Thursday, August 5, 2010

Isaiah Chapter One (and a bit of chapter two)

Isaiah Chapter One 
(1) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Time period:  740-700 BC (2Kings chapters 15 to 20)
Historical context:  Israel was in decline at this stage of history, heading towards the end of the era of the Kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel).  People of the Northern Kingdom increasingly ignored God’s command and each person did what was right in his own eyes.  God raised up Assyria to take Israel into captivity as judgment for their sin.  The Northern kingdom never truly repented.  In New Testament times we see the Northern Kingdom still doing its own thing and not even considered part of Israel by the New Testament writers, e.g. Samaria: woman at the well (John 4), Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28)
Intended Audience:  Judah – the Southern Kingdom.  Referred to as the “Daughter of Zion” (Zion being Jerusalem)
Major Themes: Call to repentance and warning of coming judgement yet Isaiah is not meant to convince them to repent but to preach knowing they won’t repent (Isaiah chapter 6)
Points of interest:  Judah as a fraction of all Israel parallels the true children of Abraham who are circumcised of heart, i.e. not all Jews were saved, but only those who had been born again.  Judah is often seen as more special in scripture.

(2)  Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.  (3)  The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."  (4)  Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.  (5)  Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  (6)  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.  (7)  Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.  (8)  And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.  (9)  If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. 
V2 – Isaiah calls on the heavens and the earth to bear witness to what the Lord has said regarding Judah.
V3 – The people are worse than a dumb ox because even the dumb animal knows who it belongs to and where it lives.
V4 – Their ancestral heritage may as well be from sinful man and not from the Lord because they are estranged from Him.
V5,6 – They are like a man who has become (or is rapidly becoming) terminally ill with sickness in his entire body that was not treated.  Oil was used for medicinal purposes.
V7,8 – Still figurative speech (hence the use of “like” regularly).  This is speaking of their spiritual desolation with foreign gods and customs.  The physical desolation is to come if they don’t repent, and it has already come to the North.  The booth and the lodge speak of being cut off from everything, cut off from the nations and settlements around them.  There is no help available.
V9 – Yet God has kept some amongst all those who have rebelled and has stopped such complete spiritual destruction and iniquity as was in Sodom.
Without getting into specifics, Isaiah is telling Judah they are sinful and spiritually dead.
Is this a picture of the church today?

(10)  Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!  (11)  "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.  (12)  "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  (13)  Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  (14)  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  (15)  When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 
V10 – Continuing with the picture of Judah/Israel as evil Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaiah calls them to hear the details of their sin.
V11, 12 – They worship in vain, with their hearts absent.
V13, 14 – God’s anger at their vain worship is emphasised by His command to cease from doing so.  God is weary of having to endure their sin in this.  This is not a limitation on His mercy and grace but an unwillingness to leave His people in their sin.  Coming up is the plan for reform and refinement.
V15 – God will not listen to their prayers because there is still blood on their hands from the evil they have done and continue to do.  They must be washed clean before He will hear them. Christ is our justifier and washer.
How much do we do this in our churches?  Singing in vain, sitting in church listening to the preacher without engaging our minds, going through the motions of what it means to be a “good Christian” without caring for God in our every action.  In one sense this is an impossible expectation, which makes the work of Christ all the more amazing in that every moment he actively did all to the Glory of God.  We must have God honouring reasons for doing everything we do so that our lives (our whole worship) are not in vain.
Dangers of doing things in vain: When a new and different situation arises then we have no process of reasoning to work through to find whether it is something that is usable for the kingdom or not, e.g. Internet, TV, etc – Many Christians have struggled to learn to approach these things appropriately and some just say, “lets have none of it” but they fail to see the opportunity for spreading God’s Word and advancing the Kingdom.  So we need to know why we do things in order to apply our reasons appropriately.
This passage also shows us that the sacrifice was never what God was after when He gave Moses and Israel the law.  He was after their heartfelt obedience.  Without the heart the rest is nothing!  We are fortunate now that under the new covenant we have much more clarity and we no longer have to follow laws to direct us in this way except the law written on our hearts.

(16)  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,  (17)  learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  (18)  "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  (19)  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;  (20)  but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (21)  How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.  (22)  Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.  (23)  Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them. 
V16, 17 – the call to repentance.
V18, 19 – The consequences of repentance is being cleansed from sin and the blood from V15 will no longer be on their hands.  “Reason together” – this seems absurd: how can we reason with God?  This is a call to listen to a reasonable suggestion, not to engage in discussion or negotiation with God!
V20 – The consequences of remaining in their sin.
V21 – The covenant that God has with Israel has been broken by them and it is as if a married person has been unfaithful and broken their covenant of marriage.  Israel should see this as a description of the greatness of their sin.
V22 – Tarnished and corrupt they are no longer pure.  Watered down.
V23 – James 1:27 and true religion.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  OT + NT is the same God who wants His people to provide for those who cannot do so themselves and to look after the weak.
This is something we do well today (in some ways) but are our hearts in it for God?

(24)  Therefore the Lord declares, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: "Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes.  (25)  I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.  (26)  And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city."  (27)  Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.  (28)  But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.  (29)  For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.  (30)  For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.  (31)  And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.
V24 – God calls His people His enemies!  He will bring judgment on them, but…
V25 – this is more for the purpose of discipline and bringing them to repentance and buring off the dross.
V26, 27 – depicts the cleansed nation.  Judah restored to her purity.
V28 – 31 – describes the destruction of evil with V29, 30, and 31 as a picture of their idolatry being something to be ashamed of and being burnt up by God.

Isaiah Chapter Two
(1)  The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  (2)  It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  (3)  and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  (4)  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.  (5)  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
V2 – Figuratively speaking, the world (not just Jews, but Gentile also) will look to Jerusalem as the source of access to God.  The coming of Jesus was a fulfilment of this, at least in a partial sense, with the culmination at his return.  Not mountains per se, but Christ as the mountain!  Worship in spirit and in truth and not at any mountain.  (John 4:19-26 – the woman at the well and which mountain to worship at?)
V3 – The nations will recognise that this is so, to the point that Gentiles will seek the teachings of God through Jesus, a Jew.  Law = word of God, not just Mosaic law.
V4 – Again, a partial fulfilment as Christ is the one all Christians everywhere in the world look to as their judge and king.  This will again be completely fulfilled when Christ returns to rule in the recreated earth.  Christians united under Christ have no need to war against each other.  This is the only way to unite the nations of the world – under Christ. 
V5 – Israel are invited to repent and enter into this picture of peace and joy in the Lord.

Four major eschatological views (as best as I can summarise briefly and as I understand them to be):
  1. This is a picture of the development of the kingdom on earth, growing by the spread of the Gospel until the entire planet is subverted/converted to Christianity in which the millennial reign will begin (Post-Millennial) [Large parts of the Reformed Church – also A-Millennial]
  2. This is only speaking of the millennial reign of Christ when he returns after the tribulation and reinstitutes the Mosaic Law (Dispensational Pre-millennial) [Calvary Chapel, though with some crossing over with Historic Pre-Millennial I think]
  3. Same as for 2. but with without the Mosaic Law being re-established and without a specific time period for the tribulation.  Christians are here through this version of the tribulation and it is more of a tribulation in terms of suffering for the faith.  Takes a figurative understanding of the tribulation (Historic Pre-millennial) [Spurgeon and a few other reputable Christian scholars – Wayne Grudem]
  4. This is a picture of the partial fulfilment that Christ achieved at his resurrection and is descriptive of Christians living now on earth but at the same time in the Kingdom of Heaven (seated in heavenly places with Christ, etc).  The fullness of this picture is to be completed at the return of Christ.  The millennial reign of Christ is now, in the last days, and has been since the first century and will continue until his return (A-millennial) [Me, large parts of the Reformed Church]
There are difficulties with all of these systems of eschatology and most people don’t fit neatly into any one group.  What they all agree on is the return of Christ and the expectation of Glory to God at this time.

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