Here Am I – Send Me

Isaiah Speaks During a Period of Decline (Chapters 1-17)

Isaiah 1:1-20, Indictment of Judah in general for its sins.
Isaiah 1:10-20
Isaiah 1:21-31, Indictment of Jerusalem in particular for its sins.
Isaiah 2:1-22, Another Introduction
Isaiah 3:1-15, Be warned!
Isaiah 3:16 – 4:6, You’re about to lose everything!

Isaiah 5:1-7
Isaiah 5:1-7, The Song of the Vineyard.
Isaiah 5:7-23, Woe to you!
Isaiah 6:1-13, The call of Isaiah
Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah 6:1-13, Isaiah is commissioned.
Isaiah 7:10-16
Isaiah 7:1-25, Isaiah and King Ahaz
Isaiah 8:1 – 9:1a, Speed spoil; hasten prey

Isaiah 9:1b-21, An oracle concerning Israel
Isaiah 10:1-23, A remnant will turn to God and be saved
Isaiah 11:1 – 12:6, The remnant will be rescued from Assyria
Isaiah 13:1-22, An oracle concerning Babylon ...
Isaiah 14:1-21, And a mocking song about the king of Babylon
Isaiah 15:1 – 16:14, An oracle concerning Moab
Isaiah 17:1 – 18:7, An oracle concerning Damascus

More of Here Am I – Send Me: Isaiah

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Introduction (1/12/15)

Today we start “Here Am I – Send Me!” This study of Isaiah will take us about four months, because it’s the longest prophetic book and we’re going to read a big chunk of it. When did Isaiah preach? To whom was his message addressed? Why did God send a prophet to these people? Who was Isaiah, anyway? We’ll briefly examine the case for and against the book of Isaiah being the work of a single author and learn to distinguish prophecy about current events from Messianic prophecy. Foremost, we’ll see what this ancient prophet has to say to us today about God’s love.

Everybody agrees that the first 39 chapters or so are the prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz; we’ll talk later about whether he or another Isaiah wrote the rest. Isaiah was born about 765 B.C. He may have been called “in the year that King Uzziah died,” per Chapter 6, around 740 B.C., which would make him about 25 years old at the time of his call and would certainly allow time for him to preach through some of the reign of King Hezekiah, which lasted until about 687 B.C. Thus Isaiah had a good long career as a prophet, some 40 (likely) or 50 (less likely) years. This was a prosperous time for the kingdom of Judah, and Uzziah (2 Kings 15:3), Jotham (2 Kings 15:34), and Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3) got high marks for personally doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Nevertheless, the kingdom as a whole was in a downward spiral with regard to its relationship with God; that’s why God had sent them a string of prophets.

Remember that Isaiah is the first book of the Prophets because it’s the longest, not the earliest. Isaiah was actually one of the later pre-Exilic prophets. The children of Israel had fallen into all sorts of bad theological habits, but God sent prophets like Isaiah to see if something couldn’t be worked out: “Come, let us reason together,” God says. “Return to me and prosper, or rebel against me and die.” God loves you enough to give you a choice.

Isaiah 1:1-20, Indictment of Judah in general for its sins. (2/27/2008)

Several weeks ago, one reader asked whether the prophetic books deal with Judah. I promised you that we would see indeed prophecy about Judah, and here it is. In the kingdom of Israel, the main religious problems were false shrines and Baalism. You would think Judah – home of Jerusalem and the Temple – would be better off. But no! God explains through Isaiah that all the sacrifices and religious observations in the world are hateful to him if they are offered by unrepentant sinners. God even asks, "Who asked you for all these sacrifices?" The sacrifices were required by the Mosaic Law, but the people are acting like they don't even know the Law exists. If you don't do justice and defend the widows and orphans – if you don't act out your love for God in love for your fellow man, then sacrifices won't help your situation. They only add insult to injury. Nevertheless, you can always repent. "Come now," says God. "Let's talk this over. You are incredibly sinful, but if you come to me, I can fix it."

Isaiah 1:10-20  (2007)

We who are reading these scriptures every day probably regard ourselves, with good reason, as "religious."  Unfortunately, God is not impressed by religion, and in fact, when religion is accompanied by obdurate sinfulness, God is out and out offended by religion.  What God wants from us is not religion but righteousness, which is in pretty short supply most of the time.  God does not leave us in doubt about what he wants us to do:  "cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause."

By the way, Isaiah is not talking to Sodom and Gomorrah.  He's talking to Judah, and telling the nation that it might as well be Sodom and Gomorrah, the way it's acting.

Many of the prophets present the word of the Lord in poetry, but usually we don't recognize it. English poetry sounds like this: "I'm a poet, and I know it." The meter is the same in the two lines, and the final words rhyme. Hebrew poetry sounds more like this, "I'm a poet, and my words rhyme." The second phrase repeats the content of the first phrase in different words. So when you see a verse like "Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!," you may think that the prophet is just repeating himself to get people to listen to him. In fact, he is preaching in poetry.

Isaiah 1:21-31, Indictment of Jerusalem in particular for its sins. (2/28/2008)

Jerusalem has gone bad. When David became king, he didn't want to cause contention between the northern and southern tribes by choosing an existing city as his capital. He captured the city of Jerusalem from a Canaanite tribe to be his own city and the political capital of the whole country. Then he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to make it the center of worship as well. Solomon built a beautiful Temple to replace the Tent of the Tabernacle. Jerusalem was a holy city, located on Mt. Zion. Jerusalem came to be a symbol of the Jewish nation and of its relationship with God. Now it is a den of corruption, comparable to an unfaithful wife or adulterated silver or wine. Doom is sure unless ... you guessed it ... the city and its inhabitants repent. God hates sin, but he loves sinners in spite of ourselves. The text says several times that God is going to punish the inhabitants, but it's important to notice the bottom line that "people will be destroyed by their own evil deeds" (vs. 31, Good News Bible's translation).

Isaiah 2:1-22, Another Introduction (1/13/15)

Prophetic books often begin by telling who the prophet was, what he was talking about, who he was talking to, and when he was active. Now, the reason you want to pay careful attention to this information this is that 1 and 2 Kings are written in chronological order, but the books of the prophets are in the Bible in order of length. So Isaiah is the first prophetic book, even though he preached to kings who aren’t discussed until 2 Kings 15, King Uzziah through King Hezekiah. In Isaiah 2, Isaiah is talking to the House of Jacob (that is, the Israelites of the southern kingdom) what is going on in Isaiah’s own time in Judah and Jerusalem, as well as about what God will do at some unspecified future time.

Verses 2-4 present a theme known as “the exaltation of Zion.” In the latter days, Zion – that is, Jerusalem – will be exalted above all other earthly locations, because it will be recognized as the throne of God, from which flow righteousness and justice. That’s later, however, as shown by verses 5 – 22. For now, Judah is in trouble because of its idolatry and haughtiness and its reliance on fortune-tellers and earthly protections.

Isaiah 3:1-15, Be warned! (1/14/15)

I’ve told you before that my Hebrew runs the spectrum from bad to non-existent, but scholars apparently agree that Isaiah was a brilliant poet whose images of God and God’s people were fresh and vibrant. Poetry is difficult or impossible to translate from one language to another, and images that were fresh almost 3000 years ago are familiar to us. Alas for us.

Many scholars think this piece was written around the beginning of the rule of King Ahaz (2 Kings 16). He was 20 years old when he came to the throne, which may account for the snarky reference to boys and infants in vs. 4. Ahaz did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but rather committed such sins as child sacrifice and idolatry (2 Kings 16:2-4). Isaiah tells him that God will judge him for not providing appropriate leadership to the people.

Isaiah 3:16 – 4:6, You’re about to lose everything! (1/15/15)

We tend to think that prophets are talking about the distant future, but in fact most of what they are talking about is the immediate future of their own time. Isaiah saw that the kingdom of Judah had wealth without generosity and that King Ahaz insisted on foreign political entanglements. It was clear that war would result, and the war would bring about poverty for the women and death for the men (3:16 – 4:1). The study notes of the Jerusalem Bible point out that the women in 4:1 are asking to join the harems of the survivors in order to avoid the twin disgraces of spinsterhood and barrenness. (4:1 follows 3:25-26; it doesn’t introduce 4:2. Remember: don’t rely on the chapter breaks to tell you where the thought begins and ends!)

Then, with no transition, Isaiah jumps to some long-term prophecy. Verses 4:2-6 introduce several themes common in Messianic prophecy: the return of a remnant (vss. 2-3), the exaltation of Zion (vs. 5), and the return of paradise (vss. 4-6).

Isaiah 5:1-7 (2007)

The emblem of the vine is probably the one most strongly identified with the people of Israel (followed closely by the adulterous wife!).  Both of our passages today talk about God as the husbandman of the vineyard.  He plants it, guards it, waters and fertilizes it, and what happens?!  Bad grapes!  So he breaks down the wall and lets it be trampled.  There is never any suggestion in the Old Testament that God was not justified in punishing his people, but rather, an acknowledgement that they deserved punishment for their sins. See also Psalms 80:1-2, 8-19 

Isaiah 5:1-7, The Song of the Vineyard. (2/29/2008)

Several times in the past few weeks we have seen Israel represented as an adulterous wife. Another common emblem is the vineyard – God took his people out of Egypt and planted them in the Promised Land. In Isaiah's time, however, God is a vinedresser who is disappointed in his vines. The Song of the Vineyard starts off like a love song, but once everyone is listening, it turns into a song of betrayal and retribution. (This may be the oldest Country & Western song ever written.) Jesus also used the emblem of the vineyard: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. ... I am the vine; you are the branches." Now we understand that he is claiming to be the true Israel, in whom the vinedresser is not disappointed.

Isaiah 5:7-23, Woe to you! (1/16/15)

Isaiah wasn’t a country & western poet, but his theme for Chapter 5 is familiar to all C & W fans and most fans of any other type of music: cheatin’ love. The owner of the vineyard loved it, cared for it, nurtured it. Did the vineyard love him in return? No. When he looked for grapes, he found wild grapes. What will the spurned owner do now? God is the owner; Judah is the vineyard. Six times, Isaiah calls, "Woe to those who..." commit the evils that have brought God and his vineyard to this bitter separation.

Hebrew poetry is full of word play and alliteration. In vs. 7, God looks for justice/mishpat but finds oppression/mispach; God looks for righteousness/tsedawkah but finds a cry/tsahakah. Hebrew seers were also excellent sneerers: “You think you’re a hero: yes, you get heroically drunk! You think you’re strong: you’re great at mixing strong drinks!” (vs. 22).

Isaiah 6:1-13, The call of Isaiah (1/19/15)

King Uzziah died in the middle of the 8th century BCE, although there doesn’t seem to be consensus on exactly when. We’ve seen before that being called as a prophet is a frightening and awesome experience, and Isaiah’s call was no exception. “Woe is me!” he says, “for I am a man of unclean lips.” He felt unworthy to be a prophet until the seraph cleansed his lips with a burning coal from the altar. Isaiah could merely be asking for information when he cries, “How long, O Lord?” but I’ve always taken it as a cry of pity for his people: how long will they remain blind and deaf to God’s call? God replies, “Until they hit bottom and are really desperate.” Let’s you and I repent before that.

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6/2/09)

"Seraphim" means "burning ones," and they are a kind of
angel.  (A single angel of this type is a "seraph."  Don't make the mistake I read recently of referring to "a seraphim."  One seraph, two seraphim.)  I know people are interested in angels, so I wanted to look up all the references to seraphim for you.  Imagine my surprise to discover that this passage from Isaiah is the only one in the whole Bible that talks about them.  "Seraph" or "Seraphim" also occurs in the Hebrew in Numbers 21:6, 21:8 and Deuteronomy 8:15 – where it clearly means some sort of poisonous snake; and Isaiah 14:29, 30:6 – where it also looks like a snake.  In these places it is translated "fiery serpent" in the King James Version.  In some of these verses they fly.  It may help you to think about "cats" = meowing pets and "cats" = jazz musicians.
Anyway, that's not what I intended to talk about.  Last Sunday Pastor Craig told us that he was called to the ministry when he was fourteen years old, but he didn't say how it happened.  Isaiah doesn't tell us how old he was, but he does give us a detailed picture of the vision that he saw.  He saw God sitting on a high throne.  He saw seraphim and heard their thunderous voices.  A seraph touched his lips with one of the coals from the altar, so that he was cleansed.  Then he heard the voice of God, asking "Whom shall I send?"

Isaiah 6:1-13, Isaiah is commissioned. (2/26/08)

Isaiah prophesied during the downfall of the kingdom of Israel and the late middle of the kingdom of Judah. It was a time of considerable prosperity for Judah. Many people have found vss. 9-10, as well as their counterparts in John 12:40, Matt. 13:13-14, and Acts 18:26-27, to be troubling. In many translations, it sounds as if God is deliberately preventing the people from seeing and hearing, so that they will not repent and be saved. Here's what John Wesley says: Now, Wesley was a great scholar, and I am a poor one, but for what it's worth, I think he's right. In the first place, there are several ways of saying "not" in Hebrew: two of them, lo and al, are used in imperatives (commands). Lo permanently forbids an action, as in "Thou shalt not." Al just says that it shouldn't happen at this time, as in "Don't go out in the rain." In vs. 9, the Hebrew is al, not lo. In the second place, I've seen other commentaries saying that both the Hebrew and the Greek seem to imply that the people are deliberately closing their eyes and ears, lest they understand and be forced to repent and be saved.

Isaiah 7:10-16 (2007)

One of the Old Testament scriptures most familiar to Christians is "Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."  We almost invariably think that this scripture refers to Jesus, and it does.  What many of us don't realize, however, is that it also referred to an event that was coming in the year or so after the prophecy was first uttered.  Jerusalem was under siege by the kings of Israel and Aram, and King Ahaz of Judah was trying to decide what to do about it.  Isaiah gave him a message from the LORD, "stand with me, or you will not stand at all" (vs. 7:9), but Ahaz was skeptical.  The LORD offered Ahaz a sign through the prophet Isaiah, but Ahaz made an alliance with the Assyrians anyway.  As Isaiah had prophesied, both Israel and Aram were overrun by Assyria (vs. 16).  Nevertheless, the alliance led Judah further into apostasy and closer to destruction.  Knowing whether someone is a true or false prophet is typically pretty easy.  If their short-term prophecies come true, they are true prophets, and vice versa.
Isaiah 7:1-25, Isaiah and King Ahaz (1/20/15)

Anyway, King Ahaz of Judah is frightened because the kings of Israel and Syria have ganged up on him and besieged Jerusalem. God tells Isaiah to take his son, whose name is “The Remnant Shall Return,” and tell Ahaz to keep faith in God, because God says they will not conquer Jerusalem. To calm Ahaz, God offers to give him a sign, which Ahaz refuses. Isaiah says, “Are you kidding me? God says to ask for a sign and you refuse?? Fine! God will give you a sign anyway!” Isaiah’s short-term prophecy that Israel and Syria would not defeat Jerusalem was fulfilled (2 Kings 16:5). This should have given the people confidence that his long-term prophecy would also be fulfilled; the return of the remnant is one of the major themes of Messianic prophecy.

Isaiah 8:1 – 9:1a, Speed spoil; hasten prey (1/21/15)

Isaiah continues to prophesy about the immediate future. How immediate? Before his second son, whose name is “Speed spoil; hasten prey,” learns to say “Mama” and “Daddy,” Assyria will defeat the two nations threatening Judah, namely, Israel and Syria. This is consistent with what Isaiah said previously (see yesterday’s reading, Is. 7:16), “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” There he is referring to an older child, possibly his first son, “The Remnant Shall Return,” according to John Wesley. The time Isaiah predicts for their defeat therefore seems to be about two or three years away from today’s reading.

Assyria’s invasion also threatens Judah, unfortunately. In vss. 7 and 8, Isaiah says that the river (Assyria) God is using to sweep away Syria and Israel will overflow its banks and flood parts of Judah as well. In 2 Kings 18:13, Assyria takes a number of Judah’s fortified cities.

I hope that you are noticing the intricate relationship between the books of 1 and 2 Kings and the Prophets. There are two primary ways to follow this: (1) the scholarly way, i.e., years and years of study, or (2) my way, i.e., several Bibles with lots of footnotes and cross-references.

Isaiah 9:1b-21, An oracle concerning Israel (1/22/15)

You remember that after the death of Solomon, the original kingdom of Israel split into two parts – Israel and Judah. Israel had ten of the tribes, and Judah ended up with two. Israel started off badly on theological grounds when their first king, Jeroboam, erected golden calves at two shrines and led his people to worship them, apparently as images of God, although that isn’t a hundred percent clear. Later, under King Ahab, Baalism became a second state religion, along with the tainted form of the worship of God. Isaiah mostly prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah, but occasionally he had a few words for the northern kingdom of Israel. Zebulun, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh were four of the northern tribes. Galilee and Samaria were portions of the northern kingdom.

In the middle of this oracle about Israel, Isaiah raises one of the main threads of Messianic prophecy, the idea that the throne of David had been established forever. That may not be so off-topic as it seems. The kings of Judah were all descendants of David; none of the kings of Israel were. God’s promise to David is not threatened by the looming destruction of Israel.

Isaiah 10:1-23, A remnant will turn to God and be saved (1/23/15)

Isaiah makes two important points in Chapter 10. First, God intends to use Assyria to punish God’s own people for their apostasy (see vss. 5-6), although the king of Assyria will wrongly attribute his victory to his own strength (see vss. 7-11). Second, only a remnant of the people of Israel and Judah will survive, but God will preserve them for his own purposes (see vss. 19-23).

Isaiah 11:1 – 12:6, The remnant will be rescued from Assyria (1/26/15)

Isaiah has been telling the children of Israel that the prospects for their immediate future are grim, but he has some good news for the long term. Even though the Assyrians are going to cause great destruction in Israel and Judah, a remnant of God’s people will be preserved. Several strains of Messianic prophecy are included in Chapter 11 and 12:
Isaiah 13:1-22, An oracle concerning Babylon ... (1/27/15)

Isaiah now returns to prophecy about the relatively short-term political future of what we now call the Middle East. Isaiah may have died as late as 590 BCE or so; Babylon overran Judah in about 597 BCE and by 582 had deported all of the politically important Jews who were left alive, as well as a number of ordinary people, to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24 – 25). This deportation is called the Exile or the Babylonian captivity; keep it in mind. Isaiah predicts that God will summon the Medes and Persians to overthrow Babylon in turn. This in fact happened around 539 BCE (see Daniel 5). Shortly afterwards, King Cyrus of Persia allowed Jews who wanted to go back to Judah to do so (see Ezra 1), although Judah was now a vassal state of Persia.

The reason we are interested in all this really ancient history is this: First, God uses the historical process to guide, punish, rescue, and ultimately save his people. History is important, especially while we are making it for our own time. Second, prophets were judged by whether their predictions came true. The Jewish people believed the long-term Messianic prophecies precisely because the short-term predictions of the prophets came true.

(I’ve never been too clear on the difference, if any, between Medes and Persians, and in fact I read once that “one man’s Medes are another man’s Persians.”)

Isaiah 14:1-21, And a mocking song about the king of Babylon (1/28/15)

Many people have heard that this passage is about Satan. No. Apparently these folks haven’t read it for themselves and haven’t read it in context. When you read it for yourself, you see that the text plainly says that this is a taunt, a mocking song about the King of Babylon, a man like any other except more arrogant. When you read it in the context of Chapter 13, you see that this song comes immediately after a prophecy about Babylon. The end of Ch. 13 says that Babylon will be overthrown. When that happened, the Jews had this derisive song ready to sing over their fallen enemy.

Isaiah 15:1 – 16:14, An oracle concerning Moab (1/29/15)

Moab was one of the traditional enemies of the Jews; however, occasionally they had non-combative relationships. For example, Ruth, the great-grandmother of David, was a Moabite woman, and David left his family with the king of Moab once when King Saul was being especially aggressive toward David. In contrast, the warlike Babylonians are relative newcomers, and the Jews have no use for them at all. When Isaiah realizes that Babylon is about to destroy Moab, he figures that the fate of the Moabites is worth lamenting. Moab was located southeast of the Dead Sea (see map). Ar, Kir, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sela, and Kir-hareseth were all eminent cities of the kingdom of Moab. The Moabites worshipped the god Chemosh. The Bible several times refers to Chemosh as “the abomination of Moab”; my own feeling is that any god that is associated with child sacrifice is abominable (e.g., 2 Kings 3:26-27).

Isaiah 17:1 – 18:7, An oracle concerning Damascus (1/30/15)

Woo-ooo, I’m a prophet! I predict that it won’t be too many years before gas will be costing $3.00 a gallon, even though I saw it yesterday at $1.69. I can look at recent trends in gas prices and say that you’d better keep thinking about miles per gallon when you buy a car.

Isaiah predicted that Assyria was going to overthrow Syria and Israel, and by golly, it happened (see 2 Kings 16:9 and 1 Chronicles 5:26). Now, I’m not by any means implying that Isaiah wasn’t a genuine prophet. He was; however, God tended to choose as his prophets people who were canny political observers as well as spiritually enlightened. Isaiah in particular seems to have been a member of the Judean nobility and a courtier; he probably had access to military intelligence about the Assyrians, Israel, Syria, and Damascus. He could see the trends and tell you what had had better be thinking about. Isaiah says that after the Assyrians come through, the countryside is going to be like a reaped field. Maybe that will convince them that the idols they have chosen in place of God can’t do anything to protect them.

Aroer was a city in Syria. Ephraim was one of the larger tribes of Israel. Asherim were shrines to a fertility goddess.

More of Here Am I – Send Me: Isaiah
Isaiah Speaks During a Period of Decline (Chapters 1-17)
Isaiah Speaks During a Period of Decline (Chapters 19-39)
Isaiah Consoles the Returning Exiles (Chapters 40-66)

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