Isaiah Overview

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

Isaiah 66

Choice of destiny

The end, the very end of the book is a vision of hell for the rebellious. The choice is to be humble, acknowledging God the creator and source of truth. Or not.

Building great edifices to God does not earn his favour…. I’ve already made the heaven and the earth, he says, I don’t need more.

False hypocritical religion generally makes things worse.  It may look like you are serving him with sacrifices and religious obedience, but if it is empty, you bring upon yourself the harshest judgement.

The bulk of the chapter consists of beautiful images of God’s kingdom.

Coming into being like childbirth in eden, easy and fast and without pain.

Where God comforts and jiggles you on his knee and carries you on his hip as only one who gave birth can, like everyone’s first image of God, a mother.

Where peace is like a river, broad, unstoppable and calm, with tributaries of all nations.

But shot through this is the choice – our time on earth has eternal significance. The wicked will suffer judgement. As Wham! would say: choose life.

 

Isaiah 65

The wicked and the new Jerusalem.

We are back to God’s voice after the last two prayers.

First is a fierce rejection of the wicked, people who refuse to acknowledge God, repeatedly rubbing his nose in their worship of their own Gods.

Then a promise not to judge them all, and the promise of a new Jerusalem, where pain is gone, aging is gone. It is his holy mountain. (there is so much mountain imagery in the Bible!) God delights in it.

So for me that is a bit now, because Jesus said the kingdom of God was at hand, and a bit at the end times.

I can revel in the promise of the new earth of God’s presence, but I should also sense the urgency of telling people about God’s judgement. I’m terrible at this. All I can do is blog!

Isaiah 64

This chapter and the previous have an interesting change of voice. Most of Isaiah has been him speaking God’s word, but these are both passionate prayers. Somewhat flawed human words to God, like the Psalms.

63 seemed to be from the point of view of someone who was in Jerusalem when it was about to be conquered, and this one is from exile, longing to return.

They are like a response to the promised salvation of the previous 3 chapters in a way. “You’ve promised mighty salvation, do it already!”

They share a strong confidence in God’s forgiveness, or at least a demand that he keep his promises, that is even a bit manipulative. Like arguing in 63 that their sin was sort God’s fault for creating them capable of it.

This one is quite humble, and very aware that their long term refusal to acknowledge God has carried them away like dead leaves on the wind.

It does sound a bit critical of God’s timing however. They sound kind of frustrated with him for shaking mountains back in exodus when they didn’t really want it, but not doing it now they are in exile when it would be really helpful.

There is a nice turn of image when they say their evil has melted them, then say they are clay in the hands of the potter, God.

“We don’t deserve it, but save us anyway…” Calling on his creative nature by characterising him as a potter.

It ends with a rhetorical plea – can God really stand to leave Jerusalem in ruins? Zion a wilderness? The temple burned?

“We aren’t worthy to ask for our homeland back for ourselves, we’re in no position do that! We’re simply reminding you that you might want to restore the promised land for your own glory…”

This sort of bargaining with God is what happens when you are really honest with him, show him your feelings. Like one of those moments when you say “I know that you know what I’m thinking, so let’s cut the crap”.

They want really badly not to be in exile. They know God’s promise that there is more of the story of the chosen people to come, but they know by now that they can’t promise to be perfect. So they are finding other reasons to plea with him to act: his own nature, his own glory.

I agree that some of my calm about losing my job, despite being quite depressed about it, comes from expecting God’s plan to be in character with his love and abundance, even though I really don’t deserve it.

Isaiah 63

I can get the drift of Isaiah 63.

It starts talking of God’s judgement. Dramatically he appears from Edom, a neighbouring country in clothes red with blood which he compares to trampling the grapes in a wine press.

It’s a grisly image, jarring after 3 glorious chapters about his love and salvation. But it’s making the point that God alone can judge the world.

And it is quick to make the point that there is much more to it than judgement. God reminds us in his self description that he is “mighty to save”. He has a day of vengence but a year of Jubilee.

Then there are passages remembering his mercy and promises in the past, and praying for his forgiveness and salvation now. The author goes so far as to blame God for his sin, wondering why God made us capable of rejecting him.

It’s a huge cry of pain. It’s a message to those of his chosen people either facing ruin, as their enemies grow stronger, or feeling bereft in exile having been defeated. People full of fear and anger.

And it’s urging them, shocking them even, into staying the course with God. Channel your fear into anticipating God’s peace. Channel your betrayal into trusting God’s justice.

To tell the truth I’m feeling a bit of betrayal and fear this week having lost my job. It’s tempting to let gloomy feelings about my situation blur into sadness over my children and aspects of the world in general.

I’m tempted to escape into achievable activities, or laziness, variations of putting my head in the sand. Or full on self pity, that advances my situation not a jot.

I need to trust God and act sensibly to remedy the situation.

Pray I will stay the course with God.

Isaiah 62

Another poem about the blessing of Jerusalem, this one talking about God’s relationship with the city.

It’s been forsaken, it’s been deserted and ruined.

Now God promises to love it enthusiastically, like a husband for a young bride.

There is a little, though not as much as in the last two chapters, of language so over the top that it seems to apply to the new Jerusalem, the new city of God spoken of in revelation, the one that is the end point of history.

This one seems as much literally about Jerusalem, which was of course restored after the exile finished.

But it also seems to apply to the current era, after Jesus but before the end times. There is a reference to other nations doing the chores while God’s people are priests, which at first seems a bit gloating, like the book believers have got their come uppance.

But God’s people are actually serving, as priests, all of us, bringing God to the world.

It is a picture of the people of God, in his kingdom, ministering to the whole earth.

This idea of me sharing Jesus servanthood is one I’ll take richly from Isaiah.

Isaiah 61

It’s the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue when he staked his claim to be Messiah. The sermon got a definite reaction. They didn’t fall asleep, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

It’s a great promise that the Lord’s timing is on a cycle, it is a season, a year of favour. It ends with the blessing compared to blossoms pushing forth from mud.

It’s also political, or quasi so. Justice, release for the captives, Good news for the poor. A revolution in the sense of an upsetting of the existing order.

A theme here repeated from the last few chapters is the rebuilding of ancient ruins. That literally came true when the exiled Israelites returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls and temple.

NT Wright blew my mind a little this year when he described heaven as being still on earth, this earth, but remade to be perfect as it was in the time of Eden. Why not?

Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, for the former had passed away.

I really don’t know, they are all pictures. The promise is of truth and justice and love reigning eternally, as god intended creation to work.

It’s the evolution of the idea of Jubilee from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The idea that regularly, seasonally, all debts are cancelled, and justice, equality is bought about. Very anti-capitalist!

God’s eternal kingdom is the permanent year of Jubilee, the coming of Jesus was the arrival of the season. He is the means by which creation is fixed.

All so mind blowing, is a huge promise, one that is wonderful but also hard to envisage what will actually be like to experience.

God says “trust me”. Who else have I to trust?

Isaiah 60

Future’s so bright I gotta wear shades

I looked at the YouTube summary of Isaiah again, and I see that the symmetry thing is a bit of a distraction.

It’s more that this end to Isaiah pretty much takes all the themes of the Bible so far and and arranges them as Christian theology.

It all there.

Our current situation, waiting for the kingdom. Telling the good news to the wicked. Living lives of love for our fellow mankind.

The promise of a new creation.

Everything except the specific person of Jesus, who is the servant/king/redeemer.

It a terrific advancement in the progressive revelation of God’s plans and character, and very exciting to believers, because of the promise of a new creation and the triumph of the little guy (or gal).

This chapter is about the future glory of Israel, with a predominance of poetic references to brightness and light.

It commences “Arise, shine, your light has come, the glory of the lord has risen”, which sets the tone.

The coming of the lord bring the gathering of people, Jewish family reunions and non Jewish too. And the gathering of wealth and abundance.

It will be an end to violence and want, it will surpass the sun in is glory and it will last forever.

Heaven, new creation.

This is the promise of Isaiah to a people weak, exiled, being conquered, divided and failing.

Sometimes I think of the new creation as a “nice to have” – I want my rewards for being a Christian to be here now in terms of praying for a better life and more satisfying outcomes in this world.

Plus heaven too, almost as an afterthought.

The new creation is kind of the point. It’s not just a philosophy of good living.

I’m worried that I have stated to treat redundancy as a holiday. I need to stay focused on the hard work of putting myself out there on the job market.

Isaiah 59

Evil, judgement and a promised redeemer.

The evil is portrayed with spider web analogies, a web of lies, a bunch of baby eggs hatching more nasties. It describes people using the justice and political systems corruptly.

They are far from God and in darkness, groping at walls they are so blind, and howling like animals when things go wrong.

Isaiah is quite consistently one of the most Bolshie books. As in, evil is seen as government and abuse of wealth.

Then judgement is described as a scream of justice by God. And it is personalised as the poetic phrases pile on, so it comes into focus as a person.

Then the text breaks into prose to promise the Holy Spirit will be forever with Zion.

Zion which a couple of chapters ago was to include all nations and be a gathering of outcasts.

Hmm.

It’s certainly a powerful encouragement not to join the sliminess and self serving power games that are always on display in this world. God will reward the pure of heart in the long run.

And I feel this sort of survey of the final themes of Isaiah in its last chapters is reaching its mid point with the appearance of God’s salvation in personified form.

We’ve had, in:

  • 56 the salvation message extended to all nations,
  • 57 warning against idolatry,
  • 58 call to a life of servanthood,
  • 59 description of corruption & judgement by a redeemer who promises the holy spirit to Zion

Isaiah 58

A life of service is a life of joy, of rich blessing.

The chapter takes fasting, a religious discipline, and looks at what God’s actually likes about it.

Merely abstaining from food if you remain quarrelsome and greedy in life means nothing.

But further, merely being humble, telling God you realise how unworthy you are, that is not what he is after, self denial as an expression of being aware of your weakness, not enough!

He wants it to signify a determination to live a life of servanthood. Of inviting the poor into your home, of pouring yourself out for the needy.

I’m stating all this very baldly. In Isaiah it is wrapped up in poetic expression. God doesn’t just like this attitude. You will be riding high in the heavens, your bones strengthened, ruins rebuilt, gloom turned to a rising light, you’ll be an unfailing stream of water, quenching the desert.

We’ve had the servant, the contrary means by which God’s victory will be won.

Now we have the life of servanthood for all believers. The discipline and self denial by which our lives will be made rich and our world will be renewed.

At a crossroads in my life, it is an important message.