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.


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 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.

Isaiah 52

We’re entering the most detailed servant/Messiah chapters. It’s the “new thing” the book has been building to with its layers of imagery.

It is double prophetic from Isaiah’s time. He’s writing (if it is him, which some doubt) before the people have been conquered and sent into exile, about the time when they shall be returned from exile.

But then it’s also triple prophetic, because it’s about so much more than the return from the exile they aren’t even in yet, because by describing the Messiah he’s talking about God’s eternal salvation plan for the whole world.

This chapter starts with hype about the salvation/ return from exile.

Jerusalem is to “awake awake”.

That is be aware that they are God’s people, and that he loves them. They actually have become cynical about God, and have no respect for him. Understandably perhaps because Egypt, then Assyria, then Babylon owned them.

There is a play on worthlessness. They feel worthless because they got conquered and the conquerors paid no price for destroying the chosen people. But God is also going to save them at no cost to them, for free. We’ll find later is because he’ll pay the price.

He talks about the messengers of this good news having “beautiful feet”. I love this, it’s God’s news, but we are the physical bearers of it. We have time and a physical being, and God finds it beautiful when we use our body and time to share the blessing we have.

Then they are to “depart depart”.

Leave the place of exile, of sin, and come to a place of holiness, of being cleaned and blessed by God and useful to him.

Then after the hype, in the last few verses, we get to the servant, the means of this salvation.

He’s king of kings… Wiser, more exalted than earthly Kings. They shut up when they see him.

He’s the mistreated servant, beaten beyond.  recognition. Remember sometime had to pay a price?

He is an unprecedented occurrence, and the incomprehensible made clear.

Isaiah is coming together!

Isaiah 50

God’s extraordinary love for us, and what he wants of us.

Intimate workings of the the messiah’s servanthood.

It starts with the question “does God really care?” A striking divorce and debt metaphor is used by God to say “prove I have abandoned you… Where are the divorce papers, where is the bill of sale?”

We left him, he never left us. Very much to the contrary.

Second question “is God’s still in charge?” Fully. The examples of his might are arguably negative experiences, drying up rivers so that fish die, making the sky black.

The Israelites no doubt felt enveloped by blackness. But the blackness is from God, the problem is that there is no one who will obey him. Enter the servant.

The servant word is not used but the ritual of servanthood, ear piercing, is referred to in verse 5.

Israel’s slaves had a moment after 6 years of service where they could leave or stay. The ear piercing indicated the choice of a life of voluntary servanthood, and such is the messiah’s relationship to God the father.

His duties are to daily learn words that will sustain the weary. He is God’s servant, his duties are for us.

Does God care? He gives his back to be whipped, his beard to be pulled out, suffers utter humiliation and disgrace.

Being God, he could back out at any time. He doesn’t have to suffer! But as a servant he sets his face like flint and bares it, trusting in God’s might through the darkness, knowing God’s is stronger than any evil.

The enemies of God are compared to clothes that will wear out. Empty suits.

So we, the weary, can choose to be sustained by his words though the darkness. Or we can take matters in our own hands which is here described as walking by the light of our own torches. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, using your own judgement, not God’s word to guide your way. But it will only lead to more torment.

God is like a loving parent in the night, coming to you when you fear the dark saying “don’t worry, you’ll get there” and behind it is the knowledge that no one loves you more or would give more for you.

This is a beautiful chapter, hard to follow without explanation. God cares and is strong enough to give himself for you without flinching at the pain of sacrifice.

Isaiah 49

Half the chapter is about Isaiah’s figure the servant of the lord. All the elements are there: he is from God, a means of judgement and salvation, despised by people yet used not only for salvation of Israel but of all nations.

Again you do the loop where it is impossible to visualise anyone but Jesus.

I considered how there have been numerous other servants of the lord, Moses fits quite close. And the kingship was designed to be humble in Moses’ law, David dancing before the ark more than Solomon in a palace. It’s a biblical pattern, a truth about God’s way, but specifically it is so Jesus.

The second half is about Israel being glorified. With all the servant talk, especially the bit about being for all the world, Israel might think “so what are we?”

But God assures them they always have a special place like the place a child has for a parent. He also describes them as like a tattoo on his hand.

It finishes with a classic old testament scene of retribution… The enemies of Israel starving to the point of canabalism while all the exiles and all the world beats a path back to the promised land to share in glory.

Which, given the original audience was probably on the verge of being conquered and dragged away into exile from the land, was very comforting hyperbole.

It’s like “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need”.

What they want is the promise of relief from their political and military victimhood, which they will get eventually, but not soon enough, and not before things get a lot worse.

What they need is what Isaiah calls the “new thing” this global salvation plan for all mankind, hundreds of years in the future but acting retroactively and prospectively for all.

Isaiahs big task is starting to explain, and it’s not easy. Even with my perspective I still keep doing double takes. The whole Bible is an odd story!

Isaiah 42

Complex chapter. Isaiah is like a symphony, or a film score. 

It has a bunch of themes, more and more as it goes on, and they keep returning and combining to push the story forward with ever more nuance. 

The layers get to be too many to describe, especially for a non-scholar like me. 

But like a good piece of music it has a cumulative emotional flow that unifies the complexity.

This chapter introduces the servant, beloved of the New testament writers who see it fulfilled in Jesus.

We learn that the servant will be God’s delight, will be for all nations, will be gentle in manner and in action, not breaking the “bruised reeds”, those already beaten and damaged.

Some of the themes that come back are the desserts being made flat, the world being recreated, inverted in fact so that rivers become islands. 

God as victor, a strong man; and then as (re)creator, a woman in labour. 

The emptiness of idols and Gods judgement being the actual reason for the present suffering, to which he seems to be deaf and blind. 

So in these themes, love and judgement, chaos and gentleness, time and eternity weave together.

Isaiah is taking God’s revelation to places it has not gone before. He’s witnessing first hand the trauma of literal earthly blessing of the chosen people and the specific nation of Israel failing beyond hope of return. 

Out of that pain, as is so often the case, our deaf ears can start to hear about the Messiah, and we can start to see with spiritual eyes.

And the message is comfort, courage and love.

Isaiah 11

A huge passage about the Messiah. The mix of hope and despair are there in the opening metaphor. The people will think the kingship of David is cut off, but the dormant stump will shoot.

There follows an extravagant description of the messiah’s spirit filled character, overflowing with the spirit and blessing of God, his justice and compassion for the poor, and the transforming nature of his kingdom where all will be at peace, creation as it was intended to be.

Then we see the scope of it, all nations are called under his banner, the Jews are bought back after being dispersed in a straight Highway from Assyria. Egypt, the place of slavery, is destroyed.

It’s a glorious vision. It was partly realised in the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, but there was no Messiah. Jesus was the Messiah, but there are aspects of it still to come.

It’s sort of exciting thinking about a great time that is to come, children being able to play safely near boaconstrictors etc. But from hope should also spring a realigned mindset.

The truth is eternal. We need to live this now judging fairly, striving for justice, delighting in the fear of the lord, calling all nations to be under the banner of Christ, pursuing peace, forgetting rivalries.

The promise of the Messiah is also the revelation of God’s character. An event and a state of affairs.

Isaiah 9

They say it’s important to remember that prophesy is not about predicting the future, it’s about declaring God’s truth. But sometimes, God’s truth is in the future, so they overlap. And it’s pretty mind blowing.

So here is a really obvious prediction of the Messiah, who will be a child born in Galilee. He will be both human (a son, a child) and God – he will be called mighty God, everlasting father, Prince of Peace.

This flows from the prediction of the invasion that will engulf the northern kingdom. You start to wonder “why does the northern kingdom even matter, Jerusalem and the temple is where it is at”. But then the Messiah will come from there and grow up there.

I’d say we are half now in the era described here. The government is still not completely on Jesus’ shoulders, that will wait the end of time. 

But we are now the people who have the joy of knowing the battle is won, and the yoke of the oppressor is gone. That us, our little old congregation in the middle of main Street, meeting on Sundays and singing ” praise him, praise him” then having morning tea. The victors in the ultimate battle against evil.

At the end of the chapter, Isaiah returns to the prediction of invasion, and how they have earned the judgment by their attitude to God. However, that prediction would have been obvious to them, they would have been well aware of the threat of the growing kingdoms around them. 

This word of hope, this prediction of eternal joy and victory, so that all the tools of war can be burned, and everything that was ruined being bought back better than before, that was the surprising bit.

Some who heard presumably believed in their hearts even though the rest of their lives were spent with things going from bad to worse. The truth of God’s victory is eternal.

May I live that joy of salvation, may it shape my decisions and my interactions.

2 Kings 11

The lamp becomes a flicker

One theme that runs though the of testament is the live of David, Jesus’ line. In kings it is called the lamp of Judah.

It’s a very slow and often frail salvation plan, and here it comes down to just one hidden boy.

Last chapter king Jehu of Israel – not a godly man, but the means of judgment – aggressively usurped and stamped out evil king Ahab’s line. He missed his daughter who was mother in law of the king of Judah. When her son the king is killed she rules herself for a number of years and keeps power by mercilessly killing the heirs of David, some of her own grandchildren.

One boy is hidden in the temple by a wise and bold woman Jehosheba the wife of the priest . It’s sort of a tale of two women. 

After 7 years the priest and other godly people run a coup that installs the boy as king. It’s a great story.

The lamp flickers but doesn’t go out. A new leaf is turned over.

When Jesus talks about faith the size of a grain of mustard I think of this woman’s act. Grace pops out all over in these stories – when the kings are worst, the most blessed prophets arise.  In a forest of evil, a good person plants one seed of salvation against all odds. Never give up hope on what is right, never.

Zechariah 12

These two chapters, 12 & 13, concern the day of the Lord. Which will be a remarkable day.

It will be a day when enemies besiege the Lord, and he showed not just his strength but his omnipotence and his character. He is the one who made the world and formed our spirit within us, vast in power, intimate in knowledge.

On that day…. The statement clangs though the passage like a bell.

… Everyone will know that God is behind Jerusalem, so resistance is futile,
… Enemies will be vanquished, the weakest of the Jews will seem as blessed and strong as king David
… Jerusalem themselves will weep as no nation has wept before, because they will lose their pride and mourn for God “the one they pierced”.

Yes it’s gone messianic again. The Jews are the most favored nation, so the envy and the stumbling block of the world, but also the ones who let god down the most, so the most miserably aware of their sin and the magnitude of God’s grace.

Now it is the day of the Lord, and I am one of God’s people. I am among the favored, most aware of God’s grace and how little I deserve it, a stumbling block to the world.