Isaiah: Cracking the Book
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
In recent years, seemingly without intention, my heart began to beat with God's promise to draw all nations to Himself. Increasingly, I found myself dreaming of the time when people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation would come to worship before Him, and that dream became the subject of my prayers. I wouldn't call my prayer life robust by any means, and it seemed like a disproportionate amount of time was directed toward this one thing -- seeing the glory of the LORD displayed in all the earth. As I would read the Scriptures or listen to a favorite teacher, verses promising that very thing would pop out at me. And I noticed that many were from the prophecy of Isaiah.
I had kept Isaiah at arm's length for a long time. Even though I was familiar with many New Testament quotes from his prophecy -- there are more than 200! -- I wasn't quite ready to dive into the whole. But somehow the commentary I'd purchased years ago, The Prophecy of Isaiah by J. Alec Motyer made its way from the shelf to my desk, and it sat there, challenging me. The size of the book itself is intimidating -- 544 pages. So I tried to ignore it; pushed it aside for another day. But the book won.
Motyer's book is a scholarly work -- a detailed, verse-by-verse commentary that includes such things as analysis of structure and literary style. I don't understand most of it. So I had to develop a new skill -- skimming and skipping. As a good student, I felt guilty at first. But I knew the moment this study became a drudgery for me rather than a joy, I would miss God's invitation. And so I skimmed and skipped, and there, tucked between sections designed for the intellectual, were amazing insights for seekers like me. At regular intervals, Motyer seemed to jump out from behind the lectern to come sit with me and gaze with delight at the God of the nations.
I soon realized that my brain wasn't trained to engage in such deep thinking for more than 30 minutes at a time, so I looked for resources designed for an average person like me. And that's when I found The Bible Project. The Bible Project produces informative, insightful, and engaging videos on all things Bible, including an introduction to the book of Isaiah. (There is one problem with the site: with so many great resources on so many interesting topics, once there it's hard to stay on task. Consider yourself warned.)
Introduction to Isaiah
Isaiah's name means "the Lord saves." As Isaiah delivers his message, it becomes clear that the Lord's intent is to extend His saving grace beyond the borders of Judah to Israel, to the lands of their enemies, and throughout the entire world.
"As we are surprised by grace time and again throughout the book, a glorious picture of God’s cosmic renewal develops."
Isaiah’s ministry began in 740 BCE and continued until about 686. He served while God’s people were divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north with its capital, Samaria; and in the south, Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah was called to prophesy to the southern kingdom during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. As he began his assignment, the kingdom of Assyria was on the move. In 721 BCE Samaria was captured and some 27,000 Israelites were taken into captivity. The Assyrians then turned their attention to Moab, Edom, and Ammon. Meanwhile, Judah was enjoying a long period of prosperity.
But that was about to change. God showed Isaiah that after a brief intermission, Assyria would resume its advance toward Judah. So God sent Isaiah to warn Judah's leaders, to tell them they didn't have to experience what their brothers in the north had experienced. All it would take was a turning toward Him. But they wouldn't listen. Time and time again Isaiah showed them the doorway to grace, but they refused the invitation.
Reading Isaiah is like watching a hard-fought tennis match. One moment he's proclaiming the Lord's anger at man's rebellion, the next he's revealing God's plan of deliverance. And many times without transition! It's almost startling. The first few times, I backed up just to make sure I hadn't missed a verse or two. But then I began to look forward to it -- the next promise was on its way!
I doubt if it was like that for Isaiah. Living through it, having to do it, may not have been quite so entertaining. But he had seen the Lord's holiness, trembled under His hand, then experienced the joy of being washed clean. So he laid down his reputation, put his life in danger, and became an intercessor. He said "yes."
His obedience won him a glimpse into the plan of the ages. While Isaiah was speaking a message so very relevant to the people right in front of him, his eyes were fixed on the One who was yet to be revealed. Messiah. King. Servant. Conqueror.
Isaiah is all about revealing Jesus.