Moment of truth

Isaiah’s ministry covered a span of approximately 60 years. During his lifetime, Isaiah experienced what could be considered the best and worst times in Jerusalem’s history. During King Uzziah’s reign (792 B.C. – 740 B.C.), Judah’s powerful army of over 300,000 men expanded his kingdom’s borders and fortified the city of Jerusalem, making it a secure fortress that could withstand a long siege of enemy attack (2 Kings 16:5). Within a decade of Uzziah’s death, his grandson, king Ahaz cooperated with the Assyrians to defeat the northern kingdom of Israel and erected an altar in the temple of God so he could worship a Syrian god instead (2 Kings 16:15).

Isaiah confronted Ahaz in a location referred to as “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 7:3). Isaiah told the king of Judah, “The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17). Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s warning, no doubt thinking an alliance with the king of Assyria would  prevent him from attacking Jerusalem.

Isaiah recorded his prophecy about the king of Assyria as a testimony against king Ahaz and all who doubted God’s intention to punish Judah for its rebellion against him (Isaiah 8:7-8). Later, Isaiah added that Assyria would be destroyed after God was finished using them to punish Samaria and Jerusalem for their idolatry (Isaiah 10:12). Predicting specific details of the Assyrian attack, Isaiah showed the king of Judah that God controlled his kingdom and could give it to whomever he wished (Isaiah 22:20-25).

When Ahaz’s son Hezekiah took over as king in 715 B.C., Israel had already been taken into captivity and the king of Assyria was breathing down Judah’s neck. Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah made it clear that Assyria was doomed and Jerusalem would be spared from destruction (Isaiah 29:22; 30:31). Isaiah warned Hezekiah to not trust in Egypt, but to rely on the LORD. Isaiah stated, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also he will deliver it and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The moment of truth came in 701 B.C. when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them” (Isaiah 36:1). The king of Assyria sent a messenger to Hezekiah with a great army, “And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 36:2), the exact location where Hezekiah’s father had first been warned by Isaiah of an Assyrian attack against Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3,17). Sennacherib claimed to be on a mission from God. He told Hezekiah’s men, “And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10).

A sign

Isaiah’s first assignment was to speak to a king of Judah named Ahaz who did not believe in God. The nation of Judah was about to be invaded by a coalition of armies formed to oust king Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king referred to as “the son of Tabeal” (Isaiah 7:6). When Isaiah meets up with king Ahaz, he was checking his water supply to see if he could survive a long siege. It says of king Ahaz in Isaiah 7:2, “And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.”

The Hebrew word translated moved, nûwa‘ (noo´ – ah) means to waver. The king of Judah and his people were shaken up because during king Uzziah’s 52 year reign they had gained strength and were enjoying prosperity similar to the days of David and Solomon. It seemed unlikely they would need to defend themselves, but the threats made against them were real enough that king Ahaz thought it necessary to check his water supply. As Isaiah approached “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” he was instructed to tell king Ahaz to “take heed, and be quiet” (Isaiah 7:3-4).

Essentially, Isaiah was telling king Ahaz to take it easy and pay attention to what he was about to say. Isaiah had a message of comfort and encouragement to share with king Ahaz, but he wasn’t sure how his message would be received. King Ahaz was only 20 years old and likely had little or no military experience. His grandfather king Uzziah had only been dead about five years, and his father Jotham had done little to maintain Judah’s military strength.

After Isaiah told king Ahaz the plan to overthrow him would  fail, he said to the king, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). What Isaiah told king Ahaz was he needed to exercise his faith. More specifically, Ahaz needed to ask God for help and rely on God’s faithfulness, rather than trusting in his army to deliver him. Isaiah told Ahaz, “Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD” (Isaiah 7:11-12). Ahaz refused to give the LORD a chance to prove himself and earn Ahaz’s trust.

Following Ahaz’s rejection of God’s invitation to put him to the test, Isaiah delivered his first gospel message. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah went on to say that judgment was ahead and God would use the king of Assyria to devastate his people and ruin their land.

The sign God intended to give his people, a Messiah, indicated he did not want his people to be destroyed, but saved from their sins. In spite of his many attempts to win their favor, the people of Israel and Judah refused to put their faith in the LORD. In a message that was to be sealed up and kept as a testimony against Israel, Isaiah stated:

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A  confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself: and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

 

 

Lord over all

Isaiah was given the unique opportunity to appear before the Lord in his heavenly throne room. It says in Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. King Uzziah died in 740 B.C., therefore Isaiah’s appearance occurred more than 700 years before the Lord was born. Isaiah wanted everyone to be aware that the Lord was reigning in heaven before he was born on earth. It is important to note that Isaiah did not have a vision, but actually stood in the Lord’s presence.  Isaiah did not refer to God by his personal name, but by his title adonay, which means “Lord” or “Lord over all” (136). “In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (113).

Christ himself assumed the title of Lord during his earthly ministry. “His purpose did not become clear to the disciples until after his resurrection, and the revelation of His Diety consequent thereon” (2962). An interesting aspect of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is they never referred or spoke to him using his personal name. “The title ‘Lord,’ as given to the Savior, in its full significance rests upon the resurrection, and is realized only in the Holy Spirit” (2962). Given this explanation of the use of the title Lord, it seems clear that Isaiah was in the presence of the Lord Jesus and was commissioned by him to “Go, and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:9) about him.

The message Isaiah was commissioned to preach was the birth of the Messiah. Although there were references to the Messiah before Isaiah’s ministry, no one spoke as openly or plainly about the expected Savior as Isaiah did. A key to understanding the significance of the Messiah is found in Isaiah 6:3 where it says, “The whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah’s ministry marked the start of the proclamation of the gospel that still continues today, and will continue, until it reaches every person in the entire world.

In order for Isaiah to fulfill his commission, he had to be equipped to preach the gospel while he was still in an unsaved or unregenerate state. Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe is me! for I am undone: because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah received a type of cleansing similar to what is referred to in the New Testament as renewing (Titus 3:5). It says of his sins in Isaiah 6:7, “thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.” Apparently, Isaiah returned to a sinless state, but it probably wasn’t permanent as with salvation or being born again (Romans 11:27).

A parable

Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2) was used to describe the role Judah, and more specifically Jerusalem, had in God’s plan of salvation. Isaiah stated plainly in his parable that a partnership existed between God and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. God had done his part to ensure the Messiah would be born, but his kingdom had become unfit for habitation. Isaiah’s parable provided an important clue as to why the Messiah would not establish his kingdom until the last days, God’s people were corrupted by idolatry.

God had gone to great lengths to nurture and protect his people. In spite of his efforts, they refused to do things his way. Isaiah identified several problems the LORD intended to deal with in his judgment of the people of Judah, most importantly, their abuse of the land he had given them. Speaking for the LORD, Isaiah stated, “And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up, and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:5-6).

Isaiah’s use of the term “wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:2,4) to describe the fruit of the LORD’s vineyard indicated the people of Judah had reached a point of no return in their abandonment of God’s law. The Hebrew word translated wild grapes, be’ushiym means poison-berries (891). Poison-berries are usually colorful and juicy looking, but toxic if ingested. Some poison-berries are lethal and it could be that Isaiah named a specific poison-berry in order to make his point that the vineyard had to be abandoned and was useless to its owner.

Part of the reason for God’s judgment against Judah was a need to expose the people’s sin and to condemn their bad behavior. As a demonstration of their unfaithfulness to God, the people would be removed from the land and humbled before the surrounding nations. It says in Isaiah 5:13, “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”

The word translated captivity, galah means to denude or make oneself naked, especially in a disgraceful sense (1540). Captivity is also referred to as going into exile, captives being usually stripped in order to disgrace and humiliate them in public. Another meaning of the word galah is to reveal and it is sometimes applied to “the revealing of secrets and of one’s innermost feelings.” I believe God sent his people into captivity so that they could see themselves for what they really were, sinners in need of a Savior.

 

The voice of reason

The ministry of Isaiah the prophet began when king Uzziah died in 740 B.C. and spanned four generations of kings until at least 697 B.C., when Manasseh began a coregency with his father king Hezikiah. Isaiah opens his message by stating he has received a vision from the LORD that pertains to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). The purpose of this divine communication was to reveal what was going to happen, so the people would be prepared for it. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s message was ignored, or at least not taken seriously, until it was clear Judah was on the pathway to destruction.

At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, circumstances contradicted what he said was going to happen. During king Uzziah’s reign, Judah had increased in strength and was expanding its borders. Uzziah’s military successes caused Judah’s enemies to retreat and remain at a distance, allowing his army to grow to more than 300,000 men. While Uzziah was very methodical in his approach to managing his kingdom, he was also innovative and could compete with the strongest of nations for precious resources.

Isaiah’s opening comment indicates the issue was a matter of loyalty. “Hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:2-3). The Hebrew word translated consider, biyn means to separate mentally or distinguish (995). Biyn has to do with wisdom and  is associated with paying attention to something or noticing what is going on.

When we have considered something, it will affect our behavior and guide our actions. It can lead to change if it has affected our way of thinking. Considering takes place in the heart, not the mind, and it is not the same as thinking about something. It could be said that to consider something is to give it a place in your heart. In essence, to consider something is to let it affect you. Whether it is a thought or a person, considering expresses an attachment that indicates approval or affection.

One of the main points the LORD wanted his people to consider was his forgiveness of their sins. It says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” At this point in Israel’s history, God’s plan of redemption applied only to them. With the exception of the city of Nineveh, no other nation had experienced God’s forgiveness. And yet, Judah did not consider God’s favor important to their success.