Isaiah: Glimpses of God
If you are a good parent, or if you are the child of good parents, you know that raising good children requires not only rewarding good behavior, but also punishing bad behavior. If a child is responsive, only mild discipline may be needed – a word, a “look.” But if the child is rebellious, sterner methods are required. A parent who truly loves her children will do what is necessary to train them up to be good children and good adults.
In a sense, God was the “father” of Israel. But Israel and Judah had become rebellious children. (See Isaiah 1:2.) God raised them well but they chose to ignore Him and go their own way. God, a righteous father, knew that in their case stern methods were now necessary to correct them and save them from self-destruction. So although it grieved Him, He determined to exercise “tough love.” The punishment He was about to bring was designed to correct behavior. It would only be successful with some (a remnant), but it would bring them back into a proper relationship with Himself and save them from a worse, eternal fate. However, before He brought punishment, like a good parent, He gave them warnings and opportunities to repent and change their behavior. Isaiah was one of the most powerful voices He sent to them.1
Division One: JUDGMENT
Section One: SERMONS DENOUNCING SINS OF JUDAH
I. DAYS ONE and TWO: Historical Background
A. To understand the book of Isaiah, it is necessary to place it in its historical context. It appears that the majority of Isaiah was written in chronological order as suggested in 1:1.
B. Israel’s early history as a nation included 120 years as a united kingdom under Saul, David and Solomon. Following Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided. The northern ten tribes took the name Israel. They corrupted the worship of the true God.
(I Kings 12:26-33 records how this began.) The remaining two tribes were called Judah and retained Jerusalem as their capital. Judah continued to follow the temple worship prescribed by the Mosaic covenant, at least outwardly. (Isaiah 29:13 gives God’s analysis.) Judah also preserved the Davidic kingly line.
C. Assyria was the most prominent military and political force in the world from about 900 to 600 BC. (Note: the dates given are approximate.)
- Beginning with Ashurbanipal (934-912 BC), Assyria carried out a series of military campaigns with the goals of protecting their kingdom, taking control of vital trade routes and expanding their kingdom, especially toward Babylon and Egypt. Israel and Judah stood in the way of the latter advance.
- Following the death of Shalmaneser III in 824 BC, Assyria went into decline until 745 BC. It was during this time that King Uzziah (also called Azariah) ruled. Both Judah and Israel experienced a prolonged period of peace and prosperity which lulled them into a false sense of security and self-satisfaction. Skim II Kings 15:1-7 and II Chronicles 26 for a description of Uzziah’s reign.2
- Jotham succeeded his father, ruling during a time when Judah was still strong materially, but was spiritually apostate. Skim II Kings 15:32-38 and II Chronicles 27.
- Tiglath-Pileser III ( aka Pul – II Kings 15:19, 29) brought an end to this relative peace during his rule (745-727 BC). Assyria exerted both massive military might and psychological terror against its enemies, and was known for its cruelty. Ahaz became king of Judah during this period. Israel and Syria formed an alliance to resist Assyria and invited Judah to join them. Ahaz decided instead to become a vassal of Assyria. Skim II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28 for a description of Ahaz’ reign.
- Read II Kings 17 for the description of Assyria’s conquest of the northern tribes of Israel in 722 BC.
- Hezekiah was one of Judah’s kings during Isaiah’s ministry who was considered “good” by God. Skim II Kings 18-20 and II Chronicles 29-32 which describe his reign, his reforms, but also his sin which opened the door for Babylon to later conquer Judah.
- Babylon took center stage on the world scene when it captured and destroyed Ashur, the capital of Assyria, in 614 BC and conquered the seemingly invincible Ninevah in 612 BC. Whereas the Assyrians had dispersed the Israelites among many nations, the Babylonians deported to Babylon those of Judah who were willing to go, and killed most of the rest. In 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar sent his army to Judah for the first siege of Jerusalem and the first deportation of Jews to Babylon. In 586 BC Jerusalem fell. Read of this tragic event in II Kings 24:18-25:30.
- After a relatively short period of dominance, Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians in 539 BC.
- Read II Chronicles 36:22-23. The Persian king, Cyrus, who ruled from 539-530 BC, brought a new imperial policy which included letting captives of Babylon return to their homelands if they so chose. Cyrus also commanded that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt. Most Jews had become comfortable in Babylon but several groups did choose to return beginning around 538 BC. Their stories are told in Ezra and Nehemiah.
- Isaiah wrote to warn the Jews during the pre-exilic period and also wrote to comfort those living during and after the Babylonian exile.
II. DAY THREE: God’s Charge (Isaiah 1:1-9)
A. Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 1:1)
- Verse 1 gives us the setting for the book of Isaiah, and the method by which God communicated to him. Isaiah first spoke the words God gave him, then he or his scribe wrote them down. The message was primarily for Judah and Jerusalem.
- Chapters 1-6 were given during the reign of Uzziah, probably during the time, when due to his leprosy, his son Jotham was co-regent.
- Isaiah was a true prophet of God. Unlike false prophets we will encounter later in the book who gave the good news which the people wanted to hear and which made them popular among the people, Isaiah gave the “whole counsel of God”—the negative as well as the positive.
- Which do you and I most resemble?
B. God’s case (Isaiah 1:2-9)
- In a sense chapter one is a summary of the first 39 chapters of Isaiah – much like the “opening arguments” in a court case. God and Israel/Judah have a covenant relationship. The Lord, the Holy One of Israel, has been a good Father to them and has kept His part of the covenant. How has Judah broken her part of the covenant?
- God now brings His “lawsuit” against Judah. Whom does God call as witnesses in verse 2? Why do you think they would be worthy witnesses?
- How do verses 2 and 4 describe God and His character?
- By contrast, what charges does God bring against Judah in verses 2 and 4?
- There are consequences to turning one’s back on God. Thinking about how untreated cancer which begins silently eventually causes internal and external harm to the body, how could verses 5-6 be a metaphor for the damage sin does to a person and to a nation?
- This might also be a metaphor for the discipline God had already brought in hopes of getting Judah’s attention. God sometimes uses one nation as His tool to discipline another nation. By 740 BC (near the end of Uzziah’s life), Assyria was already becoming a threat, and in the future Babylon would conquer Judah. Verses 7-9 describe Judah as being devastated and Jerusalem as being vulnerable and defenseless. Remembering Deuteronomy 28:15-29, should this have been a surprise?
- In the face of Judah’s treatment of God, verse 9 reveals God’s mercy. Define mercy and give an example from your life when you have received mercy. Is mercy ever deserved or is it a gift reflecting the character of the giver?
III. DAY FOUR: God’s Challenge (Isaiah 1:10-20)
A. God’s view of religion. (Isaiah 1:10-17)
- Judah was the nation which was still following the rituals of the Mosaic Law. Imagine their shock to hear in verse 9 that they were spared Sodom and Gomorrah’s fate, and then in verse 10 to be called “rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah”! Judah was religious and God’s chosen people. Sodom and Gomorrah were blatantly immoral. Why would God call them that?3 Also read Ezekiel 16:46-52. Would any of the sins mentioned in verse 49 be true of you?
- It has been said that religion is a way of running away from God. It may also be a way of trying to manipulate or control God: “If I do this ritual then God will be obligated to grant me that favor.” What shocking attitude is God expressing toward the exercise of religious rituals by His people?
- What religious rituals do you practice? What is your true heart attitude as you do so?
- If God is not looking for religious fervor in His people, what is He looking for? What heart attitude does Isaiah 1:13 imply God wants? How would this proper heart attitude be manifest in daily life?
- Are you surprised that in this instance God refuses to listen to the people’s prayers? What is His reason? Might you and I need to humbly examine our lives and hearts before we expect God to answer us?
- God is holy and rightfully requires that His people be holy. What does the command of verse 17 tell you about God’s heart and God’s actions? Are you trusting in any religious ritual in place of a proper heart attitude toward God and proper actions toward other people? How does James 2:20 affirm this?
- In evangelical circles the pendulum has swung from social justice to concern for precise doctrine regarding salvation; now, it is beginning to swing back again. What do you think is the proper balance from this passage? How does Mark 12:28-34 help? How should you and I, as children of our Father, be engaging our culture in both of these areas?
B. God’s appeal to relationship. (Isaiah 1:18-20)
- Some people think that the God of the Old Testament is a vengeful God, while the God of the New Testament is a loving God; however, God does not enjoy bringing judgment and punishment (Ezekiel 18:23). When God is forced to discipline His children, it is with the goal of purging them from sin and restoring them into relationship with Himself (Hebrews 12:7-11). It is only when active or passive rebellion continues that He is finally forced to bring ultimate punishment.
- From your knowledge of the Bible, what is necessary for the cleansing from sin described in verse 18? Describe the change in both attitude and action alluded to in verse 19.
- What clear choice is offered in verses 19-20? Which best describes you?
IV. DAY FIVE: God Gives Consequences (Isaiah 1:21-31)
A. God describes the defendant. (Isaiah 1:21-23)
- Sometimes I understand truth better when it is presented in a story or picture. Isaiah presents a series of pictures contrasting what God wanted from His people and what He actually got.
- To help us understand how God viewed Judah’s religious practices, verse 21 describes Jerusalem’s current condition as being like a once-faithful wife who broke her marriage covenant and became a prostitute. (See also Psalm 106:39.) It is interesting that often spiritual idolatry was accompanied by sexual immorality—an apt description on several levels. How does this picture help you understand what Judah’s sin was and the seriousness of it?
- Silver is beautiful and precious—but only if the impurities are removed. Read Zechariah 13:9 and Malachi 3:3. What is needed to remove dross from silver? (Someone once asked a refiner how he knew when the silver had been over the fire long enough. He replied that he had to watch it very carefully, and when he could see the reflection of his face in it, he knew it was done.)
- People often go where their leaders take them. What charge is made against Judah’s rulers? If you are in a leadership position, take a moment to evaluate the quality and effects of your leadership.
B. God pronounces the verdict and sentence. (Isaiah 1:24-31)
- Therefore, because of what God has said about His faithfulness and Judah’s unfaithfulness from verses 2-23, God reveals His plan.
- What shocking words does God use to describe Judah in verse 24?
- What horrifying statement is in verse 25?
- What is God’s purpose in bringing judgment? (vv. 26-27)
- Does the promise of verses 26-27 imply a universal restoration? (vv. 28-31) There is true hope for the repentant, but God does not offer false hope to those who refuse to repent; nor may we.
- Memorize Isaiah 1:18.
- As I worked through this week’s lesson, it felt “flat” to me. Perhaps that is a reflection of Judah’s attitude toward God at this time. God, however, was passionate about Judah – so much so that He was willing to do whatever it took to get her attention and bring as many as possible back into a relationship with Himself. Could it be that you or I have also lost our passion for God? Could it be that in our passion to serve Him, our focus has drifted slowly and subtly away from God to what we are doing for Him? Have you or I moved from relationship to religion? Today, let’s each set aside time to “reason together” with God regarding the truth of our relationship with Him. Do you remember last week’s key verse? What did it call us to turn to? Will you heed that call and run to the Person?
- What stands out to you regarding God’s character from this week’s lesson? Journal that and also how you need to respond to Him in light of that.
- You might like to draw a timeline for yourself to use as you study Isaiah. Include at least the following people and approximate dates. You will want to expand your timeline as you study.
- 1000-960 BC – David’s reign
- 783-742 BC – Uzziah’s reign
- 750-732 BC – Jotham’s reign (part of this was a co-regency)
- 732-716 BC – Ahaz’ reign
- 722 BC – Israel/Samaria fell to Assyria
- 715-687 BC – Hezekiah’s reign
- 597 BC – Jerusalem surrenders to Babylon
- 586 BC – The destruction of Jerusalem (the event to which the Babylonian exile is dated)
- 538 BC – The return of the exiles to Jerusalem
1. God sent Amos to Israel in the 760s BC and Hosea in the 740s to 720s BC. God sent Isaiah, and Micah a contemporary, to Judah.
2. There is much overlap between I and II Kings and II Chronicles. Both record and draw lessons from Israel and Judah’s history. First and Second Kings, written for the Jews in exile, emphasizes the actions of the kings and prophets of Israel and Judah, and evaluates those kings in reference to the Mosaic Covenant. First and Second Chronicles, written for the post-exilic Jews, takes a priestly viewpoint, emphasizing the kings of Judah as well as the temple and temple worship, and encouraging the post-exilic Jews that they are still God’s people.
3. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in Genesis 18:16-19:29.
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