Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Division Two, Section Three: GOD’S GLORY – Doctrine of the Last Days
Isaiah now writes to those in Israel in a time yet future to himself who are about to return from exile to their own land, and speaks both of the present and the future, what we call the “Last Days.” Eventually, the nation will seek God and live righteously. Peace and prosperity will come to Israel and to the world, but in Isaiah’s day as in ours, most of the people were not righteous. They, like us, were inflicted with a moral cancer which we call “sin.” Is there any cure? Israel’s righteous God (and ours) took the initiative to do what none of us could do. Through the Messiah’s sacrifice there is forgiveness of sin, an invitation to receive that forgiveness, and the command and enablement to be righteous. Yet people continue to be unrighteous.
Why is it that in spite of all God has done for us, we continue to have a problem with sin? In chapters 56 and 57, we recognized that many choose to give true worship to false gods. It is not hard to recognize idolatry in its blatant forms, but there is also a more subtle form, the worship of “self.” Now in chapters 58-59, Isaiah warns of another problem which invaded Israel, and which we also see in the church—that of giving false worship to the true God. Religion, particularly legalism, can seem pious to us, but in fact it, too, leads us away from God. It is actually self-centered, not God-centered.
God has given His spokespeople responsibility to warn both groups of people that there is no peace for the wicked, but that God does show mercy to the one who turns from his evil ways. (Isaiah 55:7; 57:21; Ezekial 3:17-21)
I DAY ONE: Man’s Fast (Isaiah 58:1-5)
A. Isaiah 58:1
- Heralds were people who made proclamations for all the people to hear. Often they were preceded by trumpets to get people’s attention so no one missed the message. Does the description of verse 1 refer to standing on a street corner with a bullhorn, or could it imply some other way of getting the attention of listeners? Could this also refer to the necessity of being clear with one’s message? What does it suggest about the conviction of the messenger regarding the message?
- From verse 1, what is the message? From past lessons or from your dictionary, define the following words which describe sin: rebellion, transgressions, iniquities, trespasses, sin.
- To whom is this message being given?
B. Isaiah 58:2-5
- What was the outward response of the people to the message? How often did they seek God?
- Underline the word “seem” in verse 2. Do you think they could have been self-deceived or were they trying to deceive God with their piety?
- What does God say about their belief that they were following His ways? Which is more important: religious rituals or obedience to God’s word? (See Isaiah 58: 2; I Samuel 15:22; Psalm 51:16-17; Mark 12:33.)
- Fasting is doing without something, normally food, for the purpose of having uninterrupted time with God to seek Him and His will.1 God had commanded one fast, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus16:29), although there were other occasions when the leaders of the nation called for fasts, and also times when fasting was practiced voluntarily. The people asked, “Why have we fasted?” in verse 3. What seems to be their motive for fasting?
- In dramatic contrast to their self-righteous attitude, what is God’s evaluation of their fasting in Isaiah 58:3b? Whom do they really care about? What evidence does God give that their fasting was external only and didn’t come from their hearts? (vv. 3-4) Whereas God had mandated one fast, He had mandated righteous treatment of others hundreds of times. Have you observed that treatment of others serves as a barometer of a person’s relationship with God?
- Does a religious ritual which doesn’t affect a righteous change in one’s life impress God? (vv. 4b- 5; Matthew 6:1, 5, 16-18) Can a person who performs religious rituals, even Biblically mandated ones, but only does so outwardly expect answers to prayers? (v. 4)
- In the New Testament, the Pharisees modeled outward religion without an inward relationship with God. What scathing denunciation did Jesus give about them which ties in with God’s attitude in Isaiah 58:2-5? (Matthew 23:27-28)
- With the seriousness of this charge in mind, examine yourself to see whether you are practicing any religious rituals, either corporately or privately, expecting God to therefore bless you, but doing so outwardly only.
II. DAY TWO: God’s Fast (Isaiah 58:6-12)
A. God’s chosen fast
- God does want to bless His people! It is not religious manipulation which will bring His blessing, but a genuine relationship with Him which results in obedience to His commands. How did God express it in Deuteronomy 5:29? What did Moses add in Deuteronomy 5:32- 6:7? How did Jesus summarize the commandments of the Law in Mark 12:29-31?
- Rather than fasting from food, the kind of fast God was looking for was a fast from sin and injustice. How is this described in Isaiah 58:6?
- Describe an instance when you have done what verse 7 describes. What was your motivation? Did God get the glory? How?
- Matthew 6:1-4 tells us how to give in such a way that we don’t become tempted to become prideful or self-righteous. What does this mean to you?
- What does Isaiah 58:10 indicate that the quality of our help should be? Is giving our leftovers enough? What does Matthew 7:12 add?
- Jesus emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2:6-8). We are to empty ourselves for God and others. That is what a true fast does. Has God impressed you with a problem or need in your neighborhood or in your country in which He wants you to become part of a solution? Might it mean foregoing something for yourself so you are free and able to give to someone else? If God is directing you to a specific need, journal what you understand Him to be telling you, and then ask someone to pray with you about how you should respond.
B. Our benefits
- Unlike those whose fast is merely a religious exercise, those who fast from pleasing themselves in order to please God and serve others can expect God’s blessings.
- Isaiah has frequently spoken of “light” in his book. Compare verses 8 and 10 with Isaiah 42:6; 49:6 and 60:1-3. Because of the light of the Messianic servant in His followers, light will become visible to those currently in darkness. How does II Corinthians 4:4-10 personalize this for you?
- It was true then as it is now—people don’t want to “hear your talk” until they “see your walk.” As God’s people live with true inner righteousness, demonstrated by acting with justice and mercy toward others, what will God do for them in verse 8?
- In contrast to verse 4, what precious promise does God give in verse 9a?
- Is it safe to trust and obey God in this culturally radical way? (v. 11)
- From verse 12, what would be the results for Israel? What might the results be for us? Is this not what you and I desire?
III. DAY THREE: God’s Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13-14)
- I recently heard someone say she hated Sunday because when she was growing up her family “kept” Sunday legalistically as a day where one went to church and then stayed inside all day resting. Is this what God means our day of worship to be?
- The Sabbath had its beginning in Genesis 2:1-3 when God rested from His work of creation. Did He then do nothing? (John 5:16-19)
- “Sabbath keeping” was commanded of Israel as part of the Mosaic covenant. How does Exodus 20:8-11 describe it? What does Deuteronomy 5:12-15 add? According to Isaiah 58:13, the Sabbath was to be a day of delight as one worshiped the Creator and was refreshed spiritually as well as physically.
- According to later rabbinic writings, in the post-exilic period, keeping the Sabbath took on the idea of laying aside the day to worship God.3
- Keeping the Sabbath holy by setting aside work for personal gain in order to honor God was a barometer of one’s trust in God and of one’s faithfulness to Him. Did people trust that God would meet their needs if they took a day off of work, even during the critical harvest time? Did they honor God enough to obey Him even when it was countercultural? No other nation had a similar day of rest.
- In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees took the command for Sabbath-keeping to legalistic extremes, adding so many restrictions that the day became a burden, not a delight. Read Matthew 12:1-14 and contrast Jesus’ attitude with that of the Pharisees. Was Jesus breaking the Sabbath or merely the Pharisees’ interpretation of it? What universal principles do you find in the Matthew passage? Might doing acts of mercy on the Sabbath, as Jesus did, honor God and bring extra delight as it frees the needy and oppressed to also be able to delight in God?
- Perhaps the key is in the phrase, “do as you please,” which is repeated or paraphrased three times in verse 13. Continuing the theme of the kind of fast God honors, could it be that God also designed the Sabbath to be a day in which Israel fasted from doing as they pleased so they could focus on doing what pleased God? If that is the case, what are some things that God is pleased with? (vv. 6, 7, 10, 13)
- What was promised to those who kept the Sabbath, not legalistically, but by honoring, obeying and pleasing God? What kind of relationship with God produces this?
- After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, His followers initially kept the Jewish Sabbath but added meeting on the “Lord’s Day”4 in honor of the day of His resurrection when He conquered death, becoming Lord of all. This day also anticipated Jesus’ return.
- For the early church, meeting on the first day of the week also provided a separation from Judaism.
- When the Jerusalem Council met in Acts 15:28-29, in addition to not requiring circumcision or the keeping of the Mosaic Law, they also did not include Sabbath keeping as a requirement for the church. In time, Sunday became the Christian day of worship, setting the pattern for what most of us observe today in honor of our Lord.
- What command is given to us today regarding our meeting together for worship? (Hebrews 10:24-25) Is it the day which is most important, or is it the regular setting aside (fasting) of personal pleasure in order to worship God with other believers which is in focus? (Romans 14:5-6; Colossians 2:16-17)
- Is your day of worship something in which you delight? If not, why not? What needs to change? Could it be that you need to refresh your daily personal worship so that joy in the Lord is your daily reality, and therefore leads naturally to your weekly corporate worship being a delight?
- How might you help your family prepare for corporate worship so that the day is a delight for them? How might you encourage your church leaders in their planning of services which please God? How might you spend the rest of the Lord’s Day in a way which pleases Him, brings joy, and helps others?
IV. DAY FOUR: Man’s Sin (Isaiah 59:1-15a)
A. God’s ability
- The question of Isaiah 58:3 still hung in the air. The people thought they had done everything necessary to gain God’s favor and blessings. What was wrong with God? In addition, people in the post-exilic period faced disillusionment because God’s promises regarding the new era were not yet fulfilled. Could it be that God was not powerful enough to deliver on His promises? This sounds like questions many struggle with today when their prayers aren’t answered the way they want. “Doesn’t God care? Maybe He isn’t good. Is He lacking in power or ability?” God’s wisdom is forgotten!
- The answer in Isaiah 59 is a synopsis of God’s wisdom in the Gospel: all people are sinners who have sinned and are unable to correct their situation, so God showed His love by providing salvation Himself. People’s response will determine whether they receive justice or mercy.
- What does verse 1 say about God’s power? What does it say about His love and goodness?
B. Our sins
- If the problem is not with God, where is the problem? (v. 2)
- What is the result of our sins? (v. 2) How does Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 28:9 and Habakkuk 1:13a reinforce that? Sin separates us from God. The problem is not God, but you and me and our sin. It is not only what we do but also what we are.
- Read the descriptions of sins in Isaiah 59:3-8, then list at least one way we sin with each of the following: hands, lips, silence, plans, deeds, feet.
- Ultimately, it is not the economy, nor is it the level of education which determines the quality of a society. How has the sin of individuals affected the social structure of the nation? (v. 4)
- Verses 5-7 illustrate the fact that the sinful products of sinful people range from the useless to the deadly.
- The ways/paths of sinners in verse 8 are in dramatic contrast to God’s ways/paths (Isaiah 35:8; 52:7). What is the accusation of verse 8? How does sin affect both the sinner and those who follow them?
- How effective are we in saving ourselves from our sin problem? (vv. 9-11) Notice that Isaiah includes himself in this confession. The closer one comes to God, the more one realizes the differences between God’s holiness and one’s own unrighteousness!
- Compare verse 12 with Romans 3:10-18. Is anyone exempt from this guilt? Everyone—you, me, even spiritual leaders—is capable of great sin if left to themselves.
- Against whom are we ultimately sinning whether we realize it or not? (Isaiah 59:13; Psalm 51:4)
- What is the result of our sin and rebellion? (vv. 14-15a) God requires righteousness, but we aren’t righteous. Even when we try, our ‘righteousness’ is tainted. We are incapable of being truly righteous. Is there any hope? (II Chronicles 7:14; Romans 6:23; 7:18-8:2)
V. DAY FIVE: God’s Justice (Isaiah 59:15b-21)
A. God’s analysis
- In Isaiah 56:1, people were commanded to maintain justice and do what is right. It is obvious from chapters 58-59 that they (and we) are not able either to be righteous or to live righteously. Like a cancer patient who is unable to save himself from cancer, people are unable to save themselves from their sin, their unrighteousness.
- What does God see in Isaiah 59:15b? What is His attitude?
- What does God “discover” in verse 16a? What is His attitude?
B. God’s action
- What is the only solution, which God chooses to use? (v. 16b) What enables God to do this?
- What do God’s “defensive weapons” of verse 17 remind you of? (Ephesians 6:14-17)
- What are His “offensive weapons” in Isaiah 59:17?
- Is the salvation achieved in Isaiah 59:16b only from the penalty for sin, or is it also to free us from the power of sin in our lives today? (Galatians 5:13-25) What is our part?
- The Messiah has the power and authority both to save and to judge. Whereas the Messiah was revealed as a submissive servant in chapter 53, He is revealed as a conquering warrior in verses 17b-18. What will be the fate of those who don’t submit to Him? (v. 18)
- Will His salvation be limited to Israel? (v. 19) To whom will the Messiah come as Redeemer? (v. 20)
- It was God’s goal for Israel not merely to enjoy the blessings of God but to be His witness so that the promise of Isaiah 2:1-5 could be fulfilled. Their unclean lips have silenced them, but the Holy Spirit can cleanse and fill the lives and lips of God’s people so that this goal can be a reality. (Isaiah 6:7-8; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Acts 1:8)
- One of the sins Jesus hated most was hypocrisy which He often confronted in the legalistically religious Pharisees. When we are caught up in legalism, either in our beliefs or our practice, we can be deceived into thinking that we are pleasing God. God, however, is not mocked. Take time to evaluate yourself. Are you trusting in the accuracy of your doctrine rather than in the mercy of God? Are you more concerned with practicing religious rituals than with showing mercy to others? Are you modeling a religion of works rather than one of love for God and others?
- The Sabbath was given to Israel by God to be a blessing, not a burden. To personalize this, is your day of worship a day to which you look forward with joy? Perhaps you and your teammates or family could discuss how to make your Lord’s Day a delight—a day that pleases God, an Isaiah 58:13-14 kind of day.
- Remembering again from Isaiah 59 that God did for us what we could not do for ourselves, journal a prayer of thanksgiving as a love offering to Him.
1. John H. Walton, Victor Matthews, and Mark W Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000) 638. In a true fast, the “principle is that the importance of the request causes an individual to be so concerned about his or her spiritual condition that physical necessities fade into the background… [the] act of fasting is a process leading to purification and humbling oneself before God (Ps 69:10; 102:4) – not an end in itself but the disciplined training in preparation for an important event.”
2. Walter A. Elwell, Ed, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984) 649-50. There are three basic views regarding how the Lord’s day should be observed by Christians today. 1) A few believe the Jewish Sabbath should still be kept. 2) The “sabbatarian” view is that Sunday should be marked by holy resting all day, as detailed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 3) Most believe the sabbath commandment was part of the ceremonial law of Israel and not applicable to the church. This appears to have been the view of the early church. “These Christians don’t disallow work or recreation, but stress corporate worship and fellowship with the goal of “spiritual transformation of Christians into Christlikeness in character and conduct.”
3. Walton, 638. “Biblical legislation does not require rest as much as it stipulates cessation, interrupting the normal activities of one’s occupation.”
4. Elwell, 648-64. The term “Lord’s day” only occurs in Revelation 1:10. Its meaning is variously interpreted as the “eschatological day of the Lord”, Easter Sunday, or as most of us understand it, the first day of the week which we call Sunday. Some examples of the early church meeting on Sunday (the first day of the week) include: Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; and early church writings.
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