The Prophet Isaiah

Isaiah lived in the times of Uzziah, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah – about

740 to 680 BC. This was the period when the Assyrian Empire was growing in power, and Judah was about to be invaded by Sennacherib. Isaiah lived in royal circles (he was a great friend and advisor of King Hezekiah) and had a wife and children in Jerusalem.

Isaiah is writing at a time of nations in decline, he is as it were sent at the 11th hour to speak to Israel.

Basically the book can be divided into 3 rough segments.

1 Messages to the Nations

Judah and Jerusalem, Babylon (2ce), Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus,Ethiopia,Egypt (2ce)Tyre and Jerusalem.

2 Woes to Israel

Samaria, Judea and relying on Egypt

3 Kingdom Promises

The Future King

The Lord’s Servant and Redeemer

The New Heaven and the New Earth.

In the opening chapter of his book Isaiah, carries out a health check on the nation of Judah– and diagnoses it very ill. “The whole head is sick”, he states, “and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises” (Isaiah 1:5–6). How would his hearers respond to this – not well I believe because, their spiritual sickness was caused by a wrong attitude to God. They thought if they offered plenty of expensive sacrifices, they had ‘paid off’ the LORD. So they could carry on making money by extortion and fraud, and He would turn a blind eye. That has been a common mistake throughout the ages, few realise that God is not interested in expensive offerings. He wants our hearts – our full and complete surrender to His will. He will forgive us, but we need to show that we truly mean it by changing our lives; then God will wash away our sins, and though they were like scarlet we will be as clean as new fallen snow.

The second chapter bursts into a glorious vision of Jerusalem as it will be “in the latter days” , with all peoples travelling to God’s new Temple to be taught His laws. Then international justice will be dispensed and enforced so effectively that war will cease and peace prevail. First there has to be a cleansing of human pride, and a day of judgment – The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11).

This is typical of how God’s prophets spoke. They had a strong, urgent message for their own day, people needed to pay attention and change but they were also given a glimpse into the future, by depicting the kingdom of God, when the ideals that the Bible teaches will be both taught and enforced, so that God’s will is done all over the globe. In this way hope is given to the worst sinner who is told, yes God IS in control.

Even if today we see the triumph of evil and suffer under it, we know that God is in control and He has always had a plan that will put everything right. God said to Moses that the whole earth will be filled with His glory (Numbers 14:21) and Isaiah in Ch 24 echoes this theme: This chapter deals with God’s Judgements on the whole earth and yet…it ends with a great promise 23  Then the moon will be abashed, and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his elders he will manifest his glory.

The sixth chapter of the prophecy has a fascinating record of the commissioning of the prophet. In the last year of King Uzziah the prophet sees a vision of the Lord on his throne, surrounded by fiery seraphim. His mouth was symbolically cleansed by the touch of a coal from the altar of incense and then he was sent forth to preach God’s Word. But he was told in advance that he would not convince the people.

This chapter is one of the most exciting ones in the prophecy of Isaiah along with the Servant prophecies. Isaiah is given a vision of The Lord in His Holy Temple, very reminiscent of the scenes in Revelation.

Ezekiel and Daniel had been given similar experiences and both fell to the ground weak and humbled by the greatness of their visions. Isaiah too is mightily struck by a feeling of total unworthiness 5 ¶  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.

Daniel likewise confessed his sin and the sin of the people and so too Isaiah realised his own total unworthiness and confesses his own and the people’s sins.

How must he have felt when he was told that his prayer had been heard after a Seraphim touched his lips with a hot stone taken from off the altar of incense, significant of course because the incense burnt on the altar typified the prayers of saints (Rev 5:8) and fire, as well as being a destroying agent, is also a cleansing agent, and for example the refiner of gold or tried and precious faith. 7  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.

It takes us forward to Hebrews 12 and our own hopes.

Heb 12:28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:  

29 For our God is a consuming fire .

Surely, there is a lesson here for us that although we now have the freedom  to ‘enter into the holiest by the blood of Christ’ we must do so always in the full realisation of how we need to be cauterised, how desperately sinful we are in God’s sight and how we are in need of continual cleansing and forgiveness and the mediation of our Saviour Jesus.

We do therefore need to be aware of how desperate our position is, were Christ not there to intervene for us.  Reading of the attitudes of Isaiah, Daniel etc will help us get our hearts right when we wish to approach our Heavenly father through Jesus with humility and fear.

In the case of Isaiah, feeling the weight of sin lifted from him, led to thankfulness and a greater willingness to serve.

8  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 we have a glimpse into the future, culminating in the Kingdom and the knowledge that right up to the end, it will be difficult to find faith in the earth. He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive’” (Isaiah 6:9).

This verse is quoted time and again in the New Testament, for Jesus and the Apostles faced exactly the same situation. Like Isaiah, they diligently preached the word of God, but people behaved as if they were blind and deaf. Only a tiny minority had the humility to stop and enquire, and the faith to believe and be saved.

And this has always been a puzzle for me, surely if the multitudes eyes were opened they might see and repent and be forgiven, this would be a good thing? Obviously not!

And for an answer, perhaps we can look at how this is used in the NT

Jesus quotes it in Matt 13: 14, but there he explains it more fully, showing that the hearers have closed their own ears lest they hear and be converted .

14  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

And Paul makes the same claim against the Jews at Jerusalem Acts 28:

27  For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

So, Isaiah knows that the people will listen hard ( margin ‘without ceasing’) but won’t want to change. A lesson for our times too!

However, for those who were  prepared to dig, to think on and to be moved by his parables Jesus had this to say…But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

To Isaiah’s question, ‘how long’ he is given a perplexing answer that the whole land is to be deserted and made utterly desolate. This has happened in the past, twice. The Romans, eventually dispersed them among the nations and forbad their return on pain of death, but there is also a train of thought among some brethren and sisters that this forcible dispersion will happen a third time just before the return of Christ . Needless to say, God is in control and a remnant of the faithful will return as we read in Isa 24

13 ¶  When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done. 14  They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD,

 – faithful Israel – not unbelievers and that exhorts not only Isaiah’s listeners but all throughout the ages that there is a hope, and there will always be joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.

The next section of the prophecy belongs to the time of King Ahaz, a feeble young ruler who found his kingdom attacked by a coalition from Syria and the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. The king was confronted by the prophet outside the walls of Jerusalem, and warned not to depend on the Assyrian king coming to his aid. Instead his protection would be from God. and that He would give a sign to give the king confidence.

Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. An amazing name, Immanuel- God with us, which as we know is prophetic of our Lord Jesus who is spoken of again in Ch 9.

Meanwhile Israel’s two enemies are riding for a fall as they are to be conquered by the King of Assyria who will later try the same fate on Jerusalem.

The first 7 verses of Ch 9 must have been pure joy for Isaiah because in the gloomy north of Israel, first to feel the power of the invader, light would dawn and God would send a champion to rescue His people:

We haven’t time but light is mentioned quite a lot in Isaiah..

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light ... For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:2,6–7)

How do we understand these cryptic phrases? Well, in the first place God did rescue Judah from the Assyrians in the time of Isaiah. Hezekiah (unlike his father Ahaz) was a type of Christ and persuaded his people to trust in God, and the angel of the Lord decimated the Assyrian army, as we read in Kings and Chronicles; but there is more to these words than that. Here we have a two fold prophecy for of course this was fulfilled completely in Christ

miraculously born of a virgin. He is Immanuel, God with us, for in him, as John says in the New Testament, the true light, the glory of God was revealed. And Jesus, born to be king on the throne of David, will one day reign there forever.

Ch 10 tells of God sending the Assyrian ‘the rod of his anger’ against Israel but in v20 we have one of the key themes in Isaiah vv 20-22, a remnant shall return.

And Chs 11 and 12 speaks of a perfect King ( the rod out of the stem of Jesse) and a perfect Kingdom when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea a promise repeated by Habakkuk (in Ch 2-14).

Interesting to see the promise in 11:16 where it is suggested that a road will be provided to guide Israel’s lost children back.

Chs 13-23 warn the nations of God’s Judgement upon them Babylon (2ce), Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, Egypt (2ce)Tyre and Jerusalem all receive a warning from God.

A new section of the prophecy from chapter 24 to 31 sees Isaiah hitting out at Israel and the clumsy attempts by the rulers in Judah to protect themselves from the growing Assyrian, King of the North, threat by making a league with Egypt, the ancient superpower to the south. This, the prophet warns, would end in disaster for God’s enemies because He will defend Israel 31:5 and the Assyrian will fall at the hands of God’s own warrior, as will the future enemy from the North when the Lord Jesus returns to reign as described in Ch 32 starting Behold a King shall reign in righteousness

Ch 34 again brings the threat of Judgement down on the nations around Israel and Ch 35 gives us that wonderful picture of Israel, restored under the King’s hand to a land of milk and honey where even the desert blossoms like a rose. It is a help to all of us to read this ch. carefully for it describes in detail what our Lord’s Kingdom will be like.

Isa 35;4-6

Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:4–6).

When the Lord Jesus came he did these things but surely his miracles are but a foretaste

 of the great work he will do when he comes again as King. Then he will open the eyes of Israel, which have been blind for centuries to the Word of the Lord. And he will bring life from the dead for those who died in faith, giving them new bodies, forever free from pain and sorrow.

The most glorious and poetic part of the whole book must be the ‘Servant’ chapters, which run from chapter 40 to 54. In this part of his prophecy Isaiah is able to look well into the future. He foresees a time when Judah had been conquered and the people taken into captivity in Babylon. He sees the morale of the people at rock–bottom. Even the faithful few in the nation would have their confidence knocked away when the Temple was burnt, and their last king taken off into captivity, leaving the throne of David empty. Had not God sworn the dynasty of David would last forever? Could it be that the gods of Babylon had proved  stronger than the God of Israel?

Isaiah with biting sarcasm rejects this concept and shows the helplessness of gods made from wood and metal to save anybody. Israel’s God is eternal, and all-powerful. Wait long enough, he insists, and your faith in Him will be rewarded. Israel will return from Babylon, and life will go on again, and God will one day send the Saviour King.

There is a wonderful refrain in these chapters about Jesus as the Servant of God, the one who would obey His every command, and who would in consequence be rewarded with eternal life and victory. In the course of that obedience, the Servant would bow his will to his heavenly Father’s, to the point of crucifixion and undeserved death.

By a dreadful irony, the Servant, would be murdered by the very people he came to save.  Yet it was God’s will that he should die for them, bearing their sins on his own shoulders to provide their only means of salvation. Isaiah chapter 53 has some of the most heart wrenching prophecies in the Old Testament.

It predicts Jesus’ silence during his trial, the scourging, the buffeting by the soldiers, the piercing, and his burial in a rich man’s grave. And yet it was this very passage which Philip the Evangelist used to convince the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus in Acts 8:27-35.

Getting to the end of the prophecy we will start at Ch 55 where we have those wonderful words of God that Israel ought to apply logic to their lives. The opening verses are reminiscent of Ch1 about reasoning together. Isa 55:1 ¶  Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. 3  Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

In this ch they are told to ‘seek the Lord while He can be found’ & let the wicked and unrighteous forsake their ways to receive God’s pardon. Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways not our ways’ in other words, where we might say, there is no hope, God would never say that to the truly repentant. And, as if to prove that turning to Him with all their heart will bring plenteous reward, we have an offer they can’t refuse.

Ch 61 proclaims the words Jesus said were fulfilled in him and promises that good tidings will be preached to the meek; the broken hearted (who mourn for Zion) will be comforted ; prisoners ( to sin) will be released. And how could the waverers resist the magnificent declaration in 64:4 ‘ For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.’

Finally, the clincher for all those smarting under the lash of Assyria, Ch 60:3&10 promises a great turn around in Israel’s fortunes- the Gentiles will become their servants

 3  And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. 10  "Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion. 11  Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession. 12  For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined.

To contrast with this wonderful scenario, Ch 59 goes back to Ch1 and states that in their present state, although the LORD’S hand was perfectly able to save them, their sins had separated them from God. And yet the situation can still be saved because God still plans to send a Redeemer to rescue them . 59: 16-17&20

16 ¶  He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no-one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. 17  He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 20  "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the LORD.

And there is a promise that Israel will finally become God’s Ambassadors in the Kingdom.

21  "As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, which is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and for ever," says the LORD.

Isaiah then speaks himself with a sad lament, where he asks God to remember His miracles of old with Israel and asks now ‘ are your mercies towards me restrained (63: 15)’ he confesses his own sins and those of Israel and prays that God might bring His Kingdom about.

64: 1 ¶  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.

However, as we are told in Is 61 , the acceptable day of the Lord is also a Day of vengeance, 63:4 also speaks of His day of vengeance and in Ch 66we read

v16  For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.

 So, the choice is theirs, as it is ours; turn our ways around and trust in the mercy of our God, Whose ways are not our ways and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts; or suffer the consequences of rejecting His loving provision of a merciful Redeemer.

Ch 63 speaks of the work of that Redeemer coming from Edom in vengeance, with his garments already sprinkled with blood and yet tells us of the great loving kindness of the LORD

7 ¶  I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. 8  For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. 9  In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

Ch 65 gives us that wonderful insight into the Kingdom where former things shall not be remembered , where all will be peace , prosperity and joy. Ch 66 concludes Isaiah’s prophecy with a mixed blessing and warning , Jerusalem for the first time will experience peace, flowing like a river BUT it will be after a terrible conflict

15 ¶  For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16  For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. 

Finally though, Israel will fulfil their promised role of Kings and priests and the promise made so long ago to David of an everlasting Kingdom

21  And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD. 22  For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23  And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.