Friday, April 8, 2011

a beginner's guide to understanding the book of isaiah part 1

as many of you know, i have been doing an in depth study of the book of isaiah for the past 7 months.  i have wanted to write here some of the deep stuff God has been doing in my heart through the study of this book, and even though i haven't written a post yet devoted primarily to the topic of the book of isaiah, my entire perspective on God, israel, the gentile church, the second coming, and even the times we live in has been so affected by this study that it has leaked all over what i have written as of late.

i had read the book of isaiah all the way through before, though it had been quite a while since i did. when my husband bill asked me to join his worship team in the commitment to this in depth study, i have to tell you that i was quite intimidated by the thought of the commitment to dig deep into this particular book!  his worship team leads the prayer set at our house of prayer, called the watch of the Lord, that is specifically devoted to praying for israel on friday nights.  he wanted his team to get a deeper revelation of God's heart for israel, and what better book to go deep in for grasping God's heart for His chosen people than isaiah!

why study the book of isaiah?

i know that isaiah is a book that so many are familiar with in parts because of songs written from portions of Scripture, popular memory verses, and sermon passages.  we all are familiar with the passages often quoted at christmas:
behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, 
and she will call His name Immanuel.
                                                   isaiah 7:14
for a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
and the government will rest on His shoulders;
and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace...
                                                   isaiah 9:6

there is even a bronze statue outside the united nations headquarters in new york that was a gift from the soviet union in 1959 that has written on the granite:
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 
and their spears into pruninghooks.
                                                          isaiah 2:4

however, i also know that there is so much of isaiah i do not understand and i don't hear anyone preach about, talk about, sing about, or commit to memory.  so much of this book remains a mystery unless we are willing to dig deep.

this is a long book too!  66 chapters at one chapter a week (i thankfully have a husband so committed to having me be a part of this Bible study that he volunteered to watch the kids 1-2 hours a week so i can steal away to study at starbucks uninterrupted) would mean i was committing a year and a half of my life to dig deep in this book primarily to get revelation on God's heart for israel and to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me a deeper revelation of Jesus.  if i can grasp God's heart in the prophesies of isaiah, i can know His nature... He is a God who never changes. 

so, after six months i feel just a little bit qualified to give you some beginner tips and insights into this rich rich book.  i do not pretend to know it all or even know it in part yet... there are men like alec motyer who have devoted the larger portions of their lives to studying this book and these are the men who can really give insight into this hard book.  me?  i can point you in the right direction for you to start digging for yourself.

what you need to get started:

the first thing i would recommend in studying this book is to get a journal you can take notes in, write a summary of each section (in our study, we are breaking it down into sections, not chapters, and yet not verse by verse), and write a prayer about it as well.

then pray through what you have been reading.  ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear.  all scripture, particularly prophecy, can either soften our hearts towards the Lord or harden our hearts.  particularly if a portion seems hard to understand or offensive to what you already thought you knew about God, pray through it!  ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you truth and truth will always be confirmed in the Word!

i think it is especially important to ask the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts in reading isaiah because of the context in which isaiah was called to prophesy.  in isaiah's throne room experience and commissioning in chapter 6 the Lord told him that though he would speak the words of the Lord, the people would not listen.  if they would listen, they would turn their hearts back to God.  isaiah asked how long their hearts would be hardened and God said devastation would come before they would turn to Him, but He promised a remnant of those who would believe. this promise of a remnant (a small group set apart for the Lord) is a common theme of isaiah's.

render the hearts of this people insensitive, 
their ears dull,
and their eyes dim,
otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and return and be healed.
                                       isaiah 6:10
i also recommend getting some study tools to help you as you read this book.  i recommend david pawson's book unlocking the Bible as a place for a good surface introduction to the book of isaiah.  

two commentaries on isaiah i would recommend after reading them for the past six months are the prophecy of isaiah: an introduction and commentary by j. alec motyer (who devoted over 30 years to studying and teaching the book of isaiah) and dr. constable who offers all his notes on all the books of the Bible for free online.  i would recommend using at least 2 commentaries during your study so you can compare opinions... sometimes they will differ on interpretation of certain portions and it is good to get more than one perspective.  also, i recommend these two men because they are more conservative in Bible interpretation, which simply means they believe that it is the inspired Word of God and that it is true.  some commentators of Scripture you find out there are only trying to prove how the Bible isn't true and i don't waste my time on reading them.  it just goes to show you can read the Word of God and still have your heart hardened to the truth without the Holy Spirit giving grace to believe.

stay tuned... this is only part 1 of a 3 part series.  more to come!

read part 2 here
read part 3 here

what is one thing about the book of isaiah that intrigues you and makes you interested in studying or reading it for yourself?



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