Wednesday, April 13, 2011

a beginner's guide to understanding the book of isaiah part 2

in a beginner's guide to understanding the book of isaiah part 1 i shared my story of how i started to study the book of isaiah.  if you are able to dig deep into one book in the Bible, i would propose that you pick the book of isaiah!  if you haven't yet read this book in its entirety, i urge you to start today!  so many of us are familiar with portions of this book and have favorite passages that we have even committed to memory.  some of my favorites are:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, 
because he trusts in You. 
                                    isaiah 26:3 niv
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. 
they will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary, 
they will walk and not be faint. 
                                     isaiah 40:31 niv
and a popular house of prayer one (i have sung this verse so many times during an intercession set):
oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, 
that the mountains might quake at Your presence—
                                     isaiah 64:1 nasb
what is the main message of the book?

however, most of us do not know the context of the book of isaiah!  did you know that isaiah is the book that both Jesus and the apostle paul quote more than any other part of the old testament?  crazy, huh?!  since the Bible was not originally written in chapter and verse, we are to assume when a specific verse is quoted in the new testament, the person quoting it is actually referring to the whole section or story it came out from.  this is how the audience knew the Word - they memorized sections, not verses like we do.  don't you think that would aid our own understanding to memorize in context instead of out of context?  selah.

isaiah's very name was prophetic in that it means salvation.  his prophecy is the story of the salvation of israel.  much, if not most, of the prophecy in this book is believed to have not been fulfilled yet!  this book is primarily written to the southern kingdom of judah (israel split into two kingdoms after the death of king solomon).   if we read the book plainly, we can see that God will discipline judah, and israel, and in the end her heart will turn back to Him and He will heal her. then the Messiah will reign over the whole earth out of zion bringing perfect peace and humble leadership to the whole planet.

a difficult calling

isaiah had a tough message to sell.  God told him that the people would not listen (isaiah 6), but that he was called to still tell them what would happen.  though sections of isaiah can leave us scratching our heads wondering why God would deal so harshly with His chosen people, we can see from the bigger picture the most beautiful story of redemption.  i have heard mike bickle say that God will use the least severe means necessary to bring forth the deepest love out of the most people.

in our human understanding we could look at the words of isaiah and think some of it is pretty severe, but we do not know the whole picture like God does.  He is more merciful than we are.  He is more loving than we are.  He is more patient than we are.  if He must bring discipline and even judgment, it is the least severe way.  obviously many in isaiah's day were rather offended at his harsh word and did not see the redemption promised because tradition says isaiah was martyred by king manasseh, the most wicked king in the history of judah, by being sawn through by a wood saw.  God was right that many would be hardened by isaiah speaking forth His Word.

a line in the sand

here is the big line in the sand for me while i have been reading and studying this book.  either i believe that isaiah was a true prophet of God and what he said was not his own good ideas or vain imagination but the very Word and truth of God or i don't.  i can't really have it both ways.  either i take the harsh sayings, the promises of judgment, of the discipline of judah (israel), and even of gentile nations with the promise of redemption, hope, and the remnant or i leave it all.  either this book will be fulfilled literally in entirety or it is entirely symbolic.  it can't be part literal and part symbolic (unless of course isaiah plainly says one part is a symbol and tells what it is to mean).  history has shown us that much of this Word has not been fulfilled.   if this is to be interpreted plainly and literally, much of the book of isaiah will not be fulfilled until the last days of this age and the millenium of Jesus' reign on the earth.

a paradigm shift

this has not been easy for me.  i have grown up my whole life thinking i can pick and choose out of books like isaiah what my favorite passage is and claim it for my life.  i have even heard it said that we can substitute "the church" for the words israel, judah, and zion and that it applies to us.  but, if i am consistent with that line of thought, it just brings confusion while i read the book as a whole.  when i believe israel, judah, and zion are literal and He really is going to fulfill all His words to them, then so much falls into place and the confusion starts to lift.  if i can see His faithfulness to israel, to judah, to bring them back to Him (which i do not believe they are right now as most of israel is secular atheist), i can see how He will be faithful to me! 

message to the gentiles - that's us!

there is so much in isaiah about the gentiles being added to the jews in eternal salvation.  this is referring to us as the church!  how awesome that it was foretold long ago that people from all nations, every people group, would believe!  now, instead of trying to substitute the church for when it is talking about the jews, i rejoice when i see hope and salvation prophesied to the nations, because we are those from the nations who believe.  i can read about God's interactions with the jews and learn so much about His nature.  i can read in isaiah and see so much, so much, prophesied about the Messiah who is to come (who i know to be Jesus!!).

3 general themes

isaiah is broken down into three general themes of revelation: the Sovereign King, the Suffering Servant, and the Anointed Conqueror.    it isn't written chronologically, but isaiah later grouped his prophesies into these 3 themes.  this helped me so much to realize that it wasn't chronological but that isaiah wanted us to get a revelation about these attributes of the Messiah.

a big conviction to my own heart has been the realization i cannot pick and choose what parts of Jesus i am going to embrace.  many of the jews missed the fact that Jesus was Messiah during His first coming because they were looking for the Sovereign King and Anointed Conqueror.  they missed the revelation that the Suffering Servant was not a different person, but one and the same with these other parts of the Messiah's nature.  we as the gentile church often understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant but do not understand how He will also return in the second coming as the Sovereign King and Anointed Conqueror.  however, all three are essential to fully understanding and loving who Jesus is and in showing us the full picture of the Father.  i do not claim to fully understand this yet, but my heart's prayer as i read and study isaiah is that the Holy Spirit would show me the fullness of Jesus and that my heart would say yes to all He is.

Immanuel - the promised Messiah

one of my very favorite things about the book of isaiah is how he plainly builds the case that Jesus is indeed God (Yahweh).  in isaiah 6, isaiah received a vision of israel's true king: Yahweh (God).  this is where he received his calling to be a prophet and where he learns both the fear of God and receives cleansing and forgiveness as a sign of what God desired for all people.  this is where isaiah received a revelation of the holiness of God - the attribute of God that he speaks of most.  john 12:41 makes clear that it was Jesus's glory that isaiah actually saw in his encounter!  isaiah also used the same language in 52:13 of the Lord's Servant as he did in 57:15 of the Eternal God Himself.

in chapter 9, isaiah has an amazing Messianic passage that we are so familiar with from christmas cards, songs, and sermons:
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.

there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
on the throne of david and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness

from then on and forevermore. 
the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
he speaks of 4 key names of the Messiah to come:

Wonderful Counselor- a supernatural counselor
Mighty God- title given to God Himself in isaiah 10:21
Eternal Father- reference to Yahweh and how this Child would rule a kingdom that nevers ends in compassion and discipline
Prince of Peace- leadership in the full realization of God's favor

in the titles of this child to be born, it is clear this child is of the same nature and substance as God Himself - fully equal and one with the Father.  what amazes me is the emphasis is on the fact that He is born!  the fullness of all He will bring is all secured in the very fact that He came.  as c.s. lewis said, the ultimate miracle is the incarnation of God becoming man.  He is Immanuel - God with us!  God actually came to be with us, and He is coming back to be with us forever.

my encouragement to you

though part of this may seem a bit complex for a post on how a beginner can understand the book of isaiah, it is only barely scratching the surface of all that is in this rich book.  i think my biggest encouragement to you as you dive into this book for yourself is not to skim over the judgment passages or sections that seem harsh and hard to understand and just focus on the passages that seems obviously hopeful.  i have found only being 1/3 the way through my deeper study, and after just freshly reading and listening to this book all the way through, that God's nature and goodness is revealed in all of it.  there is hope in the midst of the judgment.  this speaks of His nature:  His mercy is always present even when He must enact judgment.

do not lose sight of the big picture:  isaiah's message was one of the full salvation and redemption of israel.  

i want to once again encourage you to read and study this book for yourself.  do not simply take my word for it.  read isaiah.  journal it.  pray it.  ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear.  He will be faithful to reveal Jesus and the nature of God and you will get so much more than i could ever give you here.

i will leave you this last thought that i read early on in my study in the motyer commentary, in fact in chapter 1, that has anchored my heart in God's unending goodness in all He does:
even in the very exercise of His wrath the Lord remembers mercy, and mercy and justice are perfectly blended in the divine nature.

He is good, His plans are always good, and He will one day bring ultimate salvation to jews and gentiles alike when He returns and reigns perfectly from mt. zion!

we can trust Him because He cares for us.

who is going to read the book of isaiah soon?  
what is a favorite passage or section of yours from isaiah?

read part 1
read part 3

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