Isaiah 1. Introduction to the Prophecy.
Key Notes: King of the Day: Joash. The national scene. Religious life. Social life. A sick society. What of the Holy Spirit?
Isaiah is the greatest of the Old Testament major prophets. His book is big, beautiful and challenging. It contains some of the most exalted and elegant writing that we know: chapters 6, 9,11, 40, and 53 have been embedded into Christian memory for 2000 years.
Nevertheless, we may ask a general question: Why study the Old Testament? We are New Testament Christians. The New Testament is our rule of faith and practice. Some say we have no need of the Old Testament; it is old, outmoded. We are not under Law but under Grace. God in the Old testament appears legalistic, angry and judgmental. We prefer the kind God of the New Testament who promises grace and blessings.
Rejection of the Old Testament for these reasons is an old heresy, named for Marcion, an early church leader (140AD) who rejected the God of the Old Testament as wrathful and destructive whereas the God of the New Testament is kind and loving. Modern liberals reject the Old Testament because they do not believe it is inspired of God, but is rather a fanciful stitched-together reconstruction of Israel's history intended to benefit the exiles after 516BC.
(For such a negative viewpoint see "Introduction to the History of Ancient Israel". J.M.Miller, The New Interpreter's Bible. Abingdon Press,’94; Vol.1, pp.244–271.)
•"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction...." (IITim.3:16) refers to the Old Testament. There was no New Testament when Paul was writing. Whenever Jesus spoke of “the Scripture” He was referring to the Old Testament and He was specific about its authority down to the details.
"...everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Lk.24:44). It is foundational to all we understand in the New Testament.
The New Testament affirms and defends the use of the Old Testament as vital for us.
•"Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction...." (ICor.10:11). Israel's history is a case-study of God's dealing primarily with one nation. We are privileged to learn lessons from history although many believe history is meaningless. We can think of history on two levels. Events can be explained and understood in political, geographic, and social terms. But we are also enabled to see an overlying dimension, which interprets the political in moral and spiritual terms. God interprets Israel's history for our benefit.
Isaiah was a gifted writer, and a counselor of four kings. His working life spanned 50 or more years. The prophet sees far into the future, even to the end of the age, as well as cataloging the problems of Israel and Judah about 700BC. We will learn much Messianic prophecy, more than anyplace else in the OT. The times of these future events, however, are not clearly separated.
Isaiah is a difficult book and parts of it (chapters 15–34) are largely unknown to modern Christians, neglected because they are dark and full of judgment. Each of our lessons has some analysis and a message or end-point, but none of them can be considered to exhaust the material.
It was great news when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found to contain a Hebrew manuscript of virtually all of Isaiah dating from about 100BC. It is faithful to the Greek Bible of 200BC and our earliest Hebrew Isaiah manuscript which dates to 900AD, a thousand years later. It gives us confidence that what we read is as true to the original text as anything we have.
The best study resource for me has been "The Prophecy of Isaiah" by J.A. Motyer. IVP;’93. I feel as if Walter Kaiser were looking over my shoulder. He has written many books about the OT which represent the best of evangelical scholarship today. I hope he would approve.
Israel's history in the Old Testament can be divided into two millennia:
Abraham, the first patriarch lived about 2000BC.
David, Israel's first Judean king began to reign in Jerusalem about 1000BC.
Israel was divided into two kingdoms in 920BC, the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin ruled by the House of David, the northern ten tribes by various non-Davidic dynasties. There were no good kings during the 200 years of the northern kingdom; there were eight good kings in the south. The northern kingdom of Israel / Samaria / Ephraim was overrun by the Assyrians in 720BC. The southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586–7BC.
One of the good kings of Judah was Joash. Let us review the history of his time, which was just ahead of Isaiah, and helps set the stage. We will review one king in each of the first few lessons.
King of the Day. The history of Joash, father of Amaziah and grandfather of Uzziah .(835–795BC). Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel (wife of king Ahab and a pagan worshiper of Baal) , had usurped the throne of David when Jehu of the Northern Kingdom murdered the Southern Kingdom's King Ahaziah. Ahaziah was father to Joash. Athaliah killed all of the other sons of Ahaziah that Jehu had missed, except Joash, who was hidden away by his sister as a baby. IIChron.22.
When Joash was only seven years old, Jehoiada, the high priest, gathered Levites and heads of families from Judah to the Temple in Jerusalem. They formed a troop of armed guards and put the crown on Joash's head. Athaliah cried "Treason" but had no support. She was killed outside the temple, and the reign of David's offspring was restored. IIChron. 23.
Under the guidance of Jehoida, Joash repaired the Temple and restored the daily sacrifices. But when Jehoida died, the princes of Judah seduced Joash into the worship of idols. Jehoiada's son, Zechariah, warned the people not to disobey the Lord, but on command of Joash he was stoned to death. Soon the army of the Syrians came up against Joash and Judah was defeated by a small force. Joash was wounded and his servants assassinated him. (IIChron.24). Joash's spiritual life depended on the spiritual power of the high priest. When the priest died, Joash's spiritual life died also. So Joash was the pliable creature of the leaders of Judah, good or bad.
1:1 The vision of Isaiah. He was a see-r, a prophet whose eye could see above the details of politics, economics, family life and personal needs, seeing Israel and the world from God's perspective. Isaiah was on duty in the southern kingdom during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, in the years 740 to 687 BC. During his tenure, the northern kingdom of Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians (720BC) and the city of Jerusalem came under siege.
1:2–9 The national situation.
1:2–3 Isaiah calls heaven and earth (the inanimate) to witness against Israel, (the living dead). Israel is rebellious, and without understanding.
1:4 As a nation, people, seed or children, in descending order, they are polluted with sin, iniquity, evil and corruption.
1:5 Israel is like a sick person uncared for.
1:7–9 After the ravages of Assyria, the countryside would be ruined and many towns destroyed, although Jerusalem will not fall.
As you read chapter 1, note the analogies Isaiah uses to describe his people:
they are not as intelligent as an ox or a donkey 1:3
like a sick person with wounds, bruises and putrefying sores 1:6
like a broken-down house 1:8
almost like Sodom and Gomorrah 1:9
sins as scarlet, crimson 1:18
the city like a harlot 1:21
society as impure silver or wine 1:22,25
people as dry oak leaves or a withered garden 1:30
the strong as weak as gossamer 1:31.
1:10–20 The religious situation.
1:11–15 The sacrifices are disgusting to God because the people's hands are dirty with violence.
1:16–17a. He gives three personal instructions: a) wash. b) stop doing evil. c) do good.
1:17b- There are three parallel interpersonal instructions: a) seek justice; b) correct oppression; c) protect the widow and the orphan.
1:18–20 But who is able to do these things? The Lord reasons with them. He can wash scarlet sin whiter than snow. And they are given an alternative: obey and eat well; rebel and be eaten.
1:21–23 The social scene in Jerusalem.
1:21 The city of faithfulness and justice has become like a prostitute.
1:22 The moral values are corrupt like alloyed silver or diluted wine.
1:23 The princes steal, love bribes and ignore the oppressed.
1:24–31 At the conclusion,
1:24–26 God will destroy the enemies, purify the people and restore just judges. Jerusalem will again be the city of faithfulness and righteousness.
1:27–28 Jerusalem will be saved by justice and righteousness.
1:28–31 But the sinners will die. They will wither like dry oak leaves or an unwatered garden. Even the strong will be no better than a cobweb.
Israel was a dying nation.
We are prone to think that Israel's situation was always difficult because the Holy Spirit was not present to motivate and empower the individual. It is true that the permanent indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was not a feature of spiritual life before Christ died and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. But when God says "My Spirit will not always strive with man" (Gen.6:3) it is implied that His Spirit did strive with people in OT times.
"Let Thy good Spirit lead me on a level path" (Psa.143:10 ) describes spiritual guidance of the Holy Spirit for OT saints.
"Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit." (Zech.4:6) is personal spiritual empowerment to Zerubbabel the Governor of Israel after the Exile in Babylon.
God did not leave His people alone then and He does not leave them alone now.