Isaiah: Exile and Hope
Exile and Hope
Warning and rebuke, Immanuel, the Nations. Israel, Hezekiah, Comfort.
Background: Before and following the Northern Kingdom's fall, Isaiah prophesied that Judah that would go into exile for its apostasy Theme: The coming exile and hope of return Outline: Retribution and Restoration Key Verse: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa 53:6, NIV)
Isaiah Chapter Index
INTRODUCTION: This book covers the time period from before the fall of the Northern Kingdom and about forty years following. Isaiah's announcements of judgment were warnings, which gave opportunity for repentance (which did not occur). This period is covered by 2nd Kings 15-21 and 2nd Chronicles 26-33. From chapter 40 and on, the judgment seems to be inevitable and Isaiah is writing encouragement for the people in exile (which will be over a century later).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary gives a long discussion (page 1030ff) defending a single authorship of the book. The primary reason for assigning different portions to different authors over a wide period of time is the inability to accept the accurate predictions made by Isaiah as authentic prophecy. Liberal scholars easily explain accurate predictions of the future as being written after the fact as history. For instance, in 1997 I might write a prediction of the election of Ronald Reagan as President and date it 1963. Such unbelieving explanations are very common throughout liberal books on the Prophets, and must be guarded against. I must note that prophecies such as Isaiah 53 were fulfilled well after the Hebrew scriptures were completed and is an amazingly accurate prediction of the Messiah and the crucifixion.
A different problem common throughout the Prophets is determining when they are describing events of the near future and when they are describing events still future to us. A knowledge of history may reveal that the events discussed have been fulfilled, or that such events have never been fulfilled. The first principle is to try to understand what the words would have meant to the original audience. The second is to look for fulfillment in history. If no adequate fulfillment has occurred, it is still future. A third principle is to carefully evaluate the prophecy and quotations (if any) in the New Testament to determine if it has been fulfilled in a way we may not have initially expected.
Events predicted by Isaiah may refer to any of the historical times listed:
722 BC Fall of Israel (Northern Kingdom) to Assyria
608 BC Daniel and some Nobles from Jerusalem taken into Captivity
581 BC Fall of Judah and Jerusalem to Babylon
538 BC First Return from Exile to Jerusalem
4 BC - 29 AD Life of Jesus the Messiah
29 AD - 2000+ AD Church Age
Future - Day of the Lord / Great Tribulation
Future - Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth
Future - Last Judgement
Future - Eternal State
Another problem of interpretation is that of applying the Word to ourselves. It is all to easy to concentrate on the predictions and forget that the prophets spoke God's Word to people in their own time, calling for life-style changes (repentance from sin and a change of actions resulting from that repentance). It must be remembered that Israel was under a national covenant, the Law of Moses, and we are not. We cannot therefore take every declaration and apply it directly. But, on the other hand, we cannot dismiss the fact that the same God who spoke through the prophets of Israel is still our God today. Social injustice, false religion, hypocrisy, drunkenness, and many other sins are just as applicable to Christians, and are easily seen in our modern nations.
In reading the verse, remember that Hebrew poetry is not divided by rhyme and rhythm (as English poetry), but by a repetition and comparision of ideas. For instance, in verse 1:2 both heaven and earth are called to listen. The actions of God as a parent nourishing children is contrasted to children rebelling against their parent (God). To emphasise this pattern, look for sets of two or three correlating phrases (separated by punctuation) in the following text. Try to understand how they relate to each other.
The most personal name of God, Yahweh, is used here. By tradition, English translations have rendered this name 'LORD', using all capital letters. By tradition, Jews do not pronounce this name, but substitute the word Lord when reading. The name has sometimes been pronounced Jehovah, but that pronounciation was based upon a misunderstanding of Hebrew tradition in writing the consonants for Yahweh with the vowels for Lord, as the original text did not contain vowels and later Jews inserted the vowels from the word Lord which was actually pronounced.
Enjoy studying Isaiah, the third longest book in the Bible (after Psalms and Jeremiah).
1:1 This verse sets the time of the book from just before the fall of the Northern Kingdom and continuing for about 70 years.
1:3 The words here show that the Lord does use sarcasm and wit. Although dumb animals know and obey their masters, 'religious' Israel doesn't accept or obey God as master.
1:4 People who reject Jesus and forsake Yahweh may think they are modern and progressive, but God calls them backward and estranged, out of touch with God and reality.
1:5 The oppression from Assyria, under the of beatings, is seen to be the Lord's attempt to get Israel to repent and return to Him. But as Israel continues to ignor the Lord, Assyria will continue to prevail.
1:10 The Lord looked for ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, but didn't find them. The cities were totally destroyed. Applying these names to Israel shows how serious their spiritual condition was. Would the Lord use these names for our country today?
1:11-17 Rituals and outward religion are not what counts. True worship of the Lord must include life changes, and in 16 and 17, "Learn to do good."
1:18 The LORD is merciful. How bad of a sin cannot be forgiven? Can a murderer be forgiven? A liar, cheat, thief? "Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow." This is an excellent memory verse for witnessing and answering questions on the extent of God's love for and forgiveness of sinners who will come to him.
1:23 In context, "They don't judge the fatherless" means that the judges do not pursue the causes of orphans or rule in their favor. Judges were to be advocates as well as judges (combined roles of today's lawyers and judges).
1:25 Dross is impurity in metal, which is removed during the refining process.
2:1-5 Is this prophecy fulfilled yet? Blessings as described do not appear to have ever been experienced. Even in times of relative peace a strong military has existed, which does not in this future kingdom. We must take the words in their common sense meaning, today nations still train for war. Perhaps we can expand the meaning of swords to include modern weapons of war such as rifles, but would still realize that the weapons would be destroyed and made into implements of peace, whether agricultural or industrial. There is of course no ancient Hebrew word for a rifle.
2:6-9 Note the contrast. In Isaiah's day Israel was following the religious pagan practices of the surrounding nations, but in the future all nations will go to Zion for ultimate knowledge. This knowledge was freely available to Israel at that time, but they rejected it. In the future, all nations will seek that knowledge.4:5-6 This visible presence of the LORD has not been recorded as having occurred in Scripture since the Exile, hence it is still future. Neither does the presence of a Jewish nation in Israel today fulfill any of this, as the glory of the LORD is not visibly present today. The presence of Jews in the land today may be a preliminary step for these prophecies.
6:1-10 I hardly know what to say! This is a central passage, the call of Isaiah. It refers to an earthquake that shook Jerusalem in the same year that King Uzziah, a leper, died. Check out the description of Revelation 4 for a similar vision of the Lord. After a dramatic call, and repentance and a confession of national sin by Isaiah, he is commissioned to speak to a people who will not listen!
7:7-9 The mixture of peoples in the Northern Kingdom after it's fall resulted in the Samaritans of the New Testament.
7:14-16 See the BKC, which gives a good presentation of the views on this important prophecy. I advise the reader to consider what the prophecy would have meant to Ahaz and Isaiah.
8:20 This verse gives the important principle that all spirits, leanings, thoughts, inspirations, ideas and etc. are to be tested against God's revealed word. No matter how wise our leaders, if they do not speak in accordance with the Word of God "they have no light of dawn."
10:5-6 Notice how God deals with the nations of the world. Isaiah was not claiming that Assyria was godly or that the empire even knew that God was using it to do His bidding.
11:6-9 There is a wide variety of interpretation, which may be summarized as follows:
Type of Interpretation Meaning Strictly Literal Real animals will live at peace with one another, animal nature will be changed (carnivores will not eat meat) at some future time. Symbolic This is a picture of peace, to the extent to which Christ reigns in the heart of believers, they experience this peace today. Figurative The animals depict the universal peace which will take place on Earth at some future time.
II. God and the Nations (Ch 13-23)
13-23 Note the importance of historical records from other sources in determining whether prophecies have been fulfilled (if unfulfilled they must be future, or fulfilled but we have no record). Difficulty in some of these passages is due, in part, to our lack of complete knowledge about the nations of that time and their later history.
13:1 Isaiah predicted the future here, and also predicted the future in the latter half of the book (often wrongly ascribed to a later author). However, skeptics will assume that any prediction was written after the fulfillment or was a coincidence. In a case such as this one, they will assume that these few verses were added later.
13:19-22 Although the BKC applies the fulfillment of the destruction of Babylon to 689 BC, this is inconsistent with the fact it was rebuilt "a few years after this destruction". Even BKC states that "she will not be lived in for generation after generation". Perhaps a much later destruction was intended (the Medo-Persian destruction also does not fit). Certainly this city is deserted in our day, and has been for a long time (although certain Iraqi leaders would like to rebuild it). Even if Iraq is able to rebuild it, the ethnic and political structure once known as Babylon, not simply buildings, is gone forever.
14 See the BKC. This chapter demonstrates the value of a good commentary in putting the historical background from secular sources together with the Bible events and prophecy. This background is essential to a proper interpretation of these passages.
III. God and the World (Ch 24-27)
25:1-5 In the BKC, Mr. Martin views the Millennial Kingdom (described here) as the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3; that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. I see no need to see the fulfillment postponed. I see adequate fulfillment when every nation and tongue has been evangelized and some from each has believed in Jesus Christ, the ultimate seed of Abraham. This will happen sometime before the beginning of the millennium, and before the return of our Lord to reign. I believe that Mr. Martin interprets Genesis 12:3 this way to avoid the possibility of this prophecy being fulfilled during the present Church Age. I do not believe that every nation has yet been evangelized as of 2006, but I hope to see it accomplished before the rapture of the Church.
27:2-6 God desired that Israel would make peace with Him after the Exile. Some Jews did return to the land, but they were not all faithful (the ultimate unfaithfulness was rejecting Jesus when He came). The full blessings are therefore seen as yet future. On the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 see the notes above. God blessing the nations does not have to be limited to providing salvation through Jesus Christ, but that does appear to be the most important aspect of the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.
IV. God and His People (Ch 28-33)
30 There would be a faction trusting in Egyptian alliances right up to the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Jeremiah would be forcibly taken to Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem by such a group.
V. Judgment and Salvation (Ch 34-35)
VI. Assyria and Babylon (Ch 36-39)
36:1-3 Note the date - 701 BC.
In chapter 39 final judgment is pronounced. Although Israel is delivered from the Assyrian threat, eventual exile to Babylon is inevitable. Therefore, Isaiah turned to words of comfort for the few believers and the Jews of the Exile. Israel would not be destroyed or assimilated as other nations, but a remnant would be preserved. Even though the LORD would punish Israel, He would not totally destroy them. Israel was faithless, but God would be faithful.
Because of this dramatic change of perspective (adequately explained), critics split the book here and attribute these chapters to a later author. There is no reason to look beyond a single Isaiah as the author. When it became clear that Israel would not repent even after the Assyrian deliverance, Isaiah preached comfort after the inevitable judgment. Those who cannot accept Isaiah in 700 BC accurately predicting the captivity of 581 BC and even the name of a later deliverer cannot accept Isaiah as the author. To acknowledge Isaiah as the author is also acknowledging the miraculous nature of prophecy; the creator and sustainer of the universe clearly speaks though His prophet.
41:2-4 Isaiah was writing in advance for people who would be enslaved in Babylon. This is a key to understanding Isaiah 40-66. As mentioned in the paragraphs above, the comforts offered to Israel were for a people under judgment in exile many years after the writing by Isaiah.
41:8-10 In the BKC it is stated, "Since the covenant the Lord made with Abraham was unconditional (Gen 15)..." This is a key point in dispensational theology. Many from the Reformed tradition hold that this quoted covenant was conditional, obedience by Israel was necessary for blessings in the land. Dispensational theology teaches that it is unconditional; God alone passed through the animals in Gen 15 and committed Himself. Therefore, all the land promises would be fulfilled either following the exile or following the Church Age. Since they were not fulfilled after the exile, only the future is left.
41:25-29 Note the use of north and east here. It sets a precedent for interpreting other uses of north. The invader here is established in the East, but has conquered other lands in the North. He will also invade Israel from the North. It is not necessary for a king to be from a northern land to be called an invader from the north.
44:3-5 In the BKC a pouring out of the Holy Spirit is said to happen 'when' the people have returned to the land in belief. I do not think the people are capable of returning in belief without the help of the Holy Spirit to begin with. Perhaps a filling of the Spirit is indicated, or an overwhelming presence of the Spirit.
44:15-20 This is one of the most striking uses of irony in the Bible. If the use of Idols were not so serious a matter, we would see the humor in it. How many other things do we make, and then worship? Perhaps houses, cars, careers and etc..
45:1-4 On Cyrus as the anointed: BKC suggests the term was applied because Cyrus served in lieu of Israel's king while in exile. But would't this also apply to other kings before and after Cyrus? None of them is mentioned as an anointed. I suggest that the term anointed is applied because Cyrus was called for a specific task to be performed as God's agent. This task was conquering Babylon and letting the Jews return to Israel.
45:4 This provides an example of how God may use unbelievers. Cyrus would serve the LORD and accomplish His purposes, yet did not know or acknowledge the LORD.
45:7 Our president recently addressed an economic summit. He basically gave an outline of his economic principles, attributing (as politicians do) all of the recent prosperity of our country to the steps he has initiated while in office. He continued to outline three steps that any nation can follow to be as economically successful as the United States. How arrogant! "I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." I do not propose to critique economic policy here, but to point out that the LORD cannot be left out of the picture. He is the source of our blessings.
45:8 The heavens raining down righteousness is obviously a figure of speech. This cannot be taken literally' if literal means that righteousness is water coming down from clouds. We usually consider an interpretation literal if it is a normal and common sense use of the language. My interpretation is that righteousness will fall on the inhabitants of the land, as rain falls on the ground. People will be made righteous by God (through Jesus). This makes as much sense as Mr. Martin's (BKC) interpretation that "God's standards will be followed." The ground does not make the rain fall, it receives the rain. In the same way, people do not make righteousness rain down by obeying God's standards'. People receive righteousness (and live it) by grace as a gift from God.
45:13 Note that Cyrus will "rebuild my city." This verse leaves open the possibility that the seventy weeks of years in Daniel's vision would be dated from an edict or decree issued by Cyrus. We have no written record of such a decree, only the decree to rebuild the temple. But the LORD through Isaiah says of Cyrus: "he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt.'" (44:28) Such a command by Cyrus would be a decree.
48:1-5 Israelites thought that being a citizen of Jerusalem was enough to merit God's protection and salvation. This is similar to many claiming to be Christians today who trust in membership in a church for a claim on God and heaven, even if they do not seek, know, or obey the Lord. In both cases they are mistaken.
VIII. Servant of the Lord (Ch 49-57)
49:7 It is evident that some gentile kings and princes (presidents included) have not waited for the return of the Lord to bow down to Him. Certainly it is a minority, but some world leaders have trusted in Christ. In some future day, all the rulers will acknowledge Him.
49:8-12 When is the 'day of salvation' with the servant as a covenant for the people? If we restrict the people to Jews, it is sometime in the future. If we allow all of Abraham's seed (including gentiles by faith) then the day of salvation is now, the present church age, and continues into the future.
49:17-21 It must be remembered that Israel was disobedient both before and after the exile. I do not hold all of God's promises to be unconditional. If conditioned on obedience or faith, Israel even after the exile forfeited the blessings God would have given.
49:22-26 One view is given in the BKC commentary. Another view is that the Church is the new Israel and that in the millennium both Jew and gentile believers will rule with Christ.
52:1-6 Speaking of the beginning of the Lord's visible reign on the earth, the millennium, it must be clarified whether that time is for a Jewish Remnant only or for all believers. I personally believe that the Jewish Remnant is contained within the Church. Certainly if there is any faithful remnant today, it must be within the church as all other Jews are unbelievers (any one that accepts the testimony of God concerning Christ becomes a part of the church).
53:1-12 The emphasis on the Jewish Remnant by the some commentators (such as the BKC) should not keep the reader from claiming all of this section as a believer. Certainly we all turned aside, the punishment that brought us peace was put on Him, by His wounds we are healed.
55:1-2 It is to be remembered that the New Covenant is established by the true and eternal Son of David (Jesus). I take this as the New Covenant established when we put our faith in Christ. Admittedly there are aspects of that covenant that await future fulfillment.
56:3-5 Perhaps the keeping of Sabbaths is to be taken symbolically for obedience to the Lord. Otherwise, we must expect the Law, fulfilled in Christ, to be reinstituted. During this Church age the literal observance of the Sabbath, on Saturday, is not practiced by most Christians. Instead, we observe the Lord's resurrection on the first day (Sunday).
56:6-8 The treatment of Redeemed Gentiles in the millennium as being anything other than Christians is difficult to accept.
IX. God as Savior and Judge (Ch 58-66)
60 This panoramic view of the prophet does not draw clear lines between the future events of the Millennium and the Eternal State.
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Updated March 2012