Behold My Servant

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged[
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you[b] in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.” –
Isaiah 42:1-9 NLT

God now attempts to turn the attention of the nations from their false gods to His servant. Unlike idols made by human hands, this individual brings delight to God. And while God also refers to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as His servant, there is a marked difference between this pagan king and the one in whom God delights.

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. – Jeremiah 27:6 NLT

First of all, this servant would have the Spirit of God upon him. He would operate under the power and influence of the Spirit. And, while Nebuchadnezzar would be used by God to bring judgment upon Judah, the servant will bring justice the nations.

There is a sense in which this description of the Servant/Savior points to Jesus at His first coming, but also alludes to aspects of His ministry that will be tied to His second coming. When Jesus came to the earth in human form, He did not do so with a lot of fanfare. He came quietly and rather obscurely. Most people alive at the time had no idea He had even been born. Mary and Joseph had been told of His coming and informed of His unique status as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The angel Gabriel made this perfectly clear to Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-32 NLT

Yet, apart from the wise men who saw the star signifying His birth, there were not many who made their way to Bethlehem to celebrate His birth. The shepherds were privileged to be among the few who saw the baby Jesus, but only because they were informed by the angels. For the most part, the birth of the Servant/Savior was a quiet affair.

And once Jesus began His earthly ministry, He turned His attention to the downtrodden and outcasts of the society. He met with prostitutes and tax collectors. He touched and healed the unclean, including lepers. He made it a habit of ministering to all those in society who were weary from life and spiritually worn out from carrying the heavy burdens that come with slavery to sin (Matthew 11:28).

He will not crush the weakest reed
    or put out a flickering candle.
– Isaiah 42:3 NLT

Instead, “He will bring justice to all who have been wronged” (Isaiah 42:3 NLT). And that is exactly what Christ did. He offered justice in the form of His sacrificial death on the cross. He provided a means by which the just and righteous wrath of God against the sins of man could be delivered without anyone having to die, but Himself. He became the substitutionary atonement for sinful man. And He did it for those who did not deserve it and had not earned it. We were little more than flimsy reeds and flickering candles, without any real worth or value, and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT

And during His earthly ministry, Jesus refused to give in or give up. He faced mounting opposition and repeated rejection by His own people.

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

But Jesus was determined. He was out to finish the assignment given to Him by God the Father. Isaiah describes Him as not losing heart.

He will not falter or lose heart
    until justice prevails throughout the earth.
    Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction
. – Isaiah 42:4 NLT

Jesus declared that His whole purpose for coming in the first place had been “to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And as the tension between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased and the time for His death drew closer, He became all the more determined to complete His God-given task.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV

Luke utilizes a line found in the fiftieth chapter of the book of Isaiah, reflecting the early church’s belief that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

But when Isaiah refers to a time when justice will prevail throughout the earth, he is clearly indicating a future period of time. Jesus’ birth, death and, resurrection have made it possible for sinful man to be made right with a holy God, but we do not yet live in an all-prevailing atmosphere of justice on this earth. Sin is still rampant. Injustice is alive and well. Impurity surrounds and even, at times, infects us. But there is a day coming when Jesus will return and He will make all things right. He will restore justice to the earth. He will rule in righteousness.

And God makes it clear that He was sending His servant, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had not been able to do for themselves. He would redeem and restore them.

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
– Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT

Jesus even referred to this passage when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Jesus did all of these things in His first coming. He did deliver good news to the spiritual impoverished. He did proclaim a way for the spiritually imprisoned to be released. He did restore sight to the spiritually blind. And for all those who placed their faith in Him, they were set free from the oppression caused by their death sentence.

But Jesus is far from done. He came, but He left. He rose from the dead and returned to His Father’s side, where, we are told, He intercedes on our behalf. But there is a day coming when He will return. And the full weight of this chapter will be felt as every aspect of its message is fulfilled in Christ.

And now, God returns to His original message, reminding the people of Judah that He is the one and only God. He alone knows the future and He has just told them what it will contain. But, more than just predicting the future, God assures them that He is one who will bring it about.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols.
Everything I prophesied has come true,
    and now I will prophesy again.
I will tell you the future before it happens.”
– Isaiah 42:9 NLT

The Servant did come. The Messiah came to earth and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. But He returned to His Father’s side, where He is waiting for a word from His Father to one day return for His bride, the Church, and then to make His second grand entrance into the world as the King of kings and Lord of lords. God has said it and He will accomplish it.

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

Your God Is Coming!

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Go on up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
    lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young. – Isaiah 40:1-11 ESV

Isaiah has just delivered a shocking message to the king of Judah.

“Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

And while Hezekiah seems to have taken it all it in stride, this devastating news was not going to sit well with the people of Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s pride, as evidenced by his ill-advised and boastful display of the wealth of his kingdom to the Babylonians, God was going to hand Judah over to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would fall, the temple would be destroyed, and the people would be taken as captives to Babylon.

So, if you’re in Isaiah’s sandals, what do you say to the people of Judah at a time like this? How do you continue to speak into their lives after God has delivered such a bombshell of a pronouncement? You listen to God. You wait for Him to reveal the rest of the story. God has declared His judgment, in no uncertain terms. But it will be followed by His deliverance. And, as chapter 40 opens up, we are taken on a fast-forward journey into the future, long after the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Judah are living in exile in Babylon. And the days of their punishment are coming to an end.

In the following chapters, God reveals that the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians will take place, but so will their future deliverance. And the message He gives to Isaiah while speaking of a day nearly a century and a half into the future, is meant to provide immediate encouragement to the people of Judah living in Isaiah’s day. God opens with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people.” In the midst of all their sorrow and despair, God speaks words intended to bring hope and assurance.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:2 NLT

It is as if Isaiah has been teleported into the future where is allowed to see events that have not yet taken place. But because these distant scenes are revealed by God Himself, they are reality, not fantasy. This is not wishful thinking on the part of Isaiah, but the revealed will of God. He is providing a revelation of things to come.

God is coming. His arrival is imminent, and the people are told to make preparations.

“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God! – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

Their desolate surroundings and distant location would prove to be no barrier for God. Their dire circumstances would be no problem for the Almighty. Every imaginable and seemingly impregnable obstacle would be removed, making way for God’s arrival.

“Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.” – Isaiah 40:5 NLT

And how are the people to know that these things will happen? The Lord has spoken. He has declared it. “The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 ESV). This message declaring God’s trustworthiness and reliability are reiterated just a few verses later.

“…the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8 ESV

And in between these two statements declaring that God’s word is everlasting and always reliable, we find a description of man’s transience and impermanence. Humanity is no more permanent than withering grass or a fading flower. And, like the rest of nature, man is subject to the will of God. He gives life, and He takes it away. He breathes into man the breath of life, and with the very same breath, He takes it away. But His word is permanent and unshakable. It cannot be altered or deterred in any way. Which transforms the following words from a hopeful possibility to a God-ordained certainty.

“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.” – Isaiah 40:9-10 NLT

God is coming. It may not be today, but it will happen. Delay should not produce disappointment or doubt. The longer we have to wait, the greater our longing for His coming should grow. Our hope is based on His word, not the nature of our surroundings. God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He is the Great Shepherd, who cares for His sheep.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:11 NLT

This glimpse into Judah’s future was intended to remind Isaiah and the people of Judah of God’s trustworthiness and sovereignty over their lives. As Isaiah penned these words, the shock of God’s pronouncement of Judah’s fall to Babylon still rang in his ears. The people were shell-shocked by the thought that their great city, while spared defeat by the Assyrians, would one day fall to yet another pagan power. But God wanted them to know that He could be trusted. He was good for His word. And He was a good and gracious Shepherd who would care for His flock.

If we fast-forward again, to the end of the book of Revelation, we see yet another glimpse into God’s future plans for mankind. This time, we hear the words of Jesus Himself, as He reassures His people of His own return.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13 NLT

The world will suffer greatly during the seven years of the Tribulation. But at the end of this dark period of human history, God will send His Son to the earth a second time. And, this time, He will come as a conquering King who defeats all those who stand in opposition to His rule and reign. He will establish His Kingdom on earth, and restore the people of Israel to a right relationship with God. But how do we know that these future events will take place? Because Jesus declared, “These words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 22:6 ESV). And He leaves us with these comforting words of promise:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

And our response should be:

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 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

 

 

The Way of Holiness

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.[a]
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 35:1-10 ESV

The preceding chapter was filled with imagery of devastation and destruction, the results of God judgment on the world, meted out by Christ when He returns at the end of the period of Tribulation. During the seven years of Tribulation, as described by John in his book of Revelation, the world will suffer under a series of unprecedented judgments brought upon the unbelieving world by the hand of God. Jesus Himself described the severity of those coming days in stark terms.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” – Matthew 24:>21 NLT

The Tribulation will be a time of great distress. The world will be under the rule of the Antichrist, a powerful world leader who will use his influence to persecute the Jewish people. As the earthly representative of Satan, he will make his life’s mission to destroy any who worship the one true God, including both Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Christ during the darkest days of the Tribulation. But God will bring a wave of ever-increasing judgments against the unbelieving world. He will devastate the earth itself, destroying crops, livestock, and even the fish in the sea by turning the water into blood. In a series of inescapable divine judgments, God will destroy more than one half of the earth’s population. And yet, the unbelieving world will remain unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Him as God.

And the seven years will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and His defeat of the armies of the world. Antichrist will be dethroned and permanently imprisoned by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Satan will be bound and placed in divine custody, “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:3 ESV). And this will set up the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal 1,000-year period of time when Christ will rule in righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem. John describes this remarkable period of time on earth.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

With Christ on the throne, the world will experience a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. For the first time since the fall of mankind, Satan and his demons will have no influence over the world. They will have been removed by God, and their ability to tempt and deceive humanity will be non-existent.

And in chapter 35, Isaiah uses the news of this coming day of Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan to encourage his readers to stay strong in the midst of their current circumstances.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.” – Isaiah 35:3-4 NLT

As bad as things appeared to be, they needed to remember that their God was in control. He had a plan in place. And while their current suffering was real and the threat against them was formidable, God was sovereign over all. This entire chapter was meant to remind the people of Judah, and us, that a day is coming when God will restore the land and His people. The words of Isaiah are meant to convey a sense of hopeful anticipation.

…the wilderness and desert will be glad. – vs. 1

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom – vs. 1

there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! vs. 2

The deserts will become as green… – vs. 2

While the people of Judah were focused on their current circumstances, Isaiah attempts to redirect their attention to the future, when God will do great things on the earth. He wanted them to have an eternal perspective. God has a long-term plan for His creation, and He intends to rectify all that has been marred by the presence of sin. But we must learn to wait for that day. The apostle Paul understood that fact and encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep their eyes focused on the future God has planned for them.

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

Isaiah describes a day when things will be markedly different on the earth. The blind will receive their sight, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the dumb will speak. It will be a day when disease and disabilities will be permanently removed from the earth. Isaiah paints a picture of restoration and renewal, where all the defects caused by sin are eradicated. Even nature itself will be rejuvenated by God’s gracious hand.

Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
    and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
    and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish
    where desert jackals once lived. – Isaiah 35:6-7 NLT

And running through this lush landscape will be a road, a highway called the Way of Holiness. Whether it is a literal road or not is unclear. But Isaiah seems to be emphasizing a path that leads to Zion, the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus will reign. And all those who take that road or path will willingly make their way to the holy city to worship the Son of God. This roadway will be reserved for the holy, those who long to see God. “It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways” (Isaiah 35:8 NLT). The prophet Micah describes pilgrims from all over the world making their way to Jerusalem in that day.

People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. – Micah 4:2 NLT

The prophet Zechariah describes it this way:

The Lord says, “Shout and rejoice, O beautiful Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the Lord’s special possession in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city.” – Zechariah 2:10-12 NLT

These prophetic descriptions of God’s future plans for Jerusalem and the nations of the world are meant to bring encouragement to God’s people of all ages. No matter what difficulties we may face in this world, God has a future planned when all trial, troubles, and tribulations will be no more. All those who belong to Him will one day experience the fulness of His grace and mercy as He makes all things new. His long-awaited promises, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled. The return of His Son will take place, just as Jesus He told the disciples. The world will be restored to its former glory. Jerusalem will once again be the holy city of God, ruled over by the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David. And Isaiah reminds his readers that, even in the midst of their current circumstances, they have reason to rejoice, because God is far from done.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:10 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

All Things New.

1 Draw near, O nations, to hear,
    and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
    the world, and all that comes from it.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
    and furious against all their host;
    he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
    and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
    the mountains shall flow with their blood.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,
    and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
    as leaves fall from the vine,
    like leaves falling from the fig tree.

For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
    behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom,
    upon the people I have devoted to destruction.
The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood;
    it is gorged with fat,
    with the blood of lambs and goats,
    with the fat of the kidneys of rams.
For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah,
    a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
Wild oxen shall fall with them,
    and young steers with the mighty bulls.
Their land shall drink its fill of blood,
    and their soil shall be gorged with fat.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.
And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch,
    and her soil into sulfur;
    her land shall become burning pitch.
10 Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
    none shall pass through it forever and ever.
11 But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
    the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
    and the plumb line of emptiness.
12 Its nobles—there is no one there to call it a kingdom,
    and all its princes shall be nothing.

13 Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
    nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
    an abode for ostriches.
14 And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
    the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
    and finds for herself a resting place.

15 There the owl nests and lays
    and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow;
indeed, there the hawks are gathered,
    each one with her mate.
16 Seek and read from the book of the Lord:
    Not one of these shall be missing;
    none shall be without her mate.
For the mouth of the Lord has commanded,
    and his Spirit has gathered them.
17 He has cast the lot for them;
    his hand has portioned it out to them with the line;
they shall possess it forever;
    from generation to generation they shall dwell in it. – Isaiah 34:1-17 ESV

Destruction, slaughter, judgment, blood, vengeance, confusion, and emptiness.

Not exactly words of comfort, are they? And while they may create in us a sense of unease and discomfort because of the way they portray our God, they provide a much-needed reminder of the comprehensiveness God’s divine nature. In an age when we prefer to focus all our attention on the love of God, the 34th chapter of Isaiah is a stark reminder of His hatred for sin and the wrath He expresses toward those who willingly flaunt their sin in His face.

This entire chapter is a universal message directed at all the nations of the world. It is God’s indictment against any and all who refuse to acknowledge Him as the one and only God. While they may enjoy their season of rebellion against Him, the day is coming when judgment will fall on each and every one of them.

For the Lord is enraged against the nations.
    His fury is against all their armies.
He will completely destroy them,
    dooming them to slaughter. – Isaiah 34:2 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this very same day of pending judgment.

“His cry of judgment will reach the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord will bring his case against all the nations.
He will judge all the people of the earth,
    slaughtering the wicked with the sword.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:
    “Look! Disaster will fall upon nation after nation!
A great whirlwind of fury is rising
    from the most distant corners of the earth!”  – Jeremiah 25:31-32 NLT

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of a battle of epic proportions and a slaughter so great that the bodies of the dead will remain unburied.

Their dead will be left unburied,
    and the stench of rotting bodies will fill the land… – Isaiah 34:3 NLT

In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered on the ground like manure. – Jeremiah 25:33 NLT

Obviously, this will be a battle like nothing the world has ever witnessed. It does not depict a war between nations, as were the first two world wars. This will be a conflict between the nations of the world and God Almighty. Ultimately, it will be a spiritual battle played out between the forces of Satan and the Son of God. But that does not mean it will be metaphorical or allegorical in nature. No, this end-times showdown between God and the self-exalted nations of the world will involve actual armies, intent on defeating God and displacing Him as the ruler of the world.

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies toward the west without hindrance. And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. – Revelation 16:12-14 NLT

And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. – Revelation 16:16 NLT

These nations will be demonically inspired to wage war against God Almighty and His people. And while their numbers will be great, their effort will end in failure. This gathering of the nations in opposition to God will usher in the Second Coming of Christ. And the apostle John describes Jesus as coming on the clouds, dressed in white, and prepared to “release the fierce wrath of God” (Revelation 19:15 NLT). And His arrival will spell doom for the enemies of God.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18 NLT

Isaiah goes on to describe the nature of the destruction. It will be widespread and complete. And Isaiah uses the Edomites, the descenants of Esau, as the representatives of all the nations of the world. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, and both were born to Isaac. But God chose Jacob to be the one through whom His promise of a Messiah would come. And in the book of Malachi, God expressed His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau.

“I have always loved you,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”

And the Lord replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.”

Esau’s descendants in Edom may say, “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” – Malachi 1:2-4 NLT

Esau’s descendants, angry at their rejection by God, displayed a stubborn determination to resist the will of God. And their challenge to God’s sovereignty and authority remains alive and well today. The Edomites are, in essence, the poster boy for all those who stand in opposition to God. And Isaiah makes it quite clear that allthose who stand opposed to God will ultimately fall.

He will make a mighty slaughter in Edom.
Even men as strong as wild oxen will die—
    the young men alongside the veterans.
The land will be soaked with blood
    and the soil enriched with fat. – Isaiah 34:6-7 NLT

But what is the purpose behind all of this slaughter? Why will God bring such devastation on the nations of the earth? Isaiah tells us.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. – Isaiah 34:8 ESV

Part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham was that any nation who cursed his descendants would be cursed themselves.

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” – Genesis 12:3 ESV

And while there have been many nations which have persecuted the people of God over the centuries, the intensity of Israel’s persecution will reach its apex during the seven years of the Tribulation. Under the influence of the Antichrist, the nations of the earth will turn on the people of Israel with greater degree of hostility and intensity than has ever been seen before. And while many Jews and Christians will die as martyrs during the Tribulation, God will keep His promise to curse those who curse Israel.

Isaiah’s description of this coming day of God’s judgment is filled with imagery that conveys complete and utter destruction, but primarily of humanity. Notice that the animals are allowed to occupy the land once occupied by the nations.

The land will lie deserted from generation to generation.
    No one will live there anymore. – Isaiah 34:10 NLT

This is meant to convey that God’s judgment is final and complete. It is not just a temporary setback for mankind. Remember what the Edomites said: “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” That will not be the case when God is done with His judgment of the nations of the earth. 

God’s devastation of His creation sets the stage for His restoration and recreation of all that He has made. The sin-tarnished creation will be restored to its original luster by God. He will make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 64:43:19 ESV

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5 ESV

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind. – Isaiah 65:17 ESV

The day is coming when God “shall stretch the line of confusion…and the plumb line of emptiness” over the land. He will judge the world in righteousness. But He will also restore to it the peace and fruitfulness it had enjoyed in the days of creation. He will make all things new.

 

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 Lord Our King Will Save Us

Behold, their heroes cry in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways lie waste;
    the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
    cities are despised;
    there is no regard for man.
The land mourns and languishes;
    Lebanon is confounded and withers away;
Sharon is like a desert,
    and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.

10 “Now I will arise,” says the Lord,
    “now I will lift myself up;
    now I will be exalted.
11 You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble;
    your breath is a fire that will consume you.
12 And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,
    like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”

13 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done;
    and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid;
    trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
    who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
    who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
    and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
16 he will dwell on the heights;
    his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;
    his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.

17 Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
    they will see a land that stretches afar.
18 Your heart will muse on the terror:
    “Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
    Where is he who counted the towers?”
19 You will see no more the insolent people,
    the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
    stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20 Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
    Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
    nor will any of its cords be broken.
21 But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
    a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
    nor majestic ship can pass.
22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
    the Lord is our king; he will save us.

23 Your cords hang loose;
    they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
    or keep the sail spread out.
Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
    even the lame will take the prey.
24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
    the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. – Isaiah 33:7-24 ESV

In the opening verses of this chapter, Isaiah expressed his desire that God show mercy to His people. He knew that the only hope Judah had, in the face of the coming Assyrian invasion, was for God to come to their aid. Salvation would not come from Egypt or by any other human means. The only way Judah would be spared the judgment of God would be if God relented and chose to spare His people out of sheer grace.

But verse seven reveals that God has not yet acted. The situation is dire, and the people are living in fear for their lives. The Assyrians are near, and the fall of Jerusalem appears near. As a result, Isaiah describes Judah’s “brave warriors” weeping in public and her “ambassadors of peace” crying in bitter disappointment. The soldiers realize they are no match for the Assyrian forces gathered outside the city walls. The king’s negotiators, who had attempted to barter a peace agreement with the Assyrians, mourned over their failure. Everything in which they had placed their hope for salvation had failed. Their human efforts had produced no peace and had brought no relief.

We know from the book of 2 Kings, that Hezekiah, the king of Judah had attempted to persuade King Sennacherib to call off the invasion by paying him a substantial tribute.

King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT

But King Sennacherib, while receiving the tribute, rejected Hezekiah’s plea to call off the invasion. He told the emissaries from Judah:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

King Sennacherib even mocked their trust in God, claiming, “do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:25 NLT).

isaiah_judah_time_of_hezekiah.jpgSo, it is easy to understand the demoralized state of the people of Judah. Things were not looking good. Everywhere they looked, they saw the undeniable results of Assyria’s power. Isaiah describes the devastation of Bashan and Lebanon in the North and the Plain of Sharon and Mount Carmel to the West. Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. Now, it was just a matter of time before Judah became the next victim of their seemingly unstoppable army.

But God had other plans. Just when things looked like they could not get any worse, God decided to act. He speaks up and delivers a clear statement regarding His intentions: “Now I will stand up. Now I will show my power and might” (Isaiah 33:10 NLT).

The people of Judah trembled in fear at the overwhelming power of the Assyrians. From their perspective, their fate was sealed, and their defeat was inevitable. Isaiah describes them as sinful and godless, quaking in fear at the thought of being consumed like grass before a raging fire.

The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear.
    Terror seizes the godless.
“Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry.
    “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” – Isaiah 33:14 NLT

But God had other plans for Assyria. While they had left plenty of burned-out fields and charred cities in their path, Jerusalem would not fall victim to their flames. Instead, God would turn the tables on them.

Your own breath will turn to fire and consume you.
Your people will be burned up completely,
    like thornbushes cut down and tossed in a fire. – Isaiah 33:11-12 NLT

The mighty would prove to be no match for the Almighty. The consumer would end up being the consumed. The destroyer would become the destroyed. God was going to do for the people of Judah what they could not accomplish on their own. He would become for the people of Judah what they had hoped to find in Egypt: Salvation.

The people of Judah had lost all hope. They were left mourning and crying over their inevitable fall, even asking themselves, “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?” And God gave them the answer.

Those who are honest and fair,
    who refuse to profit by fraud,
    who stay far away from bribes,
who refuse to listen to those who plot murder,
    who shut their eyes to all enticement to do wrong. – Isaiah 33:15 NLT

This statement raises some significant issues. First of all, it describes a person who lives in obedience to the commands of God. Those people were few and far between in Isaiah’s day. And there is no indication that God was sparing Judah and Jerusalem because there was a remnant of believing Jews living in covenant faithfulness to Him. This statement by God would seem to be making the point that no one in Judah deserved to be spared the all-consuming fire that was coming upon them. They were all guilty. They shared a corporate culpability for all that was happening to them. And, while the consuming fire was coming in the form of the Assyrian army, its true source was God Almighty. The book of Deuteronomy reminds us, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV). And the author of Hebrews quotes from this same verse when he writes, “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 28-29 ESV).

The people of Judah had not changed. They were still disobedient and rebellious. Their hearts were still far from God. But, in His mercy, He was going to spare them. He was going to prevent their enemies from destroying them. But the remaining verses of this chapter reveal that the complete fulfillment of God’s promise lies in the future.

The picture Isaiah paints in verses 17-24 stands in stark contrast to the actual situation in Judah during his day. He describes a king attired in splendor, ruling over a kingdom that stretches far beyond the modern-day boundaries of Judah. And the residents of that kingdom have to rack their collective brains to remember when the Assyrians posed a threat to their safety and security. It will be a time of peace and prosperity.

Instead, you will see Zion as a place of holy festivals.
    You will see Jerusalem, a city quiet and secure.
It will be like a tent whose ropes are taut
    and whose stakes are firmly fixed. – Isaiah 33:20 NLT

God will be their Mighty One – their king, judge, and lawgiver. This is a clear description of Jesus, the Son of God, ruling and reigning over Jerusalem and the world during the Millennium. He will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to David. The enemies of Israel will stand defeated, having been completely destroyed by the Messiah upon His return to earth. And the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, will once again enjoy a restored relationship with God Almighty. And it will all be God’s doing.

The people of Israel will no longer say,
    “We are sick and helpless,”
    for the Lord will forgive their sins. – Isaiah 33:24 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

Our Salvation in the Time of Trouble

1 Ah, you destroyer,
    who yourself have not been destroyed,
you traitor,
    whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
    you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
    they will betray you.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
    Be our arm every morning,
    our salvation in the time of trouble.
At the tumultuous noise peoples flee;
    when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered,
and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
    as locusts leap, it is leapt upon.

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
    he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
    abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
    the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. – Isaiah 33:1-6 ESV

This entire chapter, while obviously dealing with the very real and immediate threat of the Assyrian invasion, is actually highly eschatological in nature. It provides a sweeping panorama of God’s decisive victories over all of His enemies, all the way to the end of time. But the chapter opens up with a very specific woe against the nation of Assyria.

What sorrow awaits you Assyrians, who have destroyed others
    but have never been destroyed yourselves.
You betray others,
    but you have never been betrayed.
When you are done destroying,
    you will be destroyed.
When you are done betraying,
    you will be betrayed. – Isaiah 33:1 NLT

They were the most eminent threat facing Judah. But while they were powerful and had proven themselves quite capable of destroying any who stood opposed to them, God let them know that their days were numbered. What they had been doing to others would soon be done to them. God Almighty would turn the tables on them and give them a taste of their own medicine. While it may not appear to be so, God is always looking down on His creation and dispensing justice. He sees the inequities and injustices happening in the world and, in His time, He metes out His form of justice. It may not happen according to our timing or liking, but we can rest assured that nothing escapes God’s notice no injustice will go unpunished.

God reminds us of His unceasing vigilance and unwavering commitment to right all wrongs.

“The Lord says, ‘Am I not storing up these things,
    sealing them away in my treasury?
I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
    In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
    and their destiny will overtake them.’” – Deuteronomy 32:34-35 NLT

The apostle Paul quoted this very passage when writing to the believers in Rome. But he added a twist, including another Old Testament quite found in the Psalms.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. – Romans 12:19-21 NLT

And Isaiah uses a similar pattern, addressing God’s coming vengeance against the Assyrians, but following it up with a prayer that God would have mercy on His sinful and rebellious people.

But Lord, be merciful to us,
    for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
    and our salvation in times of trouble. – Isaiah 33:2 NLT

In a real sense, the people of Judah had become the enemies of God, because they had refused to remain obedient to God. They had treated their position as His chosen possession with disdain and aligned themselves against Him. In doing so, they had become His enemies. Paul speaks of mankind’s hostile relationship with God in several of his letters.

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. – Colossians 1:21 NLT

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

As His enemies, the people of Judah deserved God’s wrath, but Isaiah prays for mercy. He begs for God to give them what they don’t deserve: His compassion, forgiveness, and salvation. While Isaiah’s prayer could not have represented the hearts of all the people of Judah, he prayed it on their behalf. He interceded for those who could not or would not call out to God. And Isaiah was not alone in this ministry of intercession. The prophet Jeremiah pleaded with God as well, voicing his desire that God not reject His people. Jeremiah knew that their sins were deserving of God’s judgment, but He asked God to look past their sin and graciously keep the covenant He had made with them.

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
    We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you.
For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
    Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
    and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:19-21 NLT

Both of these men cared deeply for the people of God. They longed to see the hearts of their people restored to a right relationship with God. So, they prayed and the pleaded. They interceded. And what makes their prayers particularly significant is that both of these men had suffered at the hands of the people to whom God had called them to minister. Neither Jeremiah or Isaiah were well-liked. Their messages were unpopular and their treatment by their fellow Jews, unpleasant. But rather than respond in anger, they prayed. Because they knew the only hope the nation had was to found in God.

Their prayers were intended to bridge the gulf that existed between God and His rebellious people. Their sins had separated them from God. Their rebellion had alienated them from God. And, it didn’t help that God was transcendent, physically separated from His people, and living in perfect holiness in heaven. But Isaiah knew that God is not limited by space or time. He is fully capable of stepping into the immediate context of His people and performing great wonders on their behalf.

Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. – Isaiah 33:5 NLT

Isaiah is counting on the fact that God will intervene on behalf of His people. He will step into their world and pour out His mercy and grace. Isaiah may not have known the when or the how, but he was confident nonetheless. And he speaks prophetically of a coming day when God will restore the fortunes of His people.

In that day he will be your sure foundation,
    providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. – Isaiah 33:6 NLT

While God did provide an immediate answer to Isaiah’s prayer, providing rescue from the threat of the Assyrian invasion. There is a sense in which his prayer remains as yet unfulfilled. But every prayer that has ever been prayed, asking God to intervene and rescue, will ultimately be answered. He will rescue. He will restore. And one of the greatest proofs of God’s willingness to answer mankind’s plea for rescue is found in the life of Jesus Christ.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 NLT

Jesus became the rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge Isaiah spoke of. He became the ultimate solution to mankind’s sin problem, including the sins of Israel and Judah. And Isaiah, while not fully comprehending the exact nature of God’s redemptive plan, and unaware of the details concerning Jesus’ incarnation, fully believed God would restore and redeem. He wasn’t exactly sure how or when, but he believed. And it is amazing to realize that God had placed within Isaiah an awareness of what was to come that allowed him to pen these words concerning the future Messiah of Israel.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

Judah’s Savior was going to come. And He would pay the price for their rebellion against God Almighty. He would take on their sin debt so that they might one day be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. Isaiah’s prayer for mercy was answered. And it happened centuries later in the little town of Bethlehem, when Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. God entered into the world of man by taking the form of a man. He became incarnate. He became Immanuel, God with us.

“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:10-11 NLT

And in doing so, God was gracious to us, and became our salvation in the time of trouble.

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

Until the Spirit is Poured Upon Us

Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice;
    you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech.
10 In little more than a year
    you will shudder, you complacent women;
for the grape harvest fails,
    the fruit harvest will not come.
11 Tremble, you women who are at ease,
    shudder, you complacent ones;
strip, and make yourselves bare,
    and tie sackcloth around your waist.
12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields,
    for the fruitful vine,
13 for the soil of my people
    growing up in thorns and briers,
yes, for all the joyous houses
    in the exultant city.
14 For the palace is forsaken,
    the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
    will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
    a pasture of flocks;
15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
    and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
    in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
19 And it will hail when the forest falls down,
    and the city will be utterly laid low.
20 Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
    who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free. – Isaiah 32:9-20 ESV

Isaiah has announced the coming of a righteous king and has called the people of Judah to “Return to the one against whom you have so blatantly rebelled!” (Isaiah 31:5 NET). He has delivered God’s stinging indictment against the leaders of the nation, labeling them as “stubborn children…who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit” (Isaiah 30:1 ESV).  Now, the prophet directs his message to the women of Judah. This is intended to reveal that Judah’s problem is pervasive, and not relegated to a particular class or gender of people. Even the women of Judah are guilty of rebellion against God. So, Isaiah calls them out.

You complacent women,
get up and listen to me!
You carefree daughters,
pay attention to what I say! – Isaiah 32:1 NET

He uses two words to describe these women. The first is sha’anan, which portrays them as being a bit haughty and aloof, living with a false sense of ease and confidence. The second word he uses is batach, and it paints them as having a false sense of security. To put it in more modern terms, Isaiah is saying they are “fat and happy.” Which is somewhat similar to the words the prophet Amos used when he called out the women of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Listen to me, you fat cows
    living in Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor
    and crush the needy,
and who are always calling to your husbands,
    “Bring us another drink!” – Amos 4:1 NLT

Isaiah attempts to light a fire under these carefree and complacent women, pleading with them to listen to what he has to say. Time is running out. Judgment is coming. In fact, Isaiah warns that “In a short time—just a little more than a year—you careless ones will suddenly begin to care” (Isaiah 32:10 NLT). God will get their attention. Their false sense of security will be suddenly shattered. Their smug demeanor will be replaced with fear.

Tremble, you women of ease;
    throw off your complacency.
Strip off your pretty clothes,
    and put on burlap to show your grief.
Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms
    and your fruitful grapevines. – Isaiah 32:11 NLT

Isaiah calls on these women to repent. He warns them to change their attitude now before the judgment of God falls on them. They need to replace their false sense of security with a fear of God. They need to remove their fine clothing and put on the garments of mourning, as a sign of their sorrow for having offended a holy God. They need to repent over their misplaced trust, as illustrated by their over-confidence in their bountiful farms and fruitful grapevines. These women, like everyone else in the nation, had come to believe that they were somehow invincible and their material prosperity was a sign of God’s favor.

Yet, Isaiah lets them know that everything in which they have trusted will suddenly be taken from them. He depicts a dramatic reversal of fortunes for these women and the nation.

For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers.
    Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone.
The palace and the city will be deserted,
    and busy towns will be empty.
Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze
    in the empty forts and watchtowers – Isaiah 32:13-14 NLT

Their material world was going to be rocked. Nothing will be left untouched. Houses, towns, palaces, and pastures, will all bear the brunt of God’s righteous wrath. Because these things represent the source of their security. Their material possessions had become substitutes for God. They found peace in the shelter of their houses, not the arms of God. They felt safe because of the fortifications of their cities, not because of their God. They relied on the fruitfulness of their fields and orchards for sustenance, rather than God. In short, they worshiped the gifts rather than the Giver.

But God was about to change all that. In the relatively short-term, God would bring destruction upon the nation of Judah. In 701 BC, Sennacherib besieged the city of Jerusalem, creating extremely difficult conditions within its walls. Even before the siege began, the emissary for the king had warned the people in the city:

“Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine.” – 2 Kings 18:27 NLT

As we have seen, God eventually spared the city of Jerusalem, miraculously defeating the Assyrian army. In the middle of the night, an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the enemy’s troops, forcing Sennacherib to call off the siege and return to Assyria. But 115 years later, the destruction of Jerusalem would finally come. In 586 BC, after another lengthy and devastating siege, the Babylonians, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, breached the walls the city and completely destroyed it.

At this point, as Isaiah addresses the women of Judah, all of these events had not yet happened. They lie somewhere in the future; as yet unfulfilled, but unavoidable. Because they did happen. God’s judgment did come. Homes were destroyed, palaces demolished, the temple burned and razed, and the people taken captive. And Isaiah warns that the desolation of Judah would continue until another, as yet unfulfilled event took place. He describes the desolation of Jerusalem continuing “until at last the Spirit is poured out on us from heaven” (Isaiah 32:15 NLT).

With the coming of this future day, another incredible reversal of fortunes will take place. Isaiah describes the wilderness becoming a fertile field yielding bountiful crops. And the most abundant fruit to be found will be justice and righteousness. It will be a time marked by peace. And in place of the cocky confidence of the women of Judah, will be a quiet and confidence that comes from God.

And this righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest. – Isaiah 32:17-18 NLT

Rather than trusting in material things and finding their hope and security in the gifts, the people of Judah will turn to the Giver of all good things. And He will bless them.

the Lord will greatly bless his people.
    Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up.
Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely. – Isaiah 32:20 NLT

This day has not yet come. This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. But it will be. Just as the Assyrians besieged the city and the Babylonians destroyed it, the day will come when the Lord pours out His blessings upon Jerusalem and the people of Israel.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

And that plan includes the future restoration of His people. He will pour out His Spirit upon them and they will become all that He has intended for them to be all along.

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. – Ezekiel 36:26-27 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

A King Will Reign in Righteousness

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
    and princes will rule in justice.
Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
    a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
    like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
    and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
    and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
The fool will no more be called noble,
    nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.
For the fool speaks folly,
    and his heart is busy with iniquity,
to practice ungodliness,
    to utter error concerning the Lord,
to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
    and to deprive the thirsty of drink.
As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil;
    he plans wicked schemes
to ruin the poor with lying words,
    even when the plea of the needy is right.
But he who is noble plans noble things,
    and on noble things he stands. – Isaiah 32:1-8 ESV

In the future time period, predicted by Isaiah in the preceding chapter, there will be a time of great victory over the enemies of God’s people, foreshadowed by the soon-to-take-place defeat of the Assyrians. The miraculous nature of their fall, with an angel God destroying 185,000 of their soldiers in the middle of the night, is meant to be a precursor to an even greater victory in the end times: The Battle of Armageddon.

When Christ returns at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation, He will win a decisive victory over the combined armies of the world, which will be led by the Antichrist. The apostle John describes this epic battle in the book of Revelation. With the pouring out of the sixth bowl judgment, John saw:

…demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. – Revelation 16:14-16 ESV

The word “Armageddon” is derived from the Hebrew word Har-Magedone, which means “Mount Megiddo.” The Hebrew word Har can also refer to a “hill,” and since there is no mountain known as Mount Megiddo, it is thought that this is likely a reference to the hill country that surrounds the plain of Meggido, some sixty miles north of Jerusalem Megiddo. It is in this massive plain that the armies of the world will assemble to wage war against the people of God, which will include the Jewish people and all those who will have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation. But John was given a further glimpse of this epic battle. He saw a vision of Jesus, arrayed in a white robe dipped in blood and riding a white horse. He was leading “the armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress” (Revelation 19:14-15 NLT).

And John goes on to describe how Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, totally destroys the combined armies of the world, bringing an end to the rule of the Antichrist and terminating the seven years of the Tribulation.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

And when Isaiah describes a king who will reign in righteousness and princes who will rule alongside him justice, he is speaking prophetically of this future period in history. The book of Revelation provides us with further insight into this end-times event. As a result of their defeat at the battle of Armageddon, Antichrist and his associate, the false prophet, will be cast into hell. This will be followed by the binding of Satan. John describes him as being captured by an angel of God and thrown “into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward, he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3 NLT). With Satan imprisoned and His influence removed from the earth, the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin, free from Satanic opposition. And John was given a vision of what happens next.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

This literal one-thousand-year period of time will be like nothing mankind has ever seen of experience. And Isaiah attempts to give us some insight into its uniqueness. For the first time in a long time, those with eyes will actually see the truth of God. Those with hears will hear it. The imagery Isaiah uses is meant to provide a picture of spiritual transformation taking place in the hearts and minds of the people on earth at the time. The truth of God, so often marred by the stammering tongues and deceitful half-truths of men will be clearly understood. People will no longer listen to the words of fools and elevate these kinds of people to places of honor. The days of godless leaders misguiding the people will be over. In a world where injustice and unrighteousness have become the norm, God will usher in a one-thousand-year period of peace, righteousness and spiritual prosperity, made possible by the reign on His Son on the throne of David.

The prophet, Daniel, was also given a vision of this future scene.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

The end of the age culminates with the righteous rule of Christ on earth. And Isaiah, later on in his book, provides us with further details concerning how the Tribulation will come to an end and the millennial kingdom of Christ will begin.

He put on righteousness as his body armor
    and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.
He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.
He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth.
In the west, people will respect the name of the Lord;
    in the east, they will glorify him.
For he will come like a raging flood tide
    driven by the breath of the Lord.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:17-20 NLT

And Isaiah clearly indicates that the actions of Jesus will be to fulfill the covenant God had made with the people of Israel generations earlier.

“And this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Isaiah 59:21 NLT

What we have here is a remarkable reminder of God’s faithfulness. He keeps His commitments and fulfills His promises. It may not always appear as if God is holding up His end of the bargain, but there has never been a case where God has failed to come through on what He has said He will do.

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

As Paul reminded Timothy:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Timothy 2:13 NLT

In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend Him, God will remain faithful to them. He will accomplish each and every promise He has made to them. When God told the people of Judah that a day was coming when “a king will reign in righteousness,” He meant it. And while the time waiting for the fulfillment of this promise has been long, the delay doesn’t in any way negate the reality of its future fulfillment. He has promised, and He will fulfill that promise, down to the very last detail.

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

God Is Not Done.

17 Is it not yet a very little while
    until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
18 In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing
    and the scoffer cease,
    and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off,
21 who by a word make a man out to be an offender,
    and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,
    and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.

22 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
23 For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:17-24 ESV

The people of Judah were under the delusion that they could somehow fool God into believing that they were faithfully keeping His commands. They were observing all the annual rituals and celebrating each of the prescribed festivals on schedule, just as God had commanded. But they were just going through the motions. And, all the while, they were worshiping false gods and failing to pursue justice and righteousness. So, God described their so-called worship of Him as nothing more than lip-service. It was all an act designed to trick God into believing they were faithful and true. And, in their arrogance, they dared to say, “The Lord can’t see us. He doesn’t know what’s going on!” (Isaiah 29:15 NLT). But they were wrong.

God was the potter, and they were the clay. He knew exactly what was happening. He could even see into the deep recesses of their hearts, where the root of their problem was contained. And, while God was going to bring judgment against His people for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, Isaiah reveals that God had other plans for them as well. Their immediate fortunes would involve defeat at the hands of their enemies, the destruction of their city and the desecration of the temple. But God had more in store. He had plans for them of which they were totally unaware.

In just a very short time Lebanon will turn into an orchard, and the orchard will be considered a forest. – Isaiah 29:17 NET

This verse, while difficult for us to understand, would have been quite clear to Isaiah’s original audience. It speaks of a reversal of fortunes, a radical change in the status quo. In Isaiah’s day, Lebanon was renowned for its forests, but the day was coming when the trees once used for building ships, palaces, and siege engines would be replaced with fruit trees. The fame of Lebanon would no longer be its vast forests filled with stately cedar trees, but its orchards. A day was coming when things would be radically different.

Isaiah describes a day when the blind will see, and the deaf will hear. But there appears to be more to this than the restoration of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Notice that Isaiah states, “the deaf will hear words read from a book” (Isaiah 29:18 NLT). Just a few verses earlier, God had mentioned a sealed book that contained insights into future events.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

The people of Judah had been unable to see what God had in store for them. And, it was because God had blinded their eyes to the truth. Even their prophets and seers were incapable of seeing the future plans of God.

Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

But Isaiah informed them that a day was coming when God would open their eyes to see and their ears to hear. The unforeseen future would become a present reality. And the ones who will benefit from God’s goodness and graciousness on that day will be the lowly and humble.

The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:19 NLT

God has a particular disdain for the prideful and arrogant. There is no place in God’s kingdom for the self-made man, the individual who sees themselves as the master of their own fate. And the Scriptures are replete with God’s outlook on the proud.

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT

Toward the scorners he is scornful,
    but to the humble he gives favor. – Proverbs 3:34 ESV

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12 NLT

The day is coming when there will be no place in God’s Kingdom for those whose lives are marked by scoffing, mocking, pride, and self-sufficiency. Like the cedars of Lebanon, they will be replaced with trees that produce fruit in keeping with God’s will. And when Isaiah shared this news, everyone in his audience knew the ones at whom his words were aimed.

The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent. – Isaiah 29:20-21 NLT

God was going to hold the leaders of Judah responsible. They had misled the people and caused them to stray away from Him. As Isaiah stated in the last chapter, these men were like drunks, intoxicated by their own self-worth, and staggering around under the influence of false gods and faulty counsel.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

But, in spite of their lousy leadership, God was going to do something remarkable for His people.

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:22-24 NLT

In that future day, when God restores the fortunes of His people, they will see, they will recognize, the will stand in awe, they will gain understanding, and they will accept instruction. Things will be radically different. Not because they will have changed their minds, but because God will have changed their hearts. And the prophet Ezekiel records the words of God explaining just how He will accomplish this amazing transformation.

“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 36:25-28 NLT

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine that this day has not yet arrived. The people of Judah and Israel have not yet experienced this amazing transformation. And while there are those who teach that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus appeared the first time and the gospel was taken to the nations, it is hard to ignore that this promise was delivered to the people of Israel. Yes, those of us who have experienced the life-transformative power of the Gospel message are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot assume that God’s promises, made to the people of Judah and Israel have been transferred, wholesale, to the church.

Paul reminds us that we were grafted into the tree of Abraham.

So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. – Romans 11:17 NLT

But we don’t replace the nation of Israel. We are simply grafted into the tree and are allowed to share in the promises God has made to them. And Paul goes on to explain that God has a future plan for His chosen people, Israel.

And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:23-24 NLT

Yes, there have been many Jews who have come to faith in Christ over the centuries. But that does not appear to be what Paul is talking about. Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, he seems to be referring to a future time when God will do something entirely new and unique for His chosen people. Why? Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping 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

A Faulty Foundation.

14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers,
    who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
    and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
    it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
    and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
16 therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
    a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
    ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
17 And I will make justice the line,
    and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
    and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
18 Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
    and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
    you will be beaten down by it.
19 As often as it passes through it will take you;
    for morning by morning it will pass through,
    by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message. – Isaiah 28:14-19 ESV

In this section, God calls the leaders of Judah, “scoffers.” The Hebrew word is latsown, and it is used in the book of Proverbs to refer to the worst kind of fool. This individual is one who shows frivolous contempt for what is good and right.

“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man
    who acts with arrogant pride. – Provers 21:24 ESV

From their place of power in the capital city of Jerusalem, these men derided God and His prophet, making light of any threats of pending judgment. In fact, they were bold enough to shake their fist in the face of God, bragging about their ability to thwart any plan He may have for their destruction.

“We have made a covenant with death,
    and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
    it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
    and in falsehood we have taken shelter.” – Isaiah 28:15 ESV

While it is doubtful that this represents the exact words of these men, it conveys the heart behind their actions. They were convinced that they could make an alliance with a nation like Egypt and save themselves from the threat of the Assyrians. They were proud of their clever plans to gain the assistance and protection of other nations, having used lies and deception to accomplish their goals.

But what they didn’t realize was that they had really made a pact with death and the grave. They had unknowingly sealed their own fates and those of the people of Judah. Their attempts to save themselves had actually doomed the entire nation.

And yet, in spite of their arrogant and prideful scorning of God and His call to repentance, Isaiah announces that God has a plan for the nation.

“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
    a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
    ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” – Isaiah 28:16 ESV

God speaks in the past-tense, indicating that He had already done something significant in Jerusalem that would long-lasting implications on the fate of the people of God. While the leaders of Jerusalem were busy making pacts with foreign nations that would seal their doom, God had laid a massive foundation stone on which the future fate of the nation would rest. A cornerstone was a massive hand-carved rock that was used to establish the orientation of the entire foundation of a structure. Every other stone was aligned with it, ensuring that the foundation was sure and the remainder of the structure rested on a solid, reliable base of support.

And while the people of Judah most likely missed the significance of God’s statement, the New Testament authors did not. Peter, in speaking about Jesus as the living stone, rejected by men, actually quotes from this passage in Isaiah.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. – 1 Peter 2:4-8 ESV

Jesus was and is the cornerstone. And God revealed to the people of Judah that it had been His plan all along to send His Son as their Savior and Messiah. It would be on Him that the future hopes of Judah, Israel and the nations of the world would rest. As Paul makes clear, even the Gentiles who placed their faith in Christ were building on the foundation established by God in Jesus Christ.

…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

God had chosen to use the people of Israel as the means by which He would bring salvation to the world. He would send His Son into the world, born as a Jew into the lineage of King David. Jesus would not be born as an Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite, or Philistine. He would be born a Hebrew, to an obscure couple from the backwater town of Nazareth and He would make His entrance into the world in the unimpressive town of Bethlehem. And yet, He would be the cornerstone on which the fate of Israel and the nations of the world would rest.

God states that all who believe in this cornerstone will “not make haste.” They won’t be in a hurry to flee from danger or run from the threat of pending doom. They will rest in the promise of God. They will find His foundation sure, steady and reliable. But the people of Judah were not resting in God. They were unwilling to rely on His plan of salvation. Instead, they were running around trying to make alliances with everyone else but God. So, He warns them:

“I will test you with the measuring line of justice
    and the plumb line of righteousness.
Since your refuge is made of lies,
    a hailstorm will knock it down.
Since it is made of deception,
    a flood will sweep it away.” – Isaiah 28:17 NLT

God uses the imagery of a builder’s tools to convey His point. He will measure whether the people of Judah are aligned with the cornerstone. He will determine whether they fall in line with the righteousness and justice He had established for them as a nation. And He will find that they fail to measure up. So, He will tear them down so that He might one day rebuild on that solid foundation.

“I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground.
Again and again that flood will come,
    morning after morning,
day and night,
    until you are carried away.” – Isaiah 28:18-19 NLT

Rather than building on righteousness and justice, they had erected a rickety structure that relied on lies and falsehood as its foundation. And when the storms of destruction came, it would fall.

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