Isaiah: Glimpses of God
God has stated in clear terms that Israel, like all nations, is not a righteous people. But He has also identified Himself with her as her redeemer. Unlike that of His people, God’s own character is holy and righteous. He keeps His promises to Israel based not on her character, but on His. He stated His reason in Isaiah 48:11. The question then arises, how can God save an unrighteous people without defaming His righteous character? The next section, chapters 49-57, tells us how. The Messianic Servant will make it possible.
God was not caught off guard by Israel’s or the rest of mankind’s sin. Before Creation, He knew that all mankind would rebel against Him, and so He already had a plan in place which He first referenced in the Garden of Eden at “the fall” and continued to progressively reveal throughout Scripture.
In preparing to put this plan into place, God used many servants, such as Abraham, the nation of Israel, prophets such as Isaiah, and even Cyrus. The Messiah, whom we know to be God in human flesh, and whom we call Jesus, was the unique Servant who accomplished the plan.
In the Messiah, God balanced His love for people with His wrath against sin in such a way that redemption became possible for all those who trusted in Him, and God’s holy, righteous character was upheld. And, to our great joy, it was always God’s plan that this redemption would be available not only to Israel, but to all people in all places in all times!
Following the accomplishing of the plan by the Messianic Servant, God used many other servants to spread the good news of this plan. This included the apostles, the Church, and now you and me.
In this week’s lesson, as we learn more about God’s Messianic Servant, our love for Him and our trust in Him increases. We are also challenged as His redeemed people to be faithful servants in the tasks God assigns to us.
I. DAY ONE: Isaiah 49:1-7
A. The Servant’s Discouragement (Isaiah 49:1-4)
- Isaiah 49:1-7 (some include verses 8-13) is the second of five “Servant Songs.”1 It is important to clarify who the servant is as we begin this passage. Most evangelical scholars believe that although verse 3 names Israel, because verse 5 commissions the servant to bring Israel back to God, the servant must in fact be the Messiah. Israel had been called to be God’s servant to bring blessing to the Gentiles, but for the most part had failed. Knowing that would happen, God had prepared a unique servant, the Messiah, to do what Israel should have done, and more. The Messiah would be the only Israelite to ever completely and perfectly fulfill the Mosaic Law, therefore He is the one sung about here.
- When was this unique servant identified and called? (Isaiah 49:1; Matthew 1:21)
- This servant had a two-fold role (v. 2). First, he was to speak God’s truth in such a way that it penetrated the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Secondly, the arrow, an instrument of warfare, symbolized His future role as warrior and judge against those who didn’t respond to the earlier sword of truth.2
- Isaiah’s experience reflected the fact that this servant would be rejected, and humanly speaking would appear to fail in His mission to bring God’s people back to God. There was no apparent change in the nation as a whole in their relationship to God as a result of either of their ministries. What did Isaiah, and God’s Messiah need to remember? (v. 4)
B. The Servant’s Encouragement (Isaiah 49:5-7)
- What greater purpose did God have for this Messianic servant? (vv. 1, 6) His initial rejection by the Jews made it possible for the gospel to go to the Gentiles with power (John 1:11-12; Acts 13:46; Romans 15:8-12; Ephesians 2:11-13). The rejection of national Israel would only be temporary.
- To a lesser extent, Israel and the prophets held the role of being God’s light in the world before the Messiah came, and today, between the Messiah’s first and second comings, the Church has been given that role.
- Although the Messiah-servant was despised and rejected by the Jews at His first coming (v. 7; John 1:11), what different treatment will He receive when He returns? (Romans 14:9-12; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:8-13; Revelation 5:6-14)
II. DAY TWO: Isaiah 49:8-50:3
A. Restoration by the Servant (Isaiah 49:8-13)
- The servant’s mission was first to restore the people to God, but then also to restore them to their land. God had a time set aside for this. These verses speak of the return of the Jews to the land of Israel in God’s “time of favor” when the captives were freed by Cyrus. When the Jews returned from exile they did make a new covenant with God (vv. 8-9; Nehemiah 9:38-10:39). God also assured them that He would provide for their needs on their journey back (vv. 9-12).
- If God had not returned the Jews to their land, what are some prophecies that would have remained unfulfilled? (For example, Micah 5:2.)
- This restoration of the exiles from Babylon to their land prefigured a greater restoration in the end times. What language from these verses would suggest that to you? It is interesting to watch what may be the beginning of that return which has been occurring over the last century.
- What do Acts 15:14-17 and Romans 11:25-29 indicate has been happening over the intervening centuries since the Messiah’s first coming? Isaiah 49:12-13 shouts the joy that will be present as this prophecy is fulfilled. How does this help you to have increased confidence in God’s trustworthiness?
B. The Compassion of God (Isaiah 49:14-50:3)
- Israel historically had a problem with complaining.3 That hadn’t changed. Not only do they not join in the praise of verse 13, they ask why they should believe Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messianic Servant when clearly God had forgotten them (v. 14)!
- God answers with one of the strongest possible statements in response. Yet, God, who is identified by male pronouns in Scripture, has a nurturing side. Think of the sacrificial love you have seen displayed by mothers. How does God’s love compare? Is His compassion toward His people temporary or permanent? (vv. 15-16) Compared to the priests’ bearing of the names of the tribes on their shoulders in Exodus 28:6-9, how much more personal is God’s memory of and compassion for His people?
- What promise, which may have seemed impossible, did God renew in verses 18-21? What connection do you see to the Abrahamic Covenant? (Genesis 15:4-5)
- God will cause the nations to be His instruments in the return of the Jews to their land (vv. 22-23) This promise seems to look ahead past the returns of 538 BC and 445 BC for a more complete fulfillment at the beginning of the Millennium.
- Verse 24 states what is normally an impossibility. How does God answer in verses 25-26? What is God’s purpose in verse 23? What is His purpose in verse 26?
- God gives one further example of His love. He is like both a father and a faithful husband. Israel “married” God when they agreed to the covenant with Him at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:3). What strikes you about the dramatically different behavior of God and Judah as described in poetic terms in Ezekiel 16? Although God had the right to “divorce” Judah because of her sin, He chose to send the Jews away for a time as a disciplinary separation, not a divorce (Isaiah 50:1-3). Therefore, why do you think they didn’t respond when God called them back? (vv. 2-3)
III. DAY THREE: Isaiah 50:4-11
A. The Servant is Nurtured (Isaiah 50:4-9)
- The first two servant songs revealed that the Messianic Servant would bring justice to the world. They also included hints that God’s Messianic Servant would face suffering. This, the third servant song, becomes more specific. How does one prepare to be a worthy servant? How do we prepare to face suffering, if that should be part of our journey? The model of the Messianic Servant shows us how.
- How did the servant gain the wisdom to know what to say, and when and how to say it? (v. 4) How often did the servant meet with God? If the servant had chosen to “sleep in,” what would have been the consequences?
- Most people find that the early morning hours are the best time to spend with God; others pick afternoon or evening. Jesus prayed at many times during the day (Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 1:35). When is the time you reserve to spend time fellowshipping with God through His word and prayer?
- What was the servant’s attitude toward God’s instruction which should also be yours and mine? (vv. 5 and 7) In addition to spending time talking and listening to God, the servant was committed to obedience – regardless.4 Can you say that?
- It was critical that verses 4-5 be true because of what would happen to the servant in verse 6. The following references give some specific fulfillments of this prophecy: Matthew 27:26-31, 39; Mark 14:65; 15:15-20, 31; Luke 22:63-65; John 18:22-23; 19:2-3.
- Jesus said that no servant is greater than his or her master. What can the Messiah’s servants expect? (I Peter 2:12, 21; 3:13-17; 4:1-2, 12-19)
- Where did the servant place His confidence, which you and I should also do? (Isaiah 50:8-9)
B. The Servant’s Challenge (Isaiah 50:10-11)
- As the Jews prepare to return to their land, they are challenged by the servant’s model and words. What is the challenge of verse 10?
- To fear the Lord is to obey the Lord. If Israel, you, or I are in a place where we have no light and don’t know which way to go, we are as safe as if we were in the brilliant sunshine if we do what this verse says.
- By contrast, those who provide their own light and who make their own decisions without reference to God, may think they are in the light, but what is their reality according to verse 11?
IV. DAY FOUR: Isaiah 51:1-16
A. Remnant to remember origins (Isaiah 51:1-3)
- Listen! God has reassurance for the believing remnant described in Isaiah 50:10. What two traits does God honor in Isaiah 51:1?
- If the faith of the believing remnant is weak, what is the first command they are given in verses 1-2? How would this comfort them now as they wait for the promise of verse 3?
- God is same today as He was yesterday. God and His promises do not change (Psalm 102:25-27; James 1:17).
B. Remnant to expect justice (Isaiah 51:4-6)
- Listen! (v. 4) Do you remember what the word “listen” or “hear” implies?
- List the promises of verses 4-5. In addition to the remnant of Israel, who else will enjoy God’s salvation?
- Verse 6 was not primarily speaking of the end times, but was emphasizing the permanence of God’s salvation, which is even more permanent than the creation itself.5 What bold statement does God make at the end of verse 6?
C. Remnant’s salvation permanent (Isaiah 51:7-8)
- Hear me! (v. 7) To whom is God speaking? Are these promises for everyone? What are the characteristics of those who can claim these promises? Are these people to be passive as they wait for God’s salvation?
- What command are they given? Compare the reasons for not fearing man but rather fearing God (v. 8).
D. Remnant calls on God (Isaiah 51:9-11)
- Awake! (v. 9) The remnant remembers God’s powerful actions on behalf of their ancestors, and therefore prays for God to rescue them as well.
- Rahab sometimes refers to the chaos monster (Isaiah 27:1 – leviathan), but also symbolizes Egypt, the nation under which their ancestors were captive, and in this setting compares her to Babylon (Psalm 87:4). The remnant calls on God to act in a similar way in liberating them from Babylon as He did in the exodus from Egypt.
E. Remnant comforted by God (Isaiah 51:12-16)
- I, even I am He…
- If we forget who our God is, what His attributes are, and what His purpose is which He will accomplish, we may be overcome by fear of human opposition. While most of the exiles were not imprisoned, some were political prisoners kept in pits. What does God say to those who are afraid? Why can He say this?
V. DAY FIVE: Isaiah 51:17-52:12
A. God’s Wrath (Isaiah 51:17-23)
- The remnant has asked God to awake. Now God tells Jerusalem to wake up!
- In ancient times, the firstborn son received a double inheritance for the purpose of caring for his parents in their old age. Jerusalem is like an elderly mother who has experienced God’s wrath fully and is suffering without any children to take care of her (vv. 18-20).
- But God says the time of judgment is over. That “cup” is now being given to Jerusalem’s tormentors (vv. 21-23). There was a tradition among the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians that kings would trample on the corpses of their defeated enemies, in this case the Jews. That time was over!6
B. Jerusalem’s Redemption (Isaiah 52:1-6)
- Awake, Jerusalem, because in addition to your exile being almost over, your city is going to be rebuilt. The language of verse 1 seems to look forward to the Millennial Kingdom.
- Shake off your dust, your time of mourning and of bondage is over (v. 2).
- Israel’s bondage in Egypt, her dispersion by Assyria, and her exile in Babylon did not happen because of God’s inability to protect her, but because God freely handed her over due to her sin (vv. 3-5).
- For what two reasons will God now freely bring the Jews back to their land? (vv. 5-6)
C. Jerusalem’s Good News (Isaiah 52:7-12)
- The message of verse 7 will be incredibly good news to the exiles in Babylon (v. 7)! Using your cross reference guide, find the New Testament quotation. What different type of salvation is being referenced? Meditate on how good the good news is which your feet are bringing to those in bondage! Then praise God for giving you “beautiful feet” with which to bring that good news. Then be faithful to go – to be proactive in having your feet take you to those places to which God directs you!
- Listen! Does the picture of verses 8-10 excite you? Can you hear the song of Revelation 7:9-10? Doesn’t this make it all worthwhile?
- When the Jewish remnant returned to their land, they would carry the temple vessels which had been confiscated by Babylon (II Chronicles 36:15-21). What were they not to touch or bring with them? (Isaiah 52:11) What do you think that might have referred to in their case?
- What precious promise were they given which we can also claim? (Isaiah 52:12; John 10:4; 14:16-17)
- These chapters cause us to rejoice in the Messianic Servant even more! There are other applications for us as well. We often think of servants as having a lower social status; however, servanthood also illustrates the attitude we should all have toward God and others. In Old Testament times, a trusted servant was highly honored, being given essential services to perform for his or her master, and sometimes even receiving an inheritance from him. The master knew the abilities of the servant and assigned tasks that were perfectly fitted to that servant. Each of us has the privilege of being a servant of our Savior. The parallels to us are strong. From Matthew 24:45, II Timothy 2:1-2 and this lesson, evaluate your service.
- In your position as servant, how regularly are you responding to the Master’s invitation to meet with Him? Rather than “spending” time, perhaps the term “investing” might be helpful. May I suggest memorizing Isaiah 50:4 as an encouragement to you? (Remember to also review your other verses.)
- If you haven’t done so before, may I challenge you to try, at least for the next week, setting aside time in the early morning to listen to God as Psalm 5:3 records, and see if that time enhances your relationship with Him and His ability to fulfill the first part of Isaiah 50:4 in your life as well?
1. There are many references to servants in Isaiah. Five which refer to the Messiah are called “Servant Songs.” The first was Isaiah 42:1-9.
2. Walter A. Elwell, Ed, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989) 505.
3. For example: Exodus 15:24; 16:2-3, 8.
4. Luke 9:51 gives an example from Jesus’ life.
5. John H. Walton, Victor Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000) 633.
6. Ibid. p. 633.
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