Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Praise God that He takes the initiative to seek and to save!
Seven hundred years before the Messiah came, Isaiah wrote the Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 describing the sacrifice the Messianic Servant would make in bearing our sin. Through accepting Him and His sacrifice, our spiritual wounds are healed. And through the Messiah’s sacrifice, God’s glorious promises to Judah and Israel, which Isaiah has been revealing throughout his prophetic book, will become possible and eventually will be reality. Also, because of His obedience, the Messianic Servant will be rewarded. In Isaiah 54, God follows up with a song to Zion about the restoration she will receive from Him. Isaiah 55 continues with an invitation to everyone to come to God to receive what He has purchased for them. Isaiah 56-57 then calls the people of our righteous God to respond to Him by living righteously.
Isaiah continues to write as if he were looking back and seeing the crucifixion of the Messiah already completed. God calls Israel, the nations, and us today to respond to the initiative He took to provide a solution to our sin problem. We have a choice: we can come to Him and sing, or we can go our own way and reap the consequences of that decision.
I. DAY ONE: God’s Righteous Song (Isaiah 54)
A. Isaiah 54:1-10
- In preparation for the end of the Babylonian exile and return to their land, God, through Isaiah, reconfirms His covenant with Israel.
- In the ancient world, barrenness was thought to be a punishment of God. Much like Sarah who was barren and was later enabled by God to become a mother of nations and kings (Genesis 11:30; 17:16), what amazing promise is given to Israel as she anticipates a return to her land?1
- To be a widow was also a disgrace in the ancient world. Men were considered to be the contributors to society and a widow was therefore considered a liability. What is the command of verse 4? Why is this command reasonable? (vv. 4-5)
- What precious relationship does God now have with Israel in verse 5 which many women today have gratefully claimed for themselves?
- A status even worse was that of an abandoned or divorced woman (vv 6-8). How long did God “hide His face” from Israel? Why did He do so? (Isaiah 50:1) By contrast, how long will His compassion last? What descriptions of God’s love do you see in verses 7-10?
- God calls out to Israel in each of these conditions. Worse than the exile to Babylon has been Israel’s separation from God. Although Israel will sin again, and will again need to be disciplined, the sacrifice which was required to “propitiate”2 God’s wrath is complete. As certain as God’s promise to Noah (v. 9a), the promise of verse 9b will ultimately become reality for Israel.3 (See also Jeremiah 30:10; 33:6-9.) The good news is that God has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Himself. Because God’s righteous anger has been satisfied at the cross, the barrier between God and us is now gone.
- What about you and me? To spiritualize, no matter whether we have been fruitless in our service (v. 1), or have been disappointed by situations that didn’t produce what they promised (v. 4), or whether we have knowingly made wrong choices and are now suffering the consequences (v.6), God is calling us back as well. Pause and journal what God is saying to you from this passage.
B. Isaiah 54:11-17
- The metaphor changes from a woman to a city. Jerusalem has experienced affliction and terror. But since God was the one who allowed it (v. 16), He is the one who can change things.
- The “New Jerusalem” will be dramatically different. Compare verses 11-12 with Revelation 21:9-21. Although we look forward to that day, our day is not unimportant. In this interim period, what might we spiritualize some of these jewels to be for us today? (Matthew 7:24-25; Ephesians 1:3-14; 6:10-18; II Peter 1:3-4)
- List one promise each from verses 13, 14, 15, and 17. What is the condition for receiving these blessings? (v. 17)
II. DAY TWO: God’s Righteous Invitation (Isaiah 55)
A. Isaiah 55:1-5
- Blessings are available! To receive them we must respond to God’s invitation to come.
- It is rare that you and I are truly thirsty. Imagine being out in the desert under the hot sun with no water and miles to go before the next oasis. Your mouth is so dry you cannot eat or even speak clearly. You are so dehydrated that your energy is almost gone. What would you feel like? What would you be thinking? Would there be anything more important to you than water? What would you be willing to do to get that water? Have you ever thirsted for God to that degree?
- From verses 1-2, what is God offering? To whom is He offering it? How many times does He say, “Come”? How many times does He say, “Listen”? What is the cost to us? (We already know the cost to Him from Isaiah 53!)
- Compare this offer to John 4:10, 14, and 7:37-39. With Isaiah 53 and 55:1-3 in mind, what is that spiritual water, and where do we go to get it?
- When a thirsty child or a hot, dusty hiker is offered water, they come readily, eagerly. How does your response to God’s invitation compare? Does anything else truly satisfy?
- What is the benefit of coming to God for this spiritual water as opposed to the philosophies and religions of people? (Isaiah 55:3; John 4:13-14)
- As God’s covenant with David was everlasting (II Samuel 7:16), so is His covenant with those who come to Him to receive this new spiritual covenant through the Messiah. Verse 4 identifies Messiah’s role.
- When a person finds water, what is their responsibility toward other thirsty people? (Isaiah 55:5) It will be through Israel that nations will learn the good news the Messiah has for the spiritual thirsty.
B. Isaiah 55:6-13
- Although Israel was God’s covenant people, they still needed to come to Him in faith. What is the choice God’s command presents us with? What are the consequences of not choosing? Is there a time limit? (v. 6)
- Verse 7 describes what true repentance looks like. Define it in your own words.
- What effect does true faith and repentance have on the way we live?
- How does God promise to respond to our repentance? Does He do so grudgingly? (v. 7)
- We would think God would want us to earn His mercy, after all we have deeply offended Him with our sin nature and sinful actions, but what do verses 8-9 say? From past study such as Isaiah 53, can you explain why God’s way is higher and wiser than our way?4
- Israel’s primary problem is not the exile nor the other physical problems being faced; it is alienation from God. He provided the solution to that problem in Isaiah 53.
- God has also promised future blessing to His people. Will God’s plan fail? (v. 11) Israel will return to her land as a people after the exile and again in the end times. The fullness of the future blessing includes a reversal of the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 (Isaiah 55:12-13).
- You and I have come into a relationship with God. What encouragement do you receive from verses 10-13 as you offer the water of life to those who around you who are thirsty? How is Israel’s return to her land from Babylon a confirmation to you that you can trust the promise of verse 11 as you are obedient in dispensing this water?
III. DAY THREE: God’s Righteous Requirement (Isaiah 56:1-8)
A. Isaiah 56
- A few scholars have thought that a different person authored Isaiah from chapter 56 on, however the evidence strongly favors one author, Isaiah. One of the differences between the sections of the book is the use of the word, “righteousness.” In chapters 1-39 it is used exclusively for behavior that is in keeping with the statutes of God. But in chapters 40-55, except for two places, the term refers to God’s “righteousness” in faithfully delivering his people in spite of their previous sin…chapters 56-66 synthesize the teaching of the two earlier sections, showing that actual righteous living is a requirement for the servants of God (i.e., chs. 1-39) but that such righteousness is only possible through the grace of God (i.e., chs. 40-55). Thus… these chapters form the necessary conclusion…5
B. Isaiah 56:1-8
- How does Isaiah 56:1 bring both types of righteousness together? From verses 1-2, is there any justification for thinking that because God did all the “salvation work” and offers His pardon freely, there is no responsibility laid on us? How does Ephesians 2:8-10 clarify that? Why can God demand righteous living from His people?
- No other culture in the ancient Near East kept the Sabbath.6 In addition to being a sign of Israel’s covenant with God, keeping the Sabbath without working was a practical demonstration of a person’s faith that God would take care of his or her needs. It may also be that keeping the Sabbath was mentioned as “representative” of the other commandments. A person keeping the Sabbath probably also kept the rest of the Law.7
- Under the Mosaic Law, certain people were excluded from the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1-3, for example). What is different under the “new” covenant? (Isaiah 56:3-8)
- How would these eunuchs and foreigners demonstrate their trust in God? (vv. 4 and 6)
- What does God call His temple? (v. 7) Using your cross reference guide, find a New Testament quote. To apply this in a practical way, would your church be recognized as a house of prayer for all nations? How seriously does God take what we do in our churches? How would He evaluate yours and mine? How could you help your church to become this kind of place?
- God takes His covenants seriously. How do you see the Abrahamic Covenant being reconfirmed in verses 6-8? (Genesis 12:3) What verb is repeated three times in verse 8? What does that choice of word mean to you as you picture the Lord drawing people to Himself?
IV. DAY FOUR: God’s Righteous Accusation (Isaiah 56:9-57:2)
A. Isaiah 56:9-12
- With the glorious future promised to Israel, one would expect her leaders to lead the people in the faith and righteousness that God is demanding. Instead, they are irresponsible at best, wicked at worst. Unless they repent, the only change when Israel returns from captivity will be the geographical location of their sin.
- In Isaiah’s time, dogs were scavengers. What is implied by the description of Israel’s leaders in verses 10-11a? When religious leaders enjoy the benefits of the community of believers without a full commitment to God, what do the people lose?
- What three condemnations are made in verse 11b?
- How does their philosophy of life (v. 12) impact their condition and choices in 11b? How else have you heard this philosophy expressed?
B. Isaiah 57:1-2
- In the face of the persistent spiritual apathy of the leaders, the unrighteous society will lose something else they don’t realize they need. What is it? (Isaiah 57:1)
- What happens to the value of the life of an individual in an ungodly society? Describe several ways you see that attitude play out where you live.
- It seems that society was so evil that the only way the righteous could find peace was to die!
- In God’s economy, death for the righteous is a reward rather than a punishment. How was death a blessing to the righteous of Israel? (vv. 1-2) How is this a blessing to the righteous of our day? What comfort do the following verses add: Psalm 16:10; 116:15; Philippians 1:21-23.
V. DAY FIVE: God’s Righteous Mercy (Isaiah 57:3-21)
A. Isaiah 57:3-13
- There are consequences to our choices. We become like what we worship. To choose not to worship our righteous God leads to unrighteous behavior.
- It is frequently the case that idolatry, sometimes called “spiritual adultery,” leads to sexual sin. Israel had been profoundly influenced by pagan neighbors. From verses 3-9, notice the mixing of these evils in the lives of the unrighteous Israelites. As bad as this is, how much worse it is when it occurs in people in leadership positions. Underneath these moral evils is likely an inappropriate love of self. What might a person who is tempted in any of these areas today put into place to avoid moral and/or spiritual failure? How are you guarding yourself against yielding to that which is a temptation to you? (Proverbs 4:23)
- Among the many reasons for idolatry is trying to manipulate God to get what I want, when I want it, in the way I want it. Could that type of attitude be present in a person who had correct theology? Therefore, could a person, although morally upright, be practicing idolatry while professing truth? Take a moment to reflect on that possibility.
- Trying to manipulate God is hard work! In their wrong thinking, these people were even willing to sacrifice their children to the “gods” (v. 5). If they had thought back through their history, they would have recognized that God had shown Himself to be strong and merciful on their behalf. Why do you think people would persist in such wicked behavior when it didn’t bring true benefits? (vv. 10-11) What similar statement of unbelief have you heard (or thought)?
- God provides the means to a renewed relationship with Himself, but He doesn’t force us to accept it. What does He say to those who trust in anything other than Himself? (vv. 12-13a) What different message does He give to those who take refuge in Him? (v. 13b)
B. Isaiah 57:14-21
- There is no peace for the wicked (v. 21). However, sinners who repent face a very different future! Isaiah 57:3-13 highlighted the fact that on our own, we are not righteous and we don’t live righteously. Verses 14-21 tell us what our righteous God will do for us.
- Isaiah periodically uses a highway motif. The highway of verse 14 is the path the humble take to come to God. (See also Isaiah 35:8; Matthew 7:13-14.)
- What does God tell us about Himself in verse 15? What level of confidence can we have in a God with such qualities?
- It is astounding that our holy God would choose to be present among the humble! What do the following verses add: Matthew 5:3-10; I Peter 5:5-6.
- God doesn’t punish us to the extent our sins deserve. If He did, no one would survive. Who does not receive mercy? (vv. 17, 20-21) To whom does He choose to show mercy? (vv. 15-16, 18-198; Psalm 103:8-18)
- You and I worship and serve the God of Isaiah 57:15. He is a righteous God and therefore He expects us to be righteous as well. In light of God’s holy character, His mercy and grace in offering us living water, His forgiveness and His promise of a glorious future, let us bow before Him in humility and in true, heartfelt worship!
- This would be a good week to add to your lists of God’s attributes, including references and descriptions of them in your own words. You might want to include how these attributes of God are helping you today.
- Select another verse or passage to memorize, remembering to review past verses. Suggestions include: Isaiah 55:6-7 and/or Isaiah 55:10-11.
1. Galatians 4:26-27 also applies the principle from this verse to all believers, children of God’s grace, in the New Jerusalem in the Millennial kingdom.
2. Lesson 15 discusses “propitiation.”
3. Walter A. Elwell, Ed, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 508. Elwell suggests that as God would no longer destroy the earth with a flood, God will never again send Israel into exile.
4. As an example, you might compare Isaiah 53 with James 2:10, Romans 3:23; 6:23; and I Peter 2:24 to help you answer this.
5. John N. Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 606-7.
6. John H. Walton, Victor Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 635.
7. The topic of the Sabbath will be addressed further in Isaiah 58 in Lesson 17.
8. The mourners are those who mourn over their sin. As in I John 1:9, not only is there forgiveness, there is healing or cleansing.
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