Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides
me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God
besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with
abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to
gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga’al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It’s a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Lesson Unlearned

18 Hear, you deaf,
    and look, you blind, that you may see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
    or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
    or blind as the servant of the Lord?
20 He sees many things, but does not observe them;
    his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21 The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted;
    they are all of them trapped in holes
    and hidden in prisons;
they have become plunder with none to rescue,
    spoil with none to say, “Restore!”
23 Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?
24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
    in whose ways they would not walk,
    and whose law they would not obey?
25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart. –
Isaiah 42:18-25 ESV

There are times in life when it might be easy to conclude that God is either blind or oblivious to our condition. In the darkness of our circumstances, it may appear that God is nowhere to be found. It may feel as if He has abandoned us. It is almost natural and normal to struggle with those kinds of feelings when we are going through difficult days. And the people of Judah were no different. But the one thing God will not tolerate is His people placing blame for their condition on God while refusing to take ownership for their own sin.

So, in this closing section of Isaiah 42, God addresses the people of Judah directly and bluntly. And He addresses them as His servant. God opened up this chapter by referring to another servant He would send – the Servant/Savior or Messiah. The day was coming when God would restore the nation of Israel by sending His Son back to earth to redeem of them and to set up His Kingdom on earth.

But here, God stresses the point that Israel should have been His servant on earth. He had chosen them. He had set them apart as His own. He had blessed them and provided them with His law. On top of that, He had given them the sacrificial system, in order that they might remain in a right relationship with Him by having their sins atoned for on a regular basis. Back in chapter 41, God also addressed the people of Israel as His servant.

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
    Jacob my chosen one,
    descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
    saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
    and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:8-10 NLT

God had promised not to abandon them. He had promised to be with them and to provide them with strength and victory over their enemies. But they had proven to be a lousy servant. They had been rebellious and reluctant to live as He had called them to live. Rather than serve God as a faithful servant, Israel had chosen to live according to its own selfish agenda. Rather than being a light to the nations, a tangible example of what it looks like to live in fellowship with the God of the universe, Israel had profaned the name of God. They had drug his reputation through the mud by living as unfaithful servants. Which is what had led Him to declare through the prophet Ezekiel:

“I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

That is not what God had planned. It had not been His desire for the people of Israel. In fact, all the way back when they were making their way from Egypt to the promised land, Moses had told them:

“Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:5-8 NLT

But they had failed to obey God’s laws. They had refused to remain faithful to Him alone, choosing instead to worship the false gods of the people of Canaan. And God describes them as blind and deaf. It is not He who is oblivious and out of touch. It’s them.

“You see and recognize what is right
    but refuse to act on it.
You hear with your ears,
    but you don’t really listen.”
– Isaiah 42:20 NLT

And God was not surprised by this. Their reaction is exactly what He had warned Isaiah to expect.

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”
– Isaiah 6:9 ESV

One of the greatest sins a child of God can commit is to know His will and then choose to ignore it. God had revealed Himself to the nation of Israel and provided them with insights and instructions into His character and His expectations regarding their behavior. They knew exactly what He expected of them. They had been told. He had made Himself perfectly clear. And they had heard, but had chosen not to heed what He had to say. Now, they could not plead ignorance. They couldn’t say, “We didn’t know!”

God had been gracious enough to give them His law.

The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious. – Isaiah 42:21 ESV

And because they had chosen to disregard and disobey His law, they found themselves “robbed and plundered, enslaved, imprisoned, and trapped” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). They were “fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them, no one to take them back home” (Isaiah 42:22 NLT). Their sorry state was their own fault. They had chosen to turn a blind eye to the commands of God. They had claimed not to have heard His righteous decrees. But Isaiah will not allow them to portray God as the unfaithful one in this relationship. Yahweh was simply giving them what they deserved.

Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt?
    It was the Lord, against whom we sinned,
for the people would not walk in his path,
    nor would they obey his law.
– Isaiah 42:24 NLT

And their actions were unprecedented. In fact, God claimed that the degree of their unfaithfulness was unmatched by any other nation.

“Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,
    even though they are not gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols!”
– Jeremiah 2:11 NLT

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

With privilege comes responsibility. The people of Judah enjoyed the privileged position of being God’s chosen. They were His prized possession. For generations, they had enjoyed the privilege of His presence and power. He had protected them and provided for them. He had given them a land in which to live. He had provided them with victories over enemies who were more plentiful and powerful. He had shown them how to live in keeping with His commands, and then provided them with a means to be forgiven when they failed to do so. God had been faithful. But they had a track record of unfaithfulness. And, as God warned through the prophet Ezekiel, there is a limit to how long He will allow His people to drag His name through the mud

“As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 ESV

And the saddest statement in this entire section of Isaiah 42 is found in its final verse.

Therefore, he poured out his fury on them
    and destroyed them in battle.
They were enveloped in flames,
    but they still refused to understand.
They were consumed by fire,
    but they did not learn their lesson.
– Isaiah 42:25 NLT

They didn’t learn their lesson. Time and time again, God had brought His loving discipline upon the people of Israel and Judah. But before He had, He had sent His prophets to warn them and to call them to repentance. Isaiah was such a prophet attempting to convey to convey just such a message. But the people were stubborn and obstinate. They were blind and deaf. And they were quick to blame God for their difficulties, but reticent to take responsibility for their own sin.

But as the chapter opened up, God was still going to remain faithful. He was still going to send His servant. He was still going to redeem a remnant of His people. In the face of their persistent unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful to His covenant promises. He was going bring judgment upon His people, but there is a day was coming when He will bring redemption and restoration, all for the sake of His glorious name.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prayer Changes Us, Not God

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

“This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined. – Isaiah 38:1-8 ESV

A key to understanding chapters 38-39 and their place in the chronology of the book of Isaiah is the first three words of verse one of chapter 38: “In those days…” This is a clear reference to the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem as described in chapters 36-37. Isaiah is providing additional information that will help shed light on all that took place in those dark days, but he is also prefacing the remaining chapters of his book.

During the height of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, King Hezekiah became deathly ill. We are not told the extent of his condition, but the prophet Isaiah delivered a divine prognosis that was anything but good news.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” – Isaiah 38:1 NLT

So, along with the pending invasion of the Assyrian forces and the likely fall of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had to deal with the threat of a terminal illness. All of this had to have weighed heavily on Hezekiah’s heart. He must have been confused by this unrelenting wave of bad news. After all, he had been one of the few kings of Judah who had tried to do the right thing, instituting a series of drastic religious reforms in an effort to restore the peoples’ worship of Yahweh.

Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, who was the poster-boy for unfaithfulness and apostasy. The book of 2 Chronicles gives a summary of some of his exploits.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

But when Hezekiah took the throne at the age of 25, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT). One of the first things he did was to reopen the temple and recommission the Levites so that the sacrifices to Yahweh could begin again. He also revived the celebration of Passover and called the people to worship Yahweh alone. As a result, “they smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). 

Yet, in spite of all his reforms and his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah, God sent the Assyrians.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

And to make matters even worse, Hezekiah was told he was going to die. If anyone had the right to ask God, “Why?” it was Hezekiah. But rather than questioning God’s actions or doubting His love, Hezekiah simply asked that his acts of faithfulness be remembered.

“Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” – Isaiah 38:3 NLT

Hezekiah was not bragging or boasting, but merely expressing his confusion over this latest bit of bad news. Isaiah describes the king as weeping bitterly. He was devastated by all that was happening to him and around him. The nation of Judah was under siege. It was just a matter of time before the Assyrians arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. And now, he was facing imminent death. It was all more than he could handle. So, he took his hurt, confusion, and despair to God. And his prayer was heard. God gave Isaiah a second message for Hezekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. Yes, I will defend this city.” – Isaiah 38:5-6 NLT

This raises the often-debated question: “Can the prayers of men change the mind of God?” Was God’s prescribed will somehow altered by the prayer of Hezekiah? The text is clear that, as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life by 15 years. So, it would appear that Hezekiah’s death date was postponed because he prayed. But at the heart of the question lies the sovereignty of God. There is also the issue of God’s omniscience. He knows all. There is nothing that escapes His notice or that lies outside His awareness. While there are many occasions recorded in Scripture where it appears that God “changed His mind” because of the prayers of men like Moses, Abraham, David, and others, it is essential that we understand that God’s will is never altered by anyone. In fact, the book of Numbers tells us that God never changes His mind.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

So, what is going on here? Why did God determine to extend Hezekiah’s life? One of the things we need to always bear in mind is God’s complete and unwavering knowledge of all things. God knew Hezekiah’s heart. He was fully aware of how Hezekiah would respond to the news of his pending death. Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t change the heart of God, it changed the heart of Hezekiah. The king, faced with the news of his terminal illness, unknowingly prayed within the will of God, revealing his desire that his life be extended because he cared for the glory of God and the good of the people of Judah. God, because He is all-knowing, knew exactly how Hezekiah was going to respond and His “decision” to extend the king’s life had been part of His will all along.

God used the announcement of Hezekiah’s death to bring the king to the point of total dependence upon Him. The terminal prognosis was meant to get Hezekiah’s attention, not God’s. It was intended to bring the king to a place of total reliance upon the will of God and to remind the king of his own faithfulness. So much of this is about perspective. We see things from our limited vantage point as human beings. From our earth-bound, time-controlled view, we are incapable of seeing into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But God does. He knew all along that Hezekiah was going to live an additional 15 years because He knew how Hezekiah was going to respond to the news of his illness. Hezekiah didn’t change the mind of God, but Hezekiah’s mindfulness of God was dramatically altered. God wanted Hezekiah to know and not forget that faithfulness was the key to God’s graciousness. In a time when it could have been easy for Hezekiah to turn away from God and restore the former alters to the false gods, he remained faithful to Yahweh. He did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” – 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 NLT

In a sense, the news of Hezekiah’s terminal illness had been a test. Not of God, but of Hezekiah. And God knew that Hezekiah would pass the test with flying colors. Hezekiah’s death date did not really change. But his view of God did. And in the remaining verses of this chapter, Hezekiah will reveal the profound impact this situation had on his life and his heart. He was drawn closer to God. His reliance upon and love for God deepened. And this enhanced understanding of God’s love and faithfulness was going to be needed in the days ahead.

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the proof that God gave Hezekiah to assure that all He had said was true.

“‘And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!’” So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. – Isaiah 38:7-8 NLT

We know from the parallel story found in 2 Kings, that Hezekiah had asked God for a sign.

“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” – 2 Kings 20:8 ESV

This was not necessarily an expression of doubt on Hezekiah’s part, but a request for some form of reassurance on God’s part. The news was almost too good to be true. So, Hezekiah asked God to provide him with a tangible sign that what He had promised would indeed take place. And God graciously and miraculously obliged.

What’s truly interesting is that God used something built by and named after wicked King Ahaz to provide faithful King Hezekiah with proof of His word. God caused the shadow of the sun to reverse itself. In a sense, time reversed itself. We are not told whether the sun itself moved backward in the sky or whether the shadow moved contrary to the position of the sun. In either case, God provided a miracle, a supernatural sign that provided Hezekiah with all the proof he required. And again, the impact of all of this on Hezekiah was profound, resulting in his penning of a poem of praise to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

We Will Sing.

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
    he sets up salvation
    as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
For he has humbled
    the inhabitants of the height,
    the lofty city.
He lays it low, lays it low to the ground,
    casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
    the feet of the poor,
    the steps of the needy.”

The path of the righteous is level;
    you make level the way of the righteous.
In the path of your judgments,
    O Lord, we wait for you;
your name and remembrance
    are the desire of our soul.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgments are in the earth,
    the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. – Isaiah 26:1-9 ESV

The prophet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continues to reveal a future day when a remnant of Israel will be restored to the land and Jerusalem will once more be the city of God. While some aspects of this prophecy have been fulfilled, in part, through past events, the majority of what Isaiah reveals in these verses speaks of “that day” – a reference to the end times. By the descriptions given in this passage, it would appear that Isaiah is speaking of the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, spoken of in Revelation 20. In God’s great redemptive plan, there is a day coming when His Son will return and set up His Kingdom on earth, ruling from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

And Isaiah is given a glimpse of what that great day will mean to the Jews who survive the seven years of the Tribulation, and are alive when Jesus returns. They will sing a song of joy, praise and thanksgiving.

“Our city is strong!
    We are surrounded by the walls of God’s salvation.” – Isaiah 26:1 NLT

Unlike their ancient ancestors, the Israelites will recognize God as the source of their strength and salvation. It will be readily apparent to them that the walls of Jerusalem were not what had kept them safe and secure. During the second half of the Tribulation, a period known as the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist will turn his hatred against the people of God, even desecrating their temple by erecting an idol to himself in the Holy of Holies. He will put an end to all sacrifice and begin a pogrom of extermination aimed at all those who follow God, having refused to take the mark of the Antichrist and worship him as a false god.

So, when Christ returns and defeats the kings of the earth and Satan, the prince of this world, the Jews will rejoice. And they will call all the righteous to join them in the city of Jerusalem where the Messiah has set up His throne. It will be a time when all who have remained true to God will be able to rejoice over the faithfulness of God.

“You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3 NLT

This verse, which has been quoted by so many of God’s people over the centuries, would have been meant to provide encouragement to the people in Isaiah’s day. It was intended to be a reminder that they remain faithful and true to God, no matter what was happening around them. They were in the midst of their trials and tribulations, but God was with them. All He asked in return was that they trust in Him and keep their thoughts fixed on Him. The song of the saints who come out of the future tribulation makes this point perfectly clear.

“Trust in the Lord always,
    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” – Isaiah 26:4 NLT

The whole purpose behind Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem’s future restoration and Messiah’s ascension to the throne of David was to challenge the people of Judah to remain true to God. He wanted them to trust God, rather than put their hope in an alliance with another nation. Their circumstances were intended to turn them back to God, not to false forms of hope and pseudo-salvation. And these prophetic visions of future salvation were meant to remind God’s people that He was, is and always will be faithful.

He humbles the proud and arrogant. He destroys the powerful cities of the enemies. But He cares for the downtrodden and poor. He avenges the oppressed and restores the fortunes of the faithful.

“But for those who are righteous,
    the way is not steep and rough.
You are a God who does what is right,
    and you smooth out the path ahead of them.” – Isaiah 26:7 NLT

The difficulty every child of God faces is the seeming disconnect between the promises of God and the nature of our circumstances. Because, too often, the road we walk seems extremely steep and rough. And it does not always appear as if God is doing what is right. We question Him constantly, doubting His goodness and love because we have a difficult time seeing Him in the midst of all our trials. Rather than a smooth path, we see a rocky road, filled with faith-jarring potholes and seemingly pointless twists and turns that serve no purpose.

But Isaiah would have us remember that God is there, and He has a plan. That plan, much to our chagrin, goes far beyond our immediate need for relief from suffering. God has far more planned for us than simply our immediate happiness. A big part of what Isaiah was trying to get across to the people of Judah was their need to be obedient to God. Their suffering was due to their disobedience. They had allowed their love for and obedience to God to wain. Love of the world and love of self had replaced their love for God.

But the saints who weather the storm of the Tribulation will sing of their obedience to God and their desire to glorify His name, even in the midst of the worst suffering this world will ever know.

“Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws;
    our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.
In the night I search for you;
    in the morning I earnestly seek you.
For only when you come to judge the earth
    will people learn what is right.” – Isaiah 26:8-9 NLT

Notice that last line. It says it all. We will never fully understand the ways of God until He completes His grand plan for this world and all who live on it. One of the reasons the Bible is filled with prophetic visions of the future is so that we will keep our eyes focused on the entirety of God’s redemptive plan. As human beings, we have a severely limited perspective on life. It tends to focus on our immediate context and produces in us a myopic sense of self-importance. It ends up being all about us. Our problems. Our suffering. Our pain. Our loss. Our desire for happiness and our demand that all our troubles be eliminated right here, right now.

But the apostle Paul, like Isaiah, would remind us to look up and look forward.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

As he told the believers in Rome:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
 – Romans 8:18 NLT

And Peter adds his words to the mix, encouraging us to see our present suffering as a natural part of our life as followers of Christ. But there is a day coming when God will make all things right.

…be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:8-10 NLT

And, once again, Paul reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the larger plan of God. This world is not all there is. What we see now does not represent the full scope of God’s redemptive plan.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossian 3:1-4 NLT

And like the saints in the Millennial Kingdom, we will sing and rejoice as we share in all His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Has Done Great Things.

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:1-6 ESV

Isaiah has been talking about a future period of time, one he refers to as “that day.” This is a prophetic designation, describing a day in the future when God would accomplish great things on behalf of His chosen people, the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah. Out of the once-great tree of the Davidic dynasty, relegated to a stump of its former glory because of the judgments of God, will come a shoot. That seemingly insignificant byproduct of the “root of Jesse” will be Jesus, the Messiah. He will appear on the scene, sent by God the Father, to be born of a virgin, and into the house of David. He will be the legal heir to David’s throne and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

There is a certain sense in which Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He took on human flesh in His incarnation. But when Jesus came the first time, while He was born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), He was not recognized or accepted as king by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

They rejected Him as their king. In fact, they demanded that the Romans crucify Him, accusing Him of blasphemy for His claims to be the Son of God. When Pilate had attempted to release Jesus to the Jews, seeing no fault in Him worthy of death, he had said, “Look, here is your king!” (John 19:14 NLT). But the people scoffed at the idea of Jesus being their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

So, when Isaiah announces the arrival of the Messiah or king of Israel, he is talking about another event that has yet to happen. Jesus will appear a second time, at the end of the age, and He will set up His kingdom on earth. He will rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And He will restore the people of Israel to power and prominence. Isaiah describes exactly what He will do.

He will…assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 11:12 NLT

All of this will happen “in that day.” It is a day that lies in the future, as yet unfulfilled. But it will be. And in that day, the people of Israel and Judah will recognize the hand of God. They will know that He has shown them mercy and grace.

In that day you will sing:
    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.” – Isaiah 12:1 NLT

It will be a day of rejoicing and gladness because they will recognize that God has redeemed and restored them. Not because of them, but in spite of them. They will know what it is like to trust God fully. They will experience His peace and rest in His protection. And Isaiah tells his audience that, when the day comes, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3 ESV). 

It’s impossible to read this statement and not recall another time in the lives of the people of Israel when water played a significant role in their relationship with God. It’s recorded in the book of Exodus. They had escaped captivity in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise, when the arrived at a place called Rephidim. The only problem was, there was no water there. “So the people contended with Moses, and they said, ‘Give us water to drink!’” (Exodus 17:2 NLT). The text describes them as being “very thirsty” and they let Moses know about it.

“Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” – Exodus 17:3 NLT

Moses, sensing that the people were ready to stone him, feared for his life. But God gave Moses a solution.

“Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 NLT

God was going to be there. He would be on top of the very rock Moses was commanded to strike. And from that rock would flow life-giving water. Paul would later describe that rock as Jesus Himself.

All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 NLT

And Jesus, the source of that physical water, would also be the sole source of spiritual refreshment. In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her:

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 NLT

Isaiah predicts a day when the people of Israel will enjoy the water of life – Jesus Himself. Not only will they enjoy salvation in the form of their restoration to the land, but they will experience a renewal of their hearts.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God is going to do something for the people of Israel that is far greater than supplying them with clean drinking water. It will be far more valuable than their return to the land. It will be of much greater significance than their restoration to a place of prominence on the world scene. They will have new hearts and a new capacity to serve God faithfully. They will be obedient. They will trust Him fully. No more false gods. No more falling away in apathy and apostasy. In that day, they will be His people and He will be their God.

And in that day, they will give God all the glory, because it will all be His doing.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.
Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy!
    For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” – Isaiah 12:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Root of Jesse.

1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10 ESV

So often, when reading the prophetic books of the Bible, we can end up viewing them as pessimistic in terms of their content. They are full of the news of pending doom and gloom, the righteous judgment of God promised by the prophets of God and directed at the people of God. And Isaiah has had his fair share of foreboding warnings for the people of God living in Judah. And yet, the prophets weren’t just the bearers of bad news. They also called the people to repentance, pleading them to return to the Lord and promising them His grace and mercy if they would do so.

Mixed in among the prophets’ messages of judgment were promises of God’s future blessings. In spite of the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah, God would remain faithful. He would keep His covenant promises. He would do what He had pledged to do. But many, if not most, of His promises would not be fulfilled within the lifetimes of the very men who communicated them. In chapter 10, Isaiah spoke of a future day when the people of God would place their hope and trust in Him, rather than relying on pagan nations to protect and preserve them.

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. – Isaiah 10:20 ESV

Isaiah promised his fellow citizens of Judah that God would preserve a remnant of them. The day was coming when God would raise up a portion of His people and free them from the slavery and oppression of foreign rule.

In that day the Lord will end the bondage of his people.
    He will break the yoke of slavery
    and lift it from their shoulders. – Isaiah 10:27 NLT

While this promise was partially fulfilled when the people of Judah returned to the land after 70 years of in Babylon, their bondage was far from over. The following centuries would find them living under the constant threat of foreign domination, ending with their defeat and subjugation by the Romans. So, there is an aspect of Isaiah’s prophecy that lies unfulfilled. And chapter 11 provides us even great details concerning this future aspect of God’s promise to His people.

Chapter 11 opens up with the words:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

Whether it sounds like it or not, this is meant to be a word of encouragement. You see, Jesse was the father of David, the great king of Israel. But David’s once-mighty kingdom would end up as a shell of its former glory, more of a stump than a flourishing tree. The once powerful nation he helped build would end up relegated to the status of a tree shorn of its branches and incapable of producing fruit. And yet, Isaiah states that, out of the stump, a shoot will appear. And, one day, that shoot will become a fruit-bearing branch.

But what is Isaiah talking about? Better yet, who is Isaiah talking about? Over in the book of Revelation, we are given a clue as to this individual’s identity. The apostle John is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God Almighty seated on His throne. In His right hand, God is holding a scroll. But when an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?,” no one steps forward. And John, devastated at this news, begins to weep. But his crying is interrupted by the following news:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5 ESV

John turns to see “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6 ESV), a clear reference to the crucified and resurrected Christ. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and “the root of David.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from the book of Isaiah, using the reference to the root of Jesse as a proof of Christ’s messiahship.

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers,and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” – Romans 15:8-12 NLT

So, Isaiah was prophesying the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, and the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. And this coming one would have the anointing of God Almighty.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:2-3 ESV

This is a clear reference to Jesus. And, in his gospel account, Matthew describes the baptism of Jesus.

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. – Matthew 3:16 ESV

Jesus, in His role as God in human flesh, was directed by the Spirit of God. He was totally submissive to the Spirit, living His life according to the Spirit’s wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. During His earthly ministry, Jesus would live in the power of the Spirit. But Isaiah seems to be referring to another point in time, when Jesus will play a role other than that of Savior.

He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor
    and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
    and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt
    and truth like an undergarment.  – Isaiah 11:3-5 NLT

These verses speak of Jesus judging and administering justice. He is described as destroying the wicked and dispensing justice to the poor. This is a picture of Jesus in His royal role as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is no longer the Savior, but the Sovereign.

Isaiah goes on to describe a time of unprecedented peace. It will be a period on earth when things will be remarkably different than anything mankind has ever known.

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
    Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. – Isaiah 11:6-8 NLT

These things have not yet taken place. They remain unfulfilled. Look closely at what Isaiah says about “that day.”

Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
    so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. – Isaiah 11:9 NLT

This day has not yet happened. The earth is not filled with people who know the Lord. But one day it will be. God is giving Isaiah a word of encouragement to deliver to the disobedient people of Judah. In spite of their failure to remain faithful to God, He would prove faithful to His word. He would do all that He had promised Abraham He would do. And Isaiah sums it up in no uncertain terms:

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

And the apostle John was given a glimpse into this future day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

From the root of Jesse and the stump of David’s once-great kingdom, will come a shoot, the Messiah, who will grow into a glorious place of refuge, peace and prosperity for all those who place their faith in Him. Israel and Judah would prove unfaithful to God, but He will one day prove His faithfulness by sending His Son yet again. But this time, He will come as the Sovereign King of the universe.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Disease of Discontentment.

 

Woe to those who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
    and you are made to dwell alone
    in the midst of the land.
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
    large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
    and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
    that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
    as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
    tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
    or see the work of his hands.

13 Therefore my people go into exile
    for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
    and their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
    and opened its mouth beyond measure,
and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,
    her revelers and he who exults in her.
15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
    and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
    and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
17 Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
    and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich. – Isaiah 5:8-17 ESV

Judah, the vineyard planted by God in the fertile soil of Mount Zion, had failed to produce the kind of fruit God had expected. Instead of sweet grapes practically bursting with juice perfect for making the finest of wines, they had produced wild grapes, sour to the taste and unfit for anything except the fire. And that is exactly what Isaiah is trying to warn the people of Judah. God’s fire of judgment is about to fall on them for their unfaithfulness and lack of spiritual fruitfulness. Or, to put it another way, they had produced the wrong kind of fruit.

Now, Isaiah pronounces a series of woes against them. The word translated as “woe” is the Hebrew word, howy and it is an expression of exclamation that conveys pity, sorrow, or lament. Isaiah is letting his readers know that what is headed their way will not be enjoyable or avoidable. The word, “woe” acts as an antonym to the word, “blessed.” Rather than enjoying the blessings of God that come as a result of obedience to His will, they were going to experience curses as a result of His judgment. And, long ago, God had provided them with ample warning that this would be their fate if they failed to remain faithful to Him.

“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.” – Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NLT

The first woe has to do with their insatiable greed. Enough was never enough. God had blessed them with land, but they lacked contentment, constantly desiring more. And the prophet, Micah, describes them as lying awake at night scheming of ways to take advantage of their neighbors and confiscate what rightfully belonged to them.

Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance. – Micah 2:1-2 NET

God had made it perfectly clear that the land in which they lived belonged to Him and, as a result, they were to live in it like tenant farmers, caring for the land on God’s behalf.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

And God had ensured that each of the 12 tribes of Israel was allotted their own portion of land, to remain in their possession for as long as they lived in the land. If anyone was forced to sell his land out of necessity, the buyer was to allow them the right to buy it back.

“With every purchase of land you must grant the seller the right to buy it back. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. If there is no close relative to buy the land, but the person who sold it gets enough money to buy it back, he then has the right to redeem it from the one who bought it.” – Deuteronomy 25:24-27 NLT

But greed had gotten the best of them. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for others. When Jesus was asked which one of God’s laws recorded by Moses was the most important, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

Yet, the people of Judah had exhibited a love for self that transcended their love for others and, ultimately, revealed their lack of love for God. They were unsatisfied with what God had given them and demanded more. And they were willing to do whatever it took to get what they wanted, even if it meant taking advantage of their own neighbors.

In their obsession to have more, they were actually sealing their fate and ensuring that they would never experience the joy they were seeking. Their larger estates would leave them isolated and alone. And they would learn the painful lesson that bigger is not always better. Because God warned them that their disobedience would bring His judgment.

“Many houses will stand deserted;
    even beautiful mansions will be empty.
Ten acres of vineyard will not produce even six gallons of wine.
    Ten baskets of seed will yield only one basket of grain.” – Isaiah 5:9-10 NLT

The greedy are never satisfied. Their appetite is insatiable because they attempt to meet their needs by seeking something other than God.

The second woe has to do with the love of pleasure. The people of Judah had become hedonistic in their outlook on life. They lived by the philosophy, “Eat, drink and be merry!” They lived to party and filled their days with the consumption of alcohol and the pursuit of pleasure. But Isaiah exposes the root problem: “they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing” (Isaiah 5:12 NLT). Rather than looking to God to bring them joy and a sense of satisfaction with life, they were turning to physical pleasures.

And God predicts their fate: “Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13 ESV). Their real problem was not drunkenness and partying, but a lack of knowledge of God. They didn’t understand that He was to be the sole source of their joy and the primary provider of pleasure in their lives. The apostle Paul would later describe his understanding of God’s role as his source of contentment and satisfaction.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

For the people of Judah, their search for satisfaction entailed more land and their quest for joy involved much wine. But they would never find what they were looking for. Instead, they would experience poverty, hunger, thirst, and the humiliation of life as exiles in a foreign land.

But God would be perfectly just in His treatment of them. He would only be giving them what they deserved and what they had brought upon themselves.

But the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice.
    The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness. – Isaiah 5:16 NLT

He had promised to bless them if they would only remain faithful to Him. And time and time again, He had proven Himself a God who keeps His word. They were blessed. They lived in a land that was abundantly fruitful and more than adequate to meet their needs. He had provided them with ample reasons to experience joy in life, but they had turned to pleasure, possessions, and even pagan gods in a vain attempt to discover what they could only find in God. And the Scriptures are filled with reminders of God’s faithfulness to satisfy every need that man might have.

Let them praise the Lord for his great love
    and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things. – Psalm 107:8-9 NLT

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. – Isaiah 58:11 NLT

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.” – Isaiah 55:1-2 NLT

God was more than enough. He was fully capable of meeting all their needs. But they had decided that bigger is better and the pursuit of pleasure is preferable. Unlike Paul, they didn’t see godliness with contentment is great wealth (I Timothy 6:6).

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Favor of God.

 1 And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.”

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. – Isaiah 4:1-6 ESV

The opening verse of chapter four ties directly to the coming judgment of God revealed in chapter three. Because of the rebellion of the people of Judah and their refusal to place their trust in God, He would bring devastating, yet well-deserved judgment upon them. And this would come about through the Babylonian empire. God would cause this powerful pagan nation to place Jerusalem under siege, eventually destroying their capital city and taking captive many of the most wealthy and influential of its inhabitants. They would also take all those who had skills or abilities that could benefit the Babylonian nation, not to mention thousands of Judah’s finest warriors.

And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. – 2 Kings 24:16 ESV

This would leave a dearth of able-bodied men back in Judah. Which is why Isaiah describes seven women fighting over a single eligible bachelor to claim as their husband so that they might not face the reproach of being unmarried in a patriarchal society. Isaiah describes the degree of their desperation by having them barter for a man by offering to provide their own food and clothing. In other words, they would be willing to reverse the normal roles in marriage by acting as the provider.

The phrase, “in that day” appears repeatedly in the book of Isaiah, and can be a reference to the coming fall of Judah to the Babylonians. But as we have seen before, the prophecies of this book carry a now/not yet aspect to them. They will be fulfilled in the not-so-distant future. In this case, it refers to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC to the Babylonians. But “in that day” also refers to a much more significant fulfillment to the prophecies of this book. There remain aspects of Isaiah’s prophetic pronouncements that remain unfulfilled, and the rest of this short chapter deal with that coming day.

Up until this point in Isaiah’s book, the future described for Judah has been a bleak and foreboding one. It involves the wrath and judgment of God. It will include the fall of Judah to the Babylonians, but also even greater devastation and divine discipline that will come at a much later date – a time that has not yet come.

And in verses 2-6, God reveals that the future for Judah is not all doom and gloom. While they will face His judgment, they will also enjoy His divine favor. God has a glorious future in store for them, in spite of all their unfaithfulness and their refusal to place their trust in Him. And it seems perfectly clear that this promise from God remains unfulfilled. It has not yet taken place. Isaiah writes:

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. – Isaiah 4:2 ESV

While some see the phrase, “the branch of the Lord” as a messianic statement, referring to Jesus Christ, it is better translated as “the vegetation of the Lord.” The NET Bible translates verse two as “the crops given by the Lord will bring admiration and honor.” The land left desolate and devoid of vegetation by the judgments of God will be renewed and restored by God. While aspects of this prophecy were fulfilled after the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, they were incomplete. This is referring to a far-more-distant point in time, at the end of the period of Tribulation. At that time, God will enact a scorched-earth policy on the world, bringing devastating, never-before-seen judgments in the form of plagues, famines and meteorological disturbances that will impact the earth’s food supply.

And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. – Revelation 8:7 ESV

…and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. – Revelation 8:8-9 ESV

A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. – Revelation 8:11 ESV

The land of Judah will suffer greatly, along with the rest of the world. But God promises to restore the land to its original fruitfulness. The land of Israel will become a land flowing with milk and money yet again. It will be used by God to supply the physical needs of the people of God. But there is more.

God is going to restore His people spiritually. He is going to do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. God’s judgments will have resulted in the purging of the stains of sin from His people. And Isaiah states that those who remain in the nation of Israel and the city of Judah will be called holy or set apart by God once again, “when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning” (Isaiah 4:4 ESV). Not only will He restore the land to fruitfulness, but He will also restore His people to faithfulness. And the prophet Ezekiel wrote about this coming day.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 ESV

It is quite obvious that this prophecy remains unfulfilled. But it will be – in the future. God will keep His promise. Isaiah further describes the unique nature of “the day:”

Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5 ESV

God will restore His presence among them, revealing Himself in the same two forms He had used during their exodus from Egypt.

The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:12 ESV

No more fires of judgment from the throne room of God. Rather than rain down fire from heaven in judgment, He will reveal Himself as a guiding and protecting flame.

And Isaiah reveals that God’s glory will cover His people, just as it had filled and covered the tabernacle during their days in the wilderness.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.… For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. – Exodus 40:34, 38

God will be their protector and provider. While the human leaders in whom they had placed their hope and trust had failed them, God would not. This future day will be like none other the people of Judah had ever experienced. And the book of Revelation provides us with a glimpse of just how glorious it will be.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:2-4 ESV

God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He always does what He has promised to do. And while He would punish Judah for its sins, He would also restore them because of His everlasting, neverending love and abundant grace and mercy.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

In That Day…

 

For you have rejected your people,
    the house of Jacob,
because they are full of things from the east
    and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines,
    and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.
Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
So man is humbled,
    and each one is brought low—
    do not forgive them!
10 Enter into the rock
    and hide in the dust
from before the terror of the Lord,
    and from the splendor of his majesty.
11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
    and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

12 For the Lord of hosts has a day
    against all that is proud and lofty,
    against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
13 against all the cedars of Lebanon,
    lofty and lifted up;
    and against all the oaks of Bashan;
14 against all the lofty mountains,
    and against all the uplifted hills;
15 against every high tower,
    and against every fortified wall;
16 against all the ships of Tarshish,
    and against all the beautiful craft.
17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
    and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
    and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
18 And the idols shall utterly pass away.
19 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
    and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
    and from the splendor of his majesty,
    when he rises to terrify the earth.

20 In that day mankind will cast away
    their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
    to the moles and to the bats,
21 to enter the caverns of the rocks
    and the clefts of the cliffs,
from before the terror of the Lord,
    and from the splendor of his majesty,
    when he rises to terrify the earth.
22 Stop regarding man
    in whose nostrils is breath,
    for of what account is he? – Isaiah 2:6-22 ESV

This is a book of prophecy and like all other prophetic books in the Bible, it has a now-not yet aspect to it. In other words, there are parts of the content of Isaiah that will have their fulfillment in the not-so-distant future. The people of Judah were going to experience first-hand the judgments God was warning them about. If they did not repent and return to the Lord, He would punish them for their rebellion against Him. And it would come in the lifetimes of the people to whom Isaiah’s book was addressed – his fellow citizens of Jerusalem and Judah.

But there is another aspect to these judgments that we must not overlook: Many of them are as yet unfulfilled. They have not taken place. Or they have taken place in part, but not completely. And the verses for today are a perfect example.

The key to determining whether a prophetic statement is of the now or not-yet variety, you must examine its content to see if it has already been fulfilled. This requires a careful study of Judah’s history as revealed in the rest of Scripture. It is usually quite easy to determine if a prophecy has been fulfilled or not. And for all those which predict events that remain unfulfilled, we must recognize that they fall into the not-yet category. They are outstanding and still pending.

But these two categories of prophetic statements from God are both based on the same criteria. The people of Judah had proven to be unfaithful to God. And He has already provided ample evidence of their guilt. Yet, these verses reiterate the actions of the people of Judah that have forced God to predict their pending doom – both near-term and distant.

Isaiah provides a reason for God’s rejection of His people.

“…they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.” – Isaiah 2:6 ESV

They had made alliances with pagan nations, against the expressed will of God. Not only that, they had begun to practice the false religions of those nations. And all the while, they had enjoyed increased prosperity and what appeared to be apparent blessings. Their land, the land of Judah, was filled with idols to false gods. The people whom God had chosen as His own, were bowing down to statues made with human hands. They were worshiping false gods that were lifeless and powerless, in place of the one true God: Yahweh.

Then, suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, Isaiah describes these rich and satisfied individuals as having been brought low.

So man is humbled,
    and each one is brought low—
    do not forgive them!” – Isaiah 2:9 ESV

But Isaiah seems to be emphasizing the predictable and inevitable outcome of a life of pride. The Scriptures are filled with admonitions and warnings against pride.

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. – Proverbs 8:13 NLT

Isaiah knew that it was only a matter of time before God responded to the pride and arrogance of His people. God would not allow them to live in open rebellion forever. Their actions were going to bring the judgment of God. If they failed to humble themselves before God, He would humble them in His own way. Their behavior had brought shame to the name of God, something He had warned them not to do.

…you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD. Leviticus 18:21 NLT

Like an adulterous wife, the nation of Judah had turned their back on a faithful, loving God, prostituting themselves to an assortment of false gods. And Isaiah warned them that God had had enough. They were going to find themselves hiding from the wrath to come.

Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord,from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty. – Isaiah 2:10 ESV

And this is a perfect illustration of one of those now/not-yet prophetic statements. We know from recorded history, that Judah was eventually defeated by the Babylonians and a great many of their most prominent citizens were taken as slaves and transported to King Nebuchadnezzar’s capital city. They were humbled. They went from riches to poverty. From enjoying power and influence to experiencing the humiliating life of a slave.

But there is another aspect of this prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled. Did the people of Judah actually enter into the rock and hide in the dust in an attempt to escape the Babylonians? Possibly. But in the New Testament book of Revelation, we have an as-yet-unfulfilled aspect of this prophecy. It will take place during the days of the Tribulation.

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” – Revelation 6:15-17 ESV

Here we have a picture of the people of Judah, along with the rest of mankind who will be living on the earth during the Tribulation, facing the wrath of the Lamb. And they will attempt to hide and caves and among the rocks, hoping to escape the judgment that is coming on the earth. And Isaiah describes what will happen on that day.

The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. – Isaiah 2:11 ESV

Notice his use of the phrase, “in that day.” Isaiah is predicting a specific moment in time when God will do something to bring low the pride and arrogance of sinful mankind.

For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low. – Isaiah 2:12 ESV

And ten different times, Isaiah uses the word, “against.” On that day, God will bring His judgment against a variety of things.

against all that is proud and lofty

against all that is lifted up

against the cedars of Lebanon

against the oaks of Bashan

against all the lofty mountains

against all the uplifted hills

against every high tower

against every fortified wall

against all the ships of Tarshish

against all the beautiful craft

This list includes places far outside the borders of Judah. God seems to be predicting a more widespread judgment to come. Judah’s unfaithfulness would spread. Their failure to live in faithful a covenant relationship with God would end up impacting the entire world. They had been chosen by God to be a model to the nations of what it looks like for a people group to live in a righteous relationship with God Almighty. But they had failed. And over the centuries, they would continue to do so. And when God sent His Son to be their long-awaited Messiah, they would reject Him as well.

But Isaiah warns of a coming day when all men will be humbled before the wrath of God.

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. – Isaiah 2:17 ESV

Has this happened yet? No. The entire world lives in open rebellion against God, filled with pride and arrogance, determined to live as the masters of their own fates. And Isaiah goes on to point out that the day will come when these very same people throw away their false gods because of the judgment of the one true God.

In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold. – Isaiah 2:20 ESV

Again, has this happened yet? No. Yet, Isaiah says three different times that they will “enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth” (Isaiah 2:21 ESV). God was going to punish Judah for their sins. They would end up in captivity in Judah. But that is only a small example of what God is going to do to all of mankind because of their rejection of Him. We should take the warnings against Judah seriously. But we should not see this as ancient history. God is warning Judah and the rest of the world that He will deal with sin. He is a holy God and He hates sin.

And Isaiah provides his readers with a timeless warning.

Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? – Isaiah 2:22 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faithful Over A Little.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ” – Matthew 25:14-30 ESV

dishonest-steward-770x330

Jesus has been stressing the need for His disciples to have a long-term perspective regarding the kingdom of heaven. Rather than expecting it to show up in their lifetimes and in the form they had always expected, they were going to have to come to understand it as future-oriented. Jesus was not going to set up His kingdom on earth at that time. He was not going to rule and reign from Jerusalem as the Messiah. His kingdom was to come. And in the meantime, while they waited for its arrival, the disciples were to live in a state of readiness. In fact, his His previous parable, Jesus had emphasized the need for preparedness.

Jesus continued to address the future aspect of the coming kingdom by telling yet another parable. Again, He would stress the unexpected delay associated with His  kingdom. Yes, He was the Messiah and the rightful heir to David’s throne. But His ascension to that throne, while inevitable, was not going to be immediate.

.So, Jesus began His parable by describing a man preparing to go on a journey. This man was obviously well-to-do, having land, material wealth, and servants. In preparation for his departure, the man called his servants together and “entrusted to them his property” (Matthew 25:14 ESV). The Greek word Jesus used was paradidōmi and it means “to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage” (Online Bible). The man took what was his and gave it to his servants so they might manage it in his absence. In other words, he placed them in charge of all that he owned – “his property.”All three men were given responsibility for their master’s possessions, which would have included his land, house, livestock and any other personal property.

It seems that, when we read this parable, we place all the emphasis on the talents given to the three men. It is as if the talents are the point of the story. They represent the “property” handed over by the master. But on closer inspection, it would appear that the talents represent the master’s payment to each of the three servants for caring for this property in his absence. The text reads: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15 ESV). It’s interesting to note that the word translated “ability” is the Greek word dynamis. It is the same word from which we get dynamite. It refers to power or physical strength. This man knew his servants well, and compensated them according to what he believed would be their level of work. He was not giving them gifts to use or invest. In fact, their is no indication from the text that the master told any of the servants to invest what he had given them. The talents were intended as payment for the service that would be rendered in his absence.

But what makes the story so interesting is that two of the servants took their “salary” and invested it. They recognized that the money given to them was not really theirs, but belonged to their master. It was part of his property and they viewed their possession of it as temporary in nature. It was on loan. So, they traded or invested what they had. We’re not told the nature of their investment strategy, because that does not seem to be the point of the parable. The emphasis in the parable is that each of them doubled the value of what they had been given. And when their master returned, he recognized them as having been good and faithful servants.

There is an interesting choice of words in this parable. In the first place, when the two faithful servants address their master upon his return, they both say, “Master, you delivered to me _______ talents.” They use the same word, paradidōmi that means “to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage.” The two men acknowledge that their master had given them the talents and expected them to use them wisely. But Jesus described the first man as “he who had received the five talents” (Matthew 25:20 ESV). That Greek word is lambanō and it can mean to take what is one’s own, or to receive what is rightfully yours. Jesus seems to describe the men as receiving their talents as payment from their master. But two of the men never lost sight of the fact that the talents were really just another extension of their master’s property. What he had given them really belonged to him, and they treated it that way. They showed him respect and deference by wisely investing what they had been given and returning to him any profit they had received. Their gain would have been impossible without the master’s trust and generosity. 

But then there is the third servant. His actions are meant to stand out like a sore thumb. Unlike his two fellow servants, this man took what he had been given and buried it in a hole. It’s important to notice that this man’s address to his master is radically different than the other two. He stated: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25 ESV). Surprisingly, he addresses the one who had given him his talent as a demanding and a difficult task-master. He expressed fear of the master. And remember, the one talent this man had received had been based on his ability or power to deliver. It’s fairly clear that he had been properly compensated. And while this servant rightfully acknowledged that what he had been given by the master belonged to the master, he displayed a complete lack of initiative and no sense of stewardship. He did nothing with what he had been given.

So, what’s the point? What is jesus trying to tell His disciples? Once again, the emphasis is on the kingdom of heaven, and the period of time which Jesus seems to be speaking is the tribulation. In the parable, Jesus mentions that the master returned “after a long time.” There was a long delay. The return of the master is meant to represent the return of Jesus at His second coming. That momentous event will take place at the end of the seven years of tribulation.

During the period of the tribulation, the presence and power of God will be seen and felt as He brings repeated judgments upon the world. He will redeem 144,000 Jews who will become witnesses to the nations. He will graciously offer opportunities for men and women to repent even during the darkest days of the tribulation, and many will. In fact, there will be many other Jews who come to faith in Jesus during those dark days. They will be given salvation by Jesus. He will offer them what is rightfully His, His own righteousness, and He will expect them to use it wisely as they wait for His return. What they do with their newfound faith will be essential.

The point of the parable is found in the words of Jesus found in verse 29: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” And in the very next verses, we will see how Jesus applies this statement.

Whether it is believers in the church age waiting for the return of Christ and the rapture, or tribulation saints waiting for His second coming, they are to live faithfully as they wait. They are to steward well what they have been given by God. Those who are in Christ have been graciously provided from the abundance of His wealth and riches. We are to use what we have been given wisely and well. We are to recognize that all we have belongs to Him and to treat it with faithful care. The two faithful servants did not make the talents their focus. They didn’t place all their emphasis on what they had been given, but on what they could do to honor their master. And we should long to hear the very same words Jesus spoke to them:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:23 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson