Isaiah: Glimpses of God
God’s timing is precise–never early, never late! At last, the time of the end has finally come. But wait! I thought we were through with judgment. I thought we were now going to read about the rewards which God’s people have to look forward to. Yes, indeed, but before the time of the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom, there is a time of final judgment. Not only must Israel’s enemies be judged, Israel herself must be purged of her most dangerous enemy, her own sin.
We like to think that God is loving and kind, and that is true. Scripture affirms it over and over, and if we yet doubt, the cross proves it. But God is also holy, righteous and good. As such He cannot ignore sin, but must exercise justice. The penalty for sin must be paid. The Messiah propitiated1 God’s wrath against sin, but those who reject the Messiah must bear that wrath themselves. That is the message of John 3:36 and II Thessalonians 1:5-10. It is the reason we serve as His ambassadors as II Corinthians 5:18-21 states.
But not only must we put our trust in the Messiah as our savior, our righteous God expects His people to be righteous and to live righteously. God’s people cannot serve both God and sin.2 We aren’t able to be righteous on our own, but God who is righteous provides the enabling for righteous living for those who submit to Him. Those who don’t, even if they are from among His people Israel, and even if they are church members and call themselves Christians, will be dealt with, because there is no true salvation, and no true peace, as long as sin is allowed to coexist in us. So now God addresses those who call themselves His chosen people, some of whom are His followers in reality, some in name only.
I. DAY ONE: God’s Day of Vengeance (Isaiah 63:1-6)
A. The Scene
- The abrupt change from the blessings of Isaiah 62 to the vengeance of Isaiah 63 catches us by surprise. However, before there can be blessing, there must be purifying judgment. The way Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19 implied that this would occur at His second coming.
- Isaiah is given a prophetic look ahead and sees the Messianic Servant returning from executing judgment on the enemies of His people at the Battle of Armageddon. (See also Joel 3:13; Zechariah 14:3; Revelation 14:18-20; 16:16; 19:11-16.)
- Edom (its name means “red”) is representative of Israel’s enemies. The name of its capital, Bozrah, means “grape gathering.” Ancient winepresses were large hollowed out rocks. Grapes were put in them for people to tread on. As they did so, the juice would run out of a hole in the rock into containers. In the process, the people would be splashed with the juice. This is an apt metaphor for what the Messiah would do as divine warrior.
B. Question One (Isaiah 63:1)
- Who is the subject of verse one?
- What strikes you about His authority, power, and character?
C. Question Two (Isaiah 63:2-6)
- What is the answer to the question in verse 2?
- We might wonder why the Servant must do this alone (vv. 3, 5). Why couldn’t anyone else help Him? (Revelation 5:1-14)
- From the Isaiah passage, what was His attitude as He did so? Why was that an appropriate emotion?
- While He executed His wrath on His enemies, what else was He doing in verses 4-5? How does this tie in with Isaiah 61:2?
- This picture feels offensive to us. To help us understand how righteous it actually it is, imagine that you were a prisoner in a Nazi death camp in World War II. Imagine that when all hope seemed gone, an Allied soldier appeared, blood-spattered from fighting, and with rifle in hand, opened the gates of the prison for you. Would you be offended by the blood spatters on his uniform or would they mean something entirely different to you?
- When the Messiah returns, He will come as a conquering warrior, and will complete the spiritual battle on our behalf which He already paid for legally on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-6, 10; 61:2b). The blood which stains His garments will be that of sinners from all nations. The freedom won will be for all who have been declared righteous by faith in the Messiah.
II. DAY TWO: Isaiah Remembers God’s Compassion (Isaiah 63:7-19)
A. Remember (Isaiah 63:7-14)
- Isaiah has just shown God’s ability to defeat sin, but why doesn’t He do it now? We continue to struggle and often fail in our battle against sin. Why do you think He allows that situation to continue?
- When life doesn‘t make sense, when we don’t understand what God is doing or why, it is helpful to review what we do know about God’s righteous character and remember His wise actions in the past. How does Isaiah describe these in verse 7?
- Why did God show such kindness to Israel? (v. 8)
- Does God care? Rather than being powerless to help, what did He do? (v. 9; Deuteronomy 32:9-12)
- What about us you and me? Does He care about us? Does He act on our behalf today? (I Peter 5:6-7, 10)
- How did Israel respond to God’s kindnesses? (Compare Isaiah 63:10 with Isaiah 1:2-4)
- It seems that Israel took God’s kindness for granted, as do we. What warning is given in Romans 11:22?
- Verses 8-11 describe a spiritual cycle that Israel repeatedly moved through: 1) faith and commitment to follow God; 2) then when comfortable, they fell into sin and rebelled against Him; 3) when disciplined, they cried out to God for mercy; 4) then God forgave and rescued them; 5)and the cycle began again. Can you identify these stages in verses 8-11? Have you experienced these stages yourself? Where are you now?
- Verses 9-11 present the Trinity again. God the Father shared the distress of His people in Egypt (and other places); He sent the “angel of His presence” to save them (the pre-incarnate Christ, identified in Exodus 23:20-21); and set His Holy Spirit among them, whom they grieved by their rebellion (as we are warned not to do in Ephesians 4:30).
- The remnant remembered God’s power and presence in the past, particularly in the exodus from Egypt, and followed their ancestors’ model of crying out to God for help.
B. Request (Isaiah 63:15-19)
- It feels to the remnant as if God were far removed from them and not approachable. Therefore, the first request was that God would show mercy to them like He did for their forefathers. The cry is, “Look down and see!”
- What is their question for God in verse 15? Although they haven’t been faithful to their heritage (v. 16), they still claim a relationship with God. Israel is not merely a nation; they are, first of all, God’s chosen people through their covenant with Him, even though they haven’t been living like it.
- In spite of all God does for us, it seems that it is impossible for us to not fail Him. He is not merely a king who has been offended, He is our Father. Perhaps that is the reason for the next question. What is the serious charge the remnant makes against God in verse 17? This may be a question you have wondered about even if you have not verbalized it.3 Regardless of how you understand the answer, who is responsible for your choice to sin?
- Verses 18-19 continue the complaint about the sad reality with which the remnant is struggling.
- God will answer these charges in chapter 65.
III. DAY THREE: The Remnant’s Plea (Isaiah 64:1-12)
A. Trouble (Isaiah 64:1-7)
- The second plea of the remnant is that God would show compassion to them by dealing with their enemies: “Come down!” (vv. 1-3). This request is rooted in the way Israel experienced God in the past (Exodus 19:16-19). Compare this request to the prophecy of Malachi 4.
- What do you think are the motives of the remnant as they request this of God? Do they want God’s glory, their own vindication, or something else? (vv. 4-5a)
- Paul quotes Isaiah 64: 4 in I Corinthians 2:9. God has planned wonderful things for His people but their sins prevent Him from sharing those blessings with them. What are the conditions for God to act?
- Isaiah 64:5-7 explains that God isn’t working wonders now because of Israel’s sin. If even Israel’s righteousness is like filthy rags, what must their sins look like to God? What is more important to God, the things we do, or our heart relationship with Him? Because of their sin, they cannot save themselves. That is also true of us. Therefore, they (and we) must confess and repent of their sins and sinfulness.
- The normal human condition is described in verse 7 (and in Romans 3:10-18). If left to ourselves, is there any hope?
B. Trust (Isaiah 64:8-12)
- What is the basis on which the remnant dares to pray? (v. 8)
- Clay is helpless in the potter’s hands, totally dependent on what the potter chooses to do with it. It is submission to the potter which allows Him to make the clay into something of value. It is the potter who chooses what that will be (Jeremiah 18:1-10; Romans 9:21). God is a forgiving Father and patient potter. He can cleanse us and make us anew if we will let Him have His way with us.
- Isaiah cries out in verses 9-12 on behalf of Israel. What are his three pleas?
- How does Psalm 103:8-18 answer that plea?
- It seems as if God is silent. Is He there? Is He listening? Does He care? Isaiah 65-66 will give the rest of the answer.
IV. DAYS FOUR and FIVE: God’s Answer (Isaiah 65:1-16)
A. Justice (Isaiah 65:1-7)
- Has God been silent? Where does the real problem lie? God now answers the charges leveled against Him in Isaiah 63-64.
- Not only has God not hidden His face from Israel, He has called out to them! The problem is that they have not looked for Him (Isaiah 64:7).
- While Israel has been either refusing or neglecting to search for God, what has God been doing in Isaiah 65:1?
- How does Israel, or you and I, know what we know about God? That is the question of “epistemology.”4 Creation gives us some hints about God (Romans 1:20), but only as God chooses to reveal Himself. Can we know with any certainty or accuracy what He is truly like. Who took the initiative regarding revelation? (v. 1)
- Did God only reveal Himself to Israel, or did He also reveal Himself to the Gentiles? (v. 1; Acts 28:28; Romans 10:18-21)
- God wants a relationship with us! Does He force us to have a relationship with Him? Compare verse 2 with II Peter 3:9 and Revelation 3:20. How does John 3:16-18 explain God’s desire and our choice?
- In spite of God’s continuing offer to His people of a relationship with Himself, how did they respond to Him in their actions and words? (vv. 2-5) What are some of the sins alluded to in these verses? How do these show that they were unable to hear God because of their pursuit of man-made religion, idolatry, or self-centeredness? Which words in these verses indicate a conscious choice to disregard God?
- Another way of describing these people might be “stubborn, unrighteous, self-directed” (v. 2). How do these more generic words pierce through our Western piousness to underlying wrong attitudes which can be true in any culture?
- If you have ever sat downwind of a campfire and had to endure its smoke in your eyes and nose for even a brief while, you can appreciate the metaphor describing how this arrogant disrespect feels to God! Such sin requires consequences (vv. 6-7). Two of the ways Israel as a nation experienced God’s discipline were in the form of the Assyrian threats (Isaiah 1-37) and also the Babylonian exile (Isaiah 38-66).5 God’s people could sin, but they couldn’t get away with it. In spite of that, Israel continued to sin. To answer the question of Isaiah 64:12, “No, God will not keep silent!”
B. Mercy (Isaiah 65:8-16)
- Although judgment is addressed to the whole nation, and although it is going to be severe, the whole nation will not be destroyed. In God’s mercy, a remnant will be left. Grapes left for gleaning in a vineyard are a picture of those followers of God who will be spared (vv. 8-10).
- God will give grace to His remnant but judgment to the ungodly. What do you learn from the following parables of Jesus which illustrate this truth: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and 13:47-50.
- God has not forgotten His promises to Abraham; however, not all of Abraham’s descendants will receive the promises. Which ones will? (vv. 9-10)
- What does it mean to seek God? (Deuteronomy 4:29-30; 6:5) What promise with a condition is given to people who seek God in Jeremiah 29:13?
- The Valley of Achor, which means “Valley of Trouble”, had been a place of God’s wrath in Joshua 7:11-12, 25-26. What kind of place will it be for those who worship God? (vv. 8-10; Hosea 2:15)
- By contrast, what is the destiny of those, including those among God’s chosen people, Israel, who forsake God? (vv. 11-12) It was not enough to be Abraham’s physical descendants; in order to receive God’s blessings, one had to be his spiritual descendants as well. Similarly, it is not enough to be a member of a church or to profess to be a Christian to be considered as God’s spiritual child.6 From Isaiah 65:12, whose fault is it if you come under God’s judgment?
- Contrast the blessings for God’s servants with the curses for those who reject Him in verses 13-15. Is it worth it to live independently from God during our earthly life?
- Israel has at times been cursed by others over the centuries. In some cultures, there is a fear of having a curse put onto a person by an enemy. Should a servant of God fear such a curse? (vv. 15-16) What precious name, which is stronger than any other,7 can we invoke (pray to and rely on) for protection from spiritual attack? From whom do all blessings flow?
- These chapters have given us more insight into the character of our God. Which ones particularly touch you at your current point of need? Add references and descriptions to your lists of God’s attributes.
- Isaiah 63:17 raised a question for us to ponder. Take some time to think through this question, focusing on our responsibility and the practical implications for your life. In addition to the thoughts in the footnote, you may want to include these and other scriptures in your thinking: Galatians 2:20; 5:24-25; Ephesians 1:3; James 4:7-8; II Peter 1:3-8.
- It can be helpful to do a spiritual timeline of your life to see what God has been doing in you or for you during various “ups and downs” that you may have experienced. From the time of your conception or birth until now, draw a line, noting significant memories or events in your life, for instance sickness, death, divorce, major decisions or crisis points (either good or bad). If you are a visual person, you might find it helpful to graph the ups and downs. As you look back on them from your perspective today, what was God doing at those times? How has He used them for your ultimate good? How does this encourage you to see that God has been at work on your behalf even when you may not have felt like it? (Romans 8:28-29; Philippians 1:6)
1. See Isaiah, Lesson 15, Day Three for an explanation of this important word.
2. Matthew 6:24 states the principle. Romans 6 discusses it.
3. God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are concepts which are both taught in Scripture, so both are true. Therefore, we compare Scripture for understanding, recognizing that at some point, we must agree to hold these seemingly contradictory truths in tension, trusting that God, who is holy, administers what we cannot understand with our finite minds in perfect righteousness. Some Scriptures to ponder: Exodus 8:32 and 9:12; Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 1:28, 9:18; II Thessalonians 2:10-12, etc.
4. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Simply put, it inquires into how we know what we know and whether our source of knowledge (for example reason or experience) is adequate or whether it leads us to mere opinion or to error.
5. Remember that the Babylonian exile occurred after Isaiah’s death, yet he is writing partially to a generation future to himself who has just come through that exile.
6. John 1:10-13.
7. Philippians 2:9-11.
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