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
The overall year’s plan is here.
Isaiah 6: Seraphim
Here is another of the more famous chapters in the Bible. Isaiah sees the Lord.
Let’s begin by discussing what Seraphim are. The Hebrew word for Seraphim is seraphim. Every Bible I’ve ever seen has not bothered to actually translate the word here in Isaiah 6, even though it’s used 5 other times in the Hebrew Scripture and translated every other time. It’s even used two other times in Isaiah (14:29; 30:6) and translated both times.
A seraph is a serpent; a snake. I guess that’s why no one wants to translate it. The serpent in the garden was evil, so I’m supposing translators don’t want serpents in heaven.
However, refusing to acknowledge what is true doesn’t make it not true. There are serpents in heaven whether we want to translate the word seraphim or not.
I, on the other hand, think it’s awesome. What is a serpent with wings except a dragon? Don’t you love the idea of dragons flying around the throne of God crying out "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty"?
Well, whether we like it or not, and whether we let anyone know or not, that’s what Isaiah saw.
A seraph is a particular kind of serpent. Literally, it means a "fiery" snake, and translators aren’t sure whether that refers to their color (perhaps copper-colored) or to the fact that they’re poisonous. Seraphim were the kind of snakes that bit and killed the Israelites in the wilderness (Num. 21:6). It was a seraph that was on the bronze pole that Moses made to heal the Israelites afterward, and Jesus compares himself on the cross to the seraph on the pole (Jn. 3:14).
Isaiah 6: Mercy and Grace
I’m skipping commenting on the vision of Yahweh on his throne. That is not because it is unimportant. That’s to be basked in, and our revelation of our great God enhanced because of it.
What I want to point out is the progression Isaiah goes through in one chapter. It is a progression that we must go through in our lives.
- Isaiah is brought into the presence of God. We are not told how. God has simply drawn him.
- Isaiah responds as all must who see the Lord. He is stricken by an awareness of his own sinfulness. My favorite picture of this is Peter (still Simon then) in Luke 5. Once he obeys the Word of the Lord, which is to go back out to sea and cast the nets again (vv. 4-5), he sees the result of obedience (fruitfulness), and he is stricken with conviction as the Word finds a home in his heart. "Depart from me! I am a sinful man!" he cries (v. 8).
- God responds with mercy and a call. Isaiah was a great prophet, and Peter was a great apostle. They stood tall and are famous. We don’t all have the same call, but we do all have a call. When we are stricken by the Word of the Lord, and we become aware of our own sinfulness, God will respond with mercy, and he will respond with a call. "Do not fear, Simon. You will catch men." Paul, too, received a call immediately upon his repentance (Acts 9:10-20), even though he had to wait for the fulfillment of that call years later (in Acts 13:2).
In addition, as we have seen before this in Isaiah, we see that God is not offering Israel and Judah a way out of their judgment. He has Isaiah preaching to render the people’s ears dull and their eyes dim until God’s judgment came to destroy their homes and take them away captive.
Understand, though, that even a pronouncement like this is not without hope. When Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a prophecy of destruction, no hope of mercy was offered to them (Jonah 3:4). They weren’t even God’s people! They were Assyrians!
The very reason we have a book of Jonah, however, and the reason he ended up swallowed by a great fish, is because Jonah knew that even a message of assured destruction was not always assured destruction. He knew that the Assyrians might repent, and if they did, God, being merciful, would relent of his destruction upon them, and this is not what Jonah wanted (4:2-3).
When a heart is hardened by God, or by the preaching of God’s Word, know that it has brought such a judgment upon itself. God raised up Pharaoh and hardened his heart, but he did so in foreknowledge. Pharaoh first hardened his heart, and as judgment, God made sure that his heart would stay hardened.
Never let us be those that throw away the mercy of God until it cannot be recovered (Heb. 6:4-8; 12:16-17).
Isaiah 7:1-16: The Virgin Birth
In this chapter is the prophecy of the virgin birth.
First, though, it’s time for a little honesty and a true history of this prophecy.
If we’re translating the Hebrew Scriptures, then Isaiah 7:14 should say that a "maiden" shall conceive and bear a son, not a "virgin."
Virgin doesn’t even make any sense in this passage unless there were two virgin births, Jesus’ birth and one in the time of Ahaz, king of Judah. Isaiah is telling Ahaz that God is giving him a sign, in his time, concerning two kings who were against him (the kings of Israel and Syria, Pekah and Rezin). He offers this child, named Immanuel, as proof that Ahaz would be delivered. It would happen by the time Immanuel knew to tell right from wrong.
So what am I saying about Jesus’ virgin birth.
I am saying that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and inspiration is not our American, modern, western logical, confined-to-a-box-we-can-understand thing.
The word "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 comes from the Septuagint, not the Masoretic text that all our modern Bibles are translated from (unless you from one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches). There’s two reasons this might have happened:
- The translators of the LXX were working from an older, more accurate text. This seems unlikely since the prophecy was originally about a young lady in King Ahaz’ time. None of us believe there was a virgin birth during King Ahaz’ reign.
- The translators of the LXX were inspired by God because God meant the prophecy to be a dual prophecy, so he had them change the original!
Justin Martyr and Irenaeus—keep in mind that both believed the LXX was inspired word for word by God because they believed a story about the method of translation that is certainly false—accuses the Jews of changing or twisting the Scriptures to avoid the word virgin in Isaiah 7:14:
If therefore, I shall show that this prophecy of Isaiah refers to our Christ, and not to Hezekiah, as you say, shall I not in this matter, too, compel you not to believe your teachers, who venture to assert that the explanation which your seventy elders [i.e., the translators of the Septuagint] that were with Ptolemy the king of the Egyptians gave, is untrue in certain respects? …
But I am far from putting reliance in your teachers, who refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy of the Egyptians is a correct one; and they attempt to frame another. And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations effected by those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God and man, as being crucified, and as dying.
But since I am aware that this is denied by all of your nation, I do not address myself to these points, but I proceed to carry on my discussions by means of those passages which are still admitted by you. For you assent to those which I have brought before your attention, except that you contradict the statement, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive," and say it ought to be read, "Behold, the young woman shall conceive."
And I promised to prove that the prophecy referred, not, as you were taught, to Hezekiah, but to this Christ of mine: and now I shall go to the proof … [Proof given in chapters 77 and 78.]
(Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 68 and 71, c. A.D. 155)
God, then, was made man, and the Lord saved us himself, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, "Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son," as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:21:1, c. A.D. 185)
That’s the prophecy of the virgin birth, which I believe was inspired by God to be one way in Hebrew and another in Greek. The early Christians (and, it appears, the Jews as well) simply took Isaiah 7:14 so figuratively and so prophetically that they didn’t bother applying it to Ahaz at all. Instead Ahaz was simply a figurative representation of the line of David, and thus it was okay for the prophecy only to be fulfilled in Christ.
That’s not very satisfying to me. I prefer the idea that God changed it on purpose. It was Jewish scholars who changed Isaiah 7:14 when it was translated into Greek, not Christian ones. Isaiah was probably translated two centuries before Jesus was born!
The statement that the Assyrians would shave with a razor is a statement that though they will strip Judah of its riches and remove its reputation (represented by the beard), he would not destroy the people of God. They would be shaved, but not put to death. They would rise again.
They would have to wait to rise and return until God delivered them from captivity, which would be centuries for the Israelites captured by the Assyrians but just 70 years for the kingdom of Judah captured by Bablyon.
In that time, their land would become covered with briars and thorns, and God would allow them a heifer and a pair of sheep. That would be enough to eat curds and honey, but no more. They would not be able to farm.
Isaiah, too, has a son, named "Swift is the booty, speedy the prey," that is a time marker for the downfall of Samaria (Israel) and Damascus (Syria).
In verses 7-8, we are again told that Assyria will not destroy Judah. Pictured as a river, he will rise to Judah’s neck. Pictured as a bird, his wings will spread throughout Judah’s land. He will, however, completely conquer Israel.
I think verse 12 is said to us about very right-wing Christianity today. I have heard all the stories about Illuminati conspiracies, Jesuit conspiracies, and rich bank conspiracies. It is not some small group of people who are in charge, it is the Lord God Almighty who is in charge. We do not need to join in fear-mongering over conspiracies. Our fear is to be directed towards God, as he makes very clear in Isaiah 51:12-13. (Hopefully, I now have my blog set where you can point to the verse and get a small window giving you its words. For those that want to mimic this on your blog, see reftagger.com.)
In verse 16 I see the rule of faith of the early churches. The apostles built churches, and then they passed the faith to the leaders of those churches to be preserved unchanged, just as they had given it (Jude 3). "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples" Isaiah says.
Verse 18 may refer, in part, to Isaiah and his own children, who were signs to Israel. However, this is primarily a prophecy referring to Jesus. We are on display as trophies of the grace of God (Eph. 2:7), now and into eternity.
Verse 20, at least the first half of it, has always been on my memory verse list from the first time I saw it. "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
Clear, clear, clear wording. I like it this plain.
Such a rich set of chapters today. Isaiah is a very rich book (or maybe I’m just not spiritual enough to see the richness of some of the other books).
Verses 1-2 are clearly a reference to the fact that Jesus would make his home in Galilee, in the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. He is the great light that shines in that dark land.
Verses 3-5 build up to verses 6 and 7. Something happens that multiplies the nation, increases their gladness, and breaks their yoke of slavery. Verse 6 starts with "for," which is basically another word for because. The reason for this multiplication, joy, and freedom is that a Son is born to us. The government rests on his shoulders, and he is known as the Mighty God and the eternal Father.
There are people who claim to be Bible believers who argue that the Bible does not teach the divinity of Christ. Such a stand is unthinkable to me in light of verses like Isaiah 9:6. What a clear prophecy of what we find in Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
I have wondered before why Jesus is called the eternal Father in that verse. I’ve looked it up in the early Christian writings, and I never found a discussion, even though calling Jesus the eternal Father would be very strange among the early churches. The Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son. How did they deal with this verse?
What I found out today—not sure why I never looked it up before—is that "eternal Father" is not in the LXX version of Isaiah 9:6, and the LXX was the Bible of the early churches (and, most likely, the apostles when they were not in Israel or Syria). In fact, "mighty God" is not there, either. Instead, the Septuagint reads:
For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.
Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185), who would have used the LXX as well, quoted Isaiah 9:6 this way:
He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God. (Against Heresies III:19:2)
The rest of the chapter is a prophecy of destruction that gets progressively worse and runs on into …
In verses 10 and 11, notice that "images" and "graven images" seem to be used as synonyms for idols (NASB). Somehow, way back in the 700’s, at the second Council of Nicea, the leaders of the catholic churches came together to declare that bowing to images was acceptable to God. Worse, they not only said that bowing to them was acceptable, but that "veneration" was acceptable. We could give a proskuneo kind of worship to them, but not a latreuo worship.
Proskuneo and latreuo are two Greek words in the New Testament, both having to do with worship. Both are used by Jesus (well, by Matthew or his translator; Jesus would have spoken Aramaic) in refuting the devil and quoting Deuteronomy 6:13.
He says, "Get away from me, satan, for it is written, ‘You shall proskuneo the Lord your God, and him only shall you latreuo.’"
In Acts 10:25, Peter came into Cornelius’ house, and Cornelius fell at his feet and offered him proskuneo. Peter refused it because he was a man (v. 26).
Is it really possible that it was wrong to fall before Peter in proskuneo "veneration" (the word the Eastern Orthodox Churches use to justify bowing to icons—images of saints—which they say are windows to heaven), but now that Peter has died, it is okay to bow before his picture (or statue, Roman Catholic) in proskuneo veneration?
I realize that Deuteronomy 6:13 only puts the word "only" in front of the latreuo worship, but is it really possible that when Jesus refused the devil’s request for proskuneo by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, that he meant that only latreuo was reserved for God, while proskuneo, which is all the devil asked for, was acceptable if offered to the right human beings, or worse, to the right human beings’ pictures?
Okay, back to the prophecies.
After God finishes describing the judgment being brought by the Assyrians, and especially by the King Sennacherib, he begins to describe Sennacherib’s downfall. The fulfillment of the prophecies in verses 12-19 is described in chapters 37 and 38 of Isaiah (and again in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles).
All three stories tell us that an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. It is only the prophecy of Isaiah 10 that tells us how this happened. Yahweh of armies (or hosts, Isaiah’s preferred term for God) sent a "wasting disease" (NASB) against the "stout warriors" of the Assyrians.
In verses 20-23 Isaiah looks even further forward, to the captivity in Babylon and the return to Jerusalem. Only a remnant would return, and before they returned the entire land will be destroyed. All that happened.
Verses 28-32 are literal history. Assyria conquered these towns. He came to Nob, a fortified city in view of Jerusalem, and from there he shook his fist at the people of God. Hezekiah, however, was a righteous king, and he cried to God for help. As a result, shaking his fist was the only thing Sennacherib was able to accomplish against Jerusalem. His army was destroyed by the wasting disease, and then he returned home to be killed in the temple of God by his own sons.