The book of the prophet Isaiah.Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the latter half of Israel’s Kingdom period and he spoke onGod’s behalf to the leaders of Jerusalem and Judah. He spoke first of all amessage of God’s judgment; he warned Israel’s corrupt leaders that theirrebellion against their covenant with God would come at a cost, that God wasgoing to use the great empires of Assyria and after them Babylon to judgeJerusalem if they persisted in idolatry and oppression of the poor, but thatannouncement was combined with a message of hope.
Isaiah believed deeplythat God would one day fulfill all of his covenant promises: that he would senda king from David’s line to establish God’s kingdom (remember 2nd Samuel 7),that he would lead Israel in obedience to all of the laws of the Covenant madeat Mount Sinai (remember Exodus chapter 19), and all of this was so that God’sblessing and salvation would flow outward to all of the nations like Godpromised to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12, and it’s this hope that compelledIsaiah to speak out against the corruption and idolatry of Israel in his day.Now the book has a pretty complex literary design, but there’s one simple way to seehow it all fits together: chapters 1 through 39 contain three large sections thatdevelop Isaiah’s warning of judgment on Israel, and it all culminates in an eventpointed to at the end of chapter 39 – the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of thepeople to Babylon – but in chapters 1 to 39 there’s also a message of hope thatafter the exile God’s covenant promises would all be fulfilled, and chapters 40to 66 pick up that promise of hope and develops it further. In this video we’rejust gonna focus on chapters 1 to 39.
The first main section focuses on Isaiah’svision of judgment and hope for Jerusalem, and it begins as Isaiah accuses thecity’s leaders of Covenant rebellion, idolatry, injustice, and God says he’sgoing to judge the city by sending the nations to conquer Israel. Isaiah saysthat this will be like a purifying fire that burns away all that’s worthless inIsrael in order to create a new Jerusalem that’s populated by a remnantthat has repented and turned back to God and Isaiah says that that’s when God’skingdom will come and all nations will come to the temple inJerusalem and learn of God’s justice, bringing about aage of universal peace and harmony. Now it’s this basic storyline of the oldJerusalem, purifying judgment into the New Jerusalem, this is going to getrepeated over and over throughout the book getting filled in with increasingdetail. So, at the center of this section is Isaiah’s grand vision of God sittingon his throne in the temple and he’s surrounded by these heavenly creaturesthat are shouting that God is holy holy holy, and Isaiah suddenly realizes justhow corrupt he and his people Israel are, and he’s certain that he’s going to bedestroyed by God’s holiness, but he’s not. God holiness in the form of this burningcoal comes and burns him, but not to destroy, rather it purifies him from his sin.
Andas Isaiah ponders this strange experience God commissions him with a verydifficult task: he is to keep announcing this coming judgment, but because Israelhas reached a point of no return his warnings are going to have a paradoxicaleffect of hardening the people. But Isaiah is to trust God’s plan. Israel is goingto be chopped down like a tree and left like a stump in a field, and thatstump will itself be scorched and burned but after all of that burning God saysthat this smoldering stump is a holy seed that will survive into the future.It’s a small sign of hope but who or what is that Holy Seed? The rest of thissection offers an answer. Isaiah confronts Ahaz, a descendant of Davidand a King of Jerusalem, and he announces his downfall. God says that it’s thegreat empire of Assyria who will first chop Israel down and devastate the land,but there’s hope. Because of God’s promise to David he’s going to send afterthis destruction a new king named Emmanuel, which means “God with us”, andEmanuel’s Kingdom is going to set God’s people free from violent oppressiveempires, and Isaiah describes this coming king as a small shoot of new growth thatwill emerge from the old stump of David’s family. It’s this king that’s the holyseed from chapter six, and the king is going to be empowered by God’s Spirit to rule over a new Jerusalem and bringjustice for the poor and all nations will look to this messianic king forguidance. His kingdom will transform all creationbringing peace.
Now you finish chapters 1 through 12 with pretty goodunderstanding of Isaiah’s message of judgment and hope, but when will this allhappen? Isaiah saw another Empire arising after Assyria, and thats Babylon, whowould also attack Jerusalem and actually succeed in destroying it, andthat brings us in the next sections of the book. So first we have a largecollection of poems that explore God’s judgment and hope for the nations.We learn first of all of the fall of Babylon and Israel’s neighbors. Isaiahcould see that a serious world power would one day be replaced by the empireof Babylon, a nation even more destructive an arrogant. Babylon’s kingsclaimed that they were higher than all other gods and so God vows to bringBabylon down. And not only Babylon, Isaiah goes on to list Israel’s neighborsaccusing them all of the same kind of pride and injustice, and he predictstheir ultimate ruin. But remember for Isaiah God’s judgment is never the finalword for Israel or the nations, and that leads into the next section with aseries of poems that tell a tale of two cities. There’s the lofty city that hasexalted itself above God and become corrupt and unjust. This city is anarchetype of rebellious humanity and is described with language that’s allborrowed from Isaiah’s earlier descriptions of Jerusalem and Assyriaand Babylon all put together.
This city is destined for ruin and one day isgoing to be replaced by the New Jerusalem where God reigns as king over aredeemed humanity from all nations and there’s no more death or suffering. Thesechapters are the climax to this section and it shows how Isaiah’s message pointedfar beyond his own day, it was a message for all who are waiting for God to bringhis justice on violent oppressive kingdoms and bring his kingdom ofjustice and peace and healing love. The following section return the focus tothe rise and fall of Jerusalem, and first we find a whole bunch of poems where Isaiahaccuses Jerusalem’s leaders for turning to Egypt for military protection against Assyria. He knows thiswill backfire and Isaiah says that only trust in their God and repentance cansave Israel now, which gets illustrated by the following story about the rise ofHezekiah, king of Jerusalem. Just as Isaiah predicted, the Assyrian armies come andtry to attack the city and so Hezekiah humbles himself before God and heprays for divine deliverance and the city is miraculously saved overnight, butHezekiah’s rise is immediately followed by his fall. So he hosts adelegation from Babylon and he tries to impress them by showing everything inJerusalem’s treasury and temple and palaces, it’s clearly an effort to makeanother political alliance for protection.
Isaiah hears about this and heconfronts Hezekiah for his foolishness. He predicts that this ally will one daybetray him and return as an enemy to conquer Jerusalem, and we know from2nd Kings chapters 24 and 25 that Isaiah was right. Over a hundred years laterBabylon would turn on Jerusalem, come and destroy the city, its temple, and carrythe Israelites away to exile in Babylon. And so all of Isaiah’s warnings ofdivine judgment in chapters 1 to 39 lead up to this moment. He’s shown to be atrue prophet because it all came to pass like he said. But remember the purpose ofGod’s judgment was to purify Jerusalem and bring the holy seed and messianicKingdom over all nations, and it’s that hope that gets explored in the next partof the book, but for now that’s what Isaiah chapters 1 to 39 are all about.