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This explanation of the book of Isaiah is a revision of the explanation that was available for download for a number of years on www.oudesporen.nl. This revision concerns the insertion of the text of the Dutch Herziene Statenvertaling and an extension of the commentary. The reason is its publication in book form.
It has become – unlike the earlier internet version – a commentary by two authors. By the way, that should be interpreted in a broader sense. We have gratefully made use of what the Lord has already shown to others of the contents of this Bible book. We leave it up to the reader to check on the basis of God’s Word whether what is written in this commentary indeed corresponds to God’s purpose (Acts 17:11).
In these times, when the church is characterized by great weakness and different needs and problems, we desperately need the prophetic word. It is a proof of God’s grace that He has given prophets. He sends prophets when the people deviate from Him. Their message has two sides: judgment on those who persist in their rejection of His Word and blessing for those who heed the prophet’s call on God’s behalf.
Anyone who reads the book Isaiah attentively will be impressed by the topicality and the power of his message for us. It is more necessary than ever to motivate each other to take time each day (Acts 17:11) to listen to what the Spirit has to say to us personally through the Word.
Let what God has said also be a regular topic of conversation in the family (Deuteronomy 6:6-1 Samuel :). This explanation can be a good tool for this. For example, after a meal we can read a part of the Bible book Isaiah, then the explanation of that part and talk about it with each other for a while. If we do this with a prayer to the Lord that our “heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18), the blessing will be experienced by the whole family (cf. Hebrews 6:7).
When a part of God’s Word has become clear(er), thank the Lord for what He has shown. God’s Word can also make it clear that we must confess something as sin. By giving thanks and confessing, what we read becomes our spiritual property, with which we can also serve others.
When we enter this beautiful part of the treasure chamber of God’s Word in prayer, we will come out of it with thanks, because we have met the Lord Jesus in this book. When Isaiah was called he saw His glory (Isaiah 6:1-Leviticus :; John 12:36-Mark :). In this book the glory of the Lord Jesus is painted for us in many colors. The more we see of it, the more our hearts are filled with thanksgiving and worship.
Ger de Koning / Tony Jonathan
Middelburg / Arnhem, Netherlands, May 2014 / Translation (1st draft) January 2021
What does the name ‘Isaiah’ mean to us when we read that name? Unfortunately, often not more than a name. But if we know the meaning of this name, hearing or reading it will make our hearts tremble with great joy, for his name means ‘the salvation of the LORD’. The name ‘Isaiah’ represents in one word the contents of the whole book.
The book of Isaiah is the most comprehensive prophetic book in the Bible in terms of content. The prophetic word is present in many aspects of this book. Isaiah speaks about the fulfillment of God’s counsel regarding His earthly people. This council means that God brings His purposed salvation over Israel and through Israel also over the Gentiles (Romans 15:9-2 Kings :). This fulfillment will take place in the millennial realm of peace. In several parts of the book we already see a pre-fulfillment of this in our time. God’s glory becomes visible in all times in all His ways with people, both in grace and in judgment.
Isaiah is called ‘the evangelist of the Old Testament’. The good message – that is what the word ‘gospel’ means – which contains blessing and comfort (Isaiah 40:1), goes both to Israel and to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). That message is directly related to the great and central subject of the prophetic word: the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. His first coming as the suffering Servant of the LORD and also His second coming as King above all kings are highlighted in detail. Isaiah speaks about the birth of the Lord Jesus, about His food, His life, His death, His resurrection, His return and His kingdom of peace. We will find it all in this Bible book.
There is no Bible book in which we learn so much about the suffering, the glorification and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus as this of Isaiah. It is also not surprising that more is quoted from his prophecy in the New Testament than from any other book of the Old Testament. The New Testament contains about eighty-five quotes from Isaiah.
It is good to say one more word about prophecy in general. Prophecy has been compared with music that always sounds melodious to the hearing of faith (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:3). The meaning of prophecy is especially appreciated in times of trial and discipline and sorrow and decay of God’s people. Prophets are sent by God to His people in times of decay. Prophets are the mouth of God, the spokesmen of God (cf. Exodus 7:1). They call upon a people who have departed from Him to return to Him so that He may bless them again. If they do not listen, the judgment must come. Warnings are followed by judgment. Judgment always applies to the ungodly mass of the people.
But judgment does not have the last word. For the prophets always have their eye on a God-fearing remnant, “a few survivors” (Isaiah 1:9). Sometimes the prophets themselves are a type of that remnant, like Isaiah (Isaiah 8:18). The characteristic of a remnant is that, as an object of God’s grace, it remains standing for God and His rights in the midst of decay.
Those who constitute the remnant also receive from the LORD a special announcement concerning the future, the end time (Isaiah 46:10). The end time is the coming of the Lord Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom. Many prophecies have not yet been fully fulfilled. That full fulfillment comes when the Lord Jesus establishes the kingdom of peace and reigns as Messiah. However, some prophecies have already had a partial, provisional fulfillment.
The true value of the prophecy is that it deals with a Person and not primarily with events. It is about Christ – see under ‘Central theme’. Prophecy is also not only the prediction of future events, but also the passing on of God’s thoughts and their application to heart and conscience (1 Corinthians 14:3).
This ‘working method’ applies to the writing prophets, i.e. the prophets of whom we have a writing in the Bible. Non-writing prophets, for example Elijah and Elisha, prophesy in view of the actual situation of God’s people. They also prophesy about future things, but then they speak mainly about the immediate future, about things they often experience themselves. In their lives and history we do see the spiritual characteristics of the end times, the characteristics of decay.
When studying the books of the prophets we can notice three layers or manners of approaching.
In the first place prophecy has a direct, first meaning for the situation in the time in which the prophet performs.
In the second place we see in the books of the prophets a prophetic perspective. Then we see in the events of the days of the prophet a foreshadowing of events which will take place at the end of time.
Thirdly, every Bible book of the prophets, including Isaiah, is a typological book. ‘Typological’ means that events or persons are types or pictures from which we can learn spiritual lessons. Scripture itself says that the history of God’s people is written for that purpose and urges us to read Scripture in the same way (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4; Galatians 4:21-Obadiah :). The spiritual state of the people of God then speaks to us about the spiritual state of us as God’s people now.
It is important to note that prophecy has a literal fulfillment for Israel, God’s earthly people, and not for the church, God’s heavenly people. However, literal fulfillment for Israel should not prevent the church from drawing spiritual lessons from the prophecies.
Person of Isaiah
The name ‘Isaiah’ is the abbreviated form of Hebrew Yeshayahu and means ‘salvation of the LORD’, a name that is completely in accordance with the message of his book.
Isaiah is married. His wife’s name is not mentioned, but what she does is. She is called “the prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3). They have two sons. The names of these two sons are also mentioned. These names have a prophetic meaning. The youngest one is called “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:3), which means “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”. The oldest is called “Shear-jashub” (Isaiah 7:3), which means “a remnant will return”.
Isaiah lives in a time full of dangers when the survival of Israel and Judah is at stake. He is called by the LORD at the end of the reign of King Uzziah to prophet, which is the year 740 BC (Isaiah 6:1). He is then still relatively young. The period of his ministry covers forty to fifty years. The area of his service and life is Jerusalem and its surroundings.
By his calling he sees the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 6:1-Leviticus :). This stamps his life and service, just as Paul’s service and life were shaped by his meeting with the glorified Lord on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-1 Samuel :). The application for us is that the service we may do for the Lord must also be preceded by a personal encounter with Him.
According to tradition Isaiah is cruelly killed by the child-adolescent King Manasseh after he became king in 686 BC. Manasseh is then twelve years old. According to tradition, Manasseh put him in a hollow tree trunk and sawed him into pieces (cf. Hebrews 11:37). It is quite possible and not surprising that Satan raged like a roaring lion against Isaiah, who is such a powerful witness of God, and had him cut to pieces.
Satan did not only – according to tradition – have the person Isaiah cut into pieces. He has also tried, and is still trying, to cut his book into pieces by means of modern theologians. They claim that not one Isaiah, but three Isaiahs and that over a period of a few hundred years have written the book. It shows that Satan has understood the importance of the book Isaiah well, because otherwise he would not have made and done so much effort to attack Isaiah and his book so fiercely.
The discovery of the manuscripts of Isaiah in 1948 near the Dead Sea, the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah, which turn out to be a thousand years older than the then known manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, confirm the extremely accurate and reliable transmission of the biblical text. These manuscripts from the 2nd century AD do not exhibit the characteristics of several authors. On the contrary, where liberal theologians believe that there would be a transition from one writer to another, the text simply continues.
Isaiah is one of the greatest writers who ever lived. His writing style and literary qualities are, according to some experts, deeper and more brilliant than, for example, those of Shakespeare.
During the war in 734 BC between the coalition of Syria and Israel, the ten tribes realm, on the one hand, and Judah on the other hand, King Ahaz of Judah was very afraid (Isaiah 7:2). Isaiah assures him that the enemies will not be able to overcome Judah. In order to benefit from this promise Ahaz must put his trust in the LORD and not in an alliance with Assyria. Ahaz, however, does not put his trust in the LORD, but in Assyria. That is why God judges Judah through Assyria. All of Judah, except Jerusalem, is destroyed. At the last moment God, in His grace, redeemed Jerusalem by destroying the entire army of Assyria in one night (Isaiah 37:36).
Some typical expressions
Characteristic of the book of Isaiah is the expression Kadosh Yisrael, ‘the Holy One of Israel’, the three times holy God Who revealed Himself to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-Leviticus :). This expression occurs twenty-five times in this book, twelve times in the first part (Isaiah 1-39*) and thirteen times in the second part (Isaiah 40-66**). This underlines the unity of this book. The same expression also occurs three times in Psalms (Psalms 71:22; Psalms 78:41Psalms 89:18), twice in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5) and once in the second book of Kings (2 Kings 19:22).
* Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:19Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:20Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7Isaiah 29:19; Isaiah 30:11Isaiah 30:12; Isaiah 30:15Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 37:23.
** Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 41:16Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 43:3Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 45:11Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 54:5Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:9Isaiah 60:14.
Another key word in this book is the word jesha which means ‘salvation’. This word also occurs twenty-five times in this book, eight times in the first part and seventeen times in the second part. The fact that this word occurs so often must have contributed to Isaiah being called the ‘evangelist of the Old Testament’.
Another expression characteristic of Isaiah is Ebed Yahweh, which means ‘servant of the LORD’. In plural it is an indication for the people of Israel. In the singular, however, this expression is often not an indication for Israel, but for the promised Messiah. This is especially clear in the four songs we have about the servant of the LORD in this book (Isaiah 42:1-Judges :; Isaiah 49:1-Judges :Isaiah 50:1-1 Kings :; Isaiah 52:13-Ezra :Isaiah 53:1-2 Kings :).
Blessing for the nations
If the LORD gives salvation by grace, He cannot limit that salvation to Israel. Salvation goes to the whole world.
“He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth”” (Isaiah 49:6).
It should come as no surprise to us that the Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, has chosen Isaiah from all the Old Testament books to take with him from Jerusalem. In that book he meets Jesus when he is reading it during the journey back to his country after his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 8:27-Hosea :; Acts 8:35). Isaiah has preached to him the gospel that he accepts after the explanation by Philip. He is the first of the nations of whom Scriptures tell us that he has received part in salvation.
Division of the book
The book of Isaiah can be divided in several ways. The large division is that into two main parts, with a small middle part in between:
1. Main part 1: Prophetic part (Isaiah 1-35).
This part is about God’s judgment on Israel and the nations. In it Assyria is used by God as an instrument, as a rod of discipline in His hand. The youngest son of Isaiah is given a name with a meaning that indicates the contents of this part: “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:3). That name means, as has already been mentioned, ‘swift is the booty, speedy is the prey’.
2. Middle part: Historical part (Isaiah 36-39).
Here we see the history of Hezekiah as a type and illustration of the history of the faithful remnant of Israel. That remnant is tried and tested and comes in trouble both by its own sins and by enemies from outside. The LORD gives salvation through healing and deliverance.
3. Part 2: Messianic part (Isaiah 40-66).
This part is also a prophetic part. It is about the salvation of the LORD that will come upon the people despite the failure of Israel. God will eventually be able to bless the people thanks to the coming of the servant of the LORD, the Christ, the Messiah. Both names mean the same thing. Both Christ (Greek) and Messiah (Hebrew) mean ‘Anointed’.
The eldest son of Isaiah is given a name with a meaning that indicates the contents of this part: “Shear-jashub” (Isaiah 7:3). That name means, as has already been noted, “a remnant will return”. To this remnant God will give all His promised blessings.
The book of Isaiah is as it were a Bible in miniature. The first part, including the middle part, has as many chapters as the Old Testament Bible books, namely thirty-nine. In this part the emphasis is on God’s judgments on His people. Those judgments must come because God is the Holy One of Israel and His people have become unholy. In the Old Testament God’s holiness is also in the foreground.
The second part has as many chapters as the New Testament Bible books, namely twenty-seven. This part emphasizes that salvation is the result of God’s grace for Israel. In the New Testament God’s grace is also in the foreground.
The characters of the first and second main part are very different. This is related to the enemies of God’s people who play a leading role in each of these parts. In the first part Assyria is the enemy, in the second part it is Babylon. In the middle part the change from one enemy to the other is discussed. But He Who controls and governs everything is the God of Israel.
It is also possible to divide the book of Isaiah into seven parts:
1. Prophecies about Judah (Isaiah 1-12).
2. Burdens about the nations (Isaiah 13-27).
3. A sixfold woe about the folly of unbelief (Isaiah 28-35).
Each of these three parts ends with a song of praise.
4. History of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-39).
In the next three parts we have three times nine chapters about the salvation of God. Each of these three parts ends with the fate of the wicked.
5. God versus idolatry and Babylon (Isaiah 40-47).
6. Christ the Servant of the LORD, His glorification after His suffering because of His rejection by the people (Isaiah 48-57).
7. The faithful remnant of Israel, by the Spirit connected with the Servant of the LORD (Isaiah 58-66).
Overview main part 1.1 – Isaiah 1-12
The first part of the first main part (Isaiah 1-35) includes Isaiah 1-12. This part contains sayings about Judah and Jerusalem and can be divided as follows:
1. Indictment of the LORD against His people (Isaiah 1:1-31)
2. The house of God and the reign of God (Isaiah 2:1-5)
3. The day of the LORD (Isaiah 2:6-22)
4. God’s judgment on Jerusalem and Judah (Isaiah 3:1-4:1)
5. Zion’s glorious future (Isaiah 4:2-6)
6. The parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7)
7. Condemnation of the sins of Judah (Isaiah 5:8-30)
8. The vision and calling of the Holy One (Isaiah 6:1-13)
9. The sign of Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7:1-9)
10. The sign of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:10-25)
11. The sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1-10)
12. Isaiah and his children as signs and wonders (Isaiah 8:11-18)
13. The light and the Child (Isaiah 8:19-9:7)
14. The judgment on Ephraim (Isaiah 9:8-10:4)
15. The judgment on Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-19)
16. The liberation of the remnant (Isaiah 10:20-34)
17. The Davidic King and His benevolent government (Isaiah 11:1-9)
18. The people and the nations (Isaiah 11:10-16)
19. A joyful hymn of praise (Isaiah 12:1-6)
This chapter is the introduction to the whole book. It describes the trial of the LORD against Judah. The trial makes clear the necessity of the writing the book and the necessity of God’s intervention because of the spiritual state of His people. This intervention is different, higher, than we would expect. Also the call to repentance sounds.
The trial shows us the condition of the people from God’s point of view. In this trial we see that God is their righteous Judge Who must necessarily judge them. The reason for this is that they have broken the covenant with Him – which is made with heaven and earth as witnesses (Isaiah 1:2). The trial also shows us that God still wants to be their great Redeemer and Savior. This book shows us the necessity of judgment and also how the LORD preserves His people in the midst of judgment.
The book also shows us what prophecy is. Prophecy is speaking in the Name of God through which the conscience of the people and the individual is placed in God’s light. This is why prophecy on the one hand is sad, because it exposes the heart of God’s sinful and ungrateful people. On the other hand, prophecy is sweet and glorious, because it also reveals the heart of God that goes out in love to His people. It shows that He seeks their well-being and that He finally blesses them – after sin has been discovered, confessed and forgiven on the basis of the work of His Son. Blessings are presented as a consequence of repentance, but they come deeply, after the punishment on sin has been borne by the Mediator.
As mentioned in the introduction to the book, prophets are sent especially when God’s people are in decay. They call for repentance, while at the same time announcing the judgment when the people persist in sin. For those who listen to the voice of God, prophets have an encouraging message. They remind them of the certainty of the blessing that awaits them. That prospect gives the faithful remnant the strength to persevere in holiness in the midst of the apostate mass.
The name “Isaiah” with the meaning “the salvation of the LORD” beautifully indicates the hallmark of his prophecy. His book is a “vision”, which means that he writes as a true “seer” about what he has seen. He has received his message from the LORD. He is a prophet of God, that is, a spokesman of God. He does not proclaim his own thoughts, but passes on what he has heard and seen from God.
Isaiah is called to be a prophet when “Uzziah” is still king of Judah, which was around 740 BC. Uzziah will not be king for long, because the year of the calling of Isaiah is the year of his death (Isaiah 6:1). Then he prophesies during the reign of the kings “Jotham, Ahaz [and] Hezekiah”. This means that the area of his ministry is the two tribes kingdom or the southern kingdom. He probably survived Hezekiah because he describes the history of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:32).
Three of the four kings mentioned are considered good kings. Only Ahaz is a very bad king. Yet also among the good kings the condition of the people is bad. This will become clear in this first chapter.
It can be daunting to realize how things really stand with God’s people in our days. Outwardly it may seem good, but the Lord knows the heart (cf. Isaiah 1:10-Nehemiah :). That is why we need prophetic service, because that is how He can bring to light the real state of the heart. The first chapters of this book hold up a mirror to us. If we look attentively and observantly into the mirror, it will lead us to examine ourselves in the light of God’s Word (cf. James 1:22-Jeremiah :).
The Guilt of the People Established
Before Judah hears the indictment in the trial with the LORD, first witnesses are called (Isaiah 1:2), namely “heaven” and “earth”. Isaiah calls upon the creative works of God to testify in the case of the covenant with the LORD that they have broken. Moses did the same in making the covenant (Deuteronomy 32:1).
Isaiah’s message is not only for Israel, but also for the nations (Isaiah 49:6), yes, for all creation. After all, the Lord Jesus will also bring about a new creation. This happens in a way that is completely public and can be judged by everyone. Everyone will acknowledge the righteous way in which the LORD has done everything. Neither friend nor foe, not even the devil, will be able to put finger on an unlawfulness.
Isaiah introduces the LORD speaking. Immediately the LORD presents Himself as Father of His people – not of the individual Israelite! – and says that He “reared and brought up” sons. We see that in history during the reigns of David and Solomon, where the people became great, a people of stature. He also “reared and brought up” the people. This means that the people have come to adulthood and have gained a position above all nations.
Despite all the care with which He has treated them as His sons (Deuteronomy 14:1) and with which He has surrounded them, He must tell them that they have “revolted” against Him. They have become rebellious children. This word ‘revolt’ is an important concept throughout the whole book.
The fact that the word “they” has emphasis underlines the seriousness of their rebellion. Precisely from those who have been reared and brought up by the LORD in such an excellent manner and have come to maturity, such behavior is not to be expected. The reproach is entirely justified.
In this Israel holds up a mirror to us. What about us who have the personal right to be children of God if at least we have believed in the Name of the Lord Jesus (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1)? Do we know our Father in our practical life of faith and are we therefore dedicated to Him? What God has done for Israel as a people, He has done for us, who belong to the church of the living God, personally and spiritually. The story of Israel’s ingratitude and rebellion is “written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
After having called upon the inanimate nature – heaven and earth – a few senseless animals are made an example to Israel, the whole people, the twelve tribes (Isaiah 1:3; cf. Jeremiah 8:7). “An ox” and “a donkey” know respectively their “owner” and “its master’s manger”; they know that they must be with him for their food. He takes care of them. Has not God looked after His people equally?
But the people are dumber than these senseless animals (cf. Psalms 73:22). As a people they are His sons – God still speaks of “My people” – but they do not know their Father anymore. “Does not know” has the meaning of “having no relationship with Him. As a result they also lack the most elementary “understanding” of what the LORD asks of them and of the situation in which they find themselves. With them there is no consideration before God in view of their functioning as His people.
This description shows, in addition to the rebellion mentioned in Isaiah 1:2, complete insensitivity and indifference to what is due to God. The people who are His possession and whom He has thus cared for completely ignore His love for them.
As Creator, the Lord Jesus has a right to every human being. Through His work on the cross, He has bought all people – believing and unbelieving (2 Peter 2:1). Through that same work He, as Savior, has redeemed all who believe (1 Peter 1:18-Psalms :). Of them He is the Owner. However, many of God’s people today do not need the food that He has prepared for them in His “manger” which is His Word.
The twofold relationship of the people to the LORD as Owner and Master is an example for us:
1. We are the possessions of the Lord Jesus, He has bought us, we belong to Him and depend on Him for everything we need;
2. He is our Master, we must obey Him.
In Isaiah 1:4 God in a sevenfold enumeration of their depravity, pronounces the “woe” over them. This enumeration can be divided into two parts.
In part 1 it is about their condition as a nation (1 and 2) and as a family (3 and 4):
1. nation: “the sinful nation”, a people who lack the purpose of God for them. Sin in Hebrew means: missing the goal, namely the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
2. nation: “weighed down with iniquity”, a perverse, twisted nation.
3. offspring: “offspring of evildoers”, they do only evil and nothing good.
4. sons: “children who act corruptly”, they spread corruption around them.
In part 2 their condition is expressed: in their hearts (5), in their words (6) and in their actions (7). They have
5. abandoned Him in their hearts,
6. despised Him with their mouths, and
7. turned away from Him by moving away from Him and not following Him anymore.
Each part of the indictment listed contrasts sharply with what God purposed for His people and was entitled to expect from them (Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 14:1-Exodus :; 1 Peter 2:9). Impressively, He is here called “the Holy One of Israel”, a title that is characteristic of Isaiah and for which He has a predilection (see Introduction under “Some Characteristic Expressions”). It means that the LORD is not only the greatest God, no, He is the First and the Last, yes, He is the only God. It also means that His Name is sanctified (Matthew 6:9) through the restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 36:22-Isaiah :).
Spiritually speaking, the members of God’s people, as Moses says, “they are a perverse generation, Sons in whom is no faithfulness” (Deuteronomy 32:20). To them applies what the Lord Jesus later says to the Jews during His days on earth: “You are of [your] father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44). We also hear it in what He says to the Pharisees and Sadducees when He calls them “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). They have turned away from Him and left Him to serve the idols.
Because of their deviation, the LORD has had to discipline them. He wants to bring them back to Himself. He now asks them: “Where will you be stricken again?” (Isaiah 1:5). He says as it were: ‘Has it not been enough yet? Does it still make sense to strike you still more?’ (Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 5:3).
The LORD has stricken them everywhere, in all places, by means of plagues and hostile nations. He has beaten them so many times, that there is no place left where He still could strike them. In ever changing ways God has made them feel His discipline, but everything has been in vain. New discipline doesn’t seem to make sense because they continue in their rebellion. They have become totally insensitive and indifferent to any kind of discipline. And that in spite of the severity of all the discipline. The prophet points this out in Isaiah 1:5-Judges :.
“The whole head”, “the whole heart” (Isaiah 1:5), yes, the whole body “from the sole of the foot even to the head” (Isaiah 1:6), so externally and internally, has become rebellious against God and has felt His discipline. Head and heart control the body. With the “head” possibly the king is meant (2 Chronicles 28:22) and with the “heart” the whole social life. They are sick in the head and worn out in the heart. When head and heart are sick, the whole body is sick. “There is nothing sound” in the whole body. They can no longer think well with their head, they can no longer grasp courage in their heart, they have no physical strength left. Yet they do not take refuge in Him. If they feel anything at all, they resort to the idols (2 Chronicles 28:22-Isaiah :).
Their national existence consists of open, painful, festering “bruises, welts and raw wounds”. But they do not ask for their treatment. They are “Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil”. They are so messed up that their condition does not bother them at all and that they have no need for healing.
Not only their lives prove their unfaithfulness, but also the condition of the land, which “is desolate” (Isaiah 1:7). Isaiah speaks of “your land”. The LORD has given them that land to live there and to enjoy its fruit. That the land is desolate is said at the beginning and at the end of Isaiah 1:7. It is directly related to the curse that Moses foresaw in the case of unfaithfulness of the people (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:49-1 Thessalonians :). The prophet Isaiah uses the words of Moses and applies them to his time. The devastations are the result of the attack of the Assyrians (Isaiah 36:1).
The prophet also speaks of “your cities” and “your field”. It is all given to them to live in them and to live from them. However, nothing is left of the cities. They are burned with fire, there is no place left to live. What the field yields is devoured before their eyes by “strangers”, the enemy who is in the land. Those strangers have “overthrown” their fields. Their unfaithfulness has turned everything upside down. There is no place for the LORD anymore and therefore His people and the proceeds of the land are given up to the heathen. The land is the land of the LORD (Leviticus 25:23), but the countrymen have taken possession of the inheritance unlawfully (Matthew 21:38).
In the midst of all the unfaithfulness and God’s judgment on it, the LORD testifies of His love for Zion by speaking of the city as a “daughter” (Isaiah 1:8). Here, Zion is the daughter, a young woman who is actually the bride of God. Zion is the poetic name for Jerusalem. It is better not to translate the Hebrew Bath-Tsion with ‘the daughter of Zion’, but with ‘the daughter Zion’.
God prevents the Assyrians from taking Jerusalem. In the middle of the devastated land only Jerusalem is still standing. But there is not much left of the former glory of the city. It resembles “a shelter in a vineyard” and a “hut in a cucumber field”. A hut is for the watchman of the vineyard and the other for the watchman of the cucumber field. The watchmen are the only human beings in a widely deserted environment. Zion is also compared to “a besieged city”. A city under siege is starving. All strength and beauty disappear.
The few inhabitants of the shelter and hut mentioned in Isaiah 1:8 are indicated by the expression “a few survivor” (Isaiah 1:9). That there is a remnant is only due to God’s grace. He, “the LORD of hosts”, has ensured that they have been “left”. If He had not intervened and kept a remnant, they “would be like Sodom” and “like Gomorrah” and would be literally perished like these cities. By leaving a remnant, God does not reject His people completely and not forever. In fact, the remnant in this book receives the place of the entire people.
Prophetically this will eventually be fulfilled when the future Assyria, also referred to as the king of the North, will destroy Israel. Even then, God will keep a remnant, “a third” (Zechariah 13:8), for Himself.
Paul quotes Isaiah 1:9 in his letter to the Romans to point out that the salvation of the saved is due only to God (Romans 9:29). This also applies spiritually to us as the church of Christ. Because of our unfaithfulness, the Lord could not maintain us as His witness on earth. The fact that we are still there, even though we are few in number, can only be owed to His grace (cf. Lamentations 3:22-Jeremiah :). The acknowledgment of this should lead us to great dedication.
The remnant acknowledges that grace, because they recognize that they have deserved a sudden and total destruction. The inescapable judgment that will strike the masses will, after its execution, recall what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:22-Isaiah :). We will see this in the end times. Then the wicked mass will perish by the fire of judgment, while the remnant will be set free and blessed as servants of the LORD under His righteous Servant.
It is important to keep in mind that by Zion is meant the earthly Jerusalem and not the church. Nowhere in the prophecies of the Old Testament is mention made of the church. Indeed, the church is a mystery in the time of the Old Testament (Ephesians 3:5). The prophecies are about God’s kingdom on earth. God wanted to give that shape in Israel. Because of their unfaithfulness they did not answer God’s thoughts and are rejected for a time. However, God’s plan will become reality in the realm of peace under the reign of the Lord Jesus.
For the church, which belongs in heaven, the kingdom of God at this moment is not external, but spiritual (Romans 14:17). All those who profess to be Christians can draw many spiritual lessons from the prophecies for their practical life of faith (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11). We see this when we see the resemblance between Israel as a failing testimony of God on earth then and Christianity as a failing testimony of God on earth now (Romans 11:16-Jeremiah :).
Isaiah interprets the voice of the remnant when he acknowledges in Isaiah 1:9 that it is thanks to God’s grace that they did not become like Sodom and Gomorrah. This does not apply to the wicked mass to whom he addresses the word in Isaiah 1:10-Proverbs :. Spiritually speaking, the condition of Jerusalem and Judah resembles that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16:49). Jerusalem and Judah exhibit characteristics such as pride, exuberance and worry-free rest. In the future, this will be spiritually the case with the Jews in their temple who they have rebuilt in unbelief in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:8).
Isaiah addresses the leaders of Jerusalem in the first place (Isaiah 1:10). He speaks to them unflatteringly as “rulers of Sodom”. He also addresses God’s people, whom he calls just as unflatteringly “you people of Gomorrah”. This means that their spiritual state will irrevocably lead to God’s judgment. Therefore, he calls upon the leaders to “hear the word of the LORD” and exhorts the people to “give ear to the instruction of our God”.
On top of that, and this is really shocking, they cover their depravity with a garment of religiosity. It is the religion of Cain. They multiply “sacrifices” to God (Isaiah 1:11), but He rejects them. They are worthless to Him because they are brought with a hypocritical and cold heart (Isaiah 29:13; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-Jeremiah :; Micah 6:6-Ruth :).
They may bring many sacrifices, but He abhors them. He has had enough of their “burnt offerings of rams”. The ram is the animal of the sacrifice of consecration. By bringing a ram, they pretend that they want to consecrate their lives to Him. The “fat” and “blood” of all kinds of animals don’t please Him. They pretend to acknowledge His right to it, but in practice they do what they like. What a variety of sacrifices they bring and they do it exactly as it is prescribed. But He cannot be happy about it.
They come to appear before Him with straight faces and trample His courts (Isaiah 1:12). Look how religious they are! But who asked that of them? He certainly did not. It is better for them to stay at home than to come hypocritically, because if they do, the offerings they bring are “worthless” (Isaiah 1:13). They do not benefit at all, they do not process anything. The “incense” they bring is “an abomination” to Him. The LORD belittles their whole service, He totally tears it apart. Everything they think they are honoring Him with is nothing but spiritual selfishness. It serves only to satisfy their religious feelings. There is nothing for the LORD.
The feast days and the associated meetings are also an abomination for Him. “I cannot endure” them, He must say, for He is the God of justice, and what they do is “iniquity”. Even if they hold a “solemn assembly” – these are the holy assemblies during the seven annual feast days described in Leviticus 23 – it is a reprehensible occupation for Him. They are feast days to do themselves good, while there is no place for the LORD.
They are therefore no longer “appointed feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:2), but their own feast. He therefore also calls them “your new moon [festivals], your appointed feasts” (Isaiah 1:14; cf. John 5:1; John 6:4John 7:2). He hates them with all His soul. They are a burden to Him and He is weary of bearing them (cf. Isaiah 7:13). We would say: He is sick of it.
The language is extremely powerful and penetrating. God expresses in an almost emotional way His condemnation of their reprehensible service. He wants to convince His people of the abhorrence He has for their performance before Him. Without knowing it, many are blind to what is appropriate for the LORD (cf. Revelation 3:17-Job :) and have defended themselves against these accusations. They are oh so satisfied with themselves and their service.
He who approaches God hypocritically in prayer He does not see or hear him (Isaiah 1:15). He listens only if the practice – of which the hands speak – is pure (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8; Psalms 24:4-Deuteronomy :; Psalms 66:18). They stand in the temple praying with extended hands, but God does not listen to them, for their hands are covered with blood. They commit injustice in secret and so they come before Him. Nice praying in public, while the practice is in conflict with that, He abhors it.
He says of their approaching to Him that they approach Him with their mouths and honor Him with their lips, but remove their hearts far from Him (Isaiah 29:13). God abhors a purely outward religion, then, now and in the future. The Christian’s conscience can also be so scorched that he can have the appearance of a Christian practice (2 Timothy 3:5) while living in his sins.
Call For Repentance
God calls the people to wash themselves and make themselves clean (Isaiah 1:16; cf. Psalms 51:7). In this call we hear the call of John the baptist to the religious leaders who come to his baptism: “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). All the sacrifices they bring hypocritically do not cleanse their sinful deeds before God.
The call to wash means they are dirty. Washing is done with water. Spiritually, this means that by reading or hearing God’s Word, which is compared to water (John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26), a person sees that he is a sinner and acknowledges that. Confession of sins is answered by God with purification of sins. That cleansing happens on the basis of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9).
When they have washed and cleansed themselves, they also will respond to the call to remove the “evil” of their deeds (Isaiah 1:16) from before God’s eyes. Then there is the mind to “cease to do evil” (Isaiah 1:16), by which the way is free “to do good” (Isaiah 1:17; James 4:8; Romans 12:9). A person cannot learn to do good unless he stops doing evil first.
Someone who does good will seek justice, which is reflected in caring for the weak and vulnerable in society. Seeking justice means, says Isaiah, reproving the ruthless, defending “the orphan” and pleading for “the widow”. It is precisely these weak and vulnerable who are exploited by them (Isaiah 1:23). By a total reversal of their behavior towards them, they would show themselves to be His people.
In order to achieve this the LORD calls them to enter into a trial with Him (Isaiah 1:18). Then He will show them the righteousness of His actions. Also, when they acknowledge His righteous acts, He will cleanse them of their sins and grant them His forgiveness. He can do this on the basis of the work that His Son, the perfect Servant of the LORD, will accomplish as the guilt offering on the cross (Isaiah 53:7-2 Kings :; Romans 3:25). God offers full forgiveness and purification in an unparalleled way on the basis of righteousness, no matter how hard and often someone may have sinned.
God reminds them of their sins that are “as scarlet” and “like crimson”. Scarlet and crimson are both a blood red color. It is the color that indicates blood guilt on them. Their hands are red with the blood they have shed and for which there is no means by which they can wash it away (Jeremiah 2:22). However, if they confess their sins and plead for God’s grace, they will become white through the forgiveness they receive from God after their confession. The whiteness is compared to snow and wool. It points to the uncontaminated cleanliness of newly fallen snow and the benevolent warmth of wool that protects against the cold of sin and the world.
Prophetically, what we read here is a call to the people to acknowledge and confess their two sins. Those two sins are, first, the rejection of Christ and, second, the idolatry that leads to the acceptation of the antichrist. This prophetic aspect is discussed especially in the second part of Isaiah.
The LORD tells them that they can react in two ways. He also tells them the consequences of every reaction. The first reaction may be that they consent and obey Him (Isaiah 1:19). As a result, there will be blessing, that is, they will “eat the best of the land”. The second reaction will be that they refuse and rebel. In this case, they will be devoured by the sword (Isaiah 1:20). They can be sure that either the blessing or the curse will come because “the mouth of the LORD has spoken”. His pronouncements are never empty statements, but full of effective power. What He says happens.
In Isaiah 1:19-Proverbs : we listen to a play on words. If they consent and obey, they will eat the best of the land; but if they refuse and rebel, they will be eaten by the sword. In one case they will be allowed to take food that God gives them; in another case they will serve themselves as food for the sword of their enemies.
Prophetically there are two groups of people here that we find in the end times. We recognize the one group, those who ‘eat’, in the obedient believing remnant. The other group, those who ‘are eaten’, we recognize in the large, disobedient mass of Israel. When Christ came, the people as a whole did not accept Him (John 1:11), while the remnant did accept Him (John 1:12).
When the antichrist comes, the people will accept him (John 5:43), while the remnant will reject him. Because of this, the remnant will eventually receive blessing and eat, while the refusing people will be eaten by the sword. The sword that comes out of the mouth of the LORD (cf. Revelation 19:15) is Assyria, which is also called the rod of God’s wrath (Isaiah 10:5).
For us listening to the Lord leads to spiritual blessing. For us, “eating the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19) means nourishing ourselves with “all the spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3) that is our part through the work of the Lord Jesus. If we disobey, our spiritual life will wither and our testimony will disappear.
The Cause of Judgment
These verses are a lament of Isaiah about the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem. The exclamation “how” (Isaiah 1:21) is an expression of grief about the situation that has arisen. The prophet has presented to the people God’s rights and invited them to reason with God. He has also shown them God’s willingness to forgive. But “how” the once “faithful city has become”, through her love for the idols, a woman who is “a harlot” (Deuteronomy 31:16). Prophetically, this indicates that the earthly Jerusalem is spiritually a harlot by receiving the antichrist.
She has become so bad and depraved that there is no hope of restoration. She who has been “full of justice”, in whom “righteousness lodged”, has become a city of “murderers”. Day and night, the city has been a benefactor for its inhabitants because of the justice that has ruled it. It has been a safe place to live. But justice has lapsed into violence. The judges have become unjust judges, people who distort the law.
As a result, they are murderers themselves and they also let murderers go unpunished, so that they have a place to live in the city. As a result, the city has lost everything that made it pleasant and safe to live there. The most poignant case of unjust justice and murder is the condemnation of the Lord Jesus and the death penalty that was inflicted on Him in and through this city.
An ungodly mixture took place (Isaiah 1:22). What should be of value as silver, by which the leaders of God’s people are meant, has become worthless dross. The leaders have become depraved, worthless people by their self-satisfaction and complacency. The leaders, who should be like wine a joy of the inhabitants, have become a drink that cannot be drunk and is spit out.
As an application, we can say that what is valuable to God, silver, and gives Him joy, wine, in a righteous judgment, has disappeared. Dross, which is worthless, and water, which dilutes the wine, for example human tradition, remove or obscure God’s right.
The leaders have become tyrants. They have risen up against the LORD and dealt with Him (Isaiah 1:23). They prefer the company of thieves to the company of the LORD. They commit their theft by picking the socially weak. They act according to the principle ‘quid pro quo’. They twist the law, but expect a quid pro quo from them in favor of whom they twist the law. For bribes from the rich, they twist the law and squeeze the poor and defenseless orphan and widow even more.
Judgment Serves to Cleanse
Isaiah sets the wicked opposite to “the Lord GOD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:24). It is as if the LORD exalts Himself in His outrage at the injustice of the leaders and the people in the whole power of His Being.
The distinction between the names translated as “Lord” and “GOD” or “LORD” is important and should be noted throughout the Old Testament. Also during the further study of the book of Isaiah it is necessary to pay attention to this distinction. Every time the name “Lord”, in lowercase letters, is used, it is the translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. With this Name God is referred to as the Commander, the Lord, the Sovereign Governor.
If it says “LORD”, with capital letters, it is the translation of the Hebrew word Yahweh. That is the name of God as the God of the covenant, the Name that indicates His relationship with creation and man and especially with His earthly people. The name “LORD” is mentioned for the first time in Genesis 2, first in connection with creation and then in connection with man (Genesis 2:4-Song of Solomon :). In connection with Israel He makes Himself known to them with this Name when He is going to free them from Egypt (Exodus 6:1-Ruth :). This Name then indicates the special relationship He enters into with these people.
“The Mighty One of Israel”, a title Isaiah uses only here, cannot let the unfaithfulness of His people go unpunished. He is powerful to deal with those He calls “My adversaries” in a way that He relieves of them. Relief is needed with pain. He has great pain and sorrow because of their apostasy. His comfort is found in the judgment on their apostasy, by which that apostasy is removed from before Him.
He must execute revenge over his opponents and enemies. But pay attention. The opponents and the enemies here are not the Assyrians, as the people like to see that, but God speaks here about them, His people! By “My adversaries” and “My foes” He means them. They, the rebellious Jews, are adversaries and foes of His law and His government.
That He turns His hand against His people is meant to purify them of their iniquities, so that they will be a pure silver (Isaiah 1:25). The wicked mass has become dross and alloy (cf. Isaiah 1:22). That dross is worthless, and the alloy looks like precious metal, but it is fake. He will remove both elements by the judgment of the fire. What remains is a God-fearing remnant that is pleasing to His heart (Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2).
Restoration for Jerusalem
After the execution of judgment righteous “judges” shall be appointed by the LORD “as at the first”, that is, as in the days of David and Solomon (Isaiah 1:26). With the “counselors as at the beginning” we can think of Moses and Joshua. This will result in a totally different situation than the one we have now with the unjust leaders who are in charge of the service and who control the lives of the people. As a result, Jerusalem can again be called the “city of righteousness, a faithful city” (cf. Isaiah 1:21; Zechariah 8:3). We can also say that Jerusalem has once again become a faithful or trustworthy city – “faith” and “trust” are the same word in Hebrew.
The glorious features of Isaiah 1:26 will be the result of God’s salvation of Zion based on His judgments that He executes in righteousness (Isaiah 1:27). God’s righteous grace leads to righteousness and steadfastness in the lives of those who are justified. The basis of salvation is the work of Christ Who received on the cross the righteous judgment of God over the sins of everyone who repent.
Judgment on the Basis of Right
Opposite those who repent and enter the realm of peace and enjoy its blessing (Isaiah 1:26-Daniel :), stand those who will follow the antichrist. They are “transgressors” of God’s commandments (Isaiah 1:28). By this is meant the apostate mass of God’s people. “Sinners” refers to the lawless heathens, people who do not fulfill God’s goal – the word “sin” literally means “to miss the goal”. Being “crushed” will affect them, for they have all “forsaken the LORD” and “will come to an end”.
The mighty ones of the earth on whom they have trusted, represented in “the oaks”, will disappoint them (Isaiah 1:29), as will the glory of the world, represented in “the gardens”. They have thought, through their connection with “the oaks” and the “gardens”, to become an “oak tree” and a “garden” themselves, but will be greatly embarrassed” at it (Isaiah 1:30). They will come to an end together with them.
Isaiah 1:31 points to the final verdict at the end of the book (Isaiah 66:24), which underlines the idea that this first chapter is the introduction to the whole book. In “the strong man” we recognize the beast out of the sea, the ruler of the European Union, the restored Western Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :). In “his work”, i.e. the one who works it, we recognize the beast out of the earth, the antichrist (Revelation 13:11-Job :).
“They shall both – i.e. the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth] burn together”. “These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20). The fire of judgment does not come from the outside, but from within. Just as “tinder” that contains fire spark and sets the tinder on fire from within, so sin carries the judgment within itself and calls the judgment on it. Their self-confidence is their downfall.
Summary Isaiah 1
We have seen in this first chapter that it is the introduction to the whole book because it sets forth the principles of God’s actions toward the people of Israel. It begins with the indictment of their sins and a call to repentance. This is followed by His promise to bless those who obey, the believing remnant, and His threat to judge those who are unwilling, the ungodly mass of the people.
After the judgment has been exercised and purification has taken place, God’s blessing in the realm of peace will come through His Messiah to Israel and through Israel to the nations. We will see that in the coming chapters.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter