again.  It is like saying that it is as certain as the sun coming up in the morning.  The last two verses refer to us born-again believers.  Instead of living lives that destroy, we will bear fruit, sweet and bountiful.

In the next post we will look at Isaiah’s extension of his prophesies into the distant future, starting with chapter 56.

Monday, March 17, 2014

CCXLV – Isaiah 49-53

In these five chapters we’re looking at today, Isaiah speaks of the “Suffering Servant”.  I have not the strength to get into all of the research surrounding this subject in these chapters, but I can say with confidence that he is speaking of three different servants. He speaks of himself as God’s servant/spokesman/prophet.  He speaks also of Israel being God’s servant to lead the world to God as the only God Who exists past, present, and future.  As an extension of Israel, Isaiah speaks of the future Israel which is the saved nation of Christians assigned to lead the lost world to God and His Son.  And finally Isaiah actually speaks of Christ the Suffering Servant.  I hope to cover these sufficiently in this post.

Also in these chapters Isaiah is speaking to four different groups of people:
1)    Israel, the northern kingdom, who will be taken captive by the Assyrians
2)    Judah, who still has a chance to repent, but will later be taken captive by the Babylonians
3)    The Israelites in exile who will return to Jerusalem, and
4)    The Jews and Gentiles whom the Messiah will save and lead to the Father

Chapter 49

Remember in the last post I mentioned the German Lutheran theologian named Bernard Lauardus Duhm had discovered four servant songs in the last half of the Book of Isaiah, the first of which is in 42:1-4.  The remaining songs are found in these chapters, the first of which in the first six verses of chapter 49.  This one is a song about Isaiah answering the call of the Lord as his spokesman.  Verse 1 says that God had selected Isaiah while he was yet in the womb.  {I believe God makes many selections of His servants this way.  This is not to be confused with pre-destination.  I’ll address that later.}  Verses 1-5 speak of Isaiah himself, but in verse 6 he shifts to Someone else: The Messiah Who will bring salvation to the Gentiles and to the ends of the earth.  He goes on to describe briefly in the next few verses of Christ being the Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel, Who (vs 7) will be despised and hated by the nation Israel.
49:14 – 50:3  - God Has Not Forgotten the Exiles

The exiles thought that God had forsaken them, but God answers them through Isaiah that He longs for their return to Jerusalem in the Promised Land, but is waiting for their hearts to return to Him first.  God’s response to them is somewhat scolding in tone, as He mentions their dependence on Egypt to deliver them rather than God.


The third servant song is found in verses 4-9.  In this passage Isaiah speaks of how the servant can only be successful if he relies totally of God for guidance.  No human is capable of such a commission without Divine assistance.

Chapter 51  -  Zion, the City of God

Jerusalem, Zion, the city of David, the city of God.  All different names for the same place which God holds dear.  This entire chapter speaks reverently to Jerusalem and its inhabitants, both present and future, making it difficult at times to discern to which group he is speaking in each verse.  But his message is clear:  Jerusalem will be restored beyond that of its previous glory in the days of Solomon.  {We have yet to see this happen in its entirety, but we will.}  Beginning in verse 17 God pronounces His wrath upon Babylon because of the disrespectful way they treated Jerusalem when they conquered the city and took the citizens captive.

Chapter 52:1-12

In this rather short chapter Isaiah is speaking to the current inhabitants of Jerusalem, admonishing them to repent and return to God, as there is still time, but time is running out.  He tells them in the first verse to “Wake up!”  He promises that never again after the Babylonians will Jerusalem be taken down.  He assures Jerusalem of its redemption.  And it will be restored properly as God will place His hand directly on the city as it will be reestablished as the City of God.

Chapter 52:13 – 53:13 – The Ultimate Suffering Servant Described

This is the fourth and final song, much lengthier than the first three, as this one is this entire passage of fifteen verses.  I see these verses specifically describing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  The Savior of the world.  Read these verses and you will agree.  Verses 14 and 15 tells of Him being beaten and disfigured beyond recognition.  Look at 53:2.  Isaiah knew ahead of time that Jesus would not arrive as a military leader or a member of the royalty, but rather a baby boy born to the poor working class.  He would be of lowly origin and generally unattractive (which means His appearance would not draw attention).  Verse 3 – He is despised and rejected.  The word “despised” meant one who is treated with contempt or disrespect, just like Jesus was.  Look at verse 4 carefully.  He took up our pain and bore our suffering.  This says He took our punishment for us.  {He was able to do this because He committed no sin.  Had he committed sin, he could have been punished only for Himself.}  Verse 6 – God laid on Him the iniquities of us all.  Verse 7 can make one cry:  He did not open His mouth, but remained silent through His suffering like a lamb when it is led to slaughter.  Verse 8:  Nobody stood up for Him.  He took it all alone.  Verse 10 says that yet it was the Lord’s will to make Him suffer.  Isaiah said this to be certain that all hearers and readers understand that nobody took His life, but rather He gave it willingly.  The second part of verse 9 says “He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth”.  So accurately did Isaiah foretell the existence of Christ.

Next Post:  Isaiah 54 and 55  -  God’s Offer of Salvation

Friday, March 14, 2014

CCXLIV – Isaiah 40-48

Isaiah 40 actually begins the second half of Isaiah’s book.
I have previously stated (respectfully, I hope) that the book of Isaiah is difficult to teach due in part by the fact that it not only skips abruptly from subject to subject, but it also skips abruptly to different time periods.  Those time periods range from Isaiah’s current lifetime to all the way beyond the life of Christ.  We have already looked at his prophecies, warnings, and solutions dealing with God’s people in Judah and Israel.  Isaiah served fair warning to these people he loved dearly.  The time setting for the remaining chapters (40-66) is the Babylonian captivity of Judah (586 BC) and forward, speaking to those having been taken captive and beyond to their offspring.  This brings us back to the previously studied Persian Empire replacing the Babylonians as the world’s dominant power.  The significance of this is that God used Cyrus (king of Persia) to bless His captured people.

Chapter 40

The very first two verses indicate that abrupt shift in time periods.  At the end of the last post we studied a review of Hezekiah’s latter years.  Now Isaiah is addressing those exiled people whose parents were taken captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.  These two verses are saying that the price for the sins of God’s people has been paid and it is time for God’s people to return to the Promised Land.  This actually leads into the third verse, which is often taken out of context.  I need to spend a moment on this verse.  This verse is often used in sermons concerning John the Baptist in the Book of Mark.  But here in Isaiah this verse is saying that a voice is coming from the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  Isaiah is not foretelling the activity of John the Baptist, but rather proclaiming that it is time for the Lord to take His people back to Jerusalem.  They have been punished enough.  In the Book of Mark, John the Baptist was quoting Isaiah as he was pointing to Jesus as the Messiah and deliverer of the lost people of God.  In both instances these words were used to announce a significant event.
Moving on to the rest of chapter 40, Isaiah breaks out into praise of God, first by asking a series of rhetorical questions, then emphasizes the power and glory of God the Creator with whom no one can be compared.  This also served as a forewarning against placing any man-made idol above the status of a mere trinket.

Chapter 41

The first four verses of this chapter tells of God using an earthly king (Cyrus) to accomplish His purpose as Cyrus releases the Israelites from their captivity to return to Jerusalem.  Cyrus even provided protection for their journey.  Isaiah goes on to prophesy that God’s hand would protect His people on their journey and beyond after their return pilgrimage was complete.  In the last nine verses Isaiah takes another shot at these worthless idols.  {Remember:  Idol worship is the reason God was so upset with His people to start with.  Isaiah knew that this was an inherent weakness of these people and felt compelled to warn against this time and time again.}

Chapter 42

{Another example of Isaiah being a difficult book to teach:  In 1890 a German Lutheran theologian named Bernard Lauardus Duhm, after an exhaustive study of Isaiah, discovered four servant songs in the last half of the Book of Isaiah, the first of which is in 42:1-4.  I will acknowledge the other three as we get to them.}  In this first one I believe Isaiah is actually prophesying about the Christ.  (There has been much debate among Biblical scholars on about exactly whom Isaiah was speaking.)

Chapter 43:1-44:8

Chapter 43 starts out with the words “But now”.  Up to this point Isaiah spoke of many things about the Hebrews’ actions past and present which has brought them to their current state.  The “But now” Isaiah is telling them to be encouraged because the future is bright.  Not only the distant future which will bring to earth the Messiah, but also the immediate future as God has decided it is time to end their punishment of slavery in a foreign land.  Isaiah dedicates this entire chapter and eight verses into the next to tell Israel that they are about to experience the rich blessings of a benevolent God.

In chapter 44, verses 9-20 Isaiah uses some different words to repeat his warnings to Israel against yielding to their inclinations to worship idols.  Isaiah cannot emphasize this too much.  His concerns are valid.

Chapter 44:21 through 45:13  -  In this section Isaiah is explaining to Israel that God has chosen to use Cyrus, king of Persia to bless His people.  Isaiah realizes the people might be inclined to reject the following of a non-Hebrew king.  Isaiah does not mince words about God having selected Cyrus and that the people must trust Cyrus and follow his directives.
In the remainder of chapter 45 Isaiah is saying that all nations will eventually acknowledge that the God of Israel is the only true God.  I always liked verse 23.  This is God speaking through Isaiah that God is swearing by Himself.  {We swear by a lot of things.  Some even swear by the grave of their parents.  Some swear by Heaven.  The big bad wolf swore by the hair on his chinny chin chin.  Many of us swear to God.  When we swear to something we are emphasizing the degree of truth and sincerity of our words.  Agree?  That is why we swear to something higher than that which is within reach.  We will always have something higher than ourselves to swear to.  But what about God?  What can He swear to?  There is nothing higher than Him.  Therefore, in this verse He swears by Himself.}  This verse goes on to say that “every knee shall bend, every tongue confess” that the God of Israel is the single Creator of the Heavens, the Earth, and the Universe.  And further, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In chapters 46, 47, and 48 Isaiah refers back to the fall of Babylon and how it was inevitable for God’s plan to come about.  He also expounds on how God will hold foreign powers accountable for the way they treat their fellow human beings.

In the next post we will study Isaiah’s prophesy concerning The Suffering Servant.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CCXLIII - Isaiah 32 - 39

The backdrop remains the same in Judah, as the threat of the Assyrians continue to weigh heavily on the minds of the leaders of Judah.  Assyria was a growing power and made no secret of their plans for world dominance, and conquering Judah would be a natural strategy in their campaign to consume the western countries between them and the Mediterranean Sea.  Judah had fallen deep into the abyss of idol worship and disregard for God and His commandments.  God had raised up Isaiah as His spokesman to try to persuade His people to return to Him.
We let off in the last post with Isaiah scolding the leaders of Judah for seeking help from Egypt rather than seeking help from God, using language that spoke both in parables and directly to the current situation.

Chapter 32

The first eight verses of this chapter speak of a perfect ruler of God’s people.  Common sense tells us, as it has many Biblical scholars, that Isaiah is referring to the Messianic King.  These verses describe how wonderful it would be to live under a righteous and Godly ruler as he uses four metaphors to describe it.
Then in the next five verses Isaiah shifts his comments to the women of Judah.  {The book of Isaiah is difficult to teach, as it makes abrupt changes in subject matter.  I guess that is the reason excerpts of this book are used so often in sermons and Bible lessons.}  I find it interesting the way God’s prophets viewed the women of both Judah and Israel.  Isaiah is not the only prophet who has some harsh words for them.  Evidently, the women are oblivious to what is going on around them, as their thoughts revolved around material possessions and creature comforts.  Allow me to paraphrase verse 9:  Listen to me, you women in Judah.  You live in comfort.  You feel that you have security.  You have no worries.  You are so self-confident.  But listen to my words carefully{I cannot be certain why Isaiah spoke to this group at this particular time, but his words should have drawn their attention.}  Isiah then in the next four verses actually prophesies what is going to happen in the very near future, stating the actual time frame of a little more than a year (stating exact time frames is rare in prophecies) forecasting drought, crop failure, and the removal of all of these creature comforts to which they have become accustomed.  Additionally their security will disappear and they will suddenly become aware of the dire situation the entire nation has fallen into.
Then is verse 15 he says “Till”.  He goes on to describe “till what”.  This is when God takes over and utopia will exist under the direct reign of Christ.  Only then will the nation and God’s people be healed from all of those things described in the previous verses.

Chapter 33

In the first verse of this chapter Isaiah is pronouncing doom on Assyria, and goes on to appeal to God to help Judah in its struggle against this cruel aggressor.  In verses 10-16 Isaiah promises that the few who will repent and seek God and His righteousness will be spared from the horrors of conquest and captivity.  {To be taken captive by a foreign army was indeed horrible.  The captives are led away in chains and must literally walk the hundreds of miles back to the homeland of the enemy to become their slaves.  The women are beaten and raped.  The men are usually killed or maimed.  Their lives would become nothing but misery under the taskmaster to whom they will be assigned.}
Then in verses 17-24 Isaiah shifts focus back to the Messiah.  No doubt in my mind that he is referring to Jesus and His reign as King on earth and in heaven.  In verse 17 he refers to “His beauty”.  Verse 18:  The terror you will suffer will become only a memory when the Messiah becomes King.  The land in which you live will return to being a land of milk and honey, void of the fears and difficulties you are about to experience.  Verse 19 is saying that they will no longer have to try to adhere to the voices whose language they do not understand (Assyrians spoke a different language).  {You can tell Isaiah gets excited when he speaks of the Messianic rule.  Remember, he is living in Jerusalem and has witnessed the spiritual disintegration of his beloved Judah.}

Chapter 34

This entire chapter speaks to other nations about their own destruction on the “Day of the Lord”.  On this day when the Lord deals directly with the wicked nations, it will be a world-wide catastrophe.  I believe when in verse 5 the Edom is mentioned to represent all of the nations who have made themselves enemies of God’s people.

Chapter 35

This chapter somewhat reverses language and describes the beautiful Zion which awaits those who have shown themselves faithful to God and His commandments.  {This speaks so very far in the distant future, as it is easy to relate this to Christ being King in the heavenly city of Zion.}

Chapter 36 and 37

Now we make another abrupt shift in subjects.  The opening verse of this chapter states the date, being the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah’s reign.  This bit of History can be found also in 2 Kings 18-19, so I will briefly review.  It was during Hezekiah’s reign that Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked Judah’s fortified cities and was setting up to conquer Jerusalem.  Sennacherib sent his military leader Rabshakeh to Jerusalem to urge them to surrender peacefully.  He spoke directly to the people telling them that Hezekiah cannot help them and they cannot depend on Egypt for military help.  In the final verse of chapter 36 Hezekiah is aware of the severity of the situation and tears his clothes in an act of desperation.  Chapter 37 has Isaiah taking steps to guide Hezekiah through this crisis.  Hezekiah, being a God fearing man, listens to Isaiah, exercises faith, and obtains deliverance directly from God as Sennacherib is soundly defeated, eliminating Assyria as a direct threat to Judah.

Chapters 38 and 39

We studied these interesting stories of Hezekiah thoroughly in 2 Kings.  These two chapters serve as a review of those stories, telling of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery after his sincere prayer that God answered.  This was actually a reversal of an earlier pronouncement upon Hezekiah.  Then in chapter 39 Isaiah repeats the story of Hezekiah foolishly showing the Babylonian diplomats the treasures of the Temple, allowing his pride to set up the ultimate fall of Jerusalem to these Babylonians.

In the next post we will see Isaiah describing God’s plans for the future.

Friday, March 7, 2014

CCXLII - Isaiah 28-31

As a quick review for a backdrop, I need to mention that Judah was being given the opportunity to ally itself with the powerful Egypt.  They needed protection from the inevitable attack from the Assyrians, an aggressive government with a much stronger military than Judah had.  Egypt was known as a power that not even the Assyrians would take to task.  So, to all of Judah’s leaders, an alliance with Egypt seemed to be the perfect answer to their current dilemma.  But God had instructed His spokesman Isaiah to warn Judah against such an alliance.  The principle message was that they needed to rely on God as their Protector, rather than a foreign military.  Isaiah had his work cut out for him.

Chapter 28

Note that when the book of Isaiah refers to Ephraim he is referring to the northern kingdom Israel, who was about to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians.  Judah and Israel had been at odds for generations, but now Israel was trying to convince Judah to join their alliance with Syria to further strengthen all three of them against the aggressive Assyrians.
Isaiah starts out this rather long indictment against Israel in the very first verse by getting their attention.  He opened with the word “Woe”, a word to precede lamentations, drawing attention to whatever might follow.  Then he further shocks them by calling their leaders “drunkards”.  {Not much of a way to win friends and influence people, but the situation was too severe for mincing words.  Isaiah needed to get the attention of both Israel and Judah however he could.}  Isaiah shows desperation trying to reveal Israel for what it has become, and he is placing most blame on their current leaders.  Look at verse 7 and 8.  Not only the government leaders, but also the religious leaders were so influenced by drinking that their vision was blurred and their judgment was confused.  Look in verse 8 as it describes a disgusting situation:  Their tables were covered with vomit and there was not a clean spot on them.  He is using desperate language because the situation is desperate.  Israel is about to be taken captive and if Judah does not listen to Isaiah, it will suffer the same fate.

In verses 23-29 Isaiah uses a farmer parable to explain that God has an order in which He acts, determining the timing of the steps based on the hearts of His people.

Chapter 29 begins with the same word as did 28, “Woe”.  But this time he is not speaking to Israel.  He is speaking to Judah.  The word Ariel is referencing the altar of God meaning the Temple, which is located in Jerusalem.  This seems to be about the time Sennacherib of Assyria was unsuccessfully laying siege against Jerusalem.  The good thing about the attack was that the people of Judah were finally listening to Isaiah.  Isaiah’s message remains here that the temptation to rely on foreign alliances must be resisted, choosing rather to rely on God.  But in the last few verses of this chapter we see that Isaiah (as always) offers hope to his listeners for their own future.  This style of following gloomy prophecies with future hope is throughout the book of Isaiah. 

Chapter 30 shows Isaiah continuing his warning against foreign alliances. In the first twenty-six verses of this chapter Isaiah deals directly with Judah, but not kindly.  As mentioned earlier, Judah thought the answers to their problems with the threat from Assyria lay in Egypt and their mighty military.  Judah was directly between Assyria and Egypt, therefore it made sense that Egypt wanted to keep Judah as a safe and strong buffer zone against the world’s most aggressive military power.  So Judah sent a group of officials to Egypt to make that appeal to Pharaoh.  In the first few verses Isaiah speaks directly to these officials, warning them that all of Egypt’s horses, chariots, and brave soldiers cannot protect Judah from Assyria or any other nation.  Basically Isaiah is telling this group of officials that they are wasting their time.  But up to verse 26 in this chapter Isaiah is not really criticizing the logic of the delegation to Egypt.  Isaiah wants all of Judah to realize that sending that delegation to Egypt is just a symptom of the larger problem:  Judah has forsaken God.  Depending on Egypt for protection is just further evidence of it.  Isaiah uses poignant language in describing Judah’s current state of spiritual despair.  And the pitiful part is that they do not realize it.  Isaiah is pronouncing judgment on Judah, but at the same time he is appealing to them to turn back to God which will avert the very judgment he prophesies.

Verses 27-33 tell of God being ready and anxious to bless Judah.  Not only that, but He will punish Assyria for not only what they have done, but also for what they will do in the near future.  Although Isaiah goes into much more detail of Assyria’s fate in chapter 37, he is continuing to appeal to Judah at this time to turn to God rather than to Egypt.

In chapter 31 Isaiah return to his appeal and forewarnings against Judah’s supposed dependence on Egypt, using more direct language in his descriptions.  In verse 8 he prophesies that Assyria will fall not by human sword, but by the hand of God.

In the next post we will continue our study of Isaiah in chapter 32, but will see Isaiah’s subject shift from condemnation to redemption and deliverance. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

CCXLI – Isaiah Chapters 13 - 27

Today we’re going to be looking at chapters in Isaiah that deal with rather lengthy prophecies against nations in the region around Judah.  These nations are, in order of Isaiah’s mentioning of them, Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Ethiopia, and Egypt.  I will cover much of these chapters rather quickly but you will understand as you read them.

Chapter 13:1 – 14:23  -  Prophesy against Babylon

The entire thirteenth chapter describes in detail what God is going to do to Babylon.  It is clear that God is going to make it a priority to punish Babylon.  He is going to handle it Himself.  In verse 3 God’s wrath against Babylon is mentioned.  God will stir up the armies of foreign nations against Babylon.  He mentions the “Day of the Lord” several times, which further indicates how important this is to God that Babylon be destroyed in devastating fashion.  He mentions the Medes in verse 17, then goes on in verse 19 to compare the punishment to Babylon with that of Sodom and Gomorrah.  {You will notice in your reading of this book of Isaiah that he goes into much detail as in chapter 13 when prophesying, be it destruction or redemption.}

Chapter 14 opens with Isaiah prophesying that God will take care of His chosen people Israel and even refers to the Promised Land in the phrase “…sets them in their own land”.  Notice the word in NIV “compassion” in verse 1.  KJV says “mercy”.  This is to suggest that Israel will not deserve this, but rather their deliverance will be a gift from God.  Their apostasy has earned them punishment rather than reward.  The next few verses speak that Israel will rule over all of these nations, particularly Babylon.  God speaks out against the pompous way of life these nations have lived and vows to deal with it in a harsh manner.  In verses 12-23 we see Isaiah singling out the king of Babylon, and his words are scathing against this man.  He speaks of how this man was placing himself above all gods.  {The Lord will not stand for this attitude from Babylon’s king or anybody else.  The Roman Caesars were considered gods also.}

14:24-25 – This brief prophecy against Assyria begins with “The Lord Almighty has sworn”.  Sounds serious.  It is serious.  It means God is making a promise.  God is remembering the burdens that were placed on His people by the Assyrians and He will personally exact revenge.

He goes on to prophecy against other nations.  In the remaining verses of this chapter he speaks to the Philistines.  The Philistines occupied the land bordering the Mediterranean Sea directly west of Judah and have been a cruel aggressor against Israel since the days of Joshua.

Chapters 15 – 17 speak of God dealing with other nations that have been cruel against His people Israel, starting with Moab.  He says in chapter 15 that he will humiliate Moab when He says in verse 2 that every head will be shaved and every beard cut off.  {This was a sign of complete defeat and humiliation in those times.}  He continues his prophecy against Moab in chapter 16 as well, expounding on the punishment God has selected for them.  Chapter 17 moves to Syria, using Damascus as a reference to all of Syria.  He plans to destroy Damascus as a city, turning it into ruins that will astonish all who will see it.  If you look closely at this chapter you will see that Isaiah includes Ephraim in this prophecy of gloom, which was in response to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) allying itself with Syria against Judah in 735 BC.

In chapters 18-20 Isaiah extends his prophecy to include Ethiopia and Egypt.  There was an Ethiopian dynasty which ruled Egypt from 715 to 663 BC.  This explains Isaiah’s use of the interchanging terms for Egypt and Ethiopia.  He considered them the same, which at first reading can be confusing if one is not aware of this.  The circumstances setting the stage for these two chapters is when Egypt and Ethiopia tried to recruit Judah into their alliance against Assyria in 714 BC.  God (through Isaiah) dissuaded Ahaz from joining this alliance which fell to pieces in 663 BC when the Assyrians destroyed the city of Thebes.

Chapter 20 is a reflection back to when Isaiah made desperate appeals to king Ahaz to reject Egypt’s offer to be included in this alliance.  {Let me take this opportunity to say that joining that alliance made perfect sense at this time, which was why it took such extreme measures and so much time to dissuade him.}  It is in this chapter that tells of Isaiah being naked in the city of Jerusalem for three years, as directed by God.  That is the extreme measure I just spoke of.  This act of desperation was to display the severity of the situation and convince Ahaz that God would be his Defender against Assyria.

In the first ten verses of chapter 21 Isaiah speaks of Babylon which he refers to as the “Desert by the Sea”.  Babylon was a mighty empire but only lasted forty-seven years, which would barely be considered a dynasty.  They were defeated handily by Cyrus and his Persian in 539 BC.  But in those forty-seven short years Babylon utterly destroyed the entire nation of Judah.  The remaining verses in chapter 21 and the following two chapters tells of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning yet more nations.  Note that Isaiah mentions Israel throughout these prophecies, condemning them as being as bad in their apostasy as those nations around them.  He is trying to save Judah and the City of David.

Chapter 24 gets more general when it speaks of the whole earth becoming desolate.  But then notice in chapter 25 that Isaiah breaks out into praise for God and His power.  In chapter 26 he writes what has become considered a song of praise.  Then in chapter 27 he speaks of the deliverance of Israel in “the Day of the Lord”.

This seems to complete a major section of Isaiah’s prophecies with a fitting end being a song of praise and an announcement of deliverance.  But in the next post we’ll see his prophecies move from other nations to Judah itself, beginning in chapter 28.