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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!

Isaiah Study Part 1: God’s Prophet Gets to the Heart of the Matter

When I volunteered to take over the leadership of a proposed young adult Bible study at St. John, I got a little more than I asked for. I naturally thought of Isaiah because I hadn’t studied it in depth. When I took Old Testament in college, I was all wore out by the time we got to the prophets, and we didn’t spend much time on Isaiah. Isaiah is well known because of how often it is quoted in the New Testament, but as I have gotten into the text, I have found so much more there.

Isaiah comes to Israel at a time not unlike our own. Dr. Luther notes, that while Isaiah 1:1 puts the prophet himself It was 190 years since the split of the two kingdoms, even longer since the time of David. In the intervening years, most of the kings of Judah have been good, although there was still incense being offered in the high places. Judah probably puffed up its chest during these two hundred years. After all, they had the temple and a Davidic king, and their cousins to the north were involved in mass idolatry and constantly changing monarchs. It would have been easy for Judah to be lulled into a false sense of spiritual security.

But even still, they didn’t do all that God had commanded them. Dr. Stephen Stolhmann, my Old Testament professor, told our class that, given how exuberantly the Passover was celebrated in Hezekiah’ time, it likely wasn’t celebrated that often.

And this is how Isaiah come to Israel: in the first chapter, the prophet laments, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3 ESV) The notes in the Lutheran study Bible make the interpretation clear: even animals have natural knowledge of who their masters are, in spite of their limited brains. Israel has a book of the law, the whole thing spelled out in front of them. They read it, and they have no clue what it means because their consciences have been harden.

And it is from this point that Isaiah moves on to Israel’s source of security: their temple worship. “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” (Is. 1:13 ESV) This to me is the real art of Isaiah 1:2-20, the prophet denouncing the people who are trusting the means over the messenger.

Here we must note an important distinction: while the means of grace God gives can save us, it is merely an unworthy mask to what is truly behind us. I remember an Issues Etc. interview (sadly, the name of the guest escapes me), where the pastor noted that Jesus, while critical of the Pharisees’ behavior, he does observe the temple rituals and festivals, because of its position. But while those means are good, they are just that: means. God’s grace and favor is something else.

This situation presents itself in many ways in our modern society. There are religious sects, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim Christ, but add to the teachings of Scripture. These bodies have amassed quite the following and public fascination, and the secularist like to lump them in with the true church, but the scripture makes it clear what they are.

And even in our own church, there are those who go to church every Sunday, but who often go off and serve other gods. We must guard our hearts, so that we do not allow sin and such contempt to creep into them, and run constantly to our Lord and Savior for his forgiveness and mercy. Amen and Amen.

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