Through the Bible in a Year: Isaiah 1-5

This Week’s Readings

Monday, July 9: Sick day. Sorry!
Tuesday, July 10: Psalms 46-49; Proverbs 16
Wednesday, July 11: Isaiah 1-5
Thursday, July 12: Isaiah 6-10
Friday, July 13: Isaiah 11-15

I couldn’t stay caught up Friday or Monday, so I’m doing the commentary on Psalms 46-49 and Proverbs 16 today. Sorry about that. We’re making good time for the year, anyway.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Isaiah 1

We see that God is angry with Israel. In fact, the charges are not minor, but major. The head is sick, the heart is sick, and there is nothing sound in the entire body from head to foot.

It’s so bad that the Lord refers to the Israelites as Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 10.

In verses 11-15 we see what sacrifices, worship services, and festivals run by wicked people do for God. They sicken him and make him angry. "I am weary of bearing them," he says.

These sorts of verses are one more statement that it is not the sacrifice that purifies the offerer, but the repentant heart of one who offers purifies the sacrifice.

Verses 16-20 were used to apply to baptism by early Christians (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61, c. A.D. 155).

The reason is obvious. The passage begins with "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean" and then moves on to repentance and being purified from sin (cf. Acts 22:16 and Tit. 3:5).

Isaiah’s description of doing good in verse 17 is interesting. God tells us through Isaiah that we should …

  • seek justice;
  • reprove the ruthless;
  • defend the orphan
  • plead for the widow. (NASB and so with other bullet points)

His complaint about rulers in verse 23 is similar. They are rebels and companions of thieves, but God also emphasizes that they do not defend the orphans nor listen to the pleas of the widows.

In verses 24-26 we see that God intends to judge them to purify them, not to cast them away. That will come later, under the ministry of Jeremiah. Even now, though, it is only the repentant who will be redeemed.

Isaiah 2:2-5: The Mountain of the Lord and the New Covenant

Verses 2-5 of this chapter are occasionally referenced in modern literature, but they are regularly referenced in early Christian literature. Verses 2 and 3 were understood to refer to the bringing of the Gospel to the world, and verse 4 was taken quite literally to mean that Christians would not partake in war.

And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”1849 And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. (Justin, First Apology 39, c. A.D. 155)

Raising their eyes, and looking above, let them abandon Helicon and Cithæron, and take up their abode in Sion. "For out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem"—the celestial Word, the true athlete crowned in the theatre of the whole universe. (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen 1, c. A.D. 190)

In another place he says, "’Behold, days shall come,’ saith the Lord, ‘and I will draw up, for the house of Judah and for the house of Jacob, a covenant; not like the one I gave their fathers in the day wherein I led them out from the land of Egypt’" [Jer. 31:31-32]. From this we understand that the coming cessation of the former circumcision then given, and the coming procession of a new law (the one not like he had given to the fathers), are announced: just as Isaiah foretold, saying that in the last days the mount of the Lord and the house of God were to be manifest above the tops of the mountains: "And it shall be exalted," he says, "above the hills; and there shall come over it all nations; and many shall walk, and say, Come, let us ascend the mount of the Lord, and come to the house of the God of Jacob,"—not of Esau, the former son, but of Jacob, the second; that is, of our "people," whose "mount" is Christ.
    The coming procession of a new law out of this "house of the God of Jacob" Isaiah announces in the ensuing words, saying, "For from Zion shall go out a law, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem, and shall judge among the nations,"—that is, among us, who have been called out of the nations: "And they shall join to beat their glaives [swords] into ploughs, and their lances into sickles; and nations shall not take up glaive against nation, and they shall no longer learn to fight." Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices … For the wont [habit or bent] of the old law was to avenge itself by the vengeance of the glaive, and to pluck out "eye for eye," and to inflict retaliatory revenge for injury [e.g., Ex. 21:24-25; Lev. 24:17-22; Deut. 19:11-21; Matt. 5:38]. But the new law’s wont was to point to clemency, and to convert to tranquillity the pristine ferocity of "glaives" and "lances," and to remodel the pristine execution of war upon the rivals and foes of the law into the peaceful actions of ploughing and tilling the land. (Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews 3, c. A.D. 210; parentheses original, brackets mine)

A Note on Tertullian

My apologies for Tertullian’s big words and unusual wording. He was a lawyer as well as a prolific writer. Almost all of his writings are arguments directed towards Christians, Jews, Gentiles, and even the emperor. At some point in his Christian life, he joined the heresy (division) called Montanism, which forbad remarriage even for widows and widowers. (As a note to those modern Christians who take Jesus’ words concerning divorce and remarriage to a bizarre extreme, it was while he was a Montanist that he said that the laws of divorce and remarriage apply only after a person becomes a Christian—On Monogamy 11)

Each one of us, then, is come "in the last days" … to the "visible mountain of the Lord," the Word that is above every word, and to the "house of God," which is "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" [1 Tim. 3:15]. And we notice how it is built upon "the tops of the mountains," i.e., the predictions of all the prophets, which are its foundations. And this house is exalted above the hills, i.e., those individuals among men who make a profession of superior attainments in wisdom and truth; and all the nations come to it, and the "many nations" go forth … turning to the religion which in the last days has shone forth through Jesus Christ. (Origen, Against Celsus V:33, c. A.D. 225)

These verses were so often used, that a skeptic wrote to Origen saying, "For who of all believers does not know the words of Isaiah: "And in the last days … etc." (A Letter from Origen to Africanus 15).

Isaiah 2:6-22

These verses do not offer repentance to Judah. Though Isaiah calls the house of Jacob to walk in the light of the Lord in verse 5, but in verse 9, the prophet asks God not to forgive even after the common man bows down and the great man humbles himself.

When the prophet announces, beginning in verse 12, that there will be a day of reckoning for the proud and lofty, he then says the judgment will be against …

  • the cedars of Lebanon
  • the oaks of Bashan
  • lofty mountains
  • hills that are lifted up
  • fortified walls
  • ships of Tarshish
  • beautiful crafts

God’s judgment is not going to fall on trees, hills, and things. Everything in that list is the best of the best. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan were the best wood. The ships of Tarshish were the best and most glamorous, coming from afar.

These things are all pictures of lofty, exalted people, and the judgment is upon all those who exalt themselves, counting themselves to be the best of the best, to be like the cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan.

One additional point. We would surely take verse 21, which refers to the day when the Lord would make the earth tremble, as a reference to the very end. By the early Christian understanding, we’ve been in the last days since Jesus died and rose again. Verse 21 would not be far in the future, but something that is true already. I didn’t hunt down a quote on Isaiah 2:21, but here’s what Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185) said about Isaiah 2:17 and "The Lord alone will be exalted in that day":

"All flesh shall be humbled, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in the highest." It is thus indicated that, after his passion and ascension, God shall cast down under his feet all who were opposed to him, and he shall be exalted above all, and there shall be no one who can be justified or compared to him. (Against Heresies IV:33:13)

Isaiah 3

This chapter speaks for itself, so I’ll take this spot to point out that Isaiah prophesied until and into the reign of Hezekiah. His ministry included the time that the northern kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. The Assyrians also captured much of the southern kingdom, Judah, although God judged Sennacherib for his pride when he tried to take Jerusalem.

The frightening judgments of chapter 3, then, may refer to the Assyrians, but more likely to the Babylonian deportation, though it was still a century away. Certainly chapter 4, which we are about to look at, addresses the Chaldean capture of Jerusalem. (The Chaldeans is another name for the Babylonians, and the King James Version uses it quite often.)

Isaiah 4

In verse 2, the branch of Yahweh has always been understood to be the Messiah. This is because Jeremiah 23:5 & 33:15 and Zechariah 3:8 & 6:12 all are Messianic verses and refer to him as a branch.

Even modern commentators take verses 5 and 6 in a figurative sense, applying it to the church universal ("the whole area of Mount Zion") and individual churches ("her assemblies"—NASB). The pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day obviously are drawn from the exodus through the wilderness. It represents God’s protection and presence with the church. The use of the cloud and the pillar of fire in the prophecy is to let us know that the presence of the Lord can be known. It is a terrible thing when a church does not know that the Lord is no longer with them and settles into repetition and tradition. Spiritually, we should be as aware of the Lord’s presence as the Israelites were in the wilderness when the had the cloud and the pillar of fire.

Isaiah 5

There are a lot of important statements about God in the first 19 verses of this chapter, but I don’t think you need me to explain them. I will only point out that if you have received the grace of God, do not fail to produce fruit with it! Do not let a lack of self-confidence, fear, or the love of the world influence you not to walk in that grace. You see in this chapter what happens to a vineyard that does not produce fruit.

It is the same reason that Jesus cursed the fig tree that had leaves but no fruit. It is not enough for us to profess without our mouths. We must be fruit producers (cf. Jn. 15:1-10).

Verse 20 doesn’t need explanation, either, but the 21st century USA is like this. We have substituted evil for good, and good for evil. It is only by drawing together into unity and shining the light of our love and good works everywhere we live that we will be able to change that. Voting and political activism will not be enough because they are not God’s way of dealing with things. We must be those who live the Gospel so that God can send us to preach the Gospel.

In verses 24 through 30 we see why political activism is not enough. It is God who judges. In verse 24, we can think that those who have rejected the Law of the Lord and despised the Word are the lost in our country, but we see in verse 25 that the anger of Yahweh burned against his people, not against those who are not his people. It is we who have not salted the earth, who have not shined the light of our good works (Matt. 5:13-16), and who have not walked in love and unity, but in division (Jn. 17:20-23).

Let us cry out for mercy and for power.

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