My good friend Rod MacArthur has written a series of excellent articles on Isaiah 2-4. I am excited about sharing them with my visitors. be sure to pass them along to your friends.
Don K. Preston
Article #1 The Importance of Isaiah
Every time I go through Isaiah something new emerges; how about you? Daniel put me onto the true meaning of last days; Isaiah continues to expand my understanding. In these articles I’ll sketch out the broad strokes of the pictures Isaiah has begun to draw in my mind.
Israel’s Last Days
I know of three standard views on what “last days” connotes. 1) I was raised with the view that “last days” referred to the Messianic age, which began at Pentecost and continues to the end of time. 2) Others were raised believing that “last days” refers to the few final years of earth, that last generation just before the end of time. “Are we in the last days?” people wonder. They’ve been asking that question for a thousand years. 3) Finally, there is the biblical view: “last days” is the term that refers to when God’s covenant with Israel came to an end: The last days of that covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel, which of course was terminated in AD70.
God’s Imperial City
I gleaned that insight from Daniel; but from Isaiah I began to see a grand picture of the new heavens and the new earth. Every time I read Isaiah this emerges a little more clearly. Eight hundred years later Peter spoke of a promised heavens and earth, in his second letter. He said, “according to his promise, we are awaiting a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). Peter and his audience were anxiously anticipating this promise to be fulfilled at that time.
It was just so exciting to me to see what that verse meant. Since it was “according to promise,” it had to be whatever Isaiah had promised. This promise is found in Isa. 65:17. I began to see the emergence of a grand picture of God’s city: What He had promised through Isaiah He was actually building when Peter wrote.
I was raised singing the songs in our song-books at church and at home. One such song was: “I am going to a city,”—as though I weren’t there yet! An anticipation of a future city of God and the new Jerusalem and the heavenly land—whatever that might have been—was part of my raising, teaching and anticipation. Even now, some of those with whom I regularly worship are still looking for it; simply because the full scope of the truth has not reached out and disabused them of this false anticipation. They still believe that we have a city to which we’re going—this land that lays ahead of us—rather than realizing that we are already in that City, that God already came to be with His people, without veil and without separation, and that we get to be part of that while we are here.
Former studies in Isaiah brought these realizations; now, I’m anticipating exciting things this time through as well.
Isaiah and Hosea were contemporaries. Their names are synonyms. Isaiah and Hosea are just variant combinations of two key concepts: salvation and Yahweh. The “Hos-” and the “Is-” of the two names are related to the Hebrew word for salvation. The -iah (yah) at the end of each name means Yahweh. So combined as they are they connote Yahweh saves, or Yahweh’s salvation. Both names mean the same thing. By the way, it’s the same name as Joshua (Hebrew) or Jesus (Greek); they are variations.
A fascinating difference between the two books, however, is to whom they directed their respective messages. Hosea clearly was prophesying to the ten northern tribes, called Israel, with a few nuggets thrown Jerusalem and Judah’s way; big juicy nuggets, I might add. Mainly he was dealing with those ten tribes and God’s divorce from them until the last days (at which time He would bring them back into covenant relationship with Him). Isaiah, on the other hand, focused on the house of David in Jerusalem; the two southern tribes called Judah. A Son of David would raise up the House of Yahweh and “water” the sons of Jacob with the Holy Spirit, drawing all nations to Him and causing them to flower and produce.
Here’s an interesting detail: We don’t see Isaiah being called or commissioned to be God’s prophet until chapter 6. Chapters one through five set forth Isaiah’s thesis: it’s kind of an I’m-presenting-what-I’m-going-to-present approach. God laid out His case, what He was about to do to His people when Isaiah wrote and what He intended to do for His people in the last days. It’s really a grand picture that we’ll look at in these articles.
In this short piece we’ll briefly look at chapter one, noting some of its key details. In the next writing we’ll focus on chapters two through four. These three form a unit of prophecy. They should probably just be one chapter, 2; and not broken into three, 2, 3 and 4. It would be long, but it is just one continuous prophecy. I missed this fact for the longest time. But we’ll see some interesting ways to connect it up.
That will have to wait until next time. For now, let us turn our attention to Isa. 1.
Notice the first verse: “The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Interestingly, Isaiah wrote when the Assyrian army was threatening to invade. The Assyrian power was exerting itself and about sweep through the area. By comparison, the Babylonian army was of no consequence at this time. It was still a hundred years before they became the dominant power. It was they who took Judah into captivity. Israel was in jeopardy when Isaiah wrote; and they were in jeopardy from Assyria (Hosea dealt with this). Yet, here is a prophecy against Judah (not Israel) concerning the threat from Babylon, as we shall see.
The Sinful Nation
Still, Judah was a sinful nation which had abandoned Yahweh (1:4). So in verses 7–9 he said:
Your land is desolate,
Your cities are burned with fire,
Your fields—strangers are devouring them in your presence;
It is desolation, as overthrown by strangers.
The daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard,
Like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
Unless the Lord of hosts
Had left us a few survivors,
We would be like Sodom,
We would be like Gomorrah.
Notice the tense—your cities are desolate, are burned with fire—as though it was an existing condition when he wrote. Actually, it was a condition which wouldn’t exist for several decades; yet he spoke of it as a reality. Remember Deut. 28 and Lev. 26—in which the blessings and curses were laid out. This kind of desolation and fire would only take place because Judah had abandoned her God.
Note two points from verse 9: “…a few survivors…” and “…we would be like Sodom…” This is critically important. First, he spoke of a remnant. Eight hundred years earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses said that though the nation was like the sand of the sea for abundance, that
they would be only a remnant. “Then you shall be left few in numbers, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:62).
At the beginnings of this nation they were told that only a remnant that would remain for God. On that point, consider Isaiah’s two sons in chapters 7 and 8. They had prophetic names, just like Hosea’s three children had prophetic names. The name of one of Isaiah’s sons was Shear-Jashub; which means “a remnant shall return.” Imagine it; Isaiah had a boy walking through the streets of Jerusalem whose name was: “a remnant shall return.” Every time Isaiah called out to his boy, the people would hear: “Only a few would come back.”
The second fascination is this: If he had not “left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would be like Gomorrah.” Isaiah repeatedly used the concept of Sodom to designate the depths to which Yahweh’s people had deteriorated. Now, compare this to Rev. 11:8:
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
Mystically, the city was called “Sodom”; but factually, it was where Jesus was crucified, Jerusalem. So in Isa. 1:9, Jerusalem was referred to as Sodom; and in Rev. 11:8, John used that term to describe Jerusalem there, as well. Ultimately Jerusalem was treated like Sodom; destroyed by Yahweh because of their wicked perversion (see Deut. 32:5 and Matt. 17:17). In 1:10 he again called them Sodom, emphasizing their depravity.
Hosea was married to Gomer, who was either a prostitute already or became one after they married. He was portraying what it was like to be Yahweh, married to an unfaithful wife. Here in Isaiah, Jerusalem was depicted as a harlot, too; as we read in 1:21.
How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
What a picture this is, God married to a prostitute! When we come to the book of Revelation, that great city is also called the great harlot. Thus, from the book of Isaiah forward (at least) Jerusalem has been called a harlot. When we get to Revelation and see the harlot, we shouldn’t be thinking, “Well is that the city of Rome,” or “This is the Roman Catholic Church,” as some commentators apply it. Come on, let’s be sensible. The harlot is to be identified with whomever God said was the harlot: the city of Jerusalem.
Notice the two phrases: “full of justice,” and “full of righteousness.” As we mentioned already, Peter said to his people in 2 Pet. 3:13, that according to promise, they were looking for the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Jerusalem used to be the city in which righteousness dwelt, but she became corrupt. So Peter said they were looking for a new Jerusalem in which righteousness truly dwells. Fortunately, they found what they were looking for in AD70. John saw the new heavens and new earth coming down out of heaven and the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).
Let’s look at one last passage from Isa. 1, in which Yahweh looked to the future purification of His people; vv. 24–26.
Therefore the Lord God of hosts,
The Mighty One of Israel, declares,
“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries
And avenge Myself on My foes.
“I will also turn My hand against you,
And will smelt away your dross as with lye
And will remove all your alloy.
“Then I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning;
After that you will be called the city of righteousness,
A faithful city.”
One might be tempted to say that here Isaiah was simply looking at what would happen in restoration from Babylonian captivity. We know that that restoration was just the beginning of a process that took about 600 years because of verse 26: “Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.” In 2 Pet. 3:13, Peter said that according to promise they were looking for the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. Since Peter, in his day, was still looking for the promise of Isa. 1:26 to be fulfilled, this could not be a reference merely to the restoration from Babylonian captivity. Peter was still looking for it. Do you see the point? If it wasn’t fulfilled by the time Peter wrote, it couldn’t have been fulfilled before Peter wrote, in the restoration from Babylon. That restoration was a type, but it was incomplete. Peter still awaited the fulfillment, didn’t he?
Again, Isaiah spoke of a purging that would take place in judgment. How does that differ from what Moses said would come to pass? In Deut. 32:34–35, he said:
“Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in My treasuries?
Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.
For the Lord will vindicate His people,
And will have compassion on His servants,
When He sees that their strength is gone,
And there is none remaining, bond or free.”
Nobody could bring about salvation for themselves. “I’ll do it,” said Yahweh. “I’ll vindicate my people. But, I will also pour out retribution on my enemies.”
Moses continued in Deut. 32:43:
“Rejoice, O nations, with His people;
For He will avenge the blood of His servants,
And will render vengeance on His adversaries,
And will atone for His land and His people.”
What we see in Isaiah here is simply a reiteration of what Moses said would take place in that final wicked generation, and it would be at that time, as he said in 1:25, “I will smelt away your dross as with lye.” This is a picture we will develop more in future articles. Here we simply lay it down as a premise: The judgment that removed the wicked would also be a time of purging and smelting for the faithful. They would not be saved from judgment; but through judgment!
Thus, Isaiah’s theme is set: Judah was a sinful nation, Jerusalem was a harlot who wo
uld see God’s vengeance; yet, a remnant would return and Jerusalem would someday be a grand city full of righteousness. We’ll continue to watch as he develops these thoughts throughout his book.