Today we begin the book of Isaiah. This book is known by many as the “Fifth Gospel” because of all it says about Christ. Isaiah prophesies indictment and judgment against Judah, predicting the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of the nation. But he also prophesies of the restoration, which is only fulfilled in the coming Messiah. It is very likely that the book was put together by a disciple (or disciples) of Isaiah following his death. While Isaiah wrote what we read, it has been organized theologically, not necessarily chronologically. Because this book is so rich in theology, we will only be able to scratch the surface of the truth revealed here.
We cannot forget, however, that Isaiah prophesied into a specific situation at a specific point in salvation history. We see this in 1:1. And we see that though the narrative of 2 Kings doesn’t introduce us to Isaiah until the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:2), his prophetic ministry spanned four kings (Uzziah is another name for Azariah – see 2 Kings 15:1, 34), including the most wicked to date (Ahaz – see 2 Kings 16: 2-4) and the most righteous since David (Hezekiah – see 2 Kings 18:3-7). We have already gotten brief mentions of coming judgment for Judah in the prophecies of Amos (Amos 2:4-5) and Hosea (Hosea 5:5). We also saw that God told Hezekiah that Babylon would eventually take Judah into captivity (2 Kings 20:16-18).
Isaiah begins by indicting Judah for her sin. The calling of heaven and earth to witness is a callback to Deuteronomy 30:19, where God gives Israel a choice of life and death. Isaiah is calling these witnesses to convict Judah, because they made their choice. Even animals know their master, yet God’s own people don’t know theirs (1:2-3). Though God refers to Himself as “the Holy One of Israel” (v. 4), we know from verse 1 that this is spoken against Judah. We see here that Judah, like Israel before her, has forsaken God. Verses 5-9 are a call to repentance. They have been chastised by God (vv. 7-8), yet not utterly destroyed (v. 9). In verse 10, the indictment for empty, outward worship is begun. God compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah (ouch!). Like Israel (see Hos 6:6), Judah offers sacrifices and worship God doesn’t want (vv. 11-15). He wants repentance and true worship, which is righteousness and justice (vv. 16-17 – see Jas 1:27).
In verse 18, the “reason” is the Hebrew word for “rebuke”, “argue”, or “dispute”. It is a legal term. They have been indicted: their sins (forsaking God, worshiping Him wrongly, refusal to repent) are like scarlet (like the blood on their hands in verse 15). But though their crimes are undeniable, yet they will be made white (a symbol of righteousness) – white like the wool of a lamb. But there is something God requires from them once He takes away their sin: obedience. The choice in verses 19-201 are reminiscent of the choice God gave Israel in Deuteronomy 30:11-20. God is giving them the choice again as part of the do-over He will give them.
In verse 21, we see the prostitute language Hosea used against Israel. The “faithful city” is Jerusalem, a synecdoche for all the people of Judah. Even the best of them has become tainted (vv. 22-23). Verses 24-26 promise both judgment and restoration. God will punish them for their sin, but He will do it to purify the remnant (smelt away their dross), and restore them to righteousness and faithfulness. The judges and counselors “as at the beginning” speak of the do-over God is going to give His people. They need to choose repentance and righteousness (v. 27) or sin and judgment (vv. 28-31).
Chapter 2 begins with a prophesy of the ultimate restoration. The “latter days” of 2:2 begins with the first coming of Christ, but the completion of all this will be at His Second Coming. The “mountain of the house of the Lord” describes God’s presence with man. The prototype was in Eden (see Ezek 28:14). Then, it was on Mount Sinai. Then, is was in the Temple on Mount Zion (referred to here). The final “mountain of the Lord” will be the New Heaven and the New Earth where all peoples who repent will be.
But before that, it will be in Christ, and then His church, who will bring forth “the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (v. 3) in order for the nations to be saved. This is a reference to the mission of the church who are to bring our proclamation of repentance beginning in Jerusalem (see Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8). Those who respond to the message with repentance will be judged as righteous, and will enter into God’s permanent rest and peace (v. 4 – see Hos 2:18-23 and note that the witnesses [heaven and earth] are answered).
In verse 5, Judah is again called to repentance – to take part in the restoration Isaiah just prophesied of. Isaiah then speaks of the judgment that will accompany the restoration at the Second coming of Christ. God has rejected physical Israel (including Judah) because they became like the rest of the nations (v. 6). They are idolaters (v. 8) and will not be forgiven for it (v. 9). There will be a day when it is too late to repent (vv. 10-11). God will come in judgment and destroy this world as we know it (vv. 12-19). And the proud (those who do not humble themselves in repentance) who do not fear God now will learn to fear God (vv. 19-21 – see Rev 6:15-16). The call to repent and turn to God is then accompanied by a call to turn away from the ways of men (v. 22).
From 3:1-4:1, we have a prediction of the coming judgment at the hands of Babylon. Note in 3:1 that this is ultimately the work of God. The siege will break their supply of food. Their leaders and soldiers will fall (vv. 2-3). God will wipe out the whole generation until only children are left (v. 4 – likely a reference to the judgment of the disobedient generation of the Exodus). All order will cease (v. 5). People will seek leadership, but none will be found (vv. 6-7). This is punishment for their sin (v. 8).
In verse 9, Judah is again compared to Sodom for the evil they have brought on themselves. But note that the righteous will be judged for their deeds, while the wicked will be judged for theirs (vv. 10-11). The righteous remnant will be spared! Verse 12 is an indictment against the leaders of God’s people. Verses 13-15 represent God as the judge presiding over the trial of those leaders. He judges them as guilty for leading the people unjustly.
God also judges the women of Judah for their sins of pride and shallowness (vv. 16-17). God will take all that they place value on (vv. 18-24). God will take away the men of Judah in battle (v. 25) and there will be no one left for them to marry to take away the shame of their humiliation (3:26-4:1). It is quite possible that Isaiah (like Hosea) is using the image of the shamed woman (or, in this case, women) to represent Judah. Judah was enamored with the world: wealth, good standing with man, fleeting pleasures – but God will leave Judah barren by taking away her “Husband,” which is a metaphor for God’s rejection of Judah.
1 John Calvin says that “eating the good of the land” points us beyond just physical blessings: “And yet, when he offers to us the conveniences of the earthly life, it is not because he wishes that our attention should be confined to our present happiness, which alone hypocrites value, and which entirely occupies their minds; but in order that, by the contemplation of it, we may rise to the heavenly life, and that, by tasting so much goodness, he may prepare us for the enjoyment of eternal happiness” (Calvin’s Commentary on Isaiah)