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.

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