The Lord Delivers
“All of us had wandered off like sheep.”
The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)
Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)
The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)
Onto the stage of a sin-infested nation steps Isaiah, the fiery prophet who urges the kings of Judah to respond to God’s call of faithfulness. The “motherlode of Hebrew prophecy,” this book resembles the Bible in miniature. Its first thirty-nine chapters correspond to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and stress the righteousness, holiness, and justice of God. The prophet announces judgment upon immoral and idolatrous people in ever-widening circles—Judah, her neighbors and the world. Surely this is cause to groan under God’s chastening hand. But the last twenty-seven chapters correspond to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament and lift up God’s glory, compassion, and undeserved favor. Messiah will come as a Savior to bear a cross and as a Sovereign to wear a crown. Hope becomes the central premise as Christ becomes the central promise of glory.
The name “Isaiah” means the Lord is salvation. The prophet ministered in Judah during the time of Israel’s fall to Assyria warning the southern nation against the mistakes of their brethren to the north. According to Jewish tradition, his father, Amoz, was the brother of King Amaziah. This would mean that Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah. This would explain why Isaiah was on such familiar terms with the royal court. Though his main function was that of a prophet to Judah, he was also a historian, a statesman and well-educated student of international affairs, and counselor to King Hezekiah regarding his policies toward Assyria and Babylon. He lived during a time of severe military threats to Judah, and warned its kings against trusting in alliances rather than the power of Yahweh. His prophetic contemporaries were Hosea in the north and Micah in the south.
The theme is found in Isaiah’s name: salvation is of the Lord. The word “salvation” appears twenty-six times in Isaiah, but only seven times in all the other prophets combined. Chapters 1-39 reveal humanity’s great need for salvation, and chapters 40-66 offer God’s great provision of salvation. His message is validated by the fulfillment of prophecies both near (Chapter 37—Judah’s deliverance from Assyria) and far (Chapter 53—the atonement of Messiah). Because the nation would not repent of its sinful ways, Isaiah announced the ultimate overthrow of Judah. Nevertheless, God would remain faithful to His covenant by preserving a godly remnant and promising deliverance through the coming Messiah. The Savior will come as promised from the tribe of Judah and the Gentiles will come to His light as it dawns in the north (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:13-16):
Isaiah has three major sections: prophecies of condemnation (1-35); historical interlude (36-39); prophecies of comfort (40-69). The lesson for God’s people is clear: God manifests His glory through His judgment of sin (1-39) and His deliverance and blessing of His righteous remnant (40-66).
I. JUDGMENT IS COMING Isaiah’s messages of condemnation are aimed at ever-widening circles of leaders and peoples, beginning at home (1-35).
A. JUDGMENT OF JUDAH Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment came at a time when attack, intimidation, even annihilation appear likely for the people of God. Undaunted, the prophet stood toe to toe with the wicked kings and corrupt countrymen of Judah. His message was never popular…but always prophetic (1-12).
B. JUDGMENT OF JUDAH’S NEIGHBORS As Isaiah surveys the spiritual scene around him, virtually every world power of his day is in line for God’s hand of discipline (13-27).
C. JUDGMENT OF ALL THE EARTH Again, beginning with Judah and Israel, Isaiah pronounces six woes on God’s people for specific sins. His prophetic condemnation closes with a general picture of international devastation that will precede universal blessing (28-33).
II. HISTORICAL PARENTHESIS Four chapters build a bridge between the past Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC and the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. Judah escapes the Assyrian invasion (36-37; 2 Kings 18-19), but she will not escape the Babylonians (38-39; 2 Kings 20) Hezekiah’s prayers deliver Judah from the Assyrians led by Sennacharib and give him fifteen years of life. But his foolish invitation to the Babylonian messengers to view his treasures will one day lead to the exile of his people to Babylon (36-39).
III. PROPHECIES OF COMFORT Chapter 40 breaks through the gloom. Comfort and consolation are coming! God’s judgment, though severe, will one day end. God’s people can rest assured that the Maker of heaven and earth will restore the nation He has chosen as His own (40-66)
A. DELIVERANCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE The basis for this hope is the sovereignty and majesty of God. Of the 216 verses in the first nine chapters of this section, 115 speak of God’s greatness and power. The Creator is contrasted with idols, the mere handiwork of men. His sovereign character guarantees Judah’s future assurance and the coming destruction of Babylon which will lead to God’s people being released from captivity (40-49).
B. DELIVERER FOR GOD’S PEOPLE The coming Messiah will be their Savior and Suffering Servant. As the Servant of His people and a Light to the surrounding nations, He would humbly offer Himself as a sacrifice for many—calling those with “ears to hear” to turn back to God. His death would not only provide a blessing for His Jewish kinsmen, but for the Gentile nations as well (50-57).
Messiah: When He speaks about Christ, Isaiah sounds more like a New Testament writer than an Old Testament prophet. His messianic prophecies are clearer and more explicit than those of any other Old Testament writer. They describe many specifics of the Person and work of Christ in His first and second advents, and often blend the two together. The central Christological passage (52:13-53:12) presents five different aspects of His saving work.
C. FUTURE OF GOD’S PEOPLE All who trust in Messiah will be delivered. In that day Jerusalem will be rebuilt, Israel’s borders will be enlarged, and the Messiah will reign in Zion. Peace, prosperity, and justice will prevail, and God will make all things new (58-66).
IV. What does this mean to me? Isaiah encourages God’s people to turn to Him and Him alone in a time of crisis. He will judge those who ignore Him and bless those who cling to Him. But all those who trust in His Son’s sacrifice will be delivered from their sin and blessed in the world to come.
Ahaz folded under pressure—he turned to the Assyrians for help!
Ahaz panicked in the face of political and military ruin (2 Chronicles28:5-20).
What or whom is your “Assyria?”
Hezekiah steeled his soul under pressure—he turned to God and saw his deliverance!
His situation was more hopeless than Ahaz’s.
What or whom is your “Sennacherib?”