Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Introduction:

How does Easter show the Judgment and Justice of God?

We have been studying what the Bible calls the Day of the LORD: the terrible Judgment of God (followed by great blessing) which is to be poured out upon the whole World, but especially upon Israel, since they had the most information, and failed to respond. We saw, last week, how the final warning was given to Israel by Jesus, in His Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. We saw that the crowd of disciples who had worshipped him as the King, as he rode into Jerusalem, were not the ones, who, three days later were screaming for his death: but rather, it was the citizens of Jerusalem who rejected the King. We also saw how, since they rejected the King, they inherited the promised Judgment. The Judgment described thereafter (specifically the fact that not one stone of the temple would be left standing on another) definitely includes the destruction under the Roman general Titus, which happened in 70 AD, but it also includes the Great Tribulation, which has not happened yet. Judgment is definitely coming!

However, we did not examine the Judgment that fell that Wednesday, upon the Lord Himself: The fact is that, as Isaiah 53:4, 5 says, “He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows…but we thought he was smitten by God (as an evildoer). But: He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…”  The Scriptures make it clear that He didn’t die for anything He had done. He died in the place of the whole World, for all that we have done, or failed to do.

Many Easter sermons focus either on the Lord’s sufferings, in gory detail, or upon the facts of the Resurrection, and the effects it had on the lives all those who were there. I would like to focus, instead, on the reason for His suffering, and the result of His resurrection, for us.

The Reasons for Crucifixion

There were many ways in which prisoners might have been executed in those days. Some were relatively quick, others deliberately slow and agonizing. The Cross was one of the latter: it usually took several days of torturous struggling to breathe, and straining against the spikes holding them to the cross. We can compare crucifixion with the Old Testament law regarding “hanging a criminal on a tree,” which was actually only done to a criminal who was already dead (usually by stoning,) to signify God’s curse on that particular criminal:

  • According to Deuteronomy 21:23 they were not to be left hanging overnight. They had to be cut down before sundown, according to the Mosaic Law.
    • Jesus was taken down before sundown, though Crucifixion usually took days!
  • When they wanted the execution shortened, they accomplished that end by breaking the legs of the condemned individual, so that he could no longer lift himself up to breathe. Thus, he died in minutes, instead of days. (John 19:31)
    • But for the Passover Lamb, a picture of Christ, it was specifically forbidden that any bone be broken (Exodus 12:46.)
    • Why did Jesus choose to cut the suffering short and “lay down his life?” (Remember, He specifically said that no man could take his life: He would lay it down of His own accord. (John 10:18)) When they came to break the legs of the criminals, he was already dead. Thus, though they broke the legs of the other two men, they did not break a bone of the Messiah…our Passover Lamb!
  • The scourgings and beatings were described in Isaiah 53 (bruised, stripes, etc.)
  • The crucifixion was described in Psalm 22:7-18 (Read it!)
  • The fact that he was to be crucified at Jerusalem, by the Jews, is given in Zechariah 13:6 What are these wounds in thine hands? …Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
  • The fact that it is the eternal God who was wounded for our transgressions is given in Zechariah 12:1-10…and it was God the Son!
  • The Old Testament sacrifices were tied to the altar by the four horns of the altar… they were held by four points, just as in the crucifixion.
  • The Original Passover predicted the crucifixion, in that the people were commanded to kill the lamb, catch its blood in a basin, and to dip a bundle of Hyssop into that blood and then strike it on the lintel and the two doorposts. The physical action of striking the lintel and the two door posts physically described a bloody cross in the air across that doorway. Those frightened Jews, believing God’s Word regarding the imminent destruction of the firstborn, obeying by faith the command of God, and choosing to accept the blood sacrifice that HE would accept, were huddled under the blood of the Cross, 1500 years before the Crucifixion, just as we depend upon the blood of that long-ago sacrifice today.

God’s Judgment for the sins of the whole world fell upon Jesus at the Cross. How do I know? Jesus said so! John 3:16-18 says,

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


Notice the parallel with what we just saw, regarding Palm Sunday: Jerusalem rejected her King, and inherited the Judgment. All those who do not believe the Gospel, inherit judgment because they, too, reject the Savior…the King. Also, notice that it does not say they will be judged, or will be condemned: it says that they are already condemned, because they do not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God. So: for the first eighteen years of my life, I was already on God’s “death row”, as an unbeliever; as a natural-born rebel against God. I was already condemned. Had Jesus not stepped in and died in my place, I would still be headed for Hell. (That is the “Bad News” of the Gospel! And it is the reason for the “Good News” of the Gospel!)

What is The Good News of the Gospel?

According to 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, the Good News is divided into three parts:

  • The Death of Christ, fulfilling God’s Prophecies
  • The Burial of Christ, also fulfilling His Prophecies (including the time lapse.)
  • And the Resurrection, which is God’s confirmation that the sacrifice was accepted!

Why is His Death Good News?

1st John 2:2 clearly states that Jesus is the satisfactory payment, or settlement for the sins of the whole world. “And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  (“Propitiation” means the sacrifice that satisfies the Righteousness of God.) The fact that it was for the sins of the whole world is especially reassuring to know: if God had named a list of people, or ethnic groups, or whatever, there is a good chance I might not be on that list. In fact, if I were actually called out by name, it would be possible that it was actually someone else with the same name that he had in mind…not me.

But he included the whole world…so I am “on the list.” Think of John 3:16 “…whosoever believeth in Him…” You see, “whosoever” includes me!ThatBlood Sacrifice, ordained by God the Father, offered by God the Son, and administered by God the Holy Spirit, was full payment for all my sins, past, present and future. All the work of salvation and redemption was finished by Jesus at the Cross. All that’s left for me to do, is to place my faith in His finished Work.

Why is His Burial Good News?

The fact that Jesus died on the evening of the Passover, as our blood sacrifice—our Passover Lamb—is significant enough. But why do I say he was crucified on Wednesday, when tradition has always held out for Friday? The tradition that Jesus was crucified on a Friday is patently false, because Jesus Himself said (Matthew 12:39, 40) that the experience of Jonah, being three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, was a specific prophecy that He Himself would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Between Friday evening and Sunday morning, there are two nights and one day! But, if He was Crucified on a Wednesday, then any time after sundown Saturday, Jesus was free to leave the Grave. This was one of the signs that He was the Messiah! It had to be that specific time-frame.

He also had to have died with criminals, but also with the rich (Isaiah 53:9)…which would usually be a total paradox. The bodies of the criminals were usually taken to the city dump, and left for the carrion-eaters, vultures, flies, etc., as a public demonstration of the result of their evil deeds. The rich people had hand-carved stone mausoleums for their graves. So this would have seemed a contradiction, perhaps, or at least very puzzling. But, in Jesus’s case, two rich men (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea,) begged to take custody of His body, and they buried it in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for his own burial. So it was fulfilled!

The Best News of All: The Resurrection!

So, three days and three nights later (Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday) Jesus left the grave behind, forever! Mary Magdalene and the other women showed up at the tomb long before daylight, Sunday morning, and He was already gone. The angels had rolled away the stone for the express purpose of letting the women and the disciples see that He was already gone.

The Result of the Resurrection

Remember the result of the Crucifixion: The disciples (all of them, not just the eleven), were scattered, just as Jesus had predicted, for fear that they were next on the list; slated for execution. When Jesus appeared to the Eleven, they were hiding; locked in an upper room, fearing the Jews.

But what was the result of the Resurrection, in the lives of those same believers? Confusion and disbelief, initially; but, as they gained confidence that Jesus was really alive, and that He was really all He had claimed to be (literally God in the Flesh,) they became completely bold, where they had previously been in hiding. They committed their lives to His service, as those alive from the dead, as they began to recognize that:

  1. His death was in place of their own deaths;
  2. His righteousness had been credited to their own accounts, and that
  3. His resurrection was the guarantee of their own resurrection.

Thus, they had no further fear of death. Their life took on a sense of Eternal Purpose, as they began to allow the Lord to live through them (Galatians 2:19-21; Philippians 1:21), and their priorities became completely rearranged, as Jesus became the center of their existence.

What about Repentance?

We are often told, “Yes, but you have to repent!” That is surely true! But what does that mean? Does it mean “groveling on your knees begging for forgiveness”? Or, “renouncing sin forever?”

The word translated “Repentance” is the Greek word, metanoia. It literally means to change your mind. Change your mind regarding Jesus. Who was He, to you, before you believed the Gospel? A myth? Just a Man? A Prophet? Or, did it even really matter to you? (It didn’t to me: I was lost, and didn’t know or care.) So, when you believed the Good News of Jesus’s Death, and Burial and Resurrection, you “changed your mind” regarding all that you had previously thought about Jesus. You also changed your mind regarding all that you previously thought about sin. You came to realize that you, personally, were a lost sinner, and you feared the judgment of God. You changed your mind regarding Jesus’s work, realizing that you could not save yourself, and you threw yourself upon the Mercy and Grace of God!

According to the promise of Jesus, in John 5:24, at that moment, you received eternal life, and will never face judgment again. You permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive. You were born again! You received a new nature, and became indwelt by the Holy Spirit! All these are true, even if you were not aware of any of these things!

This is why Easter is such a huge joy and relief to all of us. I wasn’t there to see the Crucifixion, the Burial, or the Resurrection of the Lord, but those three together still comprise the best News in the Universe: He is Risen!

Lord Jesus, teach us the importance of the facts of the Gospel and make them a living reality in each of our lives.


Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.