All scripture is god breathed, so it claims, but Isaiah is surely God’s signature tune. His Good Vibrations, his Sgt. Peppers.
And its also like a fugue. A genius symphony with interweaving melodies ranging from tragic, so tragic, to soaring, transcendent spiritual revelations. The themes return and return, laying over one another, becoming transformed and going to new places
It is a ‘five minutes to midnight’ prophesy about the coming fall of Judah and Israel, the two Jewish nations. And the book is proceeding along bleak ‘doom-and-gloom, the-end-is-nigh’ lines until Isaiah receives a – lets face it – quite trippy kiss of burning coal to his lips from God, and it starts going off.
He then talks of God’s promise being represented in a child, Immanuel, then the Messiah who will come from the northern kingdom and then the servant king who will suffer, absorb our sin and rule a new creation, a new Jerusalem for all nations.
The prophesy is short term, the judgement of destruction; medium term, the return of the exiled to rebuild Jerusalem; current, as in speaking directly to me in the time after Jesus’ time on earth; and eternal, as in the very nature of God, loving, saving, dying for us, creating and recreating, ruling a kingdom of justice and peace.
It’s all there, the whole Bible story, the good news. The time of crisis and the collapse of all that has been established in the Bible story so far comes with all these extraordinary promises and revelations, to encourage the faithful.
Themes that weave in and out include:
Idols, hardness of heart. The crushing rejection of Israel’s chosenness because of their sin transforms into the recognition of God as God of all nations, all mankind.
God’s highway, flattening out that which is high and low, to make a straight path for God to return to a new Jerusalem in triumph as creation applauds. It’s a vision of great upheaval, but also of equalising justice and glory to follow.
Binaries: Kingdoms that will pass and God’s that will last. Fearing man or fearing God. The seemingly strong and successful who will perish vs the ragtag misfits and outsiders who will survive and be gathered by God.
God suffering, as a lamb to the slaughter, as our servant. And God as king.
It concludes with a huge altar call. Will you remain among the wicked, or will you live the life of one who trusts the Lord, a life of servanthood?
Actually in fact, it may even be better than Good Vibrations. But complex. I’ll definitely have to give it a few more listens some time to fully appreciate it.
Hope after destruction: new shoots from a stump, children of a promise
1 A searing vision of Judah and Jerusalem destroyed for their sins
2 God will be elevated, social order turned upside down
3 More intimate snapshots of peoples pride being broken
4 There will be survivors of the cleansing and burning
5 God lists what they have done to lose his love and how judgment will come
6 Visions: God’s grace to Isaiah in a burning kiss, and salvation through fire
7 A child’s birth reminds Isaiah’s scared king to trust god, and symbolises God’s promises when he doesn’t
8 Isiah’s role of binding God’s words, and his message – in 3 children: his own 2, named for the destruction of the north and south kingdoms, and a 3rd, Emmanuel
9 Truths about the north: it will be destroyed, and the messiah will be born there
10 Assyria will bring judgement on Israel’s North. It will also be judged. Only a remnant will be saved.
11 The shoot from the cut off stump will become the messiah, the full flowering of God’s peace and plan for mankind
12 Birth, regrowth – a song of hope and praise for those facing destruction
Prophesies about other nations, and grace to all nations
13 Cinematic vision of the eventual fall of Babylon, the conqueror of the south
14 More on the eventual downfall of kingdoms, Babylon, Assyria and Phillistia
15 Moab bought low – economy broken
16 Empathy for Moab, told to shelter them. They have history.
17 The north’s slow march to ruin via bad alliances is actually an opportunity for repentance as they dwindle, some turn back to God – a message for our church?
18 Prophesy about Cush – they will learn from Israel’s judgement
19 Ongoing rant of judgement against neighbours (here egypt), turns into a vision of grace to all nations
20 Israel warned against alliances. The judgement is God’s, he is the only escape.
21 The bullies now will later be bullied… the times they aren’t a’ changin
22 re Israel – its not so special any more. 2 types of security contrasted, Judah hopes in what they can see, but should hang their hopes on God
23 Lesson of Tyre: wealth cannot protect you, its all God’s
24 Universal judgement to all nations, followed by a world without oppression
25 Vision of a feast on a mountain where death is swallowed up, a vision of calvary
26 The cities we can see are wind, God’s city not visible, is solid, made of salvation
27 How Judah will bless all nations like wildly abundant fruit. A picture of the messiah and god’s nurturing and strengthening
28 The work and rewards of self discipline, particularly about alcohol
Reality of coming judgement
29 Wise fear. Like waking from a dream of fear. Israel is panicked about local enemies, when they should be panicked about the judgement of god they represent
30 Bleak vision of destruction from judgement, reminder of Christianity’s urgency
31 Make your alliances with God not man
32 Some good times before destruction don’t change judgement. God sends good and bad
33 Surrounded by powerful enemies, Isaiah speaks of a day when roles will be reversed and they will see justice
34 Bleak vision of judgement leaving the earth empty but for the birds
35 God’s redeemed, a ragtag bunch: deaf, lame, blind, leaping for joy as they approach the city of god down a wide highway laid for them as god says “fear not”
36 Envoys from Assyria threaten the southern kingdom. They can’t imagine a greater power, and taunt them with “who do you trust”
37 The people, the king pray about the Assyrian threat, but Isaiah knows gods mind already
38 King Hezekiah gets 15 extra years and to know his death date. I think about the implications of that
39 Squandering grace… King Hezekiah uses his extra 15 years to boast to and ally with the Babylonians, who would become their conqueror. Earthly hope, not heavenly
40 Encouraging view above the fray – moving hearts is like moving mountains
41 Encouraging them to fear nothing, they have hitched their wagon to the true, mighty God
42 Out of the message of failure, blessing and comfort. Isaiah starts to speak of the servant.
43 Pictures of God’s love and power, to prepare them to be judged and feel abandoned
44 Narrative jumps into the future and talks of the joy in the return from exile
45 Isaiah’s massive plot twist, enlarging God to the saviour of all nations, and bringing him down to the size of one baby
46 The living god vs dead idols of Babylon and Assyria. Idolatry still has us in a trance, into which the God who can speak says ‘love’
47 The comeuppance of Babylon. In which I repent of my obsession with US politics and promise to channel my thirst for justice elsewhere
A new thing
48 Warming to the theme its a refining process, talk of a new blessing like stream of water
49 Isaiah moves beyond the immediate problem to the larger global plan and a jesus figure, the servant king
50 God’s care, God’s strength to give himself for us without flinching. The judgement theme of the book is turned around, God is suffering for us
51 God promises solidity, comfort and salvation. Our role is to listen to the eternal voice
52 A vision of triumphant return from a defeat and exile yet to happen becomes a yet further vision of a saviour yet to come. They want their enemies to pay the price, and Isaiah gives them a vision of abundant grace for which god pays the price
53 God as lamb, god as beaten servant whose stripes heal us. We as lost sheep. The timelessness immediacy of the images overwhelms me
54 God’s anger won’t last, a pile on of God’s care for and love for his people
55 Pictures of gods love, its permanence, effectiveness, his compassion, and the joy it brings such as creation applauds
56 God’s nation to be a gathering of all nations and all outcasts. I lose my job!
57 There is always a way back, there can always be rest from the angst of rebellion
58 We’ve had the servant, now the transcendent blessing of a life of servant-hood
59 God’s scream of justice in the face of our corruption becomes personalised, again, in a person and the holy spirit in Zion, salvation is the triune God
60 Arise shine, light the has come, indeed. The fullest revelation of God so far in the scriptures, that is
61 The day of jubilee from Moses’ law as the kingdom of god as a new creation of justice
The wicked and the people of the Kingdom
62 The predicted restoration of Jerusalem expands to the encompass the hope of nations
63 God appears with blood, a jarring grisly image returning to judgement, but making the point that judgement is a day, gods kingdom is the permanent state of things
64 A prayer for God’s salvation, because of his character rather than their desert
65 Making clear a theme that has run through it, the contrast of the wicked and god’s people, apocalyptic promises of no more tears, ageing
66 Chose wickedness or the kingdom. Beautiful, maternal images of God