Isaiah: Glimpses of God
How many times do you give instructions or warnings before discipline is dispensed for non-compliance? A lady I know gives a child two, not three chances to obey. Here is her reasoning. “If I say, ‘Don’t hit your brother,’ and I give the child three chances to obey, I am teaching the child that he or she doesn’t have to obey until the third time. I do give grace, however. If the child doesn’t obey the first time, I consider that perhaps I wasn’t clear or maybe the child didn’t hear. However, the second time I can safely assume that lack of obedience is purposeful, and discipline is dispensed.”
I am amazed at how patient God is with us! Like me, you may be getting tired of hearing so many warnings of judgment to come if Judah doesn’t repent and turn back to God. I wonder if God doesn’t become even more tired of repeating those warnings over and over and over! God could not be accused of not training His people in what righteousness looked like. The Old Testament law was very clear. God also could not be accused of not being fair. He had sent prophet after prophet with message after message to Israel and Judah over the years. If they continued in their sin, it was not for lack of knowledge but from choice.
How often are you and I casual with the instructions of Scripture? Do we forget that just as there was a time limit on God’s grace to Israel and Judah, the prophets tell us there will be a future time when God again removes His hand of grace and raises it in judgment—a time which may not be very far in the future? Let’s take God at His word, and seeing His heart of love, let’s turn to Him so He can bestow those blessings on us which He so desires to give!1
These chapters in Isaiah include six woes (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1) and seem to date to the problems Hezekiah had with Assyria in the years leading up to the devastation of Judah by Assyria in 701 BC.
I. DAY ONE: Warning to the Proud (Isaiah 28)
A. Isaiah 28:1-6
- Isaiah begins this prophecy with the funeral word, “woe.” Judah should pay careful attention to what was happening to Israel (the northern kingdom), because Judah’s sins were as bad or worse. Under Ahaz’s reign, pagan religious practices had been embraced and corruption of true worship had entered Judah ( II Kings 16). Israel was about to fall to Assyria (in 722 BC) so Judah should take their judgment to heart.2
- Note the repetition of the word, “wreath.” In the time of Isaiah, the crowns received by winners at the Olympic Games (recorded as far back as 776 BC) and other athletic contests were made of leaves such as laurel, pine, or wild celery leaves. Isaiah compares these fading wreaths to the capital city, Samaria, who was the pride of Ephraim, the wreath on Israel’s head. What different view did God have of Samaria, and how would He deal with Israel’s misplaced pride?
- When Assyria conquered Israel it would also invade Judah, but would be unable to conquer Jerusalem. (We will read more about that in Isaiah 36-39.) What different kind of wreath does God promise to the remnant who trusts in Him?3 Who is the crown of the remnant? (Isaiah 28:5) What other descriptions are given of the one who is their crown?
B. Isaiah 28:7-29
- These next verses transition from Israel to Judah, both of whom were guilty, indicating that although God would grant Judah about 135 more years, it was not because she any better than Israel. What was the condition of those who should have been giving spiritual leadership to the nation?4 What should they and we be full of instead? (Ephesians 5:18)
- Since the religious leaders were not teaching God’s word, and were instead mocking Isaiah, the true prophet of God, for teaching them as if they were two-year-olds (vv. 9-11), how would God now teach them? (vv. 11-13) Who would their teachers be? If we won’t accept gentle instruction from the master teacher, we are doomed to learn from the harsh instruction of experience!
- Hezekiah, though a good king, at this time foolishly chose to make an alliance with Egypt rather than trusting God (II Kings 19:9). Judah’s “covenant with death” (v. 15) may be a reference to necromancy in which people consulted the spirits of the dead (Isaiah 8:19), or to outright worship of idols and false gods such as the Ugaritic god of the underworld, Mot. This false sense of security they received reminds me of those who turn to religion, or make a profession of faith, without the reality of true repentance and faith in Jesus. They may think they have gotten “fire insurance” but in reality they are in grave eternal danger. How does Isaiah describe what they have actually chosen to trust in? (Isaiah 28:15)
- Who is the cornerstone God has ordained we must trust in? (Isaiah 28:16; Zechariah 10:4; I Peter 2:4-8)
- What standard will Judah be measured by? (Isaiah 28:17)
- The repeated attacks of the Assyrians are described in verse 19. This occurred as prophesied. Judah had “made her bed, and now she must lie in it” (v. 20) and learn by experience that human treaties/blankets are insufficient coverage!
- If the religious leaders won’t learn from Isaiah, verses 21-29 point them to principles of agriculture. These verses are interpreted several ways. One is that as a farmer uses different techniques at different times to produce a successful crop, so God works in many different ways, some painful, to accomplish His purposes. At this time He would use the “strange” technique of a foreign nation bringing destruction to produce a good end for His people. This would not last forever. What is the analysis of God’s plan? (v. 29)
II. DAY TWO: Warning to the Spiritually Blind (Isaiah 29)
A. Isaiah 29:1-14
- God hates pride but loves people! That principle is taught over and over, and in this chapter it is demonstrated in the relationship of God and Jerusalem. One translation for “Ariel” is “lion of God” indicating Jerusalem was a strong city which was proud to be God’s city. He loved them so much that He was willing to do whatever it took to remove their pride so they could again have a relationship with Himself, the Holy One.
- “Ariel” also means “altar hearth.” Jerusalem was the place God chose for His Temple and for burnt offerings to be sacrificed. Jerusalem legalistically followed the prescribed rituals (v. 1) but not from a sincere heart. Therefore Jerusalem herself, who received the second “woe,” would now become a place where there was so much bloodshed it would be as if she were a sacrifice on an altar.
- In the years preceding 701 BC, a regional power struggle involving Assyria occurred during which Hezekiah turned to Egypt for help. Judah felt secure but God warned that judgment was coming. Sennacherib of Assyria destroyed forty-six cities in Judah (confirmed by archaeology) but was unable to conquer Jerusalem. Verses 2-4 describe the siege of Jerusalem. Can you visualize what the humbling of Jerusalem which Isaiah describes was like?
- As illustrated by Isaiah 28:24, God put a limit on how long and how much damage Assyria could do. (Compare verses 5-8 with II Kings 19:1-13, 32-36.)
- Verses 7-8 seem to look forward to a future battle which we call the Battle of Armageddon. (Zechariah 14:1-3; Revelation 14:14-20; 16:13-16)
- You would think that seeing God miraculously deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians would cause Judah to trust God. Perhaps with the lifting of the immediate threat, the people were lulled back into complacency. Verses 9-12 reinforce the principle that a choice to not believe God may lead to God blinding people to His truth. From previous study, how would you explain this to someone else?
- In relation to you and me, might this be a caution against studying the Bible for mere intellectual knowledge rather than seeking to know, love, trust and obey God who gave it for that purpose? Might it also refer to us applying the teachings of Scripture to others but not to ourselves? Read Deuteronomy 8:3; Jeremiah 15:16; II Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; and James 1:22 and summarize what they convey about the attitude with which we should approach God’s Word.
- The people of Jerusalem professed faith in God and practiced the required rituals. What was God’s analysis of their worship? (vv. 13-14) God’s judgment would eradicate such false “wisdom.”
- This is very serious to God, and must therefore be taken seriously by you and me. As you examine your own worship, how would God describe it? We dare not deceive ourselves into thinking that religious rituals without relationship, or professed faith without humble, repentant hearts is pleasing to God. The stakes are too high!
B. Isaiah 29:15-24
- Woe to those who think God cannot see what they are doing or what they are thinking! God’s ways may be hidden from us, but ours are not hidden from Him (vv. 15-16).
- God is sovereign! Verses 17-24 seem to look to and beyond the end of the Assyrian conflict, possibly to the Millennium. The land will be fertile. Justice will be served. Who will hear and see? Who will rejoice?
- What new attitudes and resultant actions does God say will be present on the part of Israel and Judah? (vv. 22-24) How will they keep God’s name “holy”?
- God identifies Himself in terms of relationship three times in verses 22-24. Because of your humble trust and obedience, would God be pleased to identify Himself as the God of (your name)?
III. DAY THREE: Warning to the Obstinate (Isaiah 30-31)
A. Isaiah 30:1-17
- When you face a problem, where is the first place you turn? When we come up with our own plans rather than consulting God to learn His, what does God call us? (Isaiah 1:2, 20, 23; 30:1, 9)
- In 705-701 BC, Judah pursued an alliance with Egypt, Ethiopia, Phoenicia and the Philistines against Assyria, risking danger and hardship to do so. What came of Judah relying on Egypt rather than on God? (vv. 3-5) What would be the quality of help Judah purchased from Egypt?5 (vv. 6-7) How often do we think that our problems can be solved with money?
- How did Judah compound her rebellion in verses 9-11? Could this ever be said of you or me?
- What would be the consequence of rejecting God’s message? (vv. 12-14 and 16-17)
- Where instead could they (and we) find salvation? (v. 15) What would these two requirements look like in practical terms for Judah? What would they look like for you?
B. Isaiah 30:18-26
- What was God’s promise to Jerusalem (and to us)? (v. 18) Did they deserve this? Do we? (Romans 5:8) What must they (and we) do to experience this? (vv. 18-19)
- When people call out to God in faith, although problems still come, describe various ways God will bless them. (vv. 20-26)
- Taking verses 18-21 as being God’s personal message to you right now, will you respond to His invitation and then listen for His guidance?
- Although God used Assyria to severely discipline Judah, He would not allow them to destroy Jerusalem. Verses 27-33 poetically describe God’s actions.6 Record in your journal those aspects of God’s character which stand out to you.
C. Isaiah 31:1-9
- Teaching “line upon line…do and do, rule on rule, a little here, a little there,”7 Isaiah reiterates God’s warning in verses 1-3. What command in Deuteronomy 17:16 had been broken? What do you learn about God from these verses? What should Judah have done? (Psalm 20:7)
- Verses 4-5 describe the way God will deliver Jerusalem. What else is revealed about God?
- Since God alone will defeat their enemy, how should the Israelites respond? (vv. 6-9)
IV. DAY FOUR: Warning to the Complacent (Isaiah 32)
A. Isaiah 32:1-8
- In contrast to the unrighteous leaders of chapter 28, a righteous, just king is coming. Scholars differ as to whether this is the Messiah.
- Not only will this king and his rulers have a different character, so will their subjects. Compare verses 3-4 with Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26. Explain the “down payment” on that promise we enjoy today. (II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:13-14)
- Romans 1:18-32 describes the downward spiral resulting from the rejection of God, which includes calling good evil, and calling evil good. Much of the migration of people from one country to another has been an attempt to escape the resultant evils. Verses 5-8 assure us that this will be reversed under this coming righteous king.
B. Isaiah 32:9-20
- Complacency may be one of the attitudes which lead to the evils above. Perhaps complacency might also be described as trusting in the status quo. Isaiah now warns the women who feel (Compare Isaiah 32:9-14 with the description in Isaiah 3:16-24 and with warnings to women of Israel in Amos 4:1-3 and 6:1-7. Could any of these descriptions apply to us?)
- This prophecy was probably given one year before Assyria’s final invasion in 701 BC (Isaiah 32:10). Listen! Tremble! Mourn! Not only will there be physical devastation, but social and spiritual as well. This was not the final judgment, but the beginning of the end for Jerusalem which fell to Babylon in 586 BC.
- The only way things could be “fixed” was if God did it. He would do it by pouring out the Holy Spirit. As this prophecy wasn’t fulfilled after the Assyrian invasion, verses 15-20 seem to see into the then distant future. In our day, we too can experience the fruit of the Spirit. Romans 5:1-5, 8:3-4 and Galatians 5:22-23 describe this. This is what enables us to trust God and experience His peace, even when catastrophes strike (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
V. DAY FIVE: Warning to the Unrighteous (Isaiah 33)
A. Isaiah 33:1-6
- The sixth woe in this section is addressed to Sennacherib. Not only was he bringing destruction, he had also betrayed Hezekiah (II Kings 18:13-16).
- Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. What part of the prayer of the godly remnant (vv. 2-4) expressed their confidence in God’s trustworthiness? Which part might you pray each morning?
- The answer they needed from God in their uncertain times was in verses 5-6. God would answer their prayer regarding the Assyrian threat in a way that would bring glory to God alone. As He did with Job in a previous time, God directed their focus from the problem to His person! In this time when our world is facing political and economic crises, health concerns and natural disasters, what aspects of God’s person give you the confidence to trust Him for your personal needs? What does the word, “foundation,” picture to you regarding your relationship to God? How do the promises of these verses help you? What is the condition for the fulfillment of these promises?
B. Isaiah 33:7-24
- Before God brought deliverance, however, righteous judgment had to be dispensed. Read the description of conditions during Assyrian invasion. (vv. 7-9)
- God’s deliverance begins in verse 10. Could God have been exalted if He brought only compassion but no justice? Would He be righteous?
- Compare the results of the works of those people who lived independently from God with the benefits to the repentant remnant. (vv. 11-16) Who is able to survive God’s holy judgment? Who can approach God? This is a critical question for you and me as well. For help see I Corinthians 6:9-11. What should be the resultant change in our attitudes and actions? (Psalm 130:4; I Corinthians 6:19-20; I Peter 4:1-2)
- God’s redemption of Jerusalem and Judah from Assyria was a very real victory in history, but was only a prelude to the greater redemption and restoration for the righteous remnant in the end times. Verses 17-24 describe the radical difference in the Millennial kingdom. Faith will become sight. As you compare the personal pronouns in verses 17 and 22, what stands out to you?
- God doesn’t give us warnings to make us miserable, but because He loves us. As our Creator, He knows which choices will harm us and result in judgment and which others will bring blessing. All Scripture is given for our benefit as well as for those to whom it was originally written. What warning have you taken personally this week? Is there any area of your life where you are refusing to trust God? What needs to change in your life? Journal your plan.
- With whom might you need to prayerfully and sensitively yet boldly share a warning?
- As we have continued to glimpse God through His words and actions, what aspects of God’s character have stood out to you?
- If you are keeping a journal page describing God’s holiness, remember to add verses and phrases to it from this lesson.
- Memorize Isaiah 33:6 as a life lesson with a promise and condition.
1. II Peter 3:9.
2. These chapters are from the 730-705 BC time frame.
3. “Crowns” in Scripture would make an interesting topical study! Begin with your concordance or topical Bible.
4. This is not a denunciation of drinking wine, per se, but of drunkenness and the ill effects caused by it.
5. “In Ugaritic literature Rahab was the name of a female sea monster associated with Leviathan… Rahab came to be a poetic synonym for Egypt (and also for a demon behind Egypt)…” John F. Walvoord, and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament (USA: Victor Books, 1988), 1090.
6. Topheth (a site outside Jerusalem where worshipers of Molech sacrificed their children) became into a garbage dump named Gehenna (the word used for “hell” in the New Testament).
7. Isaiah 28:10.
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