Derek Johnson Muses

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Isaiah 5:8-30

Following his mourning of Israel as the unproductive vineyard, Isaiah takes his hearers through a series of woes on the wicked. The chapter ends with an army coming onto Jerusalem, akin to the judgment Isaiah proclaims verses 6-7 on the vineyard. Just as the land of that vineyard will be desolate, so will the land of Jerusalem be desolate. The message in the immediate context is the coming judgment from Assyrian army, but it was more than that. As Isaiah goes through the list of misdeeds, it is hard to see how it’s different from any of the previous things that the prophet condemns Israel for. But there are some important nuances to his delivery, and many things we can learn.

There is a unique characteristic Isaiah’s proclamation about “those who rise…that they may run after strong drink (v. 11)” (in essence, drunks). In verse 13, he says “my people go into exile for lack of knowledge.” In our modern day, Rick Warren tells us that church needs a reformation of “deeds not creeds”. But while there may be a lack of action in our churches, good Christian works cannot be sustained unless you’re reminded who you are doing them for: Your Lord and Savior, hung on a cross.

This to me is one of the trappings of the social church, and to a certain degree, modern evangelicalism. While it is a good thing that the church is involved in social programs, if the message isn’t preached constantly from the pulpit, then there is the danger the church will becoming the church of the social/political agenda, as is clearly seen with the ecumenical movement’s vigorous support of the HHS Mandate and all it entails (i.e., universal distribution of the morning after pill).

When Isaiah again condemns “those who are wise in their own eyes” in verses twenty one, I see the connection to the lack of knowledge. By not studying God’s law vigorously, the Israelites have invented their own knowledge to distract them from its truth (just as Jeroboam build high places in Israel after the split of the one kingdom, to distract the ten tribes from the temple in Jerusalem). This connection between lack of knowledge and disobedience convicts me in one way: I’m a football/ESPN fan. I don’t mean to condemn everyone who watches the network or who has a favorite team, but, like any other good thing, you can get too much of it. And with so much sports knowledge out there, it’s easy to eat their cotton candy and get puffed up.

That leads to the recurring them throughout this book: everyone who is doing evil, whether it is those who are compiling wealth (8-10), the corrupted judges (23), or the drunkards, they do it to the hilt and make it their livelihood to do wrong. (Think of our own noble rebel culture). This is why God sends an earthly army as His instrument of punishment.

Now, to the connection between 6-7 and 25-30. Again, the devastation is obvious, but the specific language brings up great points for us to follow. In verse 26, Isaiah says God will “whistle for them (the army) from the ends of the earth”, the same phrase that Jesus uses when He sends out the disciples in the great commission. Paul Kretzmann interprets this, not only as the judgment of the Assyrians, but in a secondary sense, the destruction of Jerusalem by the romans in AD 70. Once again, we see why it would have enraged the Jewish religious leaders when Jesus told the parable of the vineyard. While He was not their political Messiah, Jesus was proclaiming a civil judgment on them. Let us take head from these verses and know that God does stand to judge us if we put our confidence in our acts of service to Him. Save us, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Isaiah 2-4: God’s Mercy Throughout (Part 3)

(All scripture quotes from ESV)

I had an odd experience in preparing my study for Isaiah 2-4. I read the text, the notes, and the commentary, but the most I learned about it when was I listened to Isaiah 2-4 online. As I heard Isaiah’s sermon flow together, I realized how little I’d learned about reading everyone else’s thoughts on it.

After Isaiah’s firey first chapter, the prophet then continues to deal with his main theme: Israel has transgressed against her maker and is deserving of condemnation. There is a perfect kingdom to come, so this transgressed one must be judged. God wants all men to be saved, but that requires judgment.

The structure of the three chapters is very straightforward: God’s perfect kingdom (2:1-5), the judgment at the end of times (2:6-22), the present judgment on Judah (3:1-4:1), and again, the glorified branch of the Lord (4:2-6). As I wrote in an earlier post, I struggle greatly with the structure that Isaiah uses: visions of God’s perfect kingdom, followed by decries of judgment. But God always gives us hope in the midst of sufferings, for we are never completely free of sufferings, even if it appears this way.

Isaiah 2:2 begins with a familiar phrase: “in the latter days”. Joel will use this latter on, in the passage Peter quotes in his sermon to the Jews on Pentecost in Acts 2. This is definitely a phrase that means “after the end of this world, when God has established his kingdom on earth. In 2:5, Isaiah calls Judah to “walk in the light of the Lord”. This concludes His calling the church from all nations to come to mount Zion, but it also serves as a transition to the section on judgment. When the Judah Isaiah was calling comes into the light, their sin is exposed.

Isaiah’s proclamation of the final judgment juxtapositions two things: God’s glory in judgment, and man’s helplessness before God in the face of that judgment. Israel has used its worldly standards for its society and has put its trust in material things, and above all its riches. But when God comes in his might, man will flee in fear and try to hide, just as Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden and Israel hid before God’s face when he came down at Mount Sinai. The temptation Israel gave into was to think they were doing well. And that is one of the hallmarks of wealthy people: they see all their wealth, and to a certain degree, they are delusion because they had to break so many rules to get that wealth. But what does God say? “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (v. 22)

Too often, we need to be reminded that God’s judgment also means wrath as well as salvation. Many of the modern praise songs say “Mighty, mighty, mighty”, but God has said he will judge the unbelievers. In the Te Deum, we sing with the cherubims, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbath” but those words can only be sung in joy after we recount Christ’s work for us in the later verses.

Then Isaiah moves to the present (chapter 3): just as Judah will be judged on the last day with all people, so they will be judged here and now for their sins. Because of their confidence in their possession,  poverty will grip the nation. This will come through one form: a lack of leadership (v. 4, 12), which will be passed down to the people as they will have no one who will be able for households.

As in Isaiah 1:9, the prophet once again compares Judah to the city Lot fled “they proclaim their sin like Sodom” (v. 9). This comparison is to show the depth of Judah’s falling: “they do not hide (their sin) Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” (v. 9b) This corruption lies in the mind, because Israel has believed that their living it up on the wealth of the land and burning incense in the high places is the right way of living.

But, after Isaiah speaks of “seven women shall take hold of one man” (4:1), he then again goes back “in that day” (v. 2) “The branch of the Lord” is indeed Christ, the branch of David. As in 1:18, Isaiah speaks of God washing us (v. 4), and God creating a pure Israel, and the language of verse 5 (“a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night”) is reminiscent of God leading Israel in the dessert.

God has a blessed plan for people: even though we may sin in this life and run far from His mercy, God will discipline us when we do, so that we see the folly in trusting in the things of this life. And He will establish a Kingdom beyond this, which is what Jesus came to proclaim. Thanks be to him!


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