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Needed: A Messiah

Isaiah 1:16-20
16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. 18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Messiah – a word that generally means the anointed (presumably with Holy oil) – The New Testament equivalent is "Christ" – Scriptures picture Messiah as the Deliverer.

Welcome to the Old Testament and the world of Isaiah.  This should be a wonderful study, especially if you keep in mind the thought of many that Isaiah is the "fifth Gospel."  While God chose not to reveal many of the details about Jesus, He has provided a wealth of information about the Messiah in the Old Testament.  As we review selected portions of the book of Isaiah we will discover much about Jesus Christ.

Often as we do our devotions we read through the Old Testament but do not relate the various books due to their arrangement.  The books of the Old Testament are divided into the Law (the first five books, the books of Moses), History (Joshua through Esther), the wisdom books (Job-Psalms-Proverbs-Song of Solomon-Ecclesiastes), and the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi).  When we approach the Old Testament in this fashion we loose sight of the fact that the entire Old Testament falls within a timeframe that commences with the Creation in Genesis 1 and ends with the writing of Malachi around 350-400 BC.

In other words, you can place Isaiah and the other prophets into the pages of the history books.  Likewise, the wisdom writings all fall within the history of Israel as well.  When you attempt to keep the prophets placed in their historical locations, the words and actions of the prophets come alive!  For example, Isaiah 36-39 tell the story of Hezekiah.  This same story is found in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

Perhaps, a little background on Isaiah will be helpful.

Isaiah 1:1 (NKJV)
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Isaiah (‘Yahweh is salvation’), son of Amoz, lived in Jerusalem (Isa 7:1–3; 37:2).  According to Jewish tradition, he was of royal blood; it has also been inferred from the narratives and oracles of his book that he was, at any rate, of noble descent.  As appears from the superscription to the book (1:1), he prophesied under Uzziah (791/790–740/739 BC), Jotham (740/739–732/731 BC), Ahaz (735–716/715 BC) and Hezekiah (716/715–687/686 BC).  He was called to be a prophet ‘in the year that king Uzziah died’ (6:1), about 740/739 BC.  His last appearance was at the time of Sennacherib’s campaign of 701 BC against Jerusalem (or c. 688 BC, if the reference is to a second campaign of Sennacherib against Jerusalem).  This makes Isaiah’s period of ministry something in the range of 60 years, measured from around the time of Uzziah’s death (740 BC) until Sennacherib’s death (688 BC) because Isaiah does record Sennacherib’s death (Isa 37:38).  Tradition has it that he was sawn asunder in Manasseh’s reign (see Heb 11:37), but the tradition appears to have no sound historical basis.

Isaiah and Micah were contemporaries (cf. 1:1 with Micah 1:1).  Isaiah’s activity was preceded by that of Amos and Hosea (Amos 1:1; Hosea 1:1).  Amos and Hosea prophesied mainly against the northern tribes; Isaiah and Micah concentrated their prophecies mainly on Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 1:1).  The Northern Kingdoms are conquered by Assyria and the people carried into captivity in 721 BC, an event witnessed by Isaiah.

The book of Isaiah is a miniature Bible – where the Bible has 66 books, Isaiah has 66 chapters.  The book divides, more or less, into two sections.  The first section is more concerned with judgments upon the nations, including Israel, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  The second section is more about Messiah, primarily the suffering servant, and the future Millennial Kingdom.  Like the Old Testament’s 39 books, the first section of Isaiah contains 39 chapters.  Like the New Testament’s 27 books, the second section of Isaiah contains 27 chapters.

It should be noted that the liberal’s who do not believe in supernatural acts have strongly attacked Isaiah by proclaiming that no one could "foresee" the various prophecies made by Isaiah.  As a result they have proclaimed that Isaiah did not write much of the second section (and parts of the first), projecting a second writer, referred to as "Deutero-Isaiah."  Some have gone so far as to suggest three authors.

Considering this disbelief chapter one of Isaiah seems to be the correct place to commence this study.

Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV)
"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

The sin of God’s people demonstrates their need for a Savior.

This statement is as true today as it was in the days of Isaiah.  Our study of Isaiah will help us to understand the place of sin the lives of people of all ages. 

The existence of sin can easily be found in a review of our modern society.  Consider the high level of corporate scandals in major companies over the past couple of years.  Look at the huge number of the murders in Prince Georges County. 

Is the United States in a moral decline? 

Is this the result of sin?

Does God need to punish the country?

Israel was in much the same situation as the US.  The nation had split into two separate kingdoms following Solomon’s death (around 970-975 BC).  The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian’s during the period of Isaiah’s ministry (around 722 BC), during the reign of King Ahaz.  One of Isaiah’s prophecy is about the fall of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) to the Babylonians between (605 and 586 BC). 

Many of Isaiah’s prophecies concern the fall of Judah as well as God’s judgments upon the surrounding nations.  Isaiah’s messages are in the form of "warnings" exhorting Judah to turn back to God in order to avoid the same fate as Israel.  However, Isaiah’s message of captivity is offset by a message of hope.  Isaiah sees the return of Judah to the Promised Land as well as several pictures of the Messiah.

Isaiah chapter 1 is in the form of a court arraignment.  Isaiah brings charges against the Nation of Israel.  It is interesting to refer to the history books to consider God’s view of the hearts of the various kings:

Uzziah –

2 Chronicles 26:4 (NKJV)
4 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.

2 Chronicles 26:16 (NKJV)
16 But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

God gave Uzziah leprosy.

Jotham –

2 Chronicles 27:2 (NKJV)
2 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done (although he did not enter the temple of the Lord). But still the people acted corruptly.

Not much is said about Jotham except that he generally followed God.

Ahaz, --

2 Chronicles 28:1-2 (NKJV)
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his father David had done. 2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals.

Ahaz was pretty much always bad.

Hezekiah –

2 Chronicles 29:2 (NKJV)
2 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.

But consider that Hezekiah questioned God when he became ill as well as showing off the entire fortune of Jerusalem to the ambassadors from Babylon.  Hezekiah is unique in that his story is told in three different books of the Bible – 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah.

Notice that the kings of Judah were no less "honest" than today’s politicians and corporate leaders.  This might lead one to ask, what makes a person Good or Bad?

Let’s consider the indictment of Isaiah against Judah:

Isaiah 1:2-4 (NKJV)
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; 3 The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider." 4 Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward.

Notice that God is speaking.  V2 – the Lord has spoken.  He pictures Israel as being "dumber" or less obedient as an ox or donkey.  The ox is considered a stupid animal and the donkey is known for its stubbornness.  God has nurtured Israel but the people have rebelled. While animals know their owners, the Israelites do not know God.  They are a sinful nation, laden with sin ("iniquity").  They are evildoers and corrupters because they have "forsaken the Lord."  The nation has shown its ignorance of God by turning its back on God.

Notice God calls Himself the Holy One of Israel in verse 4.  This is God’s favorite title for Himself, being used at least 24 times in this book (5:19, 24; 10:17, 20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14, 16, 20; 23:3, 14; 45:11; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14).  This provides a sense of a major theme of Isaiah – HOLINESS.

Isaiah 1:5-9 (NKJV)
5 Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment. 7 Your country is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire; Strangers devour your land in your presence; And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8 So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, As a hut in a garden of cucumbers, As a besieged city. 9 Unless the Lord of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.

Notice that God compares the Israelite’s to a bruised body – they are "stricken," sick in their "whole head," and their "whole heart faints."  Their entire body is sick – "from the sole of the foot even to the head."  They are in a terrible state.  If the picture is taken as that of sin, it affects the entire person and comes from a variety of sources.

Wounds – as from a sword?

Bruises – as from a blow with the fists or a blunt instrument?

Putrefying sores – from an illness or a whipping?

God keeps trying to get the Israelite’s attention.  The wounds are open and will not respond to medicine. 

Moving to a different analogy, God compares the state of the nation with the condition of the land.  It is desolate, burned with fire, and consumed by others.  Not only is the land in a terrible condition, but the city is under siege – a booth in a vineyard, a hut in a garden of cucumbers, a besieged city.

Through all of this the mercy and grace of God shines through, for He has left a believing remnant so that the nation does not become like Sodom and Gomorrah.  Notice that God also foresaw these conditions long ago.

Deuteronomy 28:49-52 (NKJV)
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young. 51 And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you. 52 "They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.

Initially, this nation was Assyria.  Assyria not only conquered the Northern Kingdom, but attacked Jerusalem (Isa 36-37).  Through all of this, despite God’s grace and mercy, the Israelite’s remained insincere in their worship of God.

The theme of a remnant is another major thread in Isaiah.  This thread carries into the New Testament where the gate of destruction is wide, but the gate of salvation is narrow (Matt 7:13-14).  The majority will always turn away from God.  Are you part of the minority, the remnant?

Isaiah 1:10-15 (NKJV)
10 Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah: 11 "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" Says the Lord. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. 12 "When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

Notice the references to worthless sacrifices – "I have had enough of burnt offerings" and "Bring no more futile sacrifices."  God says something similar in Hosea and Micah:

Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)
6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Micah 6:8 (NKJV)
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

God’s promise to the sinful nation is that He will ignore them – hide his eyes and not listen to their prayers because their "hands are full of blood."  In other words, the nation of Israel is full of sin!  Notice their worship is called an "abomination," a description God usually reserves for pagan worship practices (Deut 7:25, although a search of the word "abomination" will show an amazing number of sins, involving worship and not, being called an abomination by God).

How might this be applied in today’s society?  Suggested questions could involve worship, business practices, and social habits.

Can fundamental, non-liturgical church services be "formal?"

What about giving?  Is this an act of worship?

Are memorized prayers a "ritual?"

Is it a valid business practice to do things in an "x-y-z" manner because everyone else does it this way?

God’s challenge to Israel –

Isaiah 1:16-20 (NKJV)
16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. 18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Notice that God’s challenge has nothing to do with worship or the rituals of worship.  God’s challenge is to not act in a sinful manner.  The people of Israel are to:

James 1:19-27 (NKJV)
19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Notice that these verses picture a legal setting again.  God’s challenge is for the Israelite’s to get rid of their sin and look to God.  The word "reason" (1:18) is a legal term used of arguing, convincing, or deciding a case in a court.  The nation needed to learn and be convinced by God’s arguments that He is correct and they are wrong.  Israel was guilty of sin and God offers them pardon and cleansing.  This is an offer of grace and mercy.

Notice that here as in the New Testament, God asks the people to repent in two fashions – they are to turn away from evil and sin and they are to turn toward good, righteousness, and God.

How can God offer pardon to sinful men?

How can He be just in doing so?

How important is it that a sinner acknowledge his sins?

Can he be forgiven of sin if he does not acknowledge the sin?

Can a person see his need for salvation if he does not see himself as a sinner in need of salvation?

God’s challenge requires a Savior.  Mankind is not able to respond to God’s challenge by himself for he is too sinful.  He could not keep himself from evil.  This is the story of the entire Bible.  Indeed, in John 5, the Jews attempt to kill Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath and because He made Himself the equal of God.  Notice His response.

John 5:39-40 (NKJV)
39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

We will find that Isaiah is clearly one of those Scriptures which testify of Jesus.  In this first chapter, God sets the stage for the balance of the book.  The Jews need a Messiah because they are sinful and cannot cleanse themselves.  In Isaiah, unlike in the New Testament Gospels, the Christ or Messiah has not yet arrived.  God reasons with the people looking forward to the Cross.  We must keep this distinction between the days of Isaiah and our days firmly in mind if we are to understand this exciting book.

In Isaiah, God offers two comparisons:

Obedience and eating from the prosperous land; versus

Disobedience and dying by the sword

In Isaiah’s day, this meant doing the Word of God.  God did not want them to follow by ritual the Ten Commandments.  As we have seen above God wants them to live by the spirit of the law.  Nothing has changed.  God desires that we live by faith and love, not by a set of rules.  Our faith must be in God, in the Christ or Messiah of Scripture, Jesus Christ.  Nothing has changed in the 2700 years since Isaiah.  Mankind tries to apply rules where God wants love.  Read the final verses of this chapter and consider the state of Israel in Isaiah’s day with the state of America today.

Isaiah 1:21-31 (NKJV)
21 How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; Righteousness lodged in it, But now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross, Your wine mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebellious, And companions of thieves; Everyone loves bribes, And follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, Nor does the cause of the widow come before them. 24 Therefore the Lord says, The Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, "Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries, And take vengeance on My enemies. 25 I will turn My hand against you, And thoroughly purge away your dross, And take away all your alloy. 26 I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." 27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, And her penitents with righteousness. 28 The destruction of transgressors and of sinners shall be together, And those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. 29 For they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees Which you have desired; And you shall be embarrassed because of the gardens Which you have chosen. 30 For you shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fades, And as a garden that has no water. 31 The strong shall be as tinder, And the work of it as a spark; Both will burn together, And no one shall quench them.

Judah, like America, was righteous and just (1:21)

Judah, like America, became corrupt (1:21-23).

Judah, like America, was chastised by God (1:24-25).

Judah is offered a redemption.  This same offer is available today for anyone who desires to come to God (1:26-31).

The goal is to be righteous – this was true for Judah and is true for you too!

Notice that this is all the Lord’s doing.  Just as salvation today is only through God’s efforts at the Cross, God in Isaiah’s day realized He would have to do all of the work to make Judah righteous and just.




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