OK, enough beating around the bush. We’ve looked at various topics surrounding the prophets, so now we’re going to take the plunge. We’re going to do some studies in Isaiah for the next few weeks. Of course, as I keep reminding you, this is a devotional, not a commentary. We’re not going to go over every verse, just some themes from his book that I’d like to cover.
I don’t know if I’ve shared this before, but Isaiah is probably my favorite book of the prophets. The main reason for that is its completeness. More than any other O.T. book, it tells us a lot about God, mankind’s sin, the hope of Messiah, God’s grace towards us, and even some very strong hints about the afterlife. In fact, it’s actually easier to list the things it doesn’t touch on. Romans is my favorite book in the N.T. (and actually in the entire Bible) for the exact same reason. Inside me there’s a systematic theologian that’s just dying to get out, I suppose.
Another odd coincidence concerning this book is the way it’s arranged. There is a very sharp break in tone about 2/3 of the way through it. For the first 39 chapters, the focus is on God’s judgment; there are passages which talk about grace and forgiveness and restoration, but the emphasis is on not-so-pleasant subjects. In the remaining 1/3 (27 chapters), the emphasis is on his grace, mercy and power on behalf of his people. Do you see what I mean by the coincidence? There are 66 chapters in Isaiah, and there are 66 books in the Bible, and the relative emphasis in each section is the same. I don’t put a lot of stock in it being some esoteric message, but it is an interesting thing to point out, and it helps keep a rough outline in our head.
Another slightly odd thing about the book is the placing of his calling. He goes for five chapters before he relates the story of his calling as a prophet in chapter six. He tells us quite a bit, as if he can’t wait to get the message out before he starts to talk about himself. I think we need to brand this on our foreheads (metaphorically): The message is infinitely more important than the messenger. We need to keep that focus.
So here’s a few points I’d like to make from today’s passage:
• You might've missed it, especially if you’re not too familiar with the Torah, but this is pretty important. Notice how he calls the heavens and the earth to listen to his complaint? Starting with the Law of Moses, this is a pattern in Scripture: A legal complaint or charge has to have two or three prosecution witnesses. When the Lord established his covenant with the nation of Israel, he called heaven and earth as witnesses. A covenant is an agreement, a contract. And Israel had not been keeping up to their obligations, to say the least. They'd broken God’s law, and even more important, they'd broken his heart.
• People love to emphasize how “judgmental” the God of the O.T. is as contrasted with the God of the N.T., as if they’re two separate Gods instead of one. But keep this mind: Behind every announcement of judgment is a loving God who’s reaching out to sinful people. He’s not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Or to quote another prophet, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked man turn from his ways and live.
• I want to remind you, and I’ll keep doing it as long as it keeps coming up—God didn’t have to send the prophets. He was under no obligation to do so. He'd given the Law of Moses, so no Israelite needed to guess as to how the nation was doing spiritually. If he just destroyed the nation with no further warning, he'd be giving them precisely what they deserved.
• Anywhere this side of the Great Divide, all of his judgments are mixed with mercy to some degree. In the midst of this outpouring of his just anger on the nation, the prophet points out to them that the Lord was still leaving them some “survivors.”
As we go through the “harsh” passages in the prophets in the next few months, let’s keep these points in mind.
Father, I can personally testify that you've not treated me as my sins deserve. You're the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. I know that, and I’ve lived it.