"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).
GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY, JOSHUA, JUDGES, RUTH, 1 SAMUEL, 2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS, 1 CHRONICLES, 2 CHRONICLES, EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER, JOB, PSALMS, PROVERBS, ECCLESIASTES, SONG OF SOLOMON
Isaiah 1:11 "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams!" Isaiah the prophet served during the reigns of 4 kings, most profoundly with his inspired writings that span to the end of time. Isaiah's book comes first in a succession of biblical books known as the major and minor prophets, major and minor referring to book length, not to importance of subject matter. (Isaiah has 66 chapters, Jeremiah 52, down to Malachi with 4; some prophetic books have only 1 chapter.) Isaiah's first chapter presents God speaking directly to His people about their terrible spiritual condition. Materially they were prospering under King Uzziah, who was faithful to God for most of his reign, so what was the problem? The verse highlighted above provides the crucial clue: God despised the sacrifices that were being offered to Him day and night. He had had enough. The whole force of this—as anyone hearing Isaiah would have known—is that God Himself commanded those offerings! His response here tells us His attitude towards religious observances: He hates them when they do not express true spiritual and moral life. "I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting" (verse 13) He explains, for they are the ultimate disconnect. No one hates hypocrisy more than God. We need to remember that in all our exercises in worship. Singing, praying, giving, and even studying sacred Scripture become hateful to God when the spiritual and moral condition of the worshipers is not in harmony with what those things stand for. As a general outline, Isaiah speaks about judgment in chapters 1-35 and salvation or restoration in chapters 40-66, with a dramatic historical interlude in chapters 36-39 that illustrates both judgment and salvation.
Isaiah 2:5 "House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord." After the indictment of the nation in the first chapter, there follows a beautiful picture of hope, when the Lord Himself establishes His just rule in the last days. People from all nations will stream to Him, saying to one another, "Come, let us go to the house of the God of Jacob that He may teach us concerning His ways, and we may walk in His paths" (verse 3). Those redeemed people "will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war" (4). "The light of the Lord" highlighted in verse 5 is the beauty of that vision. Isaiah's prophecy, however, immediately returns to the sad conditions then existing, a denunciation of them, and a declaration that for them to end, a terrifying time of reckoning known as the Day of the Lord must come. The arresting and encouraging fact is that in the midst of national darkness and degeneration, Isaiah had a clear vision of ultimate hope with unwavering faith that it would be realized. He appealed to his nation to walk in the light of that hope from God Himself. An examination of all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and the apostolic writings of the New reveals that has always been true of God's messengers: no men saw evil so clearly and denounced it so consistently, but they never lost sight of the final triumph of good. In days of darkness and widespread corruption, we are in danger of becoming so conscious of those conditions that we forget, or even doubt, God's ultimate triumph. Those who live in close fellowship with Him see through the mysterious present to the determined end, and order their steps in the light of that glory.
Isaiah 3:16 "The daughters of Zion are haughty." These words reveal the central charge against the women of the king's court. The prophecy against them is a brilliant and satirical exposure of their vain and futile mode of life, which was deeply wicked because their luxuries came from crushing God's people and "grinding the faces of the poor" (verse 15). At a later period in this prophetic work, Isaiah denounces these women again (chapter 32). The prophet recognizes how the women were involved in the guilt of the rulers and the degeneracy of their nation. Women in general have a powerful influence for good or for ill. When the womanhood of a nation is noble, national life is held in strength. When it is corrupt, the nation is doomed. Woman is the last stronghold of good or of evil. Compassion and cruelty are superlative in her.
Isaiah 4:4 "By the Spirit of judgment and the Spirit of burning." In the oracle regarding the court women, Isaiah foretells the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He also sees the restoration that will come, beautifully described in this brief chapter: evil will be eliminated, the daughters of Jerusalem washed from their filth, and the city cleansed of its blood. The words highlighted in the text above describe the agency of this spiritual cleansing: the spirit of judgment and burning. It is an arresting description. Justice is government in action, strict and impartial, discriminating and irresistible. Burning is the process that destroys what is base and unworthy, leaving behind pure what is noble and worthy. This conception of God as a Spirit of justice and fire recurs throughout the prophetic books of the Bible. All human history has known the presence and power of the Spirit in blasting evil and establishing what is truly good.
Isaiah 5:7 "He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress." Isaiah begins this chapter with a song from God about a vineyard. This verse tells us what the Lord found. The song describes His people as a vine He planted, from which He expected good grapes. The spiritual fruit He desired from them was justice and righteousness, but instead He saw and heard the opposite: bloodshed and cries from the oppressed. That summarizes the failure of the Jewish nation and the reason God would proceed against it for its destruction. We can trace this figure of the vine throughout the Scriptures until we find its final occurrence in the allegory of Jesus. Finding it there, it is good to apply its principles to the church. She is to bring forth the same fruits of justice and righteousness in advancing God's Word and showing love to the needy.
Isaiah 6:3 "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" This is a chapter of wonder and glory. It records the heavenly vision Isaiah experienced the year King Uzziah died after his unusually long reign of 52 years. Since the man who had symbolized national order and authority passed off the scene, imagine how encouraged the prophet Isaiah was to see the Throne that is never vacant, occupied by the Lord who never dies. He saw Him surrounded by majestic angelic beings, worshiping Him with the words highlighted above and serving awestruck Isaiah. In considering the words of the angels, we are too prone to think only of the first half. The holiness of God must never be omitted or placed second, but it gives the interpretation of what follows: the whole earth is full of His glory. This contradicts the false idea that anything in the earth itself is inherently evil. God's glorious Person is reflected in earth's form, colors, and resources for His creation's well-being. Evil is there, but it is a poison introduced from without. Against it the Lord's holiness is always at work, and at last through His relentless redeeming activity, its victory will be won. Then the whole creation, set free from the bondage of evil, will echo its own version of the angels' praise here. These fundamental truths fueled Isaiah's ministry for the rest of his life, and are meant to do the same for us.
Isaiah 7:12 "But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.'" Isaiah 1:1 tells us the prophet wrote during the reigns of 4 kings over Judah: Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. We just saw that Isaiah 6 describes what happened to Isaiah right after the death of Uzziah. Chapter 7 takes place during the reign of Ahaz. That means at least 16 years have elapsed, for Jotham reigned during that period. He seems to have followed in the steps of his mostly good father, Uzziah, and we have no record of any prophecies from Isaiah during Jotham's rule. When Ahaz ascended to the throne, however, the nation of Judah was plunged into definite courses of evil. With his accession after the relatively brief reign of his father, the kingdoms of Israel and Syria combined to threaten Judah. The new king was filled with alarm. Then Isaiah interfered. He knew Ahaz was likely to seek the aid of the wicked superpower Assyria. This the prophet knew would be fatal so he appealed to him to rely only on God, conveying God's gracious offer for Ahaz personally to request a sign demonstrating that God would protect the new king and his kingdom. But Ahaz refused in the words highlighted above. Mark them well: they have the sound of religion and reverence, yet refusing a sign God Himself offers is irreligious and irreverent. Ahaz appears not to have wanted to follow the policy that Isaiah presented from the Lord. He knew the sign would be given, but did not want it to get in his way. How easy it is to deceive ourselves! Let us always be careful not to employ high-sounding phrases in an attempt to refuse the way and will of God. It is, of course, wicked to tempt God with our unbelief, but to refuse a sign that He offers reflects the deepest kind of unbelief, as evidenced by the Lord's exasperated reply to King Ahaz through Isaiah. God Himself provided an amazing sign recorded in Isaiah 7:14 that both the situation Ahaz feared would be dealt with in only a few years, and Immanuel (literally "God with us") would be miraculously born of a virgin hundreds of years later.
Isaiah 8:19 "When they say to you, 'Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,' should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?" The context of this important question is that since the king had refused the divine sign and the nation the divine policy, God commanded Isaiah "to seal up the testimony" (verse 16), that is to cease his public ministry. This he did and we have no further record of public utterance until we reach chapter 28. What follows is instruction to Isaiah's inner circle of disciples. First is this solemn warning against spiritualism and necromancy. When the voices of divine prophecy are silent, people are ever prone to resort to traffic with the spirit world. The only spirits available to speak to them, however, are wicked and have nothing clear to say in matter or in manner. Why should the living turn from the living God to spirits who are dead? Their death is spiritual; they are evil in that they are cut off from God. This is the biblical answer to spiritualism. Those who seek after spirits are not seeking after God, which is supremely foolish since God is omniscient, which means He knows everything.
Isaiah 9:7 "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this." These are arresting words. Isaiah employs them again later: "Out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant.... The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this" (37:32), as do the prophets Joel and Zechariah. Joel 2:18 says, "Then was the Lord jealous for His land, and had pity on His people." Zechariah 1:14 and 8:2 read, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'I am jealous for Jerusalem with a great jealousy'" and "I am jealous for Zion with great wrath." The words zeal and jealousy are identical in Hebrew. The specific term stands for passion and is used in many different ways. When used to describe God, it invariably refers to His anger against anything that destroys those whom He loves. It is therefore a love-inspired anger. The prophet Isaiah here in chapter 9 is foretelling the ultimate overthrow of the enemies of God's people and the destruction of all implements of war. This final deliverance will come through "a Child born ... a Son given" (Isaiah 9:6). We live after the coming of this Son, yet in a sense we are living while He reigns, "for He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). Let us rest assured of His victory because "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:7).
Isaiah 10:15 "Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it!" Keep in mind the political situation: the nation of Judah, under King Ahaz, is looking toward Assyria for help. Isaiah, privately instructing his disciples, declares that Assyria will be an instrument in God's hand to discipline the nation. In chapter 10 he dramatically describes Assyrian arrogance. "It is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations" (verse 7), but over against that intention is the intention of the Lord. For the punishment of His own guilty people, Assyria is His rod, but Assyria can go no further than that and then will face judgment for its arrogance. The light of this teaching falls upon modern conditions as clearly as upon ancient history. God is still the God of all nations, even when they fail to recognize Him or even boast against Him. He will use their power to accomplish His purpose, and then destroy them. The axe is in His hand; the saw is doing His work. What folly for either tool to boast against Him!
Isaiah 11:3 "He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear." Isaiah 11 is a matchless prediction of the future Messianic Kingdom. It describes the character of the Messiah, the methods of His government, the magnificent results of His reign, and how scattered people will be drawn to it from the four corners of the earth. The highlighted words are telling when compared with the highest and best methods of government existing today. All human laws are made and administered as the result of what governors see with their eyes and hear with their ears, for men dealing with other men have no other means of knowledge. Those laws break down and justice often goes astray because what the eyes see often misleads, and what the ears hear is not true or is not all the truth. But God governs based on absolute knowledge; His decisions are the result of perfect understanding. He weighs the motives of every deed and the intentions of every heart, for God's anointed Messiah or King is both human—the Child born to us mentioned in Isaiah 9:6—and divine, the Son given. That one highlighted sentence illustrates the genius of His reign, and is meant to motivate us with a burning passion for its full display.
Isaiah 12:6 "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." This brief chapter is a jubilant song about the Messianic prophecy of chapter 11, praising God for the salvation He has brought to fruition. The chief cause for joy is that the One who is great in the midst of the people is holy. This stands in contrast with false ideas of greatness that have blighted past kingdoms and governments of men. Military prowess, diplomatic acumen, and economic shrewdness are not sufficient to create stability or insure permanence. In the midst of the City of God, the Kingdom of heaven, the Great One is holy. That separation from evil will insure the victory of His warfare, the triumph of His diplomacy, and the perfection of His economy. Therefore His City and Kingdom will be stable and permanent, having no end.
Isaiah 13:4 "The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle. " This chapter begins a section of prophecy that includes and ends with chapter 23. It consists of 10 "Burdens" concerning the surrounding nations, starting with Babylon, the nation that conquered the Assyrian Empire. These all were delivered to Isaiah's inner circle of faithful disciples, who came to clearly understand the folly of looking for national safety in alliances with any of those nations. The first of these burdens (from 13:1 to 14:27) describes the Lord's overthrow of this cruel, proud, and relentless power. We read here that the Commander-in-Chief of heaven's armies musters a host for decisive battle. While statesmen discuss war in terms of human diplomacies, the prophetic eye sees beyond secondary causes to the Throne that is never vacant. Our watching eyes have looked upon modern events in which the same fact is abundantly clear.
Isaiah 14:32 "The Lord has founded Zion." These words occur in the Burden concerning the coastal nation of the Philistines. It was given in the year King Ahaz died (verse 28), for messengers from Philistia were present then (32). The books of Kings and Chronicles tell us that Ahaz had carried out his policy of seeking help from Assyria, even to the point of robbing the House of the Lord to send a present to its king, who ended up distressing Ahaz instead of helping him. Second Chronicles 28:18 says that at this time the Philistines had carried out raids to the south of Judah. Now Ahaz was dead and envoys from Philistia were in the city. Probably they were there offering to make terms with Judah, possibly to form an alliance, but Isaiah's prophecy gives God's answer of Philistia's impending doom. "The Lord has founded Zion" is a declaration here that the safety of Zion lay in the fact that it was founded by God, which necessarily required Zion to maintain a true relationship with its founder, and not seek safety from alliances with corrupt nations. Here is a principle of true statesmanship: when a nation God has created and blessed consents in the interests of its own safety to make alliances with nations that in their deepest life are essentially pagan, that nation acts for its own undoing. It is safe always and only as it maintains a right relationship with God, and finds its confidence in His power to defend it against its foes.
Isaiah 15:5 "My heart cries out for Moab." The prophecy regarding Moab occupies this and the next chapter. This particular prophecy takes in the wider purposes of God for the nations. In this chapter we see disaster coming "in a night"—Moab's two principal cities are laid waste and the country is reduced to impotent desolation. The vengeance is just, a righteous retribution for its people's pride and wickedness. Nevertheless, their suffering touches Isaiah's heart, hence his cry highlighted above. That is evidence of the prophet's sympathy and cooperation with God. Evil must be punished, but Scripture reveals that in the heart of God there is no joy in the suffering of the wicked. Isaiah's lament here is in perfect harmony with the lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem's impending doom. The man who talks of the punishment of the wicked without a sob in his heart is not in close fellowship with God.
Isaiah 16:5 "A throne will be established in steadfast love; in truth and faithfulness a man will sit on it, one from the house of David, who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness." These words reveal the only way of deliverance for any nation from the disaster that must follow when it becomes characterized by pride and evil. A throne or seat of authority characterized by love may seem to suggest leniency, as though the claims of righteousness may thereby be waived. Nothing is further from the truth. God's Throne represents righteousness and justice. Its occupant is both faithful and true. The most merciful method of government is that of strict justice. When we see in the midst of this Throne "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Revelation 5:6), we know by that wondrous token that justice is vindicated, and that Throne forever is established in love.
Isaiah 17:7-8 "In that day man will look to his Maker ... the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to ... the work of his hands ... on what his own fingers have made ... nor the incense altars." These words occur in Isaiah's prophecy against Damascus in Syria. At this time Judah's rival Israel was in league with Damascus to protect itself from Assyria. As we have previously seen, that is what tempted Judah's King Ahaz to seek a dangerous alliance with Assyria. Here Isaiah predicts the downfall of Damascus, which would break down what Israel was falsely trusting in. The verses highlighted above declare the excellent result of this divine judgment: people would return to God instead of trusting in their own policies, which Isaiah defines here as not merely trusting in their own works, but also in altars. This is a profound observation, recognizing that what a man puts his trust in is his god. Politicians rarely attribute their failures to idolatry, but that is Isaiah's view of their actions here. Their refusal to trust in the Lord and their seeking safety from Damascus was equal to seeking help from the altars and gods of Syria.
Isaiah 18:4 "This is what the Lord says to me: 'I will remain quiet and look on from My dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.'" This chapter begins with a woe echoed in the previous chapter: "Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas, and to the rushing of nations that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!" (17:12). That speaks of the Lord rebuking the nations under the figure of a great storm. The woe that begins chapter 18 leads to another picture of the Lord in judgment: His stillness, like the calm before the storm. The quiet represented by the highlighted verses is that of the heat and the dew that ripen the grain to produce a harvest. The context here shows that the harvest contemplated is God's vengeance upon guilty nations. God is seen by His very stillness and apparent inactivity as preparing for and compelling that harvest in His perfect time. This picture of God is meant to comfort His people when their hearts are being assaulted by all the commotions of godlessness. God is never inactive. When He is still, He is compelling the ultimate purposes of His perfect will.
Isaiah 19:24 "In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth." This verse looks beyond the immediate context of judgment on Egypt to the great triumph yet future when God will overcome the opposition of the nations. Earlier in chapter 19 we see people in Egypt turning to the Lord, and His worship is established within its borders. A Savior from Him brings His people final deliverance, and then the ancient enemies of Israel—Assyria in the east and Egypt in the west—are seen united by Israel. Through Israel passes a highway over which they cross in their friendly communication with each other. The three states form a triple alliance, united in the worship of the Lord and His perfect reign over them. It is a glorious vision that will one day be realized.
Isaiah 20:6 "The people who live on this coast will say, 'See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?'" This chapter opens with what happened to the Philistines, the coastal peoples referred to in the closing verse of this short chapter: King Sargon of Assyria fought against their chief city of Ashdod and took it. That event is fixed by one of Sargon's inscriptions as having taken place in 711 B.C. We are told that when the city fell, God instructed Isaiah to go about barefoot and in tattered clothing as a sign of what Sargon would soon do to the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Behind all this we discover the proposed policy of the rulers of Jerusalem. By this time they had realized the danger of looking to Assyria for aid, and were proposing to turn to Egypt for help against Assyria. This was futile, for Assyria would conquer Egypt. The Philistines recognized their folly in trusting Egypt could help them against Assyria. Would the leaders of Jerusalem learn the same lesson? The lesson stands today: there is no place of security for the people of God other than in the rule of God. All expectations not centered in God are doomed to disappoint. Any policies that exclude Him invariably and inevitably break down.
Isaiah 21:12 "The watchman replies, 'Morning is coming, but also the night.'" In this chapter we have three prophecies against Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. The one concerning Edom is mysterious, whereas the other two are straightforward. Isaiah seems to interpret the mental attitude of Edom as wondering whether the night of her desolation was passing. Taking the role of a night watchman, Isaiah gives the indefinite answer that there were signs of both morning and night. He then says oddly, "If you will inquire, inquire; return! Come back!" (verse 12). Perhaps he was suggesting an attitude. If the spirit of inquiry was aroused, then let it be maintained, and let the inquirer turn and come again. To all the restless crying in the night amid troubled times, the answer of revelation is that morning is coming, but also the night. Men and women by their own attitudes and choices decide whether they will come to the morning or pass to the night.
Isaiah 22:12-13 "In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning ... but behold, joy and gladness!" Isaiah in this chapter turns his gaze from the nations to the "valley of vision," a symbolic name for Jerusalem as the home of prophetic vision. What he sees there is not pretty. A man named Shebna was holding high office, but Isaiah announces he will soon be humbled. Apparently Shebna was leading the political party that was looking toward Egypt. He was removed from office and Eliakim appointed in his stead, which we see in chapters 36-37 when Assyria finally came to conquer Jerusalem. The city, under the rule of Shebna, was given over to every kind of material festivity. It was against this that Isaiah prophesies here. God's people were in the gravest danger, and their only hope lay in tears of repentance, but they were responding to their problems with drunken revelry! Isaiah's response reveals both his agony and anger, reflecting God's own. His words give us solemn pause. How often in our own national history, when we have been indulging in riotous rejoicing, should we have humbled ourselves before God instead? Isaiah refused to be comforted by the eat-drink-and-be-merry crowds (verse 4), and around him were gathered a group of disciples loyal to God. By these the nation was better served than by the wild and shouting crowds. It is true national service to bear national sins upon our heart and conscience, and by our tears to reflect the Lord God in all such hours.
Isaiah 23:18 "Her gain and her harlot's wages will be set apart to the Lord; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her gain will become sufficient food and choice attire for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord." Isaiah in this chapter predicts a catastrophe that would bring 70 years of desolation upon the coastal trade city of Tyre. Then he declares that the Lord would visit her, but that she would remain a harlot, trafficking in evil with all the kingdoms of the world. It is in that connection that the words highlighted above appear. They do not mean that Tyre would conduct her commerce on holy principles, but that under God's sovereign hand, her gains would not be stored for her own enrichment, but employed on behalf of God's people. (Ezekiel 26-28 predicts Tyre's final defeat in great detail.) This prophetic word has an application much wider than Tyre. The earth is the Lord's in all its fullness. In the day of His perfected Kingdom, all its resources, including what had been exploited for selfish purposes, will be recovered and employed for the people within His Kingdom. The ultimate destiny of wealth is not establishing tyrannies, but instead providing sufficiency for everyone constituting the commonwealth of God. To that end the Lord reigns. Happy are those who dedicate whatever they have of earth's resources to that high and holy purpose.
Isaiah 24:5 "The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant." This and the following three chapters constitute one prophetic utterance concerning the Day of the Lord. In the previous prophecies about individual nations, Isaiah presents a wider outlook than that of his own people. Here his outlook is further enlarged as it takes in the whole earth, but God's people are in mind from beginning to end. The first part of this vision describes the desolation of the earth; the second describes the restoration that comes from the Day of the Lord. The desolation is first declared to be the result of divine action, for it is the Lord who "lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants" (verse 1). Our highlighted verse reveals the reason: the earth has become polluted under its inhabitants. This is a violation of the laws by which God governs His divine creation. Romans 1:18-32 is a New Testament commentary on those laws: when men and women refuse to acknowledge their Creator and His claim on their lives, they become polluted and communicate their pollution to the earth. That is the interpretation of all disease, insanity, and things of waste, disorder, strife, and misery in human history and experience. Polluted people pollute the earth, and chaos is the result.
Isaiah 25:9 "It will be said in that day, 'Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.... Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'" "In that day" is a phrase that unifies the Day of the Lord vision (24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:1, 2, 12, 13). Each time a new line of consideration is introduced. In the first mention, God's subduing "the powers in the heavens above" refers to the spiritual forces of evil, and stands in contrast to "the kings on the earth below." In the second, highlighted above, God's people will rejoice that their patience has paid off. The only way the earth will be delivered from the desolation resulting in its pollution by people who have turned their back upon God is that God Himself does not forsake the earth or His people. He acts in holy wrath, inspired by eternal love, against all the forces of evil. And in His great Day, His people's triumphs will not terminate in what God does for them and gives to them, but will pass through them to His very Person, the author and giver of all that is good: "Behold, this is our God!"
Isaiah 26:19 "Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the dead." In all this vision of the Day of the Lord as the day of restoration, there is no more wonderful word than this. It is a singularly clear and definite foretelling of bodily resurrection. The truth of immortality was declared in the previous chapter: "He will swallow up death forever" (25:8). But here the prophecy goes further, making it clear that God's final victory over death is all encompassing, physical as well as spiritual. There is fuller revelation about resurrection in the New Testament, but here in Isaiah we have clear glimpses of that truth. Very beautiful is the prophet's poetic figure of the dew. Imagine a heavenly, supernatural dew: as soon as it falls on the dead, they rise up. These great facts of immortality and resurrection transfigure our conceptions of life, leading those of us who take them to heart "to sing for joy." The dust is not the last word; the narrow confines of the here-and-now are not the boundaries of our being. "Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man: for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). When He returns, He "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power He has to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).
Isaiah 27:6 "In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit." This verse is in the context of a song that will be sung in the Day of the Lord restoration. Think back to Isaiah 5, where the prophet sang a very different song about Israel as a vine bringing forth bad grapes and ripe for judgment. The tune is joyfully different now, for the vine is fruitful to the point of being a blessing to the whole world. That is God's eventual intent for all His people, Jew and Gentile alike, united in one Body.
Isaiah 28:20 "The bed is too short to stretch oneself on, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in." These words are vibrant with holy sarcasm. Isaiah has broken his long silence since chapter 8, and is once more exercising a public ministry. Beginning here and ending with chapter 33, we have six speeches, each beginning with the word Woe! The first five concern the Jewish people and the last Assyria, the threatening foe. This whole section pulsates with the prophet's anger at his nation's false policy of seeking help from Egypt. He saw the real danger in Assyria's advance and knew Egypt could do nothing about it. More important, Isaiah saw the Lord and knew He would deal with Assyria. This chapter is full of dramatic power. Suddenly Isaiah appears on the scene amid politicians drunk on their own conceits (verses 1-8). They express their outrage by insulting him (9-10). Isaiah replies by employing the language of their taunting (11-13). Then he unmasks their false security, describing their alliance with Egypt as a covenant made with death and an agreement with hell. He says they won't like lying in the bed they've made because the bed is too short and the covers too skinny to fit. Godless policies will never provide rest. Nations and individuals who try to find rest and security apart from God learn that the hard way. They cannot stretch themselves out in perfect ease and comfort apart from the righteousness and government of God.
Isaiah 29:13 "This people draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me consists of tradition taught by men." In this chapter we have the second and third of Isaiah's six Woe! messages. The first is to Jerusalem itself, called Ariel here, which means "lion of God." The city was supposed to represent strength, but instead was characterized by frivolity and debauchery. The second woe is a condemnation of the politicians who imagined they could work in the dark, without God knowing. The highlighted words are part of a searching criticism of the people's religious condition. They were maintaining outward forms of religions, but they were alienated from God. Empty ritualism does not bring closeness to God. Jesus used this verse to describe the Judaism of His day (Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-7). It is possible to have a fear of God from mere human tradition, but that kind of fear is valueless. To accept a rule of life merely because it is given by a man, however true the rule or however good the man, is to be without the element of real value. As Moses explained and Jesus later reiterated, "Man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Let those who teach that Word recognize their need to withdraw themselves from between those whom they teach and the Word they proclaim so people recognize God's Word as coming from God and deal directly with Him.
Isaiah 30:16 "You said, 'No! We will flee upon horses'; therefore you shall flee away; and, 'We will ride upon swift steeds'; therefore your pursuers shall be swift!" This woe concerns the people's futile confidence in Egypt. What did they say No! to? The preceding verse reads, "Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.' But you would not" (verse 15). This is rebellion, despite numerous prophetic warnings. Very well then, says the prophet, you shall have your own way: you shall flee, only it shall not be at the enemy but from the enemy. They replied, "We will ride upon swift steeds." Very well, said the prophet, then ride—only those who pursue you will also be swift. If we will not have God's way, He compels us to take our own, which then unmasks our folly. Notice the next amazing verse: "Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you. He will be exalted that He may have mercy on you, for the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for Him" (18)—that is, those who do not make Him wait for them.
Isaiah 31:3 "When the Lord stretches out His hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together." In this fifth woe, the prophetic word insists upon divine sovereignty. The treaty with Egypt was consummated, but the Egyptians were men, not God, and their horses flesh, not spirit. All the cleverness of human arrangements would be of no avail. Egypt would indeed help and Judah would be helped, but the Lord would stretch out His hand and both helper and helped would all fall together. The whole of human history testifies to the stupidity of man when he trusts in his diplomacies and fails to reckon with God. That is no old story merely. It is as modern as today's news. God rules then and now.
Isaiah 32:17 "The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever." Amid the woes is a beautiful picture of a future reign of righteousness. Chapter 32 opens, "Behold a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice." The woes reveal that the processes of righteousness in the midst of lawlessness require wrath and judgment, but here we see that the ultimate result is peace with the effects of quietness and confidence. Those are the conditions of true joy and lasting happiness. Peace is impossible when righteousness is disregarded; quietness and confidence can never arise from unrighteous motives and methods. Righteousness will never be the principle of human life until that life is submitted to the King who reigns in righteousness. That is why God "now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).
Isaiah 33:14 "Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with everlasting burning?" This sixth and last woe message has to do with Assyria. It is a singularly exalted prophecy. The cruelty and strength of the foe is graphically described; in the presence of such a foe the nation of Judah is hopeless and helpless in its own strength. Then comes this powerful declaration from God Himself: "Now I will arise, now I will lift Myself up, now I will be exalted!" (verse 10). All the force of the foe is nothing before the fire of divine wrath. It is this vision that gives rise to the highlighted questions. The sinful people whom God will defend tremble for themselves: "fearfulness has seized the hypocrites" (14). Notice the immediate answer to their questions: "Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes from looking on evil. They will dwell on high" (verses 15-16). In the fire of divine holiness, only things of essential purity and strength can live. This is a true vision of the world: it is wrapped in the fire of the presence of God. That fire is surely, if with apparent slowness, destroying everything out of harmony with eternal purity. In nature exists such a slow-burning fire, called eremacausis by scientists, which is the gradual oxidation of organic matter from exposure to air and moisture. What that fire is to nature, God is to human history and life.
Isaiah 34:8 "The Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion." This chapter and the next are the last in the first of Isaiah's two-part message on judgment (chapters 1-35) and salvation (chapters 40-66), with a dramatic historical interlude (chapters 36-39) that illustrates both judgment and salvation. While the indignation of the Lord here is seen proceeding against all nations because of their wickedness, the nation of Edom is singled out for its extreme opposition to the Jewish people. The prophetic book of Obadiah does the same. The vengeance of the Lord against what Edom stands for is irrevocable and irresistible. It is suggestive that our Lord, the one perfect flower and fruit of Israel's race, was opposed by the most famous descendants of Edom, later known as Idumea: the Herodian dynasty. Once Jesus sent Herod Antipas a message of prophetic contempt, saying, "Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal'" (Luke 13:32). When at last Jesus was in Herod's presence, He spoke no word to him—the one human being to whom Christ had nothing to say (Luke 23:8-12). God never makes terms with what Edom stands for; it is destined for destruction.
Isaiah 35:2 "They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God." This brief but beautiful chapter is a song of restoration. It begins with a desert wilderness and ends with the realization of divine order in Zion. This is a consistent theme of all the Hebrew prophets: although no men saw the corruption of life more clearly or denounced sin more vehemently, they saw a vision that made despair impossible. Through all the clouds and darkness, the travail and terror, they saw the day of God coming—a day of restoration regarding its ultimate aim, although a day of wrath and consuming fire in its processes. The "they" of the highlighted verse is the desert wilderness and all such places blighted by human pollution, for they will flourish in the final victory of God on earth. When Isaiah heard angels sing in a heavenly vision, he recorded their words: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isaiah 6:3). Here he declares that glory will be manifested for all to see in spite of desolation widespread and long in the making.
Isaiah 36:4 "The Rabshakeh said to them, 'Say to Hezekiah, "Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours?"'" This is the first of four chapters of thrilling history. Judah's worst nightmare has come true: the Assyrian army is now at their walls, ready to kick them in—just as Isaiah had warned. This chapter tells about the coming of their king, Sennacherib, and the insolent speech of his chief official, the Rabshakeh. That speech was intended to reduce the morale of the nation. The Rabshakeh perceptively asks the leaders to consider their source of confidence. He seems to have been familiar with the policies of Judah, knowing there were two parties: the one seeking aid from Egypt and the other looking only to the Lord (verses 6-7). With scorn and remarkable accuracy, he describes Egypt as a "bruised reed." Then he suggests that when Hezekiah of Judah removed the high places, he was showing contempt for the God of Israel. That was either deliberate misrepresentation or ignorance, for what godly King Hezekiah had done was remove the high places of false gods. Finally, the Rabshakeh defied the Lord, declaring that no other gods had been strong enough to resist the king of Assyria. All this is illuminating in revealing the weakness of earthly power. Statesmen who represent brute force often accurately access the Egypts of this world, for their power is as their own, but when they try to explain God, they are out of their reckoning because of their ignorance. God Almighty, the unknown quantity among such statesmen, is the strength of His people.
Isaiah 37:23 "Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel!" When the mocking speech of the Rabshakeh was finally done and replied to in silence (36:21), King Hezekiah went into mourning. He humbled himself before the Lord on behalf of his people and sent a prayer request to Isaiah, who responded with a swift and assuring answer from God: He Himself would intervene, forcing the Assyrian king to return to his own land, and there fall by the sword. Meanwhile, the Rabshakeh, returning to his master, found him at war south of Jerusalem and preparing to meet a threat from Ethiopia. He decided to make another attempt to intimidate Hezekiah, this time by a letter openly defying the Lord. This the king spread before the Lord as he mourned in the Temple. God heard Hezekiah's humble prayer, responding in the words highlighted above as His rebuke to the king's arrogance. Back in Isaiah 10 we saw Assyria described as a rod in God's hand for disciplining His people, but Isaiah prophesied that the Assyrians would boast against the hand applying the rod. Here that prophesy is fulfilled and Isaiah pronounces the doom that would come as a result. God's intervention on behalf of Jerusalem came mysteriously, but with complete victory, as the Angel of the Lord slayed the enemy hosts in their camp, leaving 185,000 dead on the plain. King Sennacherib returned home in shame to Nineveh, where two of his sons killed him and ran away while another son reigned in his place. Thus this chapter ends, the deeds of God demonstrating the folly of policies that neglect Him, and justifying faith in Him alone.
Isaiah 38:17 "Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In Your love you kept me from the pit of corruption; You have put all my sins behind Your back." These words occur in the song of a man who, in mortal sickness, had been to the gates of death, but restored to life by the mercy of God. They are all the more moving because that man was King Hezekiah in the prime of life. The first half of what he wrote (verses 10-14) is a record of his experiences when death seemed inevitable. It is full of sadness and darkness without a single ray of light to illuminate that darkness. References to that experience in the second part of the song (15-20) compel the conclusion that the sickness was disciplinary in nature. It was for his peace, he admitted, that he experienced such bitterness. That explains his former outlook upon death and absence of hope. The second part of Hezekiah's song reflects the deeper spiritual values of his suffering and deliverance. "By these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit" (16) is the testimony he still gives to all who will listen. A literal translation of the highlighted verse is, "You have loved my soul out of the pit of corruption." How wonderfully that tells the story of redemption: God loves our souls out of corruption at cost to us of suffering, but at infinitely greater cost to Himself! The best example of that is at the Cross, where He Himself fathomed the depths of the pit of corruption, and then in love lifted out those willing to be rescued by humbly placing their trust in Him.
Isaiah 39:5 "Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, 'Hear the Word of the Lord of hosts.' " This brief chapter is full of dramatic force, especially between prophet and king. It records a deflection on the part of Hezekiah, chiefly because of his vanity, and his failure to realize the full meaning of what he was doing. It is the kind of mistake good men and women make when they fail to seek for God's will in every detail of life. The wrong having been done, Isaiah sought out Hezekiah. Their conversation is revealing. Isaiah essentially interrogated the king, but the king responded without question. In that the better side of Hezekiah is revealed, as is his accepting what God said through His prophet, even though the news was grim. The prophet is to ask no favor of kings and accept no patronage from them. He is the messenger of God, whose work is to break in upon all the doings of men, whether high or low in status, saying, "Hear the Word of the Lord of hosts!" He is not responsible to men but to God. Moreover, he is not responsible for the response of individual men and women to his message, but only for its delivery. If his hearers listen and obey, they walk in the way of wisdom. If they rebel, even if they shoot the messenger, his word will be fulfilled in their ultimate undoing.
Isaiah 40:3 "A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" This chapter begins the second part of Isaiah's two-part message on judgment and salvation. Chapters 40-66 discuss the peace that comes from salvation, specifically the Purpose of Peace (40-48), the Prince of Peace (49-57), and the Program of Peace (58-66). The verse highlighted above picks up the theme from chapter 35 about the restoration of a lost order for the world that will make the wilderness and deserts fruitful again. Now God is to be revealed in the procedure bringing that result. Here His messenger is calling His people to cooperate with Him by preparing His way in the wilderness by making a straight path through it. Before that call is a message of salvation from God Himself: "'Comfort My people!' says your God. 'Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her sin has been paid for'" (verses 1-2). Following the call is a glorious description of the Lord's majesty, focusing on His creative might and wisdom. No one and nothing can compare with Him; all would-be idols are utterly futile. He lovingly strengthens all those who wait on Him; indeed, they "shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (31). Yet this glorious God, majestic beyond compare, calls the faithful among men and women to prepare His way and make straight His highway. We do this when we yield to Him our complete loyalty, trusting Him body and soul.
Isaiah 41:1 "Keep silence before Me." With these challenging words, the prophet introduces a manifesto from the Lord. It occupies this and the following chapters. In the next chapter (42) we find its central proclamation; this is introductory and preparatory. In it are four parts: the first (verses 1-7) is the upcoming challenge from God to the nations concerning the advance of a foe from the east. The second (8-20) has to do with Israel, declaring His presence and protection. The third (21-24) challenges false gods to prove their divinity by fulfilling predictive prophesy. The fourth again affirms that the foe is coming by the will and act of God, who alone is able to predict the future. That initial call to silence is arresting: "In silence listen to Me," an alternate translation, is always the Word of God to all humankind. The persistent clamor of many voices in the world drowns too constantly the voice of God. We are anxious to read or hear the latest of what governors, industry leaders, and ministers are saying, but the babel of their confused speech can prevent our listening in silence for God, if we are not mindful. The value of prediction as evidence of deity should not be overlooked. Here Isaiah was patently conscious of contemporary events, but was seeing through and beyond them to greater things that God in His Word revealed. Some of those things, then future, became history. Some of them are not yet fulfilled. Let us then keep silence that we may hear these words from God.
Isaiah 42:1 "Behold, My Servant." That is the proclamation. All that follows is an interpretation of this call to behold. The more complete unveiling of this Servant of the Lord is in chapters 49-57, but here we have a wonderful portrait of the Coming One (verses 1-9), a song that celebrates the triumph of the Lord through Him (10-17), and an appeal to Israel based on the facts revealed (18-25). Scholars have long debated whom this Servant or servant is. Could it be Israel as a nation or at least the godly remnant within the nation? Although such a remnant did clearly exist, it did not accomplish what is attributed to this Servant of the Lord. A far more reasonable interpretation is that the Jewish eyewitness Matthew was right when he declared that this foretelling found its fulfillment in Jesus: "Many followed Him, and He healed them all, ordering them not to make Him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 'Behold, my Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved with whom My soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will proclaim judgment to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out until He brings judgment to victory; and in His name the nations will hope" (Matthew 12:15-21; Isaiah 41:1-4). In Isaiah we will see that the Servant is invariably spoken of has having a present existence, which is consistent with Jesus as the Son of God, or God the Son, having an eternal existence but taking on the role of a Servant in time for redemptive purposes. Another Jewish Scripture writer explains that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He ... took on the very nature of a Servant, being made in human likeness.... He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:6-10). When the Lord calls everyone to keep silence before Him, He then says, "Behold, My Servant." There is only One who can be so described.
Isaiah 43:1-2 "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.... They will not overflow you." This great promise to God's people comes in the context of His relation to them as Creator and Redeemer, where He declares that He will one day gather them to Himself (verses 1-9). They will fulfill their function of being His witnesses because of who He is and what He will accomplish (10-13). He promises the destruction of Babylon, the main threat at the time, as an illustration of how He always eventually deals with His people's enemies (14-15). "But now," as verse 1 begins, God will nonetheless punish His people for their unfaithfulness to Him and His Word, yet assurance is given that they will repent and He will therefore remember their sins no more (16-28). This is all linked to the Servant of the Lord from the previous chapter, who will be discussed in detail in chapters to come. Babylon as it then existed was destroyed, but the Babylon of today as an ongoing spiritual force against God's people is yet in power. But every prediction from God will be fulfilled to the letter.
Isaiah 44:1-2 "But now listen, Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen.... Fear not." The first message here calls God's people not to fear in view of the Lord's redeeming purpose to pour out His Spirit upon their descendants (verses 1-5). The second message is perhaps Isaiah's finest satire against false gods and their futility (6-23). The third and last celebrates the greatness of the Lord in creation and in executing His will on the earth (24-27). That includes installing in place a new player on the world scene named Cyrus the Great, who will simultaneously be the scourge of Babylon and the restorer of Jerusalem. Let this be a reminder that although God's people will fail at times, God Himself works in real time to bring about their restoration.
Isaiah 45:5 "I will equip you, though you do not know Me." The first of four messages in this chapter is addressed to Cyrus, a great ruler not yet born at this point, but one who will serve at God's pleasure. It concludes, "Woe to him who strives with his Maker!" anticipating objections against the Jewish people going into captivity and later being restored by a pagan king (verses 1-10). The second message from God reemphasizes the fact that Cyrus will act under the direction of God (11-13). The third foretells victories God's people will experience, leading up to the greatest of all: when they are saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation (verses 14-18). The last message from God takes in the widest world outlook, for He calls all nations to look to Him and be saved (19-25). Cyrus the Great was raised up and used by God, and then set aside. Thus there was a partial fulfillment of these predictions, but their ultimate fulfillment is not yet. Rulers of the earth will yet be the instruments of God for the accomplishment of His good pleasure, and every glorious foretelling will have perfect fulfillment. There may be in human affairs revolt and rebellion against God, working ruin to the rebels, but so far as the ultimate accomplishment of His purposes are concerned, such men and women can do nothing against Him.
Isaiah 46:4 "I have made you and I will carry you." Isaiah's prophecy in this chapter and the next celebrates the might of the Lord as seen in the destruction of Babylon. Here the theme is the contrast between God Almighty and the gods of Babylon, Bel and Nebo. Perhaps nowhere else in biblical literature do we see more clearly the essential difference between false gods and the true God. With fine poetic imagery and passion, Isaiah paints the ludicrous picture of false gods being made by men, carried by the men who made them, set in place, and unable to move on their own. Is it therefore any wonder that idols are totally incapable of answering those who worship them in days of distress? Over against that, notice the highlighted words above from God Himself. He makes and He carries. An idol is a thing a man makes and has to carry; the true God makes the man and carries him. When men or women turn from the living God, they always make a god for themselves. That god becomes an encumbrance: they have to carry it and the burden is too heavy—they are heavy laden. Those who worship the true God are worshiping their Maker. They are carried and so they find rest. Just before the Servant of the Lord is described as such by a quotation from Isaiah, He says this: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Isaiah 47:15 "Those ... who have done business with you from your youth ... wander about, each in his own direction; there is no one to save you." In this chapter Isaiah sings a song that taunts the might of Babylon, which he likens to an evil woman who, having lived in luxury, is cast out to poverty and shame. In the course of this song he refers to the enchantments and sorceries in which she had labored from her youth (verse 12). In derision he calls on her to test the false teachers upon whom she relied to save her from the determined doom: the fierce flame of divine wrath. Babylon had labored from her youth, back at the Tower of Babel, with the underworld of evil by gathering together in a futile attempt to frustrate the divine purpose. Babylon, as a spiritual apostasy, persists to this time. Its final judgment will come in the flames of God's wrath upon the whole earth. The futility of those dark forces of the underworld will be clearly manifested as burnt stubble. Men and women who have trusted in them will be left desolate with no one to save them.
Isaiah 48:22 "There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked." These words stand apart here and in Isaiah 57:21, where they are essentially repeated as section markers. This chapter celebrates the mercy of God in dealing with the Jewish people, who swore by the name of the Lord and talked about the God of Israel, but not in truth or in right living. Their obstinacy would bring judgment (verses 3-8), yet for His own sake the Lord would spare them (9-11). He laments over their disobedience and consequent lack of blessing, but He is their Redeemer and will deliver them. Then comes the arresting conclusion: "There is no peace for the wicked." Mark its relation to the whole movement of this section. From first to last it is about the purpose of God to bring peace to His troubled people and the entire world. Toward that great end He patiently moves in His majesty, might, and mercy. While it is right to rejoice in the redeeming activity of God, there will be no peace where sin and wickedness abound. That truth accounts for the absence of peace today, and reveals the only way by which peace will come tomorrow.
Isaiah 49:6 "I give You [My Servant] as a light to the nations, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth." We come now to the central section of Isaiah's prophecy, chapters 49-57, which describe the Servant of the Lord, who is God's prince and agent of peace. This section presents Him enduring great suffering (chapters 49-53) and then singing in glorious triumph (chapters 54-57). That first part consists of the Servant's own words and the Lord's specific prophecies about Him. This chapter opens with the voice of the Servant Himself telling of His call: "Listen ... and pay attention, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called Me from the womb ... and He has made My mouth like a sharp sword.... And He said to Me, 'You are My servant ... in whom I will be glorified'" (verses 1-3). The Servant knows His task will be supremely difficult (4-5), but His destiny is no less than the highlighted verse: bringing salvation as a "light to all nations." Carefully consider these words from the lips of Jesus shortly before He went to the Cross: "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came out of heaven: 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.'" When people marveled Jesus replied, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world .... And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (John 12:27-32).
Isaiah 50:5 "The Lord God has opened my ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away." Here again we hear the voice of the Servant. As we saw in the previous chapter, from the beginning of His call He is aware that His service means suffering. This awareness is more definitely marked in this record of His response. It grows in intensity until it culminates in chapter 53. Nevertheless, the Servant is not rebellious nor does He flinch from the task. His ears and eyes are wide open, speaking of what was then future like He could see it happening: "I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out My beard. I did not hide My face from shame and spitting because the Lord God will help Me. Therefore I will not be disgraced. I have set My face like flint, and know that I will not be ashamed" (verses 6-7). His saying that the Lord opened His ear in the highlighted verse echoes this statement here: "My ears You have opened. Burnt offering ... You did not desire.... Behold, I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of Me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:6-8). We are told in the book of Hebrews, "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could permanently take away sins (since those sacrifices by Law are merely a reminder of sins every year). Therefore when Jesus "came into the world, He said ... 'Behold, I have come—in the volume of the Book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.... By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:3-10). That is the good end the Servant's suffering led to, and He was confident of God's help as He walked that rough road.
Isaiah 51:1 "Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord." These words from the Lord introduce us to a series of short, passionate speeches in this chapter and the next from the vision of the Servant in perfect fellowship with the Lord to accomplish His redeeming purpose. First are three messages to faithful believers, who amid abounding apostasy, are loyal to God and love righteousness. These begin, "Listen to Me" (verses 1, 4, 7) and call the faithful to look to the Rock, trust in God's justice, and know no fear. Then follow three messages beginning, "Awake, awake" (51:9, 17; 52:1). In the first case it is the cry of God's people for God to intervene, and is answered, "I, even I, am He who comforts you.... I have covered you with the shadow of My hand.... You are My people" (51:12, 15-16). Then follows the call of the Lord to His people, recognizing their sufferings resulting from their sins, but promising deliverance (51:17-23). Finally comes God's answer to His people's cry. They said to Him, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!" (51:7). He replies, "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion" and again promises redemption (52:1-10). That redemption, however, comes at a supremely high cost to the Lord's Servant, whose sufferings are astonishingly detailed in the following chapters.
Isaiah 52:13 "Behold, My Servant shall act wisely ... and be exalted." With these words we are introduced to the last section in the suffering of the Lord's Servant on behalf of all His people—past, present, and future. The short paragraph with which this chapter closes introduces and belongs to the next chapter. It constitutes a pregnant summary from the divine perspective of human eyewitness details to follow. Bottom line: the Servant of the Lord will wisely accomplish His task of redeeming people from all nations by His suffering, and be exalted as a result. This chapter gives a sneak preview of the Servant's success: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace ... who proclaims salvation, saying, 'Your God reigns!'... The Lord has comforted His people.... He has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" (verses 7-10). But before that success is appalling suffering, for His visage will be "marred more than any man.... So shall He sprinkle many nations. Rulers shall shut their mouths at Him, for what had not been told them they will see" (14-15). The admonition of Psalm 2 applies: "Now therefore, be wise, O rulers ... and judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish ... when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" (10-12).
Isaiah 53:11 "He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied." In this great chapter and part of the last, we read of unparalleled divine suffering on behalf of others. That suffering works to our good only if we watch, wonder, and adore this Servant of the Lord as He is despised and rejected by men, while simultaneously being afflicted by God as a sin offering for all who trust Him. In Himself He became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. At last He was cut off from the land of the living and assigned a grave with criminals, but God would allow no further indignities to fall upon His Son: after His victorious death He was buried with the rich. All this happened because "we all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (verse 6). With humility we must ask, Was it worth it? Notice God's answer in verse 11: "He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their sins." Notice the Servant's own perspective on His sacrificial suffering after the fact: "Jesus ... for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). There He is now after rising from the dead, for as Isaiah 53:10 predicted, "He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand."
Isaiah 54:1 "Sing." This is the fitting response to the crux-of-history triumph the Servant will accomplish for God's people. The Lord says to them, "Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. He is called the God of the whole earth.... With everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you" (verses 5, 8). Because of the Servant's victory, God's people consists of those from every nation, yet God still remembers Israel. The Servant later says, "I will pour on the house of David and ... the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace.... Then they will look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only son" (Zechariah 12:10). This is yet future. As the last book of the Bible says, "Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of Him. So it is to be. Amen" (Revelation 1:7).
Isaiah 55:6 "Seek the Lord while He may be found." The song in honor of the Servant's redemptive work is followed in this chapter by a hearty invitation to participate in its benefits: "Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it's all free! Why do you spend money for that which is not true food, and your wages for what does not satisfy. Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good. Let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Hear and your soul will life" (verses 1-3). Isaiah spells out that invite in unmistakable terms: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous her thoughts. Let them return to the Lord, and He will have mercy and ... abundantly pardon" (6-7). What about people who hear of the Servant's redemptive work, but are repulsed or humiliated at the thought of needing a divine sacrifice for their sins? God Himself speaks again: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (8-9). Many will reject God's gracious invitation, but many will receive it because God says of His Word, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth,... furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be.... It shall not return to Me void, but will accomplish what I please" (10-11).
Isaiah 56:1 "Thus says the Lord: 'Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon My salvation will come, and My righteousness be revealed.'" This and the following chapter conclude the section on the Servant of the Lord as the Prince of Peace. Those highlighted words give us the key to the message here: salvation from the Lord is for righteousness or what is right. To the original recipients of that message, the coming of salvation and righteousness through the Servant of the Lord was yet future. For us it is past, seeing as a matter of historical record that He fulfilled the specific prophecies of His sufferings to the letter, but it also has a future aspect because He will return again as a conquering king, not a suffering servant. In this chapter is first comfort for all who in any measure have suffered loss for their love for the Lord, followed by strong denunciation of irresponsible spiritual leaders who "look to their own way, every one for his own gain" (verse 11), and give themselves to the false excitements of strong drink (12). In such times the Lord calls those who love Him and wait for His appearing to keep being just and do what is right.
Isaiah 57:21 "There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked." We saw words almost identical to these in Isaiah 48:22 as a section marker indicating why we lack peace today and the only conditions upon which peace will come. This section has described the Servant of the Lord, who through suffering passes through the triumph of establishing peace. It closes with a message in view of the nearness of salvation and righteousness: a fierce denunciation of an apostate community (described as backsliders in verse 17) given to all sorts of evil, and a message of consolation for those of a humble and loyal spirit to God. A subtle difference between the "there is no peace for the wicked" statements in 48:22 and 57:21 is there the term for God is yahweh, a term of grace, but here it is elohim, which basically designates absolute might. God in grace purposes peace. When He makes it possible through His suffering Servant, His might insists on the terms. If in spite of all that the suffering One endured, individual men and women still persist in wickedness, there is no peace for them—even by the way of that suffering.
Isaiah 58:1 "Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to My people their transgression." This verse reveals the theme of the last section of Isaiah's prophecy: coming judgment upon people rejecting God's message of peace through their sins veiled by hypocrisy. They boast of their religious rituals, but God says, "Is not this the fast I have chosen: to undo heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and clothe the naked?" (verses 6-7). "If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness," this is what the Lord says will happen after His just judgment has taken place: "Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations and shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In" (9, 12). A true attitude of humility towards God will never be accompanied by a lack of justice and compassion.
Isaiah 59:1 "Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear!" Imagine how those words fall on the ears of those who claim that God is either powerless to deliver them or uncaring about their sorrows. Isaiah clearly declares that neither claim is true: the Lord's hand is not short nor His ear dull. "But," says the following verses, "your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear, for your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity, your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue has uttered perversity." The problem is sinful people, not God Himself. That is constantly the answer to those who charge God with inability or indifference. Nevertheless, the encouraging end of this chapter is that when things are at their worst and no righteous person is to be found, God's "own arm brought salvation, ... for He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on His head" (verses 16-17). The Lord arrays Himself as a warrior and proceeds to accomplish His redemptive purposes.
Isaiah 60:1 "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." This is the first of three chapters constituting one movement that throbs with joy over the ultimate accomplishment of peace through the Servant of the Lord. Notice how it starts: "Darkness covers the earth and deep darkness the people, but the Lord will arise over you. His glory will be seen upon you and the nations will come to your light" (verses 2-3). This opening call is addressed not to Jerusalem as she was in the time when this prophecy was given, not to Jerusalem as she has ever been in her history to the present time, but to Jerusalem as she will be when she is established in righteousness and beauty through the travail and triumph of the Servant of the Lord. The last book of the Bible explains that when the Servant returns as King of kings and Lord of lords, there will be "a holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." The city will have "no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illumines it.... The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it" (Revelation 21:2, 23-24). It is a place where all God's people through the ages will dwell in peace with great joy and fruitfulness forever because of what their King has done for them in His humble service.
Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me." In this great chapter the Servant speaks again. What He says here He repeated in an electrifying scene that took place when He was on earth: "He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. and read, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind ... to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.' Then He closed the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant.... The eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:17-21). The part from Isaiah 61 He did not read then is in verse 2, which makes it clear that the Servant has a two-fold job: proclaiming both "the acceptable year of the Lord" and "the day of vengeance of our God." Only when both jobs are completed will the closing verses of this chapter take place: "As a bride adorns herself with her jewels and as the earth brings forth its bud ... so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations" (11-12). "The acceptable year of the Lord" has lasted nearly 2,000 years by His grace. His Spirit is still at work in proclaiming the "Good News" but the day of vengeance is coming.
Isaiah 62:12 "They shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken." The joy in the Servant of the Lord's work spills over into this chapter, looking to the time yet future when Isaiah promises God's people, "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you" (verse 5). He urges vigilant prayer in the meantime (6-9), emphasizing this encouraging reality: "The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world, 'Say to the daughter of Zion: Surely your salvation is coming; behold, His reward is with Him!'" (11). This chapter closes with the highlighted verse about the Holy City. Notice that her people will be sought out, which is descriptive of their attractiveness. There is a beauty in holiness that the nations of the world will recognize. When at last they see a truly Holy City, they will name it Sought Out. True beauty is always the outcome of holiness—and is always attractive.
Isaiah 63:1-2 "Who is this?... Why are your garments red?" Here over the next 3 chapters is the vision of a great Warrior returning from fierce combat (63:1-6), followed by a lengthy prayer in the midst of desolation (63:7—64:12). God's answer constitutes all of chapter 65. Notice the highlighted opening questions. They point to the Servant of Lord, whose day of vengeance has finally come (61:2). Notice what He says here in chapter 63: "The day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come" (verse 4). That is yet future. He will tread the wine press, so compelling the evil fruit of all wickedness to be squeezed out, but that is a persistent method of God's work in the world. It will have its final expression and victory at Armageddon.
Isaiah 64:1 "Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence!" This prayer follows the vision of the Warrior, as though the prophet agrees with the necessity for such action, and prays it soon takes place. His prayer opens with praise for the Lord's past kindnesses (63:7-9) and an honest confession of His people's wickedness: "We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags" (64:6). He acknowledges the rightness of divine discipline, yet appeals to the heart of God as Father: "You are our Father; we are the clay and You our potter. We all are the work of Your hand" (63:16; 64:8). How often today are men and women of faith compelled to cry out for God to intervene in might and majesty! Let us do so in the spirit of this prophecy, remembering past mercies, confessing sin, acknowledging God's just judgment, and appealing to our Father's heart.
Isaiah 65:1 "I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me." This chapter gives God's 2-part answer to the lengthy prayer of the last 2 chapters. The first part (verses 1-7, 11-16) highlights the resolute refusal of God's people to obey God's call to them, and the relation of that wickedness to their sufferings. The Lord had sought them, but they refused and did whatever they wanted. For example, they ignored His Law yet still considered themselves better than other people, saying, "Do not come near me, for I am holier than you!" God's response? "They are like smoke in My nostrils, an irritation that burns all day!" (5). No one hates hypocrisy more than God. The apostle Paul describes Isaiah as being very bold here, citing the highlighted verse to make the same point Isaiah does (Romans 10:20-21). Nevertheless, both Isaiah and Paul clarify that the Lord is also very gracious. In the second part of His answer to His people's prayer (8-10, 17-25), God gives a promise of restoration, peace, and prosperity both spiritually and physically: "the wolf and the lamb will feed together; the lion will eat straw like the ox" (25). The Lord Himself says, "My elect will long enjoy the work of their hands.... Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear" (22, 24). Both parts of God's answer to that prayer work together, for mercy never sacrifices holiness. The final triumph of compassion will be a victory for all that is right and true.
Isaiah 66:1 "Thus says the Lord: 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.'" This chapter and the last are a fitting conclusion to Isaiah's prophecies, for they speak of "new heavens and a new earth" (65:17; 66:22). Who will be there? The Lord Himself tells us: "On this one will I look: on him or her of a humble spirit, who trembles at My Word" (verse 2). Who will not? Those who "have chosen their own ways and delight in their abominations." Of them God says, "I will choose their delusions and bring their fears on them because when I called, no one answered. When I spoke they did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, choosing that in which I do not delight" (3-4). To the redeemed He says, "I will extend peace to them like a river, and the glory of the nations like a flowing stream" (12). When they see this, their hearts will be glad, "for the hand of the Lord will be known to His servants, and His indignation to His enemies" (14). In that time yet future but maybe very soon, "the Lord will come with fire ... to render His anger with fury.... The Lord will judge all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many" (15-16). Many also shall be those made righteous by the Servant of the Lord, who declares: "I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues, and they shall see and declare My glory" (18-19). The fierceness here is the fierceness of love against all that destroys, and it is because love makes no terms with evil that, at last, is the restoration of all things.