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The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 22: Review of chapters 1-27


We will write an article in order to review our work in Isaiah thus far. It is important to keep a general understanding of the structure of this expansive work. Any of you who are doing the work of reading and understanding the Book of Isaiah will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of God’s work and purpose for all of human history.

 

Chapters 1-5: The Preface.

 

The first five chapters are absent of any historical markers. They have no dates or names except those of Judah and Israel. What the preface shows us are the initial circumstances of Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah begins his work, not with the account of his conversion, which he will reveal in chapter 6, but with the message he preached after he became a prophet. He does this in order to express to us at the start that he understood the situation he was sent to minister in. Like every author’s preface, it is the backdrop of the whole book.

The common theme is the rebellion of God’s people against Him. This is stated in different ways in these first five chapters. There is the contemporary scene playing out before Isaiah’s eyes in which he sees national calamity, spiritual degeneration, social collapse, crime, and infidelity (chapter 1). Then (2-4) Isaiah shows Zion in the future when all the pilgrims will come to her with love of God’s law, righteous doings, and enveloped in peace (2:1-4), but this scene is quickly contrasted with the current state of Jerusalem in national, social, and spiritual disintegration (2:5-4:1). 4:2-6 returns to a beautiful vision of the future Zion with God’s glory as her canopy. And then, chapter 5 has another way of presenting the theme of rebellion: the Lord’s vineyard where His choice vine has become a degenerate plant bearing a foul crop, depicted in six woes.

The preface shows a contrast between the ideal and the actual. God’s people and land were to be heaven on earth, but they became a corrupted and degenerate people in a dark land worthy only of judgment. However, we must not forget the light that pervades the preface as well as the entire book. Rebellion certainly brings disaster, but the patience and faithfulness of the Lord is never exhausted, nor His capacity to redeem and restore. Zion will come and all the redeemed will flourish there, and it will be heaven on earth - literally.

The preface illumes the entire work. It’s as if Isaiah says to us, “If you’re up for reading all sixty-six chapters, know what you are going to see in the first five.” In the few lines of the preface is God’s warning to all of us about the results of lies, disobedience, pride, ignorance, and rebellion. And there is also the comfort that no matter what happens around the believer, and despite the desperate feelings that sometimes occur within him (God is taking too long), the believer’s hope is secure. Zion and her King are coming. 

 

Chapters 6-12: The Triumph of Grace.

 

Isaiah’s initial response to the situation that he saw was a message of judgment and hope. He enlarges on both aspects.

He opens the body of his book on his own conversion and calling. He is an individual cleansed by the divine sacrifice and brought into fellowship with God and commissioned with God’s message to the people. After this, Isaiah sets off to cover the same ground twice, to both Judah (Southern Kingdom; 7:1-9:7) and Israel (Northern Kingdom; 9:8-11:16). Proclaiming the same message twice is characteristic of him (28-35; 42:18-44:23; 44:24-55:13; 51:1-52:12). For both kingdoms Isaiah presents a moment of decision (believe the promise) and a judgment (Assyrian invasion). It is here that we find the challenge to king Ahaz to believe that a virgin will be with child who will be called Immanuel, which amazingly he disregards as unimportant. In response is the promise of Assyrian invasion. 

However, judgment is not the end of the message for either kingdom. To both kingdoms is promised a remnant, meaning the existence of believers in the midst of the apostate (Judah - 8:9-22; Israel - 10:16-34), as well as a glorious hope (Judah - 9:1-7; Israel - 11:1-16), which is the fulfillment of the covenant promises. Judgment and hope.

The awfulness of judgment turns to the beauty of the promise to the faithful, and at the start of it is the prophet’s own conversion (6:1-13). This is more than his own salvation story. It is the means for all to come to saving faith and anticipation of the glorious hope - the one sacrifice on the altar that will propitiate the justice of God. Each individual’s faith in Messiah is the triumph of grace.

 

Chapters 13-27: The Universal Kingdom

 

This is as far as we have gotten.

Chapters 6-12 were a general glance at the universal plans of Lord for human history. But Isaiah has much more to say about the details of those plans. This section enters into them more fully. This is a feature of Isaiah’s writing - the hints of one section become the leading theme of the next.

There are ten oracles in chapters 13-23. Dividing the ten into two sections of five, each section begins with Babylon and the oracle dealing with the Lord’s people comes fourth. Yet there is more to this balance in these lists.

 

List 1

List 2

Babylon (13:1 - 14:27)

The Desert by the Sea (Babylon) (21:1-10)

Philistia (14:28 - 32)

Edom (21:11-12)

Moab (15 - 16)

Arabia (21:13-17)

Damascus/Israel (17 - 18)

The Valley of Vision (Jerusalem) (22)

Egypt (19 - 20)

Tyre (23)

 

The first list begins with Babylon’s political downfall, mentioning kings and armies, while the second list begins with her religious downfall, mentioning idols. So, at the head of the oracles concerning the kingdoms of the world throughout human history is political and religious apostasy. Religious apostasy seems plain enough, but political apostasy might confuse us who live in a world where there is separation of church and state. First, Israel was a theocracy and so there was no law of separation of church and state for her. However, the oracles begin with Babylon’s political apostasy, not Israel’s, though she was infected by it as well. The point is that all groups of people: nation, state, city-state, neighborhood, family; are to live in love, harmony, graciousness, forgiveness, and compassion. God is sovereign over all creation after all. And although there are no theocracies outside of the Israel of the past and millennial future, nations and communities, right down to the family unit, are not to exist upon lust, greed, selfishness, hate, injustice, or violence. Who would say that it’s great that the government of the United States is corrupt, greedy, deceitful, and filled with evil as long as the church is not so affected? And in fact, we see in practice that it is the effect of the church upon the population that creates the environment of the government. The problem in a people is not the laws or institutions, but the hearts of the people who created them and work within them. Isaiah clearly shows us in his prophetic writing that the Gentile kingdoms are going to be judged for precisely the evil they promulgate; the result of rejecting God in their establishments.  Hence, Babylon is presented in both lists as a political and a religious apostate.

Second on the list, Philistia and Edom oracles share a common look forward: Philistia to the coming supremacy to the house of David, and Edom to a future morning when the sun will rise (Second Advent).

Third, the Moab and Arabia oracles both concern Gentiles seeking refuge and both failing to find it: Moab because of pride, refusing God’s offer of shelter, and Arabia because they sought refuge among neighboring Gentiles rather than God.

The fourth pair reveals the people of God looking for help, but not in the Lord. Israel trusted in a Gentile alliance (Syria) and Jerusalem in an underground canal.

Finally, for both Egypt and Tyre there is a remarkable ultimate turning to the Lord. These represent the pilgrims from the four corners of the world, Jew and Gentile together, making their way to Zion and the Lord’s banquet.

Isaiah structures both lists in this way. It is clear that one would have to read, re-read, and analyze Isaiah’s lines in order to recognize the pattern. Was he being cryptic or has the Lord reserved the deep things of His revelation to those who seek Him with all of their heart?

One might expect Israel to be the final oracle on both lists, but instead we find them surrounded by Gentiles; the people of the world. In the first list are Babylon (north), Philistia (west), Moab (east), and Egypt (south). In the second list are Babylon (north), Edom (south), Arabia (east), and Tyre (west). The position of Israel is vulnerable, being surrounded, who will protect her? And her position is central, able to most influence, placing the ways and Law of God in the center of all civilization.

 

In chapters 24-27 there are no overt headings and no plain pointers to history. It is a theme in the form of a song on the world-wide overthrow and rectification to the Creator through the Messiah.

In 24-27 we find the fall of the meaningless city of man, built without God, and from out of this ruin emerges the many faithful (believers) remnant who gather into a beautiful throng belonging to the Lord and make their way to the feast He has prepared for them in His city. And, there is also a flash back throughout history, taking snapshots of the remnant, here and there and everywhere, waiting in hope throughout their lives for that glorious day when they will dine at the Lord’s table in Zion. 

 

Before we go:

 

In the first five oracles we find that world-history has been designed by the sovereignty of God so as to care for His people.

 

ISA 14:1-2

When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob, and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 And the peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance in the land of the Lord as male servants and female servants; and they will take their captors captive, and will rule over their oppressors.

 

The nations can find shelter in the Lord’s people (city) but pride is their enemy.

There is a poison amongst the people of God and it is self-reliance.

Ultimately, the Lord will bring all of His into the security and the bounty of His city, the New Jerusalem and the future state of eternity.

The second series mirrors these themes.

The final four chapters see the culmination of all that the Lord promised concerning His own and His foes.

 

One last thought:

It is exciting to know that the church, the body of Christ, has been designed by God to be a first picture of the heavenly future. The church is not the complete picture, for she lacks the material blessings promised, and therefore she is not the final fulfillment of the covenant promises, but she is the beginning of them. In the church, the New Covenant is in effect and Jew and Gentile are one; one new man in Christ (Eph 2-3) blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Eph 1). I also find it sad that in writing that sentence I could feel within myself the Christians who would argue with me, and not with gentleness (2TI 2:25), over whether there were two New Covenants (one for Israel and one for the church) or one, and did I mean that the church was now Israel (which she is not), and whatever other points of theology argued while living this gifted heavenly life is set aside - I guess until the arguments are won. I am reminded of a passage I studied this past week:

 

1TI 1:3-6

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,

 

The goal of Paul’s instruction was not theology but love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Did you hear him? The goal of his instruction was actual, living, expressed fruit in the life of the believer. Do you have that, or are you still collecting winning arguments with brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you disagree? Plus, two Christians who actually possess and walk in Christ’s love would have far more in common doctrinally, theologically than not in common.   

On to the next section, chapters 28-37, The Lord of History.

 

Grace to all, 

Pastor Joe Sugrue

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