The Faithful Few

Thus says the Lord:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
    and they say, ‘Do not destroy it,
    for there is a blessing in it,’
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
    and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
    and from Judah possessors of my mountains;
my chosen shall possess it,
    and my servants shall dwell there.
10 Sharon shall become a pasture for flocks,
    and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down,
    for my people who have sought me.
11 But you who forsake the Lord,
    who forget my holy mountain,
who set a table for Fortune
    and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny,
12 I will destine you to the sword,
    and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter,
because, when I called, you did not answer;
    when I spoke, you did not listen,
but you did what was evil in my eyes
    and chose what I did not delight in.”

13 Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, my servants shall eat,
    but you shall be hungry;
behold, my servants shall drink,
    but you shall be thirsty;
behold, my servants shall rejoice,
    but you shall be put to shame;
14 behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart,
    but you shall cry out for pain of heart
    and shall wail for breaking of spirit.
15 You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse,
    and the Lord God will put you to death,
    but his servants he will call by another name,
16 so that he who blesses himself in the land
    shall bless himself by the God of truth,
and he who takes an oath in the land
    shall swear by the God of truth;
because the former troubles are forgotten
    and are hidden from my eyes. Isaiah 65:8-16 ESV

There is a lot of bad news in the book of Isaiah. It is filled with indictments regarding the sins of the people of Judah. And it contains warnings concerning God’s pending judgment for those sins. God was not going to allow their unfaithfulness and disobedience to go unpunished. As the holy and righteous God, His character would not allow Him to do so. But as the book comes to a close, God has some good news to convey to His chosen people.

The cluster of grapes to which God refers is meant to represent Judah. It contains both good grapes and bad ones. And while the bad grapes were essentially good for nothing, God vows to protect entire cluster in order to spare the remnant of good grapes that contain “new wine.” While the entire nation was guilty of open rebellion against God, there were those who had remained faithful. So, God vows not to destroy them all. He will show great patience in dealing with His people, refusing to eliminate those who have remained His servants.

“I will not destroy all Israel.
    For I still have true servants there.” – Isaiah 65:8 NLT

The few who have remained true to God will be rewarded by Him, because they have chosen not to give into the pressures to compromise their faith in God. While all their friends and neighbors were worshiping false gods, these faithful few will refuse to turn their backs on God. And just to make sure that we know how difficult that choice will be for them. God describes what they were up against. They were swimming against the prevailing current of their day. They were going against the popular perspective and risking everything to resist the moral sell-out of the majority. God speaks directly to the immoral majority:

“…the rest of you have forsaken the Lord
    and have forgotten his Temple,
and because you have prepared feasts to honor the god of Fate
    and have offered mixed wine to the god of Destiny…” – Isaiah 65:11 NLT

The crowd had long ago turned their backs on God, choosing to worship false gods with names like Gad, the Babylonian god of fortune, and Meni, the Babylonian god of fate or destiny. How ironic that these two gods were among the many idols the people of Jjudah worshiped. In doing so, they were displaying their hope that these false gods would somehow improve their fortunes and change their fate. While Yahweh had been pronouncing His coming judgment, the people of Judah were busy calling on gods whom they hoped would counter God’s will. But God throws cold water on their hopes for a positive outcome by telling them, “I will destine you to the sword” (Isaiah 65:12 ESV). He alone had control over their fortunes. He alone could determine their destiny. And it would not be pretty.

“…all of you shall bow down to the slaughter…” – Isaiah 65:12 ESV

Why? Because when God called, they refused to answer. When He spoke, they did not listen. Their lives were marked by doing the exact opposite of what God had called them to do. It was a case of blatant disobedience, not innocent ignorance. They knew that what they were doing was in direct violation of God’s commands. But they did it anyway.

And, in verses 13-16, God describes the dramatic contrast between His treatment of the faithful remnant and the disobedient majority. His servants would eat, drink, rejoice, and sing songs of joy. But the rest would starve, thirst, be put to shame, and experience unimaginable sorrow. And the actions of the unfaithful majority would leave an indelible stain on the name and reputation of israel. Isaiah tells them:

Your name will be a curse word among my people,
    for the Sovereign Lord will destroy you
    and will call his true servants by another name. – Isaiah 65:15 NLT

But this is not the first time this promise has been made. Back in chapter 62, God had told them that the day was coming when he would call them by a new name.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give. – Isaiah 62:1-2 ESV

We are not told what that name will be. But the sinful actions of the people of Israel will leave their name unusable. If you recall, the name Israel was given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God, and that new name meant, “God prevails.” And God would later reinforce that name change, telling Jacob, “no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10 ESV). Then God followed up these words with a statement designed to provide proper gravity to this name change.

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 ESV

Now, generations later, God was letting the descendants of Jacob know that He was going to keep that promise. Even after the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity into Assyrian and the southern kingdom was exiled into Babylon, God promises that he will one day reunify His people, creating a single kingdom over which one King will rule.

“Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:21-22 ESV

In His revelation to John, Jesus said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12 ESV). While Isaiah does not tell us what that name will be, Jeremiah does. He writes, “In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:16 NLT). Jerusalem and all Israel will know what it is like to experience the righteousness of God, not only in their midst, but in their lives, community, and the world.

This will not be the old Jerusalem restored, but a brand new city that comes down from heaven. All will be new. In fact, we are told that God will create a new heaven and a new earth and John provides us with a description of it.

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

A new heaven. A new earth. A new city. A new name for the redeemed and restored remnant of God. The day is coming when God will put aside His anger and forget the evil of earlier days. The faithful few will enjoy the forgiveness of God and the incredible blessing of having their hearts made pure and 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

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My Year of Redemption

1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
    marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
    mighty to save.”

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.
I looked, but there was no one to help;
    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
    and my wrath upheld me.
I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
    I made them drunk in my wrath,
    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isaiah 63:1-6 ESV

In this passage, Isaiah is provided with a vision of a divine warrior who will come and act as God’s agent of deliverance on behalf of the people of Israel. He is shown coming from the east, from the land of the Edomites, the perennial enemies of Israel who were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. These close relatives of the Jews had been a thorn in their side for generations. And their combative relationship had been predicted by God long before the two patriarchs from they descended were even born. God had told Rebekah:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

And her two twin sons, born just moments apart, would end up in a lifelong struggle for power and control. God had ordained that Jacob, the younger of the two, would rule over his older sibling, breaking with the normal protocol that required the blessing and birthright go to the oldest male child. The ensuing struggle between Jacob and Esau would foreshadow the ongoing conflict that would exist between their future descendants.

But there is far more at play here than the internecine struggle between two brothers and their offspring. It would appear that Edom is meant to represent all the enemies of Israel. As Babylon came to represent any nation that uses its power and prominence to take advantage of the people of God, Edom became the symbol of all the other nations of the world who take delight in the fall of God’s people, the Israelites. Edom was not a world power. They were not a dominant military force in that region, but they took great pleasure in seeing God’s people suffer at the hands of more powerful nations like Babylon.

It was an Edomite, who become known as Herod the Great, who was later named King of the Jews by the Romans. And it was he who attempted to eliminate Jesus as the rightful King of Israel by ordering the execution of all male babies under the age of two in the region around Bethlehem.

It must be noted that Jesus was a descendant of Jacob, not Esau. It would be through the line of Jacob that the Savior of the world would come. The gospel of Matthew makes this point clear.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers – Matthew 1:1-2 ESV

Jacob was given a vision from God, confirming that he would be the son through which the covenant promise made to Abraham would come.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.” – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

It would be through a particular descendant of Jacob that all the earth would be blessed: Jesus, the Messiah. In His incarnation, Jesus would be born a man, through the lineage of David, tracing all the way back to Jacob. And He would enter the world as the rightful King of the Jews, but they would refuse to acknowledge Him as such. In fact, the sign that was hung above His head as He died on the cross stated the crime for which He was being executed: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV).

Jesus was crucified because He had claimed to be the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. But the Jews refused Him as their King, choosing instead to see Him crucified for blasphemy. And while they put Him to death for what they believed to be a crime, He actually died so that men might be made right with God. With the sacrifice of His sinless life, He was able to satisfy the just demands of God. He became the atonement for the sins of mankind. And all those who placed their faith in His death in their place would receive forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.

Now, in the 63rd chapter of the book of Isaiah, we get a glimpse of Jesus’ second coming. As He promised His disciples, there would be a day when He returned. And Isaiah sees Him coming from the east, from Bozrah, the capital city of Edom, where He has defeated the enemies of Israel and God. His garments are described as splendid, like royal robes. And He arrives on the scene with great strength. What a dramatic contrast this scene provides from the physical state of Jesus as He hung, weak and virtually naked, on the cross. On that fateful day, Jesus was bruised, beaten and covered in His own blood. But what Isaiah sees is something altogether different.

Jesus arrives on the scene like the King He is, and He is victorious, having defeated His enemies. In fact, His robes are stained red, as if He has been treading grapes and Isaiah asks for an explanation. Jesus replies, “I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger, I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes” (Isaiah 63:3 NLT). Jesus reveals that He has been doing what no one would or could do. He has personally defeated His enemies, all those who have stood against Him and who have chosen to align themselves against His chosen people, the Israelites. Remember, God had told Abraham that He would bless all those who blessed him and curse all those who cursed him. And now, Jesus is seen as having fulfilled that promise.

This imagery of grape harvesting is found throughout the Scriptures and is used as a symbol of God’s coming judgment against the nations. The prophet Joel records:

“Swing the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread the grapes,
    for the winepress is full.
The storage vats are overflowing
    with the wickedness of these people.” – Joel 3:13 NLT

And thousands of years later, the apostle John would pick up this theme in his book of Revelation. He would be given a vision of God’s coming judgment, executed by Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. – Revelation 14:18-20 NLT

And John would later describe the victorious Jesus, dressed in a robe dipped in blood.

He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:13-16 NLT

Like John, Isaiah is being given a glimpse into the future, where He sees the Messiah back on earth, but this time He is the conquering King, not the suffering servant. And Isaiah hears Jesus declare the sad state of affairs at His second coming.

“I was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed.
So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm,
    and my wrath sustained me.” – Isaiah 63:5 NLT

At the end of the seven years of Tribulation, the condition of things on the earth will have reached an all-time low. Satan will have set up his false messiah, the Antichrist, having given him his power, authority, and throne (Revelation 13:2). And this man will have not only made himself the supreme political and military ruler over the world, but he will also have made himself god, demanding that all the world worship him in place of the one true God. But the day is coming when Jesus will return to earth and deal with all those who oppose the rule of God, including Satan and his false messiah. And according to Jesus, the end for the enemies of God will not be a pretty or pleasant one.

“I crushed the nations in my anger
    and made them stagger and fall to the ground,
    spilling their blood upon the earth. – Isaiah 63:6 NLT

This passage reveals that Jesus Christ is longing for this day. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, and He waits patiently for the pre-ordained moment when He can consummate the divine plan of redemption and restoration of all things.

“For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:4 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

Glory to God

They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
    foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
    they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
    and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
    instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
    they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the Lord love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
    and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
    that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations. Isaiah 61:4-11 ESV

As God’s servant, Jesus will be the means by which He brings about the future redemption and restoration of His people, Israel. While God would be forced to punish Israel and Judah for their rebellion against Him, He promised through Isaiah that a day was coming when the tables would turn and His anger with them would be replaced with His favor being poured out upon them. And just as Jesus was the mechanism through which God brought salvation to the world, Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, will be the one to redeem God’s chosen people. The apostle Paul assured the predominantly Gentile recipients of his letter to the church in Rome:

Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. – Romans 11:30-31 NLT

God will extend His mercy to the people of Israel, in spite of their blatant rejection of His Son at His first advent. In fact, Paul makes it clear that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews is what led God to show mercy on the Gentiles. Jesus had come to His own, but His own received Him not (John 1:11). And yet, God has not turned His back on the people of Israel. In fact, Paul points out that God is only waiting “until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Evidently, God has a specific number of Gentiles that He has ordained for salvation, and when that full number has been achieved, He will turn His attention to His chosen people. This is not to say that Jews cannot and have not come to faith in Christ since His death and resurrection. Many have and many more will. But it is indicating that God has a specific plan for Israel as a nation. And Paul points out that, for the time being, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts” (Romans 11:26 NLT). But when God deems the time to be right, He will focus His mercy and favor on His chosen people. “And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26 NLT).

In this chapter, Isaiah provides us with some insights into what will happen when that time comes. And he uses terms like, “build up,” “raise up,” and “repair” that speak of the restorative nature of this coming day. The once devastated land of Israel will be brought back to a state of beauty and vitality. Isaiah describes strangers tending the flocks of Israel, illustrating the irenic state of affairs that will mark the world. Even Israel’s former enemies will serve them willingly and gladly. There will be no fear of harm and men will live free from the threat of war or hostility. These foreign nations will refer to the people of Israel as “ the priests of the Lord” and view them the ministers of God. The people of Israel will find themselves fulfilling the role had always longed for them. They will be lights to the nations. They will be His ambassadors.

And God will replace the shame and dishonor they once knew with honor and prosperity. For the first time in their long and storied history with God, they will know everlasting joy. It will not be a fleeting, ethereal joy that changes depending upon which direction the winds of adversity blow. No, this will be a permanent, never-ending joy.

But why will God do all these things for unrighteous Israel? What possible reason could He have for showering this rebellious and stubborn people with His mercy and favor? Because He loves justice and hates robbery and wrong. God will do the right thing because He is a righteous God. He will restore things back to the way they began before the fall took place. And He will remove all remnants of evil that manifests itself in robbery and wrongdoing. Sin will be eliminated and righteousness, elevated. And He will do it on behalf of His people, Israel. His undeserved blessing of His chosen people will get the attention of the nations. They will marvel at the grace He extends to the people of Israel and “will realize that they are a people the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 61:9 NLT).

And Isaiah states that “The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). But how will God do that? By dressing His people “with the clothing of salvation” and draping them “in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NLT). He will shower His people with His unmerited favor and display His justice by keeping the covenant promise He has made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will do the right thing and the nations will sit up and take notice. And the result will be that “Everyone will praise him!” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). Every Jew and every Gentile will honor God for who He is and what He has done. His faithfulness will be on display. His unwavering love will be there for all to see. God will redeem the seemingly irredeemable. He will restore His wandering sheep to His fold. He will bring healing to the sick and hope to the helpless and hopeless.

As Isaiah so descriptively puts it: “so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11 ESV). God will use His once rebellious people, Israel, to display His righteousness to the nations. The world will stand back and watch as God accomplishes a redemptive miracle among His people, transforming them from a dry spiritual wasteland to a rich and fertile valley overflowing with righteousness and justice.

Isaiah used this metaphor of fruitfulness earlier on in this same letter, comparing God’s future restoration of Israel like rain falling on the crops of a field.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” – Isaiah 55:10-15 NLT

God will get all the glory because God will be the one who does all lthe work. And even the Gentile nations will recognize the hand of God and give honor and praise to the name of 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

Come!

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
    and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:1-13 ESV

This chapter is an open invitation from God Almighty. In light of all that He has said He will do and the work His servant will accomplish on His behalf, God calls the people of Judah to return to Him. Five times in the first three verses, God invites them to “come!” And if they accept His invitation, they will experience the many benefits that accompany a restored relationship with Him. They will satisfy their thirst. And God is not talking about man’s physical need for water. As Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).

Like His Son, God the Father is offering a permanent solution to the spiritual drought that has plagued mankind since the fall. But this was not the first time God had offered to quench the thirst of His people. In fact, He had been a source of living water to the descendants of Abraham from the very beginning of His relationship with them. Yet, they had decided to seek substitute sources for that which God offered. And in the book of Jeremiah, we have God’s indictment against their actions.

“…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13 ESV

Now, in Isaiah 55, we see God responding to the stubbornness of His people with yet another invitation to come and drink. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” What exactly are these waters of which God speaks? Where are they? In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes seeing the New Jerusalem, and in it, what he says was “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Revelation 22:1 ESV). And growing along the banks of this river, John saw the tree of life – not one, but many – and these trees will yield 12 different kinds of fruit, and their leaves will bring healing to the nations.

The closing chapters of John’s apocryphal book describe the final days of the Tribulation, which will end with the return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom. And John records a message from the victorious Christ that offers one more promise to permanently quench mankind’s thirst for free.

“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” – Revelation 21:6 ESV

What God the Father and His Son are offering is absolutely free. It comes at no cost to those who are willing to accept it for what it is: A gracious gift. But it is not that the gift is without value. As the apostle Peter makes quite clear, it came at a high price.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV

And the apostle Paul further clarifies the value of this gift when he states, “God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT). The gift God offers has great value, but it costs the recipient absolutely nothing. And yet, the people of Judah were guilty of building cisterns, man-made religious systems, in a vain attempt to replicate what only God can offer. But their cisterns proved to be cracked and worthless. Here was God offering them the real thing for free, and they were busy wasting time, money and energy pursuing poor substitutes. And, exposing the absurdity of their actions, God asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2 ESV). He offers them everything they need, at no cost, but they seem intent on throwing their money away on that which cannot satisfy.

So, He invites them again to come to Him. He even offers to make with them a new covenant, an everlasting covenant. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about this new covenant.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” – Jeremiah 31:31 ESV

And God describes the unique nature of this future covenant with His people.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 ESV

This new covenant will reflect the kind of love God had for David. He prospered David and made him king over a great nation. And just as David conquered many nations and ruled over them, so will the people of Judah. This promise is particularly significant when you consider the current state of affairs in Judah when Isaiah penned these words. They were in a bad spot. They were surrounded by enemies. They were threatened with destruction and powerless to do anything about it. But, here was God promising, “You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey” (Isaiah 55:5 NLT). And it will all be the work of God.

But Isaiah warns the people to act. He calls them to take advantage of God’s gracious invitation.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

And, knowing that the people of Judah were going to find His offer hard to believe, God reminds them that He operates according to a different standard. His way of doing things was going to be alien to them. His methods were going to appear more like madness to them. But they needed to believe that His word, like the rain He sends from heaven, always accomplishes all that He intends. They may not understand or even like His methods, but they could not argue with the results. And God assures them that His word, like rain from heaven, “shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV).

And God describes a future scene marked by great joy and celebration. These images picture a time of rejuvenation and restoration. And this is not the first time Isaiah has described this as-yet-unfulfilled day.

Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
    The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendor of our God. – Isaiah 35:1-2 NLT

I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
    I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
    Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
I will plant trees in the barren desert—
    cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine. – Isaiah 45:18-19 NLT

For I will pour out water to quench your thirst
    and to irrigate your parched fields.
And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants,
    and my blessing on your children. – Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God is inviting His rebellious people to accept His gracious invitation to return to Him so that they might one day enjoy the pleasures of both literal and living water. He wants them to experience the joy that will be found in the future kingdom He has planned, a place of abundant fruitfulness and unending fellowship with He and His Son.

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

Too Ignorant to Know It

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” – Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV

God has made Himself perfectly clear by boldly declaring, “besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6 ESV). Then, as if to see if His audience has gotten the message, He asks, “Is there a God besides me?” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV). And, just in case they failed to nnow the answer to the question, He gave His divine opinion: “I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV).

He has established Himself as the Creator-God, the one who made Israel. He is Jehovah, the King of Israel. He is their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, the first and the last. And He alone is able to “declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isaiah 44:7 ESV).

And yet, the people of Judah continued to worship false gods – idols they had made with their own hands. They had substituted worship of and reverence for the one true God with the adoration of lifeless and powerless statues made of wood and stone. And God systematically and somewhat sarcastically exposes the absurdity of their actions.

Over time, the people of Israel had adopted an assortment of pagan gods, from Baal and Molech to Ashtoreth and Chemosh. The Israelites seemed to be equal-opportunity idolaters. They were not picky. And, they never really replaced the worship of Yahweh, they simply added the other gods to the mix, creating a confusing syncretistic amalgamation of for virtually every occasion. But God Almighty had warned them about this very thing. All the way back when Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, God had provided them with the Ten Commandments, and the very first command on the list had been: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). And He would later expand on that command, providing them with clear and irrefutable details regarding His expectations.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV

And yet, the people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of obeying this very command. All that God had told them not to do, they had done – repeatedly and knowingly. They were operating out of obstinance, not ignorance. They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. So, God decides to show them the sheer lunacy behind their actions.

“How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.”
– Isaiah 44:9 NLT

Notice that God uses the third person. It is as if He is asking the people of Judah to consider how idiotic it is for those other nations to worship false gods. He wants them to step back and take a long and close look at just how ridiculous idolatry really is.

“Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?”
– Isaiah 44:10 NLT

That had to have hurt. God was not pulling any punches, but wanted them to see the sheer stupidity of what they were doing. Not only were they disobeying His commands, they doing so in order to worship gods they had made with their own hands. And God goes out of His way to ridicule the “mere humans—who claim they can make a god” (Isaiah 44:11 NLT).

God paints the image of a craftsman working diligently to manufacture the tool he will use to manufacture the god he is going to worship. His efforts leave him worn out before he has even begun to make his god. The effort required to make the god he is going worship leave him hungry and faint.

God describes a wood carver going through the process of selecting just the right tree from which to make his god. Then he proceeds to cut it down, carefully delineating which part of the log will become his god and which part he can use build a fire to keep himself warm.

“He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!”
– Isaiah 44:14-15 NLT

When you step back and examine idolatry from an objective viewpoint, it is not difficult to see just how ridiculous it appears. But God says, “The people who worship idols don’t know this” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). They are blind to the reality of their actions. They are incapable of seeing just how bizarre and nonsensical their actions appear. Which is why God goes out of His way to expose the sheer stupidity of what is going on in Judah. They enjoyed the privilege of being created by the one true God, and being chosen as His prized possession. And yet, they were busy creating their own gods out of wood and stone, and expected these man-made deities to provide for and protect them.

“He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!”
– Isaiah 44:16-17 NLT

And while it may be easy for us to judge the people of Judah and question their sanity, we would be wise to examine our own lives to see if we might be guilty of the very same thing. Their sin seems blatant to us. But God reveals that they were blind to it.

“Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.” –
Isaiah 44:18 NLT

They couldn’t see what they were doing. And, if we are wise, we will recognize that we have the same capacity to blindly and ignorantly worship gods made with human hands. While our idols may appear more sophisticated and less religious in nature, they are false gods nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, describes an idol in terms that may make you a bit uncomfortable.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

When put in those terms, it becomes a bit more easy to see how we can have idols, in spite of our more enlightened and sophisticated mindset. And, like the people of Judah, we can find ourselves deluded and unaware of the fact that we have created substitutes for God. We have turned to other things in the hopes that they might deliver what only God is capable of providing: Peace, hope, security, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and salvation. And God warns that we all run the same risk the people of Judah did. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves putting our hope in the wrong god, and failing to recognize the futility of our actions.

“He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
– Isaiah 44:20 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

I Do Not Forsake Them

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
11 Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
    the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
    let them shout from the top of the mountains.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord,
    and declare his praise in the coastlands.
13 The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.

14 For a long time I have held my peace;
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
    I will gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
16 And I will lead the blind
    in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
    and I do not forsake them.
17 They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
    who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
    “You are our gods.” –
Isaiah 42:10-17 ESV

At hearing the news of the coming of God’s Servant, Isaiah can’t contain his excitement and breaks out into song. Verses 10-13 contain a joyous hymn of praise to Yahweh for His goodness and greatness. God’s Servant, the Messiah, was going to bring redemption to the people of God. He will bring justice to the nations and be a demonstration of God’s righteousness on earth. God had made it clear that His Servant would “be a light to guide the nations.” He would “open the eyes of the blind” and “free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons” (Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT). And Isaiah saw this as ample reason to praise God.

But Isaiah’s song was also a call for others to join him in singing the praises of God. He addresses those who sail the seas and those who live in the deserts. From the farthest coastal towns to villages in the mountains, all the inhabitants of the earth were to recognize and respond to the unequaled power of God. As far as Isaiah was concerned, this was to be a global celebration of the one true God

Let the whole world glorify the Lord;
    let it sing his praise.
– Isaiah 42:12 NLT

And the reason behind Isaiah’s enthusiastic call for universal praise of God was quite simple.

The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
– Isaiah 42:13 ESV

It is important to recall that, at the time Isaiah is singing this son, the situation in Judah remained unchanged. There was still the looming threat of invasion. God had already told Isaiah and King Hezekiah that the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. And yet, here is Isaiah singing about God marching forth like a mighty hero and crushing all his enemies, as if it had already happened.

For Isaiah, the word of God was all he needed. If God said it, Isaiah believed it. He had learned to take God at His word and to trust Him to do what He had promised. God had said He would send His Servant and that was enough for Isaiah. He would put his trust in God.

And God would eventually prove Himself trustworthy – yet again. The day would come when He would use King Cyrus to decree the return of the people from captivity in Babylon. This Persian king would even help fund the return of the remnant to Jerusalem and help defray the cost of rebuilding the city and the temple of God. Yahweh, the very one who brought judgment on the people of Judah for their rebellion against Him, would be the one to restore them to the land.

And one day, God would send His Son to earth, in the form of an innocent baby, in order to bring salvation to the people of God. Born a Jew, Jesus would bring His message of the Kingdom to His own people, calling them to repentance and offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Yahweh. But sadly, as the apostle John records, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT). The Servant of God was sent by God to sacrificially serve the people of God. Mark tells us, He “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). But Jesus’ offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone was rejected by the majority of His own people. They refused His gracious offer of redemption.

And yet, there is a another day coming when Jesus will return to earth again. The Servant/Savior will come a second time, and He will bring redemption to the people of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel wrote about this coming day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

There is a sense in which this prophecy was fulfilled when the people were given permission to return to the land of Judah by King Cyrus. But if we continue to read God’s words, as recorded by Ezekiel, we will see that there is an as-yet-unfulfilled aspect to this prophecy.

“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

God will accomplish all this through His Son, the Servant and Savior of Israel. God will use Jesus, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had been unable and unwilling to do for themselves. God will transform them into the faithful, obedient, children He had called them to be.

And, suddenly, God interrupts Isaiah’s song of praise with an announcement that is intended to bring assurance to Isaiah and the people of Judah. God admits that, from a human perspective, He has appeared to be silent and inactive. All kinds of things have happened around the people of Judah. There have been alliances made between nations, with the intent to defeat Judah. The Assyrians have plundered and pillaged their way through the land of Judah, leaving a wake of devastation in their path. They have even set up camp outside the walls of Jerusalem, threatening the city with destruction if the inhabitants refuse to surrender.

But all that was about to change. God describes Himself as a woman about to give birth. He is on the verge of delivery, not of a baby, but of salvation for His people. And while this imagery conveys a certain sense of immediacy, it does not mean that God’s salvation is right around the corner. It is meant to convey the idea of inevitability and certainty. Once a woman goes into labor, the baby is going to come, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. God is letting Isaiah and the people of Judah know that when the time comes for Him to act, He will do so. And He emphasizes the inevitability of it all by stating what He will do when the time comes.

I will level the mountains and hills
    and blight all their greenery.
I will turn the rivers into dry land
    and will dry up all the pools.
I will lead blind Israel down a new path,
    guiding them
along an unfamiliar way.
I will brighten the darkness before them
    and smooth out the road ahead of them.
Yes,
I will indeed do these things;
    
I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:15-16 NLT

He will do all that He has promised to do. And the greatest challenge the people of Judah faced was taking God at His word. They were going to face some significant setbacks in the days ahead. There were going to be plenty of moments when God’s presence and power were difficult to comprehend. They would find themselves facing all kinds of difficulties that seemed to contradict the promises of God. But circumstances are always a lousy litmus test of God’s power and presence. Just because we can’t see God doesn’t mean He is not there. Too often, we allow the presence of trials to cause us to conclude that God is inactive or indifferent to our situation. We may even assume He lacks the power to do anything about our problem.

But this passage is meant to encourage faith in God, regardless of the circumstances. It is easy to praise God after the fact. It takes very little faith to sing His praises when the victory has been accomplished and we are on the winning side of the battle. But to praise Him based on nothing more than His word – that take real faith. That requires true trust. When God says, “I will,” He expects His child to respond, “I believe.” It’s all about trust. And God makes it clear that those who refuse to place their trust in anything or anyone but Him, will be disappointed.

“But those who trust in idols,
    who say, ‘You are our gods,’
    will be turned away in shame.”
– Isaiah 42:17 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

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

A Recipe for Restoration.

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.
For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
    and trust in oppression and perverseness
    and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill. – Isaiah 30:8-17 ESV

God commands Isaiah to make a permanent record of all that He has said against Judah. He wants it all in writing so that the people of Judah cannot disagree with the words that Isaiah spoke to them, or deny that they ever heard them. It seems that Isaiah is commanded to use two different mediums upon which to record God’s words against Judah. One was a tablet, on which he would inscribe the words and place in the public record. The second was a book or scroll, made of papyrus, on which he would record the very same words, but for future use. This scroll would be set aside and kept safe so that Isaiah could bring it out at a later date and remind the people of their refusal to listen to God. It would act as a permanent witness against them.

And all of this was necessary because the people were stubborn. God describes them as “a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). Like immature children, who think they can avoid anything bad by simply refusing to acknowledge its presence, the people of Judah begged their seers and prophets to stop giving them bad news.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right. – Isaiah 30:10 NLT

three-wise-monkeys-sculpture-in-bronze-finish-111676-p

They truly thought the could just escape the bad news by denying its reality. If they covered their ears, they wouldn’t hear. If they closed their eyes, they wouldn’t have to see what was happening around them and to them. And if the could only get everyone to stop talking about all this doom and gloom, they could go on with their lives. They could get back to business as usual. They even demanded that Isaiah change his message and tell them what they wanted to hear.

“Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:11 NLT

This reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. They were tired of hearing about God and His holiness. They even distance themselves from Yahweh, describing Him as Isaiah’s God, not their own. This desire to ignore God’s holiness and escape His judgment is nothing new. Remember, they had convinced themselves that God couldn’t see what they were doing anyway.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

This tendency among God’s people has always been around. Paul warned Timothy that the day would come in his own ministry when people would want their preachers to tell them nice things.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

For some reason, we think we can escape the truth by simply redefining it. In our day, we deny the reality of hell, by turning it into nothing more than the earthly results of our bad decision-making. Hell becomes figurative, not literal. But denying hell or redefining it, does not make it go away. Another major trend in modern evangelicalism is the emphasis being placed on the love of God, at the expense of His holiness. It goes something like this: A loving God would not send condemn anyone to an eternity in hell. Or another manifestation of this redefining of God shows up in a message of tolerance. We demand that a loving God is accepting of everyone and everything. He is all-loving. But in reaching this seemingly correct conclusion, we leave out the very important doctrine of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin. God does not tolerate sin. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin with His own life.

And God would tell us the same thing He said to the people of Judah:

“Because you despise what I tell you
    and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly.” – Isaiah 30:12-13 NLT

They didn’t like what God had to say. His words of condemnation and the constant call to repentance were not what they wanted to hear. So, they trusted in lies and half-truths. They changed the rules of the game. But their denunciation of Isaiah and their denial of his message would do nothing to alter the outcome. Their calamity was going to come – suddenly. Like a bulging wall that is on the brink of failure, their demise would take place quickly, and the consequences would be devastating. Their wall of lies and self-constructed truth was not going to stand the onslaught of God’s judgment. And God warns them, “You will be smashed like a piece of pottery—shattered so completely that
there won’t be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well” (Isaiah 30:14 NLT). 

But it didn’t have to be this way. Their inevitable destruction could have been avoided. And God makes it clear how they could have escaped what was about to happen.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

And it’s essential that we not miss how God refers to Himself in this passage. He is the “Holy One of Israel.” Remember, they had refused to recognize Him as such. But here, God is letting them know that He is their God, not just Isaiah’s. And He is holy. He is also sovereign. He is in complete control of all things, whether they want to admit it or not.

As the Holy One of Israel, He lets them know that remedy for their coming fall was simple. All they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him. Repent of their sin of trusting in Egypt, and rely upon Him instead.  It was that easy. And God lets them know that it was the only way they would find salvation. He uses two Hebrew words to describe what they had to do: shaqat and bitchah. The first refers to a state of rest or inactivity. It’s the thought conveyed by the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). It carries the idea of tranquility, even in the midst of trouble.

The second word has to do with a confidence that is a direct byproduct of trust. It is the same idea expressed by Isaiah earlier in this book.

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

God spells out the remedy for what ailed them. But He also sadly states, “But you would have none of it” (Isaiah30:15 NLT). Rather than repenting and returning to God, they had made the decision to trust and find confidence in Egypt.

“No, we will get our help from Egypt.
    They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.” – Isaiah 30:16 NLT

But God breaks the bad news to them that their so-called savior was going to prove completely unreliable. The only swift horses they were going to see would be the ones their enemies rode. It would be a lopsided battle with the people of Judah completely routed and destroyed. And God describes their post-battle condition in bleak terms.

“You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
    or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” – Isaiah 30:17 NLT

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

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

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

The Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

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

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist 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

The Fruit of Righteousness.

20 For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
    and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
21 For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
    as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
    and to work his work—alien is his work!
22 Now therefore do not scoff,
    lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
    from the Lord God of hosts against the whole land.

23 Give ear, and hear my voice;
    give attention, and hear my speech.
24 Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
    Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25 When he has leveled its surface,
    does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
    and barley in its proper place,
    and emmer as the border?
26 For he is rightly instructed;
    his God teaches him.

27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
    nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
    and cumin with a rod.
28 Does one crush grain for bread?
    No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
    with his horses, he does not crush it.
29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
    he is wonderful in counsel
    and excellent in wisdom. – Isaiah 28:15-29 ESV

The nation of Judah, under the leadership of their scoffing leaders, had chosen to make an alliance with Egypt. In the face of God’s warnings of judgment and the eminent arrival of the Assyrians, they had decided to seek help from a foreign power rather than repent and return to God. And they had convinced themselves that their decision was going to provide them with all the protection they needed.

“…when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us.” – Isaiah 28:15 ESV

But Isaiah warns them that their arrogant decision was not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. In a sense, Isaiah paraphrases a well-known maxim: You’ve made your bed, now lie in it. They were going to have to endure the consequences of their poor choice. And Isaiah put it in terms that anyone could understand.

“…the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
    and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.” – Isaiah 28:20 ESV

A short bed with insufficient covers was going to result in a sleepless, uncomfortable night. No rest. No escape from the weariness. Their alliance with Egypt was going to prove inadequate when the judgment of God came against them. In fact, Isaiah describes their fall as coming by the hand of God Almighty, and the manner by which it came would be “strange” and “alien.” He compares the coming judgment of God with two remarkable events in Israelite history. One took place immediately after David had become the king. Upon hearing the news of David’s anointing as king, the Philistines determined to attack him early in his reign, before he had the opportunity to win the allegiance of all the tribes of Israel. But David sought God’s counsel, and was told, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand” (2 Samuel 5:19 ESV). David did as the Lord commanded.

And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away. – 2 Samuel 5:20-21 ESV

The second historic event that Isaiah references is one that took place in the early days of the Israelite’s conquering of the land of Canaan. They had just defeated Jericho and Ai, and had made a peace treaty with the people of Gibeon. When Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem got wind of all this, he formed an alliance with four other kings, and made plans to march against Gibeon. The Gibeonites called on Joshua and the people of Israel to come to their defense. And Joshua, like David, sought the will of God, and was told, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:8 ESV).

Joshua and the Israelites came up against the forces of the five allied kings and routed them. But the text tells us that, “the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel” (Joshua 10:10 ESV). When the enemy panicked a fled, Joshua and his forces gave chase.

And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. – Joshua 10:11 ESV

And if that was not strange enough, the text tells us that Joshua asked God to halt the sun in the sky so that they might have more time to defeat the enemy, and it states, “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies” (Joshua 10:13 ESV). And just so we don’t miss the significance of this remarkable event, the text tells us, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14 ESV).

So, why did Isaiah bother to bring up these two historic occasions? What was his point? First of all, these two stories would have been highly familiar to Isaiah’s audience. At the very mention of Mount Perazim and the Valley of Gibeon, they would have known the facts associated with these two locales. As Hebrews, they would have loved recounting these two stories of Israel’s defeat of their enemies. But now, God was telling them that the tables were going to be turned. The strange and alien works of God were going to be used against them.

So, Isaiah warns the scoffers to stop scoffing or their judgment will be even worse. He begs them to listen to what he has to say.

“Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.” – Isaiah 28:23 ESV

Their fate depends upon it. They can continue to reject the words of Isaiah and face inevitable destruction, or they could repent and be given a milder punishment from the hand of God. They were going to suffer God’s discipline either way, but now it was matter of intensity. So, Isaiah provides them with two real-life illustrations to convince them to heed his warnings.

The first has to do with plowing and sowing. A farmer operates based a plan. There is a time to plow and there is a time to sow. He doesn’t just keep plowing indefinitely. When the soil has been prepared, he sows the seeds, each at their appropriate time and manner. A farmer has the innate understanding to do the right thing at the right time in order to get the right results. Why? Because God has instilled it in him.

The farmer knows just what to do,
    for God has given him understanding. – Isaiah 28:26 NLT

And when it is time to reap what he has sown, the farmer understands that each plant must be reaped in the right way. By listening to God, the farmer is able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. But if he rejects God’s wisdom, he will end up destroying the potential blessings from the crops he has planted and cultivated. Following God’s divine plan always results in blessing. Choosing to do things our own way will always produce less-than-satisfactory outcomes. And Isaiah reminds his audience, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom” (Isaiah 28:20 NLT).

So, why will they not listen to God’s words of wisdom spoken through His prophet? Why will they continue to reject the blessings God wants to bestow on them by refusing to follow His instructions? They will end up reaping what they sow. And Isaiah longs for them to listen to what he has to say so that they might experience the blessings of God and not the curses.

In the same way that a farmer plows so that he can plant, and sows so that he might one day reap, God had prepared the people of Israel to produce the fruit of righteousness. He had chosen them and planted them in the soil of Canaan, with the intention that they would produce abundant fruit and fill the land with their product of their relationship with Him. And one of the things the people of Judah failed to recognize was that, in order for them to be fruitful, God would employ cultivating and pruning. Like a faithful farmer, He would do whatever was necessary to get the most out of His crops. And just as a wise farmer knows what threshing method to use on each plant, God knows exactly what the people of Judah need in order to produce the kind of fruit He was expecting.

They may not like His ways. They might see them as alien and strange. But God knew what He was doing. He was intimately familiar with His people and knew what it would take for them to yield the fruit of righteousness. As God had made clear earlier in this very same passage, He was looking for justice and righteousness from His people.

I will test you with the measuring line of justice
    and the plumb line of righteousness. – Isaiah 28:17 NLT

And later on in this book, Isaiah will write concerning a future day when justice and righteousness will be found in the land of Canaan.

Justice will rule in the wilderness
    and righteousness in the fertile field.
And this righteousness will bring peace.
    Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. – Isaiah 32:16-17 NLT

God will one day reap the fruit for which He has sown. He will harvest the bounty He has intended all along. And the cultivating and pruning of His people was part of the divine process. He has the end in mind. He is focused on the fruit and the harvest.

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