This is part of a series of posts reflecting on the book of Isaiah. See below for the full list of the posts in the series.
- Prophecy in the book of Isaiah: We are part of the plan.
- God is Not Slow in Keeping His Promises
- True Worship is Transformational
Sometimes, living on “this side” of Christ, we have become so familiar with the basic stories of our faith that we are numb to them. Sometimes we are too comfortable with our picture of God and our self-supposed knowledge and the words from the Scripture no longer strike at our hearts. Sometimes, like the ancient nation of Israel, we are a people who see but do not notice and hear but do not listen (Isaiah 42:18-20).
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the awesomeness of who God is, to be humbled before His immensity and wisdom and timeliness. Sometimes we need to read the book of Isaiah – all in one sitting, pen in hand and “In Christ Alone” playing in the background, following a recent full reading of the book of John.
Because when we do, we will sit back in awe of the fact that “God is God, and we are not, and we will never understand it all”. We will be amazed that He confounds the wisdom of the world by turning everything upside down and inside out. We will be overwhelmed with the miraculous display of His knowledge that He graciously gave to us through His truth-speakers, the prophets.
And we will be humbled with the realization that he speaks not just to the Israelites, but to the many foreign nations of the day – and to us, today.
Isaiah’s foretelling of future events is detailed and accurate
Isaiah prophetically told of the coming judgment against Israel, saying that before his own son could speak Assyria would have plundered the north and before 65 years were up there would be nothing left of it, not even farm lands. (Isaiah 7-8). He also foretold very specifically the coming judgments of Judah, Assyria, Babylon, the Philistines, Moab, Damascus, Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, and more.
The prophet also named the Persian King Cyrus as the one who would return the exiled Judeans home and allow them to begin rebuilding (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), something we know happened.
Scholars who cannot accept the idea of the supernatural affecting the natural, and who therefore cannot accept prophecy, try to discredit these prophecies by saying that some if not all of Isaiah was written by Levites during the lifetime of Cyrus, after the judgments had come to pass. They search for literary reasons to dissect the work in such a way that no prophecy occurred, because the prophecy is all SO specific that it is stupefying.
But if even one prophecy is valid, then God DID supernaturally speak to us in this book, and there is no reason to think the other prophecies are “historical” instead of “future”.
And for those of us who know Jesus, the prophecies regarding Him are indisputable, for no one is claiming Isaiah was written after the time of Christ. And the prophecies of Jesus in Isaiah are so “in-your-face” as to be overwhelming.
Isaiah 9:1 – God will “honor Galilee, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan”. Galilee is where Jesus spent most of His time in ministry.
Isaiah 9:6 – the future king would come as a child. And we are about to celebrate that coming in just a few weeks.
Isaiah 11:1-5 – God would send a Branch up from the line of Jesse (King David’s father) and this person would have wisdom, and knowledge, and righteousness, with words that would overpower the wicked. Jesus, of the line of David, fits this description perfectly, and one need only read the Gospel of John to see how powerful His words were and how often they silenced the Jews because of His wisdom.
Isaiah 50, particularly 5-8 describes what Jesus went through in his trial, when his back was beaten and his beard was pulled out and he was mocked and spit on.
Isaiah 52:13-14 alludes to the Crucifixion by saying the servant would be “lifted up”, which is the same term Jesus used throughout John to refer to his coming death. Isaiah further suggests the extreme torture of it, by saying that he would be disfigured beyond recognition.
Isaiah 53 tells us that the servant of God had to suffer to bear the sins of many. and verse 11, when read from translations from the Septuagint text and Dead Sea Scroll texts, foretells the resurrection.
Isaiah 59:16 tells us that the Savior will be God himself, for no one else existed who could intervene, so he had to bring salvation himself.
And those are just the most “obvious” prophecies.
But Isaiah has more…
Isaiah tells us the Savior is for US
Us – the Gentiles. The people from all over the world who were NOT from the nation of Israel. The Christian church is plainly referred to in this book, and not once as a “replacement” for God’s chosen people. Instead, we are described as “descendants” of Israel, people who are added to the nation to cause God’s chosen people to swell to a size so large it could no longer fit within the physical boundaries of the promised land.
We tend to think of the Old Testament books as the message sent to God’s Chosen people, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We tend to think that our messages are in the New Testament. But we were NOT an after thought. We were part of the plan from the beginning, with Israel as the foundation, or the soil in which the seed of salvation was to be sown (both analogies found in Isaiah).
Here just a small number of the statements about the Gentiles:
Isaiah 55:5 says, “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you”.
Isaiah 49 – restoration of Israel is not a big enough task for the servant. Instead, he will be “a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (vs. 6)
Isaiah 42 – The servant will be a covenant and a light to the Gentiles and the islands will hope in him. Those from all over the world (islands, wilderness, mountaintops, foreign countries) are urged to praise God, for (verse 13) the servant will triumph over his enemies with a shout (I interpret this to be “It is finished!”).
Isaiah 52 reminds Israel that Abraham was only one man and yet a nation came from him. Similarly, out of one nation, Israel, instruction and righteousness and salvation will reach ALL the nations.
The Gospel of John
The Gospel of John parallels the message in Isaiah, declaring that Jesus is the Branch, the Servant, the Chosen One. John paints a picture of Jesus, a fearless man, unpopular with the very people from whom he came, who loved deeply but also made decisions and statements that were inscrutable to his disciples, who knew his mission and when the moment came willingly suffered and died.
John also, like Isaiah, gives the message that this Savior is for the world, not just the Jews, and that this kingdom is not the expected one of earthly powers, but of the new Jerusalem in the spiritual realm. Both Isaiah and John explicitly state that we need saving from our sins.
Our response can only be one of awe and joy, for Isaiah was written about 800 years prior to the time of Jesus (during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah), and we, the Gentile church almost 3000 years later, are living in the era of fulfillment of prophecy.
But our response must also be one of humility, because if we are now adopted into God’s people, then what He tells His people about life and worship and sin and God’s character must also apply to us. And Isaiah is full of a lot more than just future-telling – it has poignant messages for God’s people.
We will examine some of these messages in the coming days.