Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Division Two: SALVATION
Section One: GOD’S GREATNESS – The Doctrine of God
It feels like we have been enclosed in a small dark room, depressed, defeated and discouraged. Now Isaiah flings open the window and we find renewed hope! Jewish rabbis called this second division of Isaiah “The Book of Consolation.” Because you and I are sometimes in situations where which are out of our control or where we can’t see a way out, this passage with its revelation of our transcendent yet immanent God and with its precious principles and promises is a favorite.
As long as a child flirts with disobedience and danger, a parent must call out warnings of the consequences of wrong choices. If the child falls, and in his or her fall repents of those wrong choices and the sinful attitudes behind them, then the parent can reach out with encouragement and a helping hand as the child begins the climb back to health and wholeness. In Deuteronomy 4:25-31, Moses said something similar to Israel. If Israel chose idolatry over God, the consequences would be severe. God would scatter them among other nations and only a few would survive. However, if from there they repented and sought the Lord wholeheartedly, God would be merciful to them. This is what has happened to Judah.
Isaiah is enabled to look far into the future to see the consequences of Judah’s rebellion against God: captivity in Babylon. He writes the next section of his book to encourage those discouraged Jewish captives. He tells them that God is with them and will bring them back to their land. In an interesting “parallel” to the New Testament, Isaiah begins in chapter 40 by describing one who will prepare the way for God’s Messiah, and ends with a description of the “New Heavens and New Earth” in chapters 65-66. In between, we learn more about the greatness of our God, we are introduced to the Messiah our Savior, and we glimpse some of the work of the Holy Spirit.
I. DAYS ONE and TWO: Isaiah 40
- Isaiah wrote this portion of his book around 700 BC to Jews living in captivity in Babylon about 170 years in the future and who were nearing the end of their time of exile. From verses 1-2, what had Judah received from the Lord for her sins? This does not mean that she was punished more than she deserved, but rather that the judgment was just and she had now paid it in full. (Exodus 22:1, 7, 9 give examples of this.)
- “Comfort” is also given twice! Interestingly the verb is plural. It is not clear who the comforters are, but clearly God is coming to help His own people. The time of their exile is almost over. According to Elwell, “The fulfillment of this takes us from the time of the restoration from exile all the way to the return of Jesus and the establishment of the new heavens and earth. It is for this reason that Isaiah 40-66 is so important for the church of Jesus Christ; we too are the beneficiaries of the fulfillment of the promises of God’s Word.”1
- In ancient times, almost every city had a “crier” who announced important political and civic news to the inhabitants of the city, much like our TV or radio news today. Isaiah presents three voices who tell us how the comfort of verse one will come about.
- The first voice (vv. 3-5) calls from the desert, which represents alienation from God and a need for deliverance. Just as ancient roads were prepared for kings to come on, this voice calls each person to prepare his or her heart to receive God when He comes. Using your cross reference guide, find the New Testament fulfillment of this prophecy. To whom does it refer?
- The second voice (vv. 6-8) cries out about the difference between God and mankind. How many times are we compared to grass and flowers? What does that imply regarding all people? What encouragement to your faith do you find in verse 8?
- The third voice (vv. 9-11) announces God is coming! What two opposite characteristics does the “Sovereign Lord” have as he comes?
- If you have ever driven across the Rocky Mountains or a similar mountain range, you know that from a distance two peaks can appear to be close together, yet when you reach the first one you discover a significant distance between it and the next. Isaiah may have thought the return from the exile would lead directly into the Millennial kingdom, not seeing the time gap between those events. Not understanding this principle, passages like this caused much confusion among Jewish rabbis over the centuries. From our vantage point we understand these events to be separated by over 2,000 years. Which of these do you think Judah would see at the end of the exile versus in the Millennial kingdom?
B. God’s greatness (Isaiah 40:12-31)
- Isaiah asks several rhetorical questions to give us insight into the uniqueness of our God. In the first part of the chapter, God has said He was coming to help His people. Does He in fact have the ability to do so?
- God’s incomparable knowledge is highlighted in verses 12-17. God alone is Creator. From these verses, describe His greatness in comparison to the universe He created.
- Our God is “transcendent”—totally “other” from His creation. He is the uncreated, eternal being who is unlimited in power and knowledge. The pagan gods of the ancient world were thought to meet in divine council to make major decisions. Did God need any counselors to tell Him how to create the universe? It was the job of the chief god in the ancient world to bring order to the cosmos. God was sovereign over all nations. Comparing all the nations to God, would He have any difficulty controlling them? (vv.15-17)
- God is unique. Verses 18-20 assert than He can’t be compared to idols or anything we can make or imagine. Two types of idols are described, one was of cast bronze 4-10 inches high overlaid with gold or silver foil, the other was wood. Does it make sense to use skills and materials God gives us to build an idol which has no life and to worship that rather than God?
- God is not confined to earth or time (vv. 21-24). From His lofty position He has prepared the earth for us to live on. We cannot control Him. Instead He controls our history, including raising and removing those who rule over us.
- In addition to His sovereignty over earth, what else is He sovereign over in verse 26? Babylonians deified the stars and constellations. Many people groups had creation myths, but not many included the heavens or stars. God’s majesty is certainly revealed in the heavens (Psalm 8; 19). How would you answer the question God asks in verse 25?
- God is sovereign, but does He see what His people are going through? Does He care? (Isaiah 40:27-31) In the ancient world, gods were viewed as having human weaknesses and often were inattentive or unaware of events. Humans were created to do the hard labor the gods preferred not to do. Jacob and Israel (representing all twelve tribes) are disheartened. What question does verse 28 ask to cause them to remember that their God is different? What does verse 28 reveal about God’s characteristics which the exiles needed to know and which makes the fulfillment of His promises possible?
- What does verse 29 say God does for His people? What is the condition for receiving this strength from God? Describe a time when you have experienced the reality of verse 31 in your own life. Journal it and be prepared to share it with someone else for their encouragement.
- Our God is transcendent but He is also “immanent”; that is, He chooses to be present with us! In particular, God chooses to have a personal relationship with those who are repentant of their self-will and sin and choose to follow Him by faith. How does John 1:12 and Romans 8:14-17 describe both the intimacy of that relationship, and how a person can have that for him or herself?
II. DAY THREE: Isaiah 41
A. God’s tribunal (Isaiah 41:1-7)
- Again, we have a court scene. God is presenting more evidence that He and He alone is God. Because of that truth, unlike those who worship idols, His people are not to fear!
- God has a special relationship with Israel and Judah. This word to the nations assures Judah that even the most remote nations are also subject to God’s rule. (Islands and nations together, as in verse 1, represent all the world’s people.) They are called to a place of judgment where they will be forced to recognize God and the truth of His words.
- God is in control of history. In verses 2-4, a king is described which can only refer to Cyrus, king of Persia, who ruled from 559-530 BC. Who is responsible for Cyrus’ success and the defeat of the nations? As in a previous instance, Isaiah does not call Cyrus righteous because of his character but because he is carrying out God’s purpose. God is able to use people for His righteous purposes whether they are aware of it or not, and whether they submit to Him or not!
- Would alliances between nations protect the “islands” from being conquered by Cyrus? Do you hear the mockery in Isaiah’s voice as he describes those who are involved with idols, thinking they offer any protection? (vv. 5-7)
B. God’s servant (Isaiah 41:8-20)
- What does God call Israel? Was Israel always a faithful servant? She was uniquely chosen by God (Isaiah 41:8-9; 43:10). He had also uniquely prepared Israel for her role (Romans 9:4-5). God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 was unconditional; therefore, although she had been unfaithful and had to be sent into exile (“time out”), God had not rejected her. What other words in Isaiah 41:8-10 should reassure Israel?
- In contrast, why do you think God called Abraham His friend? (Genesis 18:17-19; Romans 4:13-24; Hebrews 11:13-19) Would He say that of you?
- It is an honor to be called God’s servant! But how would you feel about being called a worm? (v. 14) Could the difference be descriptive of our value when we obey God versus when we trust in ourselves? What do you think?
- What is it about God which should make Israel not fear in the presence of her enemies? (Isaiah 41:11-14)
- For the first time in Isaiah, God identifies Himself as Redeemer. Find “redeem” in your dictionary. If you can, describe why this would be an appropriate description for God’s actions on behalf of Israel. (A full explanation requires advanced knowledge of Scripture.)
- God also gave Israel reasons to rejoice. God would help her defeat her enemies just as if she were threshing and winnowing grain. However, from verse 16, what would be the primary reason she would rejoice?
- What tangible examples of God’s care for Israel do you see in verses 17-19? What would the greater purpose be in verse 20?
C. Tribunal continues (Isaiah 41:21-29)
- In contrast to God who is a covenant-keeping God who will redeem His people, Isaiah challenges the nations to reconsider the idols they are trusting in. Can they predict the future? Can they do anything? If not, of what value are they? (vv. 21-24)
- The pagan gods couldn’t predict the future because the future was in the hands of Fate, an impersonal force that wrote destiny on tablets—the one who controlled the tablets controlled the destiny of the universe. God, however, can predict the future! He was preparing a ruler (Cyrus of Persia) who would attack from the north, conquering Babylon, Armenia and northern Mesopotamia.
- God again points to the fact that He accurately foretells the future as evidence that He is the unique, transcendent God, the only one worth trusting in. (vv. 26-29). Even in our day, fulfilled prophecy is one of the proofs we can readily point to in support of the truth and reliability of God’s word.
III. DAYS FOUR and FIVE: Isaiah 42
A. God’s Servant, the Messiah (Isaiah 42:1-9)
- Israel and Cyrus have each held the role of God’s servant, but now we meet God’s perfect servant, the Messiah. (Each mention of the word “servant” requires careful reading of the context and of the characteristics of that servant to identify who is being referred to.) This is the first of the Messianic “Servant Songs.”
- What is unique about this servant from verse one? Compare this to Mark 1:9-11.
- Compare verses 1-4 with Matthew 12:15-21. Whom does this passage identify as the Messianic servant?
- Also from these verses, what character and behavioral traits will this servant have?
- Although naysayers would state that Jesus failed in His mission, how was the cross of His first-coming necessary to bring spiritual justice? (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 9:14-22) How will justice be completely established on all levels when He returns? (II Thessalonians 1:5-10; Hebrews 4:13; Revelation 20-21:8)
- What are God’s credentials that give Him the right to appoint this Messianic servant? (v. 5)
- What was the mission of the Messianic servant? (vv. 6-7) Notice from verses 1, 4, and 6, that this included both Jews and Gentiles. What do you think it means that He will be a “covenant” for the people?
- Isaiah 42:8 is a powerful statement. Why do you think this is so critical?
- In the light of this statement, Jesus’ claim to deity would have been outrageous, blasphemous, and worthy of death—unless they were true! Read just a few of His claims in John 5:19-23; 14:6-11. How does Jesus’ character, wisdom, miracles, and finally, His well-attested resurrection, validate His claim to be the Son of God, co-equal with God?
- God can tell the future. His prophecies always come true. Israel can look back and confirm that through their history to date. Therefore they can trust God’s prophecies of the future (v. 9).
B. God’s praise sung (Isaiah 42:10-17)
- The natural, logical response to such a God is praise! Verses 10-13 look forward to God coming as a victorious king. Not only do they praise Him for the past, but they sing a new song about the present and the future. Who all are exhorted to join in praise?
- As you and I praise Him, do we include praise for what He has done today, as well as for yesterday?
- God has been patient with the nations for long time (vv. 14-17), but now He is ready to act on behalf of His people, even though it will be painful for Him. Once He begins, nothing can stop Him. He has power both to destroy and to redeem.
C. God’s servant Israel (Isaiah 42:18-25)
- Some exiles may not remember why God had punished them. Isaiah says Israel had been a blind and deaf servant. Because she was unwilling to respond to God, she was oppressed and exiled as an expression of God’s anger and judgment. Israel and Judah had both rejected God. How does verse 20 describe them?
- What else does Isaiah say about Israel’s sins? (v. 24)
- The redemption of Israel was an expression of God’s love. Was it something inherent in the people or something inherent in God which caused Him to show mercy? (v. 21)
- What does Isaiah urge Israel to do in the future? (vv. 23-25) Could Isaiah also be urging us to the same attitudes and actions?
- Perhaps because this portion of Isaiah was written to people in captivity, it has become one of the most precious passages of Scripture to people today who are in the middle of stressful circumstances. Which of the beautifully comforting words which you rediscovered this week seem to be written from God specifically to you?
- If you find that you, like Judah, have drifted away from your “first love” relationship with God, then take to heart the Deuteronomy passage mentioned in the introduction to this lesson. Our God truly is merciful!
- Select a verse or passage which you will commit to memory. In addition, review the previous verses from Isaiah which you have learned.
- Journal as many of God’s attributes as you can find from these chapters. Include the references and write descriptions of them in your own words. You might find this to be an aid in your worship of our great God.
1. Walter A. Elwell, Ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 499.
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