December 12, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, December 13-19
Is. 39, Acts 18:1-17
Is. 40, 1 Peter 1
Merodach-baladin, son of the king of Babylon, is a spy. His father has sent him to Hezekiah under the guise of friendship, with a gift because he heard he was sick. In reality, the Babylonians are attempting to learn about Judah’s defenses and wealth. This will enable Baladin to assess what kind of ally, or enemy, Judah could be in time of war. At this time, Babylon is still under the shadow of Assyria, but after Sennacharib’s murder by his sons, there is a period of unrest in the Empire, and Babylon intends to gradually become strong enough to take it from Assyria. Israel, has recently fallen to the Assyrians, and the Babylonians know Judah wants an ally. They know Judah will eventually look to Egypt again, but hope they can convince Hezekiah, or his heir, to join them against Assyria.
Hezekiah welcomes Merodach, and shows him everything. He probably knows the Babylonians’ real intent, and may be considering an alliance with them. He is making the same old mistake of trusting in allies, who only want to use him, rather than in God, who only wants to bless him.
God tells Hezekiah, through Isaiah, that the Babylonians he welcomed so openly, will, one day conquer Judah and sack Jerusalem (6, 7). Apparently Hezekiah realises this will not happen in his lifetime (8). His words do not mean he does not care about the future generations. He simply recognises that the sentence is just because of his, and his nation’s, sin of not trusting God. Unfortunately, though Hezekiah has previously been a good king, there is no sign of repentance in his words. Had he repented, and led the people to repent, God surely would have forgiven them.
My mind always hears these verses sung to the music of Handel’s Messiah. Though more than a hundred years in the future, from Hezekiah’s time, the word of the coming destruction of Jerusalem must be devastating to him. The entire nation shares the sins that will bring God’s wrath, but Hezekiah probably blames himself for the coming disaster. Therefore, the Father of all mercies, sends words of comfort to him and all Judah.
God allows Isaiah to see beyond the Assyrian crisis, and beyond the Babylonian exile, to the restored Jerusalem. The words, much like the book of Revelation, are intended to strengthen faith of God’s people during the trying times of conquest and exile. Their city will be destroyed, their people murdered, and their Temple leveled. They will be forcibly taken from their homes to dwell in a foreign land, where they will sometimes face persecution and death. But the time of tribulation will not last forever. God will return them to Jerusalem, and enable them to rebuild their city and their lives. More importantly, He will give them another opportunity to return to the Covenant and be the people of God. This is their only true hope. Therefore, God tells the prophet, “comfort ye my people.”
Verse 2 tells the Jews they can find comfort, even in the conquest and in Babylon. “Her warfare is accomplished.” The time of war and conquest will end. More importantly, God will no longer be at war with her. Her iniquity is pardoned.
Verses 3-5 are about her return to Jerusalem. God will make provisions for the Jews, and strengthen them for the journey. Though it is a dangerous and strenuous trip, the Lord will enable them to make it. It will be as though He sends a messenger into the wilderness to prepare the way, and the way of His people is as the way of the Lord. He will make the desert a highway, as though every mountain is lowered, every valley (ravine) is raised up, and every rough and rocky place will be made plain and smooth. This promise, like God Himself, will not pass away nor fail (8).
One of the most beautiful verses in this chapter says “He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd” (11). The images of Divine love and providence for silly, needy, and wandering “sheep” picture God leading the Jews back to Jerusalem like a Good Shepherd leading His flock. The prophets make many references to the shepherds of Israel, and to their failures and sins against God and His people. But God is not like them. He is the Good Shepherd who carries the lambs and gently leads those that are with young.
It is no wonder that our Lord uses these verses to identify His ministry (Jn. 10:1-18). He came to take His people to the New Jerusalem. He came to prepare the way for us, and gently lead His flock. He Himself is the way to the Promised Land (Jn. 14:16).
Verses 12-31 are a hymn of faith, based on the revelation of God’s power and glory. They show that He is able and willing to accomplish what He promises. Therefore, let His people wait for the fulfillment of them. Let them continually look for their fulfillment by living in the hope and faith that the fulfillment will come. Verse 31 appropriately closes the chapter with a vision of the comfort of those who receive God’s word and live in His hope. Their strength (faith) is renewed, they mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.
Is. 41, Acts 18:18-28
Is. 42, 1 Pet. 2
Still looking forward to the restoration of the Jews, chapter 41 continues to encourage the Jews to have faith in God through their trials. Isaiah is told of a righteous man from the east, to whom the nations are given to rule (2, 3). The man is Cyrus, the Persian king, who conquers Babylon and sends the Jews back to Jerusalem with gifts and money to rebuild the city and Temple. But, who has raised up this man and given the nations to him? The Lord, the first and last.
He has not cast away His people (9). He will strengthen them (10) and confound their enemies (11). He will provide for them (14-19). He will do it all for this worm Jacob (14), which has no power to do them for itself, so all may know it has been accomplished for him by God (20).
God challenges the nations to show another god who can do what He does (21-29). Let the gods lead their people against the Jews. Let them defeat them, so all may know their power. It is as though He is challenging the gods of the nations to a duel. But none accept the challenge because they do not exist. Their works are vanity, nothing. Their images are wind and confusion.
The Jewish people believe the Servant in Isaiah 42 is the remnant of Jews who survived the Babylonian Captivity and returned to Jerusalem to carry on their calling as the people of God. In one sense they are right. In another sense, no mere human person or group of people is able to do and be the things expected of the Servant in the book of Isaiah. Yes, it is true that Isaiah spoke to the situation at hand, and that his words had meaning to that time and place. It is also true that he foresaw things far ahead of his own time, and that he told the people about them also. In this sense Isaiah’s work was much like that of the Apostle John writing the book of Revelation.
Thus, the Servant is ultimately none other than Christ, the Word become flesh. In verse 1 Christ brings judgment to the Gentiles. They have abandoned His law, and lived for the fulfillment of their sinful desires. They knew the will of God, but lived in sin by their own choice (Rom. 1:18-2:1). The Jews have also sinned, and are equally worthy of God’s wrath. This point is made clear in verses 17-25.
But the Lord is gracious. He will not harm the tiniest faith though it is no stronger than a bruised reed or a smoking flax barely able to smolder. This grace is for Jew and Gentile alike, and verse 6 tells us Christ is the Light of the Gentiles. His mission to open the eyes of the blind and to bring us out of the prison and darkness of sin and hell, (42:7), is for all people.
Is. 43, Acts 19:1-20
Is. 44, 1 Pet. 3
The Holy One of Israel (3), who is the Lord and Saviour, reiterates His intentions of grace and mercy to the Jews (1-7). They will be moved from their homes and forced to dwell in a foreign land. As Isaiah writes these words, the northern kingdom of Israel has already been captured and scattered to various places in the Assyrian Empire. But God will free them to return to their homeland (5-7).
Verses 8-13 send a challenge from God to the Gentiles nations and their gods. Let them bear witness to the mighty acts of their idols, if they can (8). The challenge takes for granted that wood and stones carved into images have never accomplished anything for anyone. It is God who raises up nations, and casts them down again, according to His purpose. Israel is His witness to this (10). There is no other God, now, or ever. The closing words of verse 10 do not mean there was a time when God did not exist, or will be a future time when He does not exist. The point made here is that God exists from eternity to eternity, therefore, it is impossible that any other god ever existed before Him, will exist after Him, or can exist while He lives.
Verse 14 begins another series of threats against Babylon. Though the fall of Babylon is far in the future from Isaiah’s time, God speaks of it as an accomplished feat, as though it has already happened. The decrees of God will happen as He says. This is so certain, their accomplishment can be stated as though already completed. God brought the horse and chariot of the Babylonians to conquer Judah. But He will make them lie down in death, under the sword of another (17). The desert, the river, and the wild beasts will honour God (19, 20).
The Jews, too, will honour God (21). In spite of God’s mighty acts on their behalf, the Jews have not honoured Him as they should. Not calling upon God (22) refers to the neglect of prayer, which equals the neglect of God. The Jews, like some Christians, often thought the mere recitation of prayers and mechanical offering of sacrifices, is all God wants. So they were often very diligent about them. At other times they did not even try to keep up the appearance of Godliness by prayer and sacrifice. In Babylon, sacrifices were impossible, but prayer was not, yet the people neglected it. Their whole attitude toward God was marked by indifference and neglect.
The chapter continues to rebuke the Jews for neglecting God. It ends with the conclusion that such sins are what caused God to profane the princes of the sanctuary, meaning He allowed the Temple to be destroyed and the priests to be forced to stop offering the sacrifices (28).
God addresses the nation as though He is speaking to the man, Jacob. He formed the nation as surely as He formed Jacob in the womb. He chose the people of Israel over the Gentiles as surely as He chose Jacob over Esau. “Jesurun” (2) means righteous. Israel is accepted as righteous only because God justifies the nation and forgives its many sins. Ultimately, forgiveness is only possible because God bears our sins on the cross of Christ.
God warns the people not to return to idolatry in verses 6-20. Easily led into idolatry by the Canaanites, they have also accepted the idolatrous religions of their captors in Babylon. In contrast to the idols, God gave them over to their blindness (18), and will also blot out their transgressions (22). The point being made is the singular existence of God. There are no other gods, therefore, the Jews must not fall into idolatry again.
Is. 45, Acts 19:21-41
Is. 46, 1 Pet. 4
Few places in the Old Testament set forth God’s mercy and hope to the Gentiles as clearly as Isaiah 45:20-25. “[Y]e that are escaped of the nations” (45:20) could refer to Jews who have survived their conquest and captivity by Babylon, or Gentiles who survive their own conquests by other nations. Either way, and, both ways, their God given task is to proclaim the grace of God to all people. Jews and Gentiles have been worshiping idols that cannot save (45:20). God has told them that was so. He has proved it by allowing them to be conquered in spite of their prayers to idols. The survivors, Jew and Gentile, are to bring their brethren near so they may know there is no God but God and no Saviour but Him (45:21).
One of the most glorious verses in all of Scripture is found in this chapter. It does not get the attention given to verses in chapters 7, or 9, or 53, but it is glorious none the less. It is verse 22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.”
Still enabled to look beyond the captivity to the fall of the captors, Isaiah sees the destruction of the Babylonian idols as symbolic of the future victory of God over all enemies and all false religions. Nebo (1) is not the mountain from which Moses saw the promised land. It, along with Bel, is one of the primary idols of the Babylonians. When Babylon conquered Judah, it destroyed the Temple of the Lord and took the holy Temple furnishings to Babylon as plunder. God is saying He will plunder of the Babylonian temples through the Persians. Bowing down refers to the idols being removed from the temples. It is as though the idols are forced to bow to God. Being upon beasts, means they are transported in carts and on beasts of burden to Persia, where their gold and silver are melted into trinkets for the Persians. Verse 2 shows the inability of the gods to deliver their images from the conquerors. They are unable to rescue their images because they do not exist. They “themselves are gone into captivity.”
They are also unable to rescue Babylon from the Persians. By contrast, God foretells Israel’s deliverance from Babylon more than a hundred years before the Babylonians even become an empire. This shows that He allows the captivity of the Jews, and He frees them by His own power and decree. This shows that the Babylonian captivity and release are not simply random events; they are part of the pre-determined plan of God.
God compares His care of Israel to a mother caring for her child. She carries the child first in her womb, and, later in her arms. But, unlike a mother, God continues to carry Israel into manhood, old age, and forever (3, 4).
Verses 5-7 contrast God with the idols of Babylon. They are made by human hands (6) and carried to the temples (7). Once set in place they are as unable to move themselves as they are unable to save those who call on them for help. But God is too vast and great to be represented in the works of human hands. He moves where and when He wills, and holds the nations in His hand.
Thus, God calls upon the Jews to remember Him. He is God; there is no other (9). He declares the end from the beginning (10), and calls the ravenous bird from the east (11) which is Cyrus of Persia, who executes God’s counsel of conquering Babylon and releasing the Jews. “Hearken unto Me” God says in verse 12. “I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry.”
Is. 47, Acts 20:1-16
Is. 48, 1 Pet. 5
Babylon is compared to a virgin princess lady (1, 7), accustomed to soft living and people fawning at her throne. But her throne will be taken from her when the Persians conquer the empire. She will sit in the dust. Her fine clothing will be taken from her (3). Like most countries of that era, Babylon stripped her enemies, and marched them into the city, where they were often publicly executed. God says she will be stripped and marched out of the city to sit in the dust in disgrace. The rivers (2) are the Tigris and Euphrates, signifying that the Babylonians will be removed from their homes and transported to other areas.
Trusting in her wickedness (10) is the very heart of her sin. She built her empire on blood and oppression. Her wealth was stolen from her conquered peoples. She neither sought God, nor attempted to live by the principles of righteousness and justice. Her success filled her with such conceit she said of herself what can only truly be said of God; “I am, and none else beside me” (10). Though her religious leaders predict continued success, they will be as stubble burned in the fire (12, 13). The desolation of brutal and complete conquest predicted by God, will come upon Babylon, and she will be unable to prevent it (11).
God turns to the people of Israel, saying, “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel.” God says Israel is come out of the waters, or fountain, of Judah. This refers to Israel seceding from Judah to form its own nation (1 Kings 12:16-24). Solomon’s tyranny, which his son vowed to multiply as king, was the reason for Israel’s secession. But Israel did not follow God any better than Judah, nor did her shepherds lead her into the ways of God (1 Kings 12:25-33). Ahab and Jezebel, who murdered Naboth and stole his vineyard using their power as king and queen of Israel, were particularly known for idolatry and human rights violations. Yet they were only part of a stream of wicked rulers in Israel. The people were generally no better. God says the Israelites “make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (1). In other words, their faith was as false as the faith of their rulers and false prophets.
Because of Israel’s idolatry, the people will attribute Assyria’s conquest by Babylon to the will of their idols. Therefore, God is declaring the events before they happen (3-8). Though Israel’s original desire to escape the persecution of the abusive king of Judah was legitimate, the Israelites and their kings did not seek God. Instead they followed idolatry and wickedness from the beginning. As God says, they were transgressors from the womb, meaning the very beginning of their establishment as a nation.
If they had sought God in truth and righteousness, they would have been guided and protected by God Himself (17-19). Even now God calls them to return to Him, promising to deliver them from the Chaldeans (Babylon) and bless them as they live by His word and Covenant. His call also contains a caveat: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”
Is. 49, Acts 20:17-38
Is. 50, 2 Pet. 1
Israel, in this chapter, refers to Judah and Israel as one people, calling it the servant of God (3). It is promised that God will be glorified by it. The people will be restored to their homeland, and their restoration will be a light to the Gentiles of the glory and grace of God, “that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (6). Verses 8-26 foretell the restoration of Israel to the land God gave her. The captives of verse 25 are the Jews and Israelites. The “mighty” is the Babylonian Empire, which will rule both Israel and Judah. God will contend with Babylon, meaning He will fight for His people and deliver them from Babylon. He will deliver the children of His people. Then “all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thyRedeemer, the mighty One of Israel.”
Like much of Isaiah, and the Old Testament, this passage foreshadows things far greater than the release of Israel from Babylon, or the witness to the power of God the Gentiles will see in their release. It looks to the inclusion of Gentiles into the Kingdom of God through the Messiah. The New Testament makes it clear that Gentile believers are grafted into the Kingdom, and, in Christ, the former distinction between Jew and Gentile is no more (Rom. 11:17, Col. 3:11). Acts 13:47 applies this passage to Paul’s preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Salvation was never meant for the Jews alone. They were always intended to be a light to the Gentiles, bringing them into the Kingdom of God and the expectation of the Saviour and Messiah. The true light to the Gentiles is Christ, and the true Kingdom of Christ on earth is the Church. Christ brings both Jews and Gentiles into the Church through the New Testament in His blood.
Chapter 50 begins a series of wonderful oracles about the Suffering Servant, culminating in the stunning words of chapter 53. The chapters are so obviously Christ centered it is difficult to think about their meaning to the Jews of Isaiah’s time, who are being told they will suffer conquest and oppression, yet will be delivered form their captivity and returned to their homeland. Back in Jerusalem, they will have yet another opportunity to live according to the Covenant given by God.
The chapter begins by assuring that God has not divorced the Jews, nor sold them to be another’s slaves (1). In verse 2 the chapter turns to the mysterious Servant of God, and His suffering on behalf of His people. The people of Jerusalem are probably completely unaware of the identity of the Servant. During and after the Babylonian captivity, the Jews attempted to identify themselves with the suffering ascribed to the Servant. To them, Israel is the servant of God (Is. 49:3), and the chapters describe her suffering at the hand of the Gentiles. In their minds, they suffered for the sins of all of Israel. Whatever the merits of this view, it cannot exhaust the meaning of the Servant, nor can the Jew’s suffering, accomplish the purification described here. Thus, even the Jews began to vaguely understand that the passage refers to the Messiah and His work. Those familiar with the crucifixion of Christ, recorded in the Gospels, have no difficulty understanding that the Servant ultimately is Christ, and His suffering is His sacrificial death for our sins.
Is. 51, Acts 21
Is. 52, 2 Pet. 2
God, who made a great nation out of Abraham and Sarah (2), is able to comfort His people. In Isaiah’s time that comfort is promised in the form of returning the Jews to their homeland and blessing them abundantly in the land. In typical Hebraic style, these blessings are represented as making the dry, desert places verdant like Eden (3). His law will be known, and His judgements will bring justice to the land like a light in the darkness (4, 5).
The deliverance from Babylon looks ahead to the complete renewal of the creation. The heavens, meaning the created universe, will vanish away like smoke (6) The earth will wear out like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die. But the end of the cosmos is only the beginning of the full revelation and glory of the New Heaven and New Earth God will give to His people. Therefore, the Jews are encouraged to harken to God (7), awake and put on strength (9). Their knowledge of the deliverance from Babylon, and their final deliverance from this fallen and corrupt world, should give them strength to endure the trials of life, even the horrible conquest of their homeland and city.
Since God is their deliverer, they need not fear any mere man (12). Oppressors, like Babylon, will not last. But the Jews do fear men. Because they have turned from God, they they drink the dregs of God’s fury (17), and have no one to guide them (18). They are afflicted and drunk with the wrath of God (20). Yet, God promises to remove the cup that makes them drunk and helpless with His wrath (22). In that day, He will give that cup to their enemies (23).
The Jews are now exhorted to rejoice. They are to put on their best clothes and shake themselves out of the dust. They were once slaves in Egypt, and the Assyrians have oppressed them without cause (4). Their oppressors have blasphemed God. But God will make His name known to them, and His people, by releasing them. The “gospel,” or, good news, refers first to the news of the release from Babylon and the renewal of Israel. But it is also the news of the ultimate renewal of the earth spoken of in chapter 51:6-9. The renewed earth must be populated by renewed people, and people are renewed by the work of God through Jesus Christ. Thus the good news is the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:15). It is through Him that sins are forgiven, souls are renewed, and the world will be brought fully and finally under the visible dominion of God.
The watchmen (8) are those who look for and tell of the coming deliverance. In the Old Testament they were the priests and prophets. Today they are the pastor/teachers of the Church. The response to their message is properly faith and joy. But Redemption will not be accomplished without suffering. Christ, the Servant of God, marred more than any man because He suffered the wrath of God for our sins, pays for our sins by His own blood. And His salvation will be given to people of all nations (13-15).