by Peter and Vita Toon
Bible Study Starters
Servant Books, 1982
How to use the studies
Introduction to Isaiah
Study 1: The historical background, 2 Kings 15:1–17:41
Study 2: The call of Isaiah 6:1–13
Study 3: Faithlessness in Judah 5:1–24; 10:1–4
Study 4: The kingdom of God 2:2–5; 7:1016; 9:1–7; 11:1–9
Study 5: More historical background 36:1–39:8
Study 6 : Egypt 19:1–25
Study 7: Universal judgement 24:1–25:12
Study 8: A promise of resurrection 26:1–27:6
Study 9: Look only to the Lord 28:1–29
Study 10: Egypt is a false hope 30:1–26
HOW TO USE THE STUDIES
Studying the Bible should be exciting, and especially so in a group of believers. The Bible is God’s gift to the church, containing his self-revelation. It is the book of God’s message to people everywhere, in all sorts of conditions. Since it is a book for God’s people (and via them to the world), it follows that the treasures and blessings it contains become available when a group of God’s people read and study it together. With sincere hearts and listening ears and in the spirit of fellowship, a group of believers becomes a microcosm of the whole church as it hears what God has to say from his word.
This study is intended to get a group of Christians started on the task of studying the Bible profitably together, though it can be used for individual study as well. It is intended to facilitate the process wherein God’s people hear God’s word today. It will have served its purpose when members of the group find the living God through the printed page of scripture. Then they will find that both attendance at the Eucharist and daily devotion is enriched.
To function well together, members of the group will want to do some preliminary reading of the book being studied. Further, the group will need a leader to get the early studies under way. He or she could be replaced at the half-way stage. Here are some suggestions for the leader(s) to help the studies run smoothly. Naturally this task will be easier if all members acquaint themselves with these suggestions.
1. Since the Bible yields its truth especially when set in the context of an atmosphere of worship, prayer, and trust, make sure that the group begins and ends its time of study and fellowship with prayer. We need to read the Bible joyfully as believers.
2. Since the Bible was written in languages which sometimes do not translate very well into modern English, always have available several translations/paraphrases (e.g., the Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, New American Bible, Good News Bible, or Living Bible) in order to be aware of the possibilities of meaning and interpretation.
3. Always bear in mind that your first task is to understand what the text means, what God originally said through his servant who wrote the book. We are always faced with the temptation to read into the text what we want to see there. When we know what God originally said to people in a different world from our own, we can ask what he has to say today.
4. To assist in the demanding but exciting task of interpreting the Bible today, the questions at the end of each study will prove helpful. If seen in this light, they will help you understand the connection between the original meaning arrived at by exegesis and the application of that meaning today ( = hermeneutics).
5. Seek to ensure that every member contributes in one way or another. Each Christian has a spiritual gift from the Lord and when encouraged can use this for the good of others. If someone is doing too much talking, persuade that person to give others a chance.
6. Try the following method of approach, involving as many members as possible:
(i) Read the whole biblical passage
(ii) Read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a different translation
(iii) read the notes for that section
(iv) discuss the meaning of the section
(v) use the questions at the end of each section as a
means of making the whole passage relevant today
(iv) use the final time of prayer as a means of bringing
to God the concerns that have arisen.
INTRODUCTION TO ISAIAH
Almost all we know about Isaiah is contained in the book bearing his name. He lived and worked in and around Jerusalem and belonged to the upper classes. He was able easily to see both king Ahaz (7:3ff.) and king Hezekiah (37:21ff.; 38:1–8). Also he had access to government officials (8:2; 22:15–25). He was aware of official activities in Judah (30:1–2; 37:14ff.; 39:1–4) and he had a concern and interest in international affairs – in the activities of the Assyrians and Egyptians, for example.
He was married and his wife was known as a prophetess (8:3), and they had at least two sons (7:3; 8:3).
He was a contemporary of the prophet Micah, whose book we possess, but there is no reference to him or his work. This is best explained by the fact that they moved in different social and geographical areas.
The words of the LORD through Isaiah were directed at his own small country of Judah, and at the northern kingdom of Israel, and at many foreign nations. Most of the words were words of judgement concerning the present situation. However, among those were predictions concerning the distant future. Prophecy is basically “forth-telling” the word of the LORD for the people who live at the same time as the prophet.
The first thirty-nine chapters divide naturally into four sections. They are:
(a) Chapters 1–12: these contain oracles (mostly of judgement) about Judah and Jerusalem. There are occasional references to a future Messiah and they conclude with the praise of God in poetry.
(b) Chapters 13–27: these contain oracles against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah and they culminate in descriptions of a final act of judgement.
(c) Chapters 28–35: these contain oracles about Samaria and Jerusalem, the final judgement and the ultimate restoration of Jerusalem.
(d) Chapters 36–39: this is a historical appendix similar to 2 Kings 18:13–20:19.
This material is not arranged in the same order in which it was originally spoken. Because of this the following ten studies will adopt different methods of studying the text, and they will be selective in their use of the text.
For those who wish to understand the complex historical background to these chapters, the best place to begin is 2 Kings 15–21, alongside which 2 Chronicles 26–33 could be read.
A Bible is nearly indispensable! The older commentary of George Adam Smith is still helpful. See also the Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon) and commentaries by R. E. Clements (Eerdmans) and Carroll Stuhlmueller (Read and Pray Series, Franciscan Herald).
Study I. The Historical Background
2 Kings 15:1–17:41
To understand the words of a prophet who lived over 2,500 years ago the reader must have some idea of the general historical situation in which the words were spoken. Therefore this first study looks at that situation as supplied by 2 Kings and as supplemented by 2 Chronicles. It is important to remember that until 721 B.C. there were two kingdoms, those of Israel and Judah. Israel (with its capital in Samaria) was the northern one, and Judah (with its capital in Jerusalem) was the southern one. Assyria invaded Israel and caused it to cease to be a nation in 721, while Judah lasted for another century before it was conquered by the Babylonians. While the whole history given in these three chapters is important, primary attention should be given to chapters 16 and 17. Isaiah’s ministry was in Judah, but he did refer to the whole covenant people of God, and so what happened in the northern kingdom was of concern to him.
1. 15:1–7 Azariah (= Uzziah) of Judah
He ruled for fifty-two years but he did not remove the Canaanite Baal worship. For more details of his leprosy see 2 Chronicles 26:16–21. This became a prosperous reign which is described in 2 Chronicles 26:1–15. The call of Isaiah to be a prophet was connected with the death of Uzziah (Isaiah 6:1) and so his ministry followed this prosperous reign.
2. 15:8–12 Zechariah of Israel
He reigned for six months.
3. 15:13–16 Shallum of Israel
He reigned for one month.
4. 15:17–21 Menahem of Israel
He reigned for ten years. Tiglath-pileser III seized the Assyrian throne in 745 B.C., and in 738 he made a great thrust west to reach the Mediterranean. The northern kingdom of Israel lost its independence and Menahem became a puppet king.
5. 15:23–26 Pekahiah of Israel
He reigned for two years.
6. 15:27–30 Pekah of Israel
He reigned for twenty years. The attack in 735 described in verse 29 followed the invasion of Judah by Pekah and Rezin of Damascus (see 2 Kings 16:5–9). The two kings are called firebrands in Isaiah 7:4.
7. 15:32–38 Jotham of Judah
The son of Uzziah, he reigned for sixteen years.
8. 16:1–20 Ahaz of Judah
He reigned for sixteen years. Verses 1–4 are a general summary of his reign. Verses 5–9 describe the war against Pekah and Rezin (see also Isaiah 7 and 2 Chronicles 28). Verses 10–20 describe a visit to Damascus and its results in the Temple worship.
9. 17:1–40 The end of Israel
Hoshea, who reigned for nine years, was the last king of Israel. In 721 much of the population was deported to northern Mesopotamia and Media. In their place people from many parts (verse 24) were settled in northern Palestine. To this mixed population we trace the Samaritans of New Testament times (see John 4).
10. Questions for discussion
1. From the way in which the reigns of kings are given how would you describe the historical interests of him (or those) who wrote 2 Kings?
2. Why did the nation of Israel cease to exist? Provide an answer in terms of God’s rule of history and his relationship with Israel.
Study 2: The Call Of Isaiah
Isaiah was probably in the Temple of Jerusalem when he had this majestic vision. This powerful experience of the living God not only proved to be the occasion of his receiving the divine call, but served also as the basis for the proclamation of the holiness and glory of God. God became for him “the Holy One of Israel”.
Uzziah had been a successful king (see 2 Chronicles 26), and probably there was a fear in Jerusalem and elsewhere that his death would be the occasion of a period of instability. In such a situation Isaiah saw the Lord of all lords, the Sovereign God.
Seraphim means “the burning ones”, and as supernatural beings they are servants of the LORD (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). The effect of the activity of these beings was to convey a sense of awe. (See further Isaiah 14:29; Numbers 21:6; Deuteronomy 8:15; here the same Hebrew word is used, and the ‘seraphim’ are naked winged serpents.)
Holiness is that quality in God which sets him apart from humanity and the created order. It is his luminous and overwhelming purity which makes him to be unapproachable mystery. Like a great fire he both attracts and repels; he is the “wholly other”. Glory is the impression that God makes when he reveals himself. Compare Ezekiel 1:4ff.; Psalm 57:5,11; and 72:19.
At the part of the body where worship is expressed, the mouth, Isaiah felt himself as a sinner before the holy perfection of God. And because he did not think individualistically (as we moderns tend to do) he also felt the sinfulness of his people. “The LORD of hosts” means the Lord of all parts of the great universe – the earth, stars and planets.
The burning coal was taken from the altar of incense (Leviticus 16:12ff.). Because the coal came from the consecrated altar it possessed an atoning and purifying power. It is only as Isaiah is cleansed from sin that he can hear and respond to God’s call and mission.
The readiness of Isaiah to serve may be compared with the hesitation of Jeremiah – Jeremiah 1:6; 20:9; and with Paul’s testimony in 1 Corinthians 15:8–10.
These verses have often been discussed. Probably they sum up not what Isaiah is to preach, but the effect intended by God. The people will hear but not respond; they will listen but not see how the message applies to them. So Isaiah is consecrated to the purpose of hardening the heart of the people. See Mark 4:10–12; Acts 28:26–27; and Romans 11:8.
The question, “How long?” probably refers both to the duration of his task and the effect of the hardening on the people (cf. Psalm 74:10).
The answer is “until everything is lost”. The prophecy was fulfilled in the eventual destruction of the northern state of Israel and then in the defeat (701) and collapse (587) of the southern kingdom of Judah. The holy hill of the Temple became a place for jackals to prowl over (Lamentations 5:18).
This part of the verse is obscure in the original Hebrew and thus difficult to translate and interpret.
Having studied the call of Isaiah it would be good to read immediately a few examples of his preaching – e.g. 1:2–20 and 3:16–4:1.
Questions for discussion
1. How can the message of the sovereignty of God help the churches today?
2. If we think of God as love, does this exclude holiness? What is meant by the holy love of God?
3. If the Christian is wholly on the side of God in his heart, does it matter if he is not successful in winning others for the kingdom of God?
4. What does the readiness of Isaiah – “Here I am” – have to say to us today?
Study 3: Faithlessness In Judah
Isaiah uses two different methods of communicating his message in these passages; one is the use of the parable and the other is the use of the “woe”. This reminds us that there are always several ways to deliver unwanted or unpleasant messages! Probably these prophecies belong to the earlier part of his ministry.
1. 5:1–7 The parable of the vineyard
The purpose of this kind of story was to gain the careful attention of the hearers, to invite them to make a judgement concerning the situation which has been described, and then to allow them to see that the judgement is in fact on themselves. Possibly this parable was delivered by Isaiah at a harvest and vintage festival in Jerusalem (see Leviticus 23:34–43; Deuteronomy 16:13ff.).
The owner of the vineyard planted the best vines in his fertile soil. On the top of the hill they received the sun from all directions. He did all he could to secure the growth of fine purple grapes. Instead small, wild, bitter, useless grapes grew on the vines. In verses 3–4 the friend of the prophet speaks, requesting the wholehearted sympathy of the hearers. Also, in verses 5–6, it is the friend again who describes the consequences which he draws from the failure of the vines. Verse 6b reveals the friend to be God himself.
Verse 7 contains the conclusion. The house of Israel, the whole covenant people of God, is the vineyard of the LORD and Judah is his favourite plantation. Instead of responding to his love with faithfulness and righteousness, the people have behaved as if there were no covenant.
Compare the parable told by Jesus in Mark 12:1–9. Note also what is said about unfaithful churches in Revelation 3:1–22.
2. 5:8–24 and 10:1–4 Seven woes
These indicate to what extent the covenant requirements had been laid aside in the life of the people.
(i) 5:8–10 Against landlords and property owners. The foreign policy of Uzziah had brought money into the country. The rich became richer and bought up small farms. This situation was contrary to the law of Moses – Leviticus 25:23. God cannot bless ownership which is not morally based (verse 10).
(ii) 5:11–17 Against the godless life of the nobility. The ruling classes lived debauched lives. God is not mocked and he will send the people into exile (verse 13). The rich will suffer bitter hunger and, parched with thirst, the poor will be carried off into exile. In verse 14 the appetite of the underworld, the realm of the shadowy dead, is ready to receive both rich and poor.
(iii) 5:18–19 Against frivolity and mockery. Just as a tethered sheep or cow must follow the rope which holds it, so sin follows the people’s attitudes – the treating of God’s commandments with mockery and frivolity. And God as the Holy One must judge (see 5:25; 6:3ff.).
(iv) 5:20 Against the perversion of truth. This is directed at the all too common view that whatever gives pleasure is right.
(v) 5:21 Against those who reckon themselves to be wiser than God. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).
(vi) 5:22–24 Against drunken or impotent judges. Intoxicated by the love of pleasure and bought by favours and money, the judges had become the mere tools of those in power. Justice did not exist.
(vii) 10:1–4 Against those who made laws to suit their own purpose. The state officials and judges issue new laws which contradict the sacred laws of God. For the true place of the widow and orphan see Exodus 22:22.
3. Questions for discussion
1. To what extent may the parable of the vineyard be applied to the life of the whole Christian church today?
2. “Although the woes were addressed to the covenant people of God, they can also be applied to modern nations of the world.” Do you agree with this claim? Give reasons for your view.
3. Are there guidelines to help the pastor/preacher today in his declaration of the judgement or chastisement of God?
4. What are the spiritual dangers particularly associated with economic prosperity and affluence?
Study 4: The Kingdom Of God
2:2–5; 7:10–16; 9:1–7; 11:1–9
As a golden thread in a black garment so are the predictions concerning the age of God’s Messiah which are found in chapters 1–12. These have been partly fulfilled in the first coming of Christ and will be wholly fulfilled when he comes a second time in glory and power.
1. 2:2–5 The consummation of history
Virtually the same prophecy is found in Micah 4:1–4. Mount Zion is to be miraculously exalted (verse 2a) and the effect of this will be that from all over the world people will wish to go to Jerusalem for instruction in the ways of the LORD (verses 2a–3b). The result will be that the rule of God will extend over the nations (verse 4). In the light of God’s future activity, Isaiah calls upon his hearers to walk in God’s paths.
For the enduring significance of Zion, see Psalm 132:13ff., and for the way in which this promise has been superseded, see John 4:19–24 and Hebrews 13:14.
2. 7:10–17 Immanuel
To gain the full context 7:1–9 should be read first. In the historical situation here described it would appear that the young woman (verse 14) was one of the wives of Ahaz. The birth of her son would be the sign from God. Immanuel means “God is with us”. The two kings (verse 16) are Rezin and Pekah, and the future destruction will be by the Assyrians.
On the basis of Matthew 1:22f. a hidden prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ has been seen here. The Hebrew word alma can be understood as meaning either “a young woman” or “a virgin”. The AV chose the latter, but modern versions prefer the former. Sometimes a prophecy has both a contemporary and a future meaning.
3. 9:1–7 Liberation and Peace
In the two campaigns of Tiglath-pileser in 734 and 732 the land of Israel was divided and made into Assyrian provinces. Did this mean that God had abandoned his people for ever; or would he reunite them in the future under a ruler of his choice? The answer in verses 2–7 is that God will redeem his people, they will rejoice (verses 2–3), there will be a kingdom of peace (verses 4–5), and the saviour king will be enthroned (verse 6). All this is then summarized in verse 7.
The names of the saviour king are important. “Wonderful Counsellor” means that he will be an excellent statesman, equalled by no one; “mighty God” means that he will be victorious in battle; “everlasting Father” means that he will be as a good father to the people of his kingdom; and “prince of peace” is self-explanatory.
4. 11:1–9 The king from the stem of Jesse
Verses 1–5 describe the righteous ruler. As David was once chosen in a miraculous way from an insignificant family (1 Samuel 16:1–13 and 2 Samuel 7:18) so there will come a new David from the same family. And as the Spirit of the Lord rested on the first David (1 Samuel 16:13 and 2 Samuel 23:2ff.) so also the new David will be equipped with the same Spirit. Verses 6–9 describe the restoration of peace between man and animals, a peace destroyed by the entrance of sin into the world.
5. Questions for discussion
1. Bearing in mind 2:2–5, do modern-day Christians make too much of the existence of the state of Israel, and its importance for the interpretation of prophecy?
2. Should Christians follow the example of the Israelites and give names to children which are meaningful (see 7:14 and 9:6)?
3. How did or will Jesus fulfill his names as given in 9:6?
4. How does Isaiah 11:6–9 relate to Romans 8:19–22?
Study 5: More Historical Background
In the first study the history of Judah from Uzziah to Ahaz was surveyed. Hezekiah followed Ahaz (2 Kings 18). Here events in the reign of Hezekiah are described, in which Isaiah was involved. It is important to note that this section is virtually the same as 2 Kings 18:13–20:19. If time is limited, priority should be given to reading carefully chapters 36 and 37.
1. 36:1–37:9a The siege of Jerusalem
This is a fine piece of historical writing in Hebrew and it should be read as a whole. To make it interesting different members could take different parts – narrator, Isaiah, etc.
36:1 The 14th year was 701 B.C.
36:2 Lachish was 25 miles s.w. of Jerusalem.
36:3 For Eliakim and Shebna see Isaiah 22:15–25.
36:11 Aramaic was the language of international diplomacy and would not be understood except by the educated Judean.
37:7 The “rumour” would be news of a rebellion in Mesopotamia.
2. 37:9b–38 Jerusalem delivered from Sennacherib
Again this should be read as a whole with (if preferred) different people taking different parts. Particular attention should be paid to the prayer of Hezekiah (37:14–20) and to the two major oracles of Isaiah. The first (37:22–29) takes the form of a funeral dirge over Sennacherib who is presented as being as good as dead. The second (37:33–35) foretells the departure of Sennacherib from Jerusalem.
3. 38:1–20 The illness and recovery of Hezekiah
The account here is an abbreviated form of 2 Kings 20:1–11, and to the latter is added a thanksgiving psalm which would have been said by the king in the Temple as he offered a sacrifice. Similar psalms are Psalms 6 and 38.
4. 39:1–8 A visit by Babylonian envoys
This was more than a mere courtesy visit! The probable date for it is 711, when there were many revolts in the Assyrian empire, and the aim was to persuade Hezekiah to join in rebellion. Isaiah had always condemned such military exploits, for they were a rejection of the guidance and the sovereign rule of the LORD in history. The fall of Jerusalem to which verses 5–7 point occurred in 586 B.C. See 2 Kings 25.
5. Questions for discussion
1. What doctrine of God may be deduced from the evidence in these chapters?
2. What may we learn about the way to pray about contemporary nations from the prayer of Hezekiah, 37:14–20?
Study 6: Egypt
Here we begin three studies taken from the second major section (13:1–27:13) of Isaiah 1–39. The major part of this section is taken up with “oracles” against foreign nations. The word “oracle” (used in RSV and NEB) appears ten times here and only once elsewhere (30:6). Its use in 2 Kings 9:25 (RSV) should be noted. An oracle usually announces doom.
Before Isaiah’s ministry Amos uttered oracles against foreign nations, specifically those which were the immediate neighbours of Israel (e.g. against Edom, Amos 1:11–12). As the fortunes of these countries were affected more and more by the world powers of Egypt and Assyria, so the word of the LORD was directed against them also. In Isaiah 13–23 oracles are found against the following – Babylon, Assyria, Moab, Syria, Sudan, Egypt, Edom, Arabia and Phoenicia.
Obviously Amos and Isaiah believed that their Lord was King of all the nations and thus was in a position to judge or bless all nations. In such a Psalm as 47 the kingship of the LORD is celebrated. (You would do well to read it.) In Isaiah’s oracles this same kingship is given a definite practical application. At a time when the fortunes of the Israelites were at a low ebb and their future seemed to be only further decline, Isaiah announced that their God, the LORD, was in control of history and all nations, and that he would after judgement vindicate his own name through blessing his covenant people. The nations were to be used by the LORD to fulfill his purposes, but they would be judged for their arrogance, cruelty and lack of justice and righteousness. As an example of oracles we turn to those against Egypt.
1. 19:1–15 Three oracles (in poetry) against Egypt
It is difficult to put a precise date to the situation referred to in these prophecies. A likely possibility would be the civil wars of the twenty-fifth dynasty under Piankhi in 715 B.C.
(i) Verses 1–4 Social and political confusion. The description of God as riding on the cloud is also used in Psalms 18:10–12 and 104:3.
(ii) Verses 5–10 The Nile. The annual flooding of the Nile provided the water for most of Egypt’s crops. If this flooding did not occur there was famine and the desert expanded.
(iii) Verses 11–15 Egyptian wisdom. The wise men of Egypt were regarded with great honour both inside and outside their country. They failed, however, rightly to discern the signs of the time. Zoan (Tanis) and Noph (Memphis) were two cities which served as seats of government.
2. 19:16–25 Five oracles (in prose) against Egypt
These move to a tremendous climax in verse 25 which may be regarded as one of the greatest verses in the Old Testament.
(i) Verses 16-17 The Fear of the LORD. Judah will not conquer Egypt but the fear of her Lord will strike terror in Egypt.
(ii) Verse 18 Hebrew language spoken. The “language of Canaan” is Hebrew and the “city of the Sun” is probably Heliopolis.
(iii) Verses 19–22 Patriarchal religion in Egypt. The description of the worship of the LORD in Egypt recalls the way Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshipped.
(iv) Verse 23 The Highway of Peace.
(v) Verses 24–25 The LORD reigns. Israel, its old oppressor (Egypt) and its new conqueror (Assyria) will become the people of God. Note that the expressions “my people”, “the work of my hands” and “my possession” are all terms used of the covenant people.
3. Questions for discussion
1. What was the purpose of Isaiah uttering oracles against foreign nations when few, if any of their peoples heard them?
2. What indication is there in 19:1–25 of the reasons for God’s judgements on Egypt?
3. Should we expect a literal fulfillment of the prophecies in 19:19–25 or should we interpret them symbolically as referring to the future reign of God in the age to come? Look up Revelation 7:9–10 and 15:3–4.
4. To what extent should preachers today utter oracles against nations or leaders of nations?
Study 7: Universal Judgement
In the final part (24:1–27:13) of the second section of Isaiah 13:1–27:13 the subject matter is primarily concerned with God’s judgement of the world, the celebration of his universal lordship and the final salvation of his elect people. Therefore it naturally follows after the oracles of judgement on nations. The material is presented in a mixture of prophecy and poetry which have been skillfully woven together. There is a rich symbolism used to describe events which belong to the future and which are, in the last analysis, impossible to describe except by images.
1. 24:1–20 Universal judgement
Verses 1–3 contain a prophecy of the imminence of divine judgement, and it appears to be continued in verse 13. This judgement will be as sudden as but more devastating than an earthquake.
Verses 4–6 contain a lament for a world pictured as suffering from prolonged drought.
Verses 7–12 are a song, similar to what would be sung to celebrate the harvest of grapes, but in fact there is no celebration, there is chaos.
Verses 14–16 are a song celebrating the rule of God but also warning of the imminence of divine judgement.
Verses 17–20 continue the material in verses 1–3 and 13 and are very similar to Jeremiah 48:43–46.
2. 24:21–23 God rules
The universal rule of God is here associated with his punishment of both heavenly and earthly beings. God’s rule is celebrated in Psalm 93, and Paul declares that Christ overcame the evil angels in Colossians 2:15.
3. 25:1–12 A future for Judah
Verses 1–5 contain a hymn celebrating the rule of the LORD
Verse 1 recalls Exodus 15:2 and 11.
Verses 6–8 follow on from 24:21–23 and describe a banquet provided by the LORD for his elect people. The same themes are found in Revelation 19:9,17 and 21:4. Death, the last enemy, is destroyed – cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55–56.
Verses 9–12 are a hymn of praise, as God triumphs over his enemies.
4. Questions for discussion
1. What reasons are given in chapter 24 for God’s judgement of the world? What other reasons are given in the rest of Scripture?
2. How can we say both “God is now king” (Psalm 93:1) and that “the LORD of hosts will become king” (Isaiah 24:23)?
3. How useful is the image of a banquet (Isaiah 25:6 and Revelation 19:9,17) for conveying the idea of the elect people of God sharing in his triumph and receiving his salvation?
4. How and when should Christians present the universal judgement of God today?
Study 8: A Promise Of Resurrection
The position of the people to whom Isaiah ministered was one of oppression and distress (26:11–18), but the prophet and other faithful people could still pray that God’s name would be honoured (26:7–10), and they could celebrate God’s future victory over all his enemies (26:1–6). This victory would include not only the judgement of the world but the glorious resurrection of the faithful who had died (26:19). So a new song of the vineyard could be sung (27:2–6).
1. 26:1–6 A song of the LORD’S victory
These are familiar words to many Christians. The “strong city” is Jerusalem and her “walls” and “ramparts” are to be understood not literally but symbolically as God’s protecting grace. The “gates” are those of the Temple to be opened wide to God’s faithful people. “Everlasting rock” is an old title for God (see Psalm 18:2; 95:1). This song may usefully be compared with Psalm 24:7–10 and Psalm 118:19–20.
2. 26:7–10 A prayer to honour God
Verse 7 is a wise saying, like those in the book of Proverbs. Verses 8–10 then contain a prayer based on the theme of verse 7. The name of God is given in Exodus 3:14ff., the LORD (=Yahweh =Jehovah), and “thy memory” refers to God’s great saving activity known as the Exodus.
3. 26:11–18 A prayer of an oppressed people
The enemies of God’s people are the cruel, heathen rulers, but they die and will die not to live again (verses 13–14). Verse 15 recalls the great kingdom of David and Solomon, but the present situation of those who pray remains seemingly hopeless (verses 16–18).
4. 26:19 A promise of resurrection from the LORD
Here God answers the cry of verses 11–18. This verse represents one of the high points of Old Testament teaching, as does also Daniel 12:2, and refers to the bodily resurrection of the dead. In Ezekiel 37:1–14 there is the resurrection of the people as a nation, but references to the actual resurrection of bodies to life are very rare in the Old Testament. The usual belief was that after death people went into the shadowy existence known as Sheol, and there remained.
5. 26:20–21 Isaiah foretells judgement followed by restoration of God’s people
Divine deliverance is at hand, and as Noah waited in the Ark for the judgement of God to pass, so faithful Israelites wait for the glorious future planned by God.
6. 27:1 Triumph over chaos
The enemies of the LORD are presented symbolically as Leviathan, the monster of the primeval chaos (cf. Psalm 74:12–14).
7. 27:2–6 A new song of the vineyard
The song of 5:1–7 is now changed to become a song of hope.
8. Questions for discussion
1. What would be a possible paraphrase or interpretation of 26:1b–6 for modern Christians?
2. Should Christians pray for God’s anger to fall on God’s enemies (26:11)?
3. What part should the hope of the resurrection (26:19 and 1 Corinthians 15) play in the life of the Christian?
4. It has been said that Isaiah was immoral in that he gave the people hope of restoration and renewal knowing that these belonged to a distant future and allowing them to think it was soon to occur. What do you make of this comment?
Study 9: Look Only To The Lord
This is the first of two studies taken from the third section (chapters 28–35) of Isaiah 1–39. The word of the prophet is here directed against the covenant people of God who fail to look only to their covenant LORD.
1. 28:1–13 Against Israel and Judah
This may be dated before the collapse of the northern kingdom in 721 B.C. and probably during the reign of Hoshea (2 Kings 17:1–6). The historical background surveyed in the first study is important here.
Verses 1–4. This is an oracle against Israel which looks for the collapse of the nation through an invasion by the Assyrians. Its leaders are like drunkards who cannot properly evaluate the situation.
Verses 5–6. This looks forward to the end of history after the judgement of the nations.
Verses 7–13. This oracle is against Judah. Apparently in the holy Temple there was a drunken orgy involving the priests and prophets. This suggests worship of some fertility deity. Because of this lack of respect for the LORD the people of Judah will also have to face an invader (verse 13).
2. 28:14–22 The covenant with death
The policy and behaviour of the leaders in Jerusalem can bring nothing but ruin. They have made a treaty with death. This probably means that they have made an agreement with the god of the underworld, the Canaanite deity named Mot, to protect them from possible invasion. In contrast to such a policy Isaiah declared that trust in the LORD, the only secure foundation for Zion’s security, will alone save them. Only divine justice and righteousness can erect a building that will stand against all possible enemies. Thus disaster is appointed for those who trust in false gods.
3. 28:23–29 A parable of the farmer
This may be compared with that given in Isaiah 5:1–7 and Nathan’s parable (2 Samuel 12:1–6). Unlike them it does not invite hearers to pass judgement on themselves. The poem is in two parts: the first draws attention to the methods of the farmer in ploughing and sowing grain, while the second points to the careful distinction he makes in his threshing of different crops. The skill of the farmer is God-given wisdom (see verses 26 and 29) and the deduction to be made by the hearer is that God’s activity in history is also wise. God knows exactly what he is doing as he rules over the histories of nations and peoples.
4. Questions for discussion
1. In the culture of the ancient Middle East the temptation for God’s covenant people was to adopt the practices of the religions whose gods had seemingly been successful. What are the equivalent type of temptations facing the church in western culture today?
2. How can Christ be said to fulfill 28:16–17? Look up Romans 9: 33 and 10:11, and 1 Peter 2:6.
3. What view of God can be deduced from the parable in 28:23–29? Can you think of a modern parable which would communicate a similar message to people today?
4. What can we learn about the composure of faith from the teaching of Isaiah? (28:16 – “He who believes will not be in haste.”)
Study 10: Egypt Is A False Hope
Instead of trusting in the LORD to keep them safe from the Assyrians the leaders of Judah seek the help of Egypt. Such a policy must lead to disaster.
1. 30:1–5 A hopeless alliance
This oracle refers to an attempt by Judah to gain an alliance with Egypt in the threat of an invasion from Assyria. The date is about 705 B.C. Such a plan ignored the LORD of history; Pharaoh was no substitute for the living God!
2. 30:6–7 Beasts of the Negeb
It seems that the Judean envoys deliberately avoided the shortest route to Egypt through Philistine territory. Instead they went through the perilous desert (verse 6). “Rahab,” mockingly applied to Egypt, is the name of the mythological serpent or dragon, also called Leviathan, destroyed in combat with the LORD (see Isaiah 27:1 and Psalm 74:14).
3. 30:8–11 A written tablet
This was probably a wooden tablet about the same size as a child’s slate. These were used in Egypt. For a previous reference to providing a written record for posterity see 8:1,16–18. What exactly was the message which went on the tablet is not clear – it could be chapters 28–31 or part of them.
4. 30:12–14 The sentence of the Judge
Using the image of the judge in the oriental court, there are given the words of judgement. A crack in the wall leads to the disintegration of the wall (and thus the collapse of a city) and the earthen jar (holding wine or water) will be shattered (and the contents wasted). So Judah will be punished.
5. 30:15–17 True security rejected
Verse 15 is one of the great statements of Isaiah. If the people had only returned to their God and relied on his covenant then they would have been free from anxiety. But instead they went their own way . . . the way of disaster.
6. 30:18–26 God is still compassionate
Verse 18 is poetry while the rest is prose. Here Judah is an afflicted people to be encouraged with the divine promise rather than a rebellious people to be threatened with disaster. Possibly this oracle was given later than those in verses 1–17. When it was delivered it contained a tremendous picture of a future, obedient people serving a loving and gracious Lord.
7. Questions for discussion
1. Does the church lose her effectiveness when she enters into alliances today with such powerful masters as Marxism, Capitalism, “democratic government” etc.?
2. How does verse 15 apply to the believer and the believing church today?
3. What view of God is presented by Isaiah in verses 18–26?
4. What is the abiding message which Isaiah 1–39 has to give to the church and world today?
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