Isaiah Introduction: the Author, the Book, the Time, The Message

Ds J Bruintjes
Jesaja inleiding
Preek Inhoud: 

Today we start on a new journey. A journey where hopefully we can experience God even more fully, more deeply, more experientially, in all his holiness, glory, judgement, and grace. Because this book is about God. The entire Bible is about Him. But this book has attracted the church throughout the ages. He has been called the prince of the prophets. I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that it is filled with the gospel. Isaiah is directly quoted 66 times in the New Testament, second only to the Psalms (quoted 79 times). Allusions to Isaiah in the New Testament are at 348 times, more than any other Old Testament book, including Psalms (alluded to 333 times). 

We are about to start on an amazing journey of discovering, maybe for the first time, the glory of God, his goodness, his justice, his grace, and his love for his people through Jesus Christ. Yes, our Lords name is not mentioned once in this book, but those who do not see him in the pages of this book, have eyes but do not see, hears but do not hear, hearts but do not understand.

What I want to do is just very broadly talk about the prophet, the book, the time and its message,

The Author

Isaiah means “Salvation of the Lord.” A beautiful name that summarizes his message. He was called to be a prophet ‘in the year that king Uzziah died’ (6:1), i.e. in 740/739 BC; his last appearance which can be dated with certainty was at the time of Sennacherib’s campaign of 701 BC. But most scholars think he worked underground in the reign of Manasseh in 681 because he records the death of Sennacherib. Tradition has it that he was sawed in half hiding in a hallow tree in Manasseh’s reign.

He was probably a scribe in the palace and probably even related to the royal family. Which would explain the ease with which he goes in and out of the Palace.

But his greatest honor and greatest burden was that he was a man that was personally called by God, filled with the Spirit of Christ to bring words of judgement and comfort to Gods people – all the while pointing them to the horizon of the Messiahs coming – and the coming of his kingdom. This is about God working through one human – called Isaiah – using his background, his character, to write his word on the pages of holy Scripture.

Dear church – this is the word of God through men as the Spirit carried them along so that verse might speak to their own generation and their own time, pointing them to the savior and the need for him. And at the same time that time bound message is timeless – speaking to Gods people in every age and every place as they unfold the mysteries of Christ and grow in maturity in him.

The book

This brings us to a related discussion – that I believe to be very important. There as so many today that say that Isaiah could not have written the whole book, because what happens in chapter 40-66 happen at least a hundred years after his death. Many prophets predict history – But this prophet is speaking to a people yet unborn!

And indeed, he is! We know this is not first of all written by Isaiah but God – and God knows the future.! This is the whole point of Isaiah! That God is the god of the future. He is sovereign over every king and kingdom, every battlefield, and strategy room! The point is that we can trust him. O if only we would trust him. Isaiah speaks to a people at least 100 years in the future – so that the people in the present may know that God reigns and the people in the future may see that he is the God who never fails in his promises!

God is guiding all things to the end for which he made it – that is that he might be exalted, and glorified and enjoyed forever by his people!  The sovereign one who is guiding all of history to the coming of his Son – and to his eternal reign!

All of church tradition say Isaiah is authorship of the whole book. Scrolls two hundred years before Christ have the book under one author. And the whole book has similar themes throughout although addressed to different people. This book is a profound unity, fitting beautifully into all of Scripture, woven together to give us a picture of the sovereign Lord, who will himself redeem his people through a suffering servant – the rejected one who turns out to be the king of glory who be exalted to reign and establish his kingdom forever in righteousness and justice!

I hope you see this is how story. And its intense. Confronting and convicting. Filled with judgement and darkness – sin and misery. But through that darkness there is a silver thread, and beam of light – a sun that is just peaking over the horizon. A king is coming to establish the eternal kingdom.

The Time:

Again and again, It is important to realize that the Bible is unlike any other religious book that you will ever read. Our God reveals himself in the context of time and space. God is not about just making pronouncements. God is about relating to his people in the time and place where they are at.. He did that with them through the preaching of Isaiah. And I pray he does it through me today. So, if we want to understand what God is saying to us, we must understand what God is saying to them. Their time. This is our story. These are our people. This is our history.

Written more than 2500 years ago, to a people and a time very different than our own. So much was happening in the world around that time. In China the first ruler revolted against the Zhou dynasty which had been in power fourteen generations. In India an ancient text for the Hindu religion was written. There were huge empires in north and south America. The Olympic games had just started in Greece.

Closer to Israel, the Syrian empire was losing power, and the Assyrian empire was in conquest mode, as military king after military king expanded its territory. But the focus is on a tiny little country caught up in world politics, on a line of kings who live in fear, on a city that at the beginning of his ministry lived the life of consumerism, and wealth, but at the end is perilously close to being overrun. 

Why? Because the God who was in control of all history from the Americas to China was bringing his plan to redeem people from every nation through this one nation. Above all kings and empires, above all people the king rules in glory – absolutely.  These seemingly insignificant people were his chosen people through which the blessing of nations would come! The question is do the people trust him or themselves. 

And the answer is hard to swallow – they keep going back to their sin as a dog goes back to his vomit. Trusting in their own strength, and power – until God crushes it. And he himself makes clear it is he that saves. Do you see it. Unless you are brought to your knees you will never learn to pray.

The message:

There are several themes or threads that we will see throughout this book in each of the major sections.

God is king of the kingdom.

You cannot avoid this theme. Its everywhere. Isaiah saw the Lord High and lifted when he was called in Isaiah 6. This is the language of royalty of kingship. We read about all kinds of kings and kingdoms. Some kings so great and powerful that their names are not even spoken, like the king of Assyria when he threatens Jerusalem through his prophet Sennacherib.  But above all it is about the kingdom of God. He himself will be the king, and judge of his people. At the end of the day the Lord alone is to be exalted above the nations, and no one else. He will bring down all who lift themselves up in pride, and lift up the brokenhearted and crushed. He will bring justice and righteousness to his people and the nations!

He is the king and Lord – so any alliance with another nation is a rejection of is reign, and power, and is a lack of trust. None of the kings could seem to trust the Lord very long. Gods people are looking for a king who will trust the Lord in the face of the greatest threat. A king willing not to grasp for worldly power, but heavenly power. Not an Ahaz who gave the gold of the temple way for safety, or Hezekiah who showed all the wealth of his kingdom, including the gold of the temple to please Babylon.

So the questions is, Will Gods people trust God?  And obey? Trust and obey for there is no other way. Israel was made to serve this sovereign. And throughout the book we are looking for that servant. Until we meet in in the last chapters. God as king and sovereign goes with us as his people in service to him, through the faithful servant Jesus Christ.

The biggest problem is not political in this kingdom, it is sin. And the greatest problem in the  kingdom is not out there its in the heart. The promised salvation in its fullest sense is based on the forgiveness of sins (cf. 1:18; 6:5f., etc.), and it consists further in a renewal of the heart (cf., e.g., 32:15ff.). Because sin is the greatest danger to Gods people dwelling with God. Which brings us to a related theme.

Holy one of Israel

Dear church in case you don’t know this: God the king is HOLY HOLY HOLY. And more than any other book in the Bible Isaiah wants to impress this upon Gods people. And God wants to make sure you his people here in Bellville know who you are dealing with when you are dealing with the Holy One of Israel! As Amos has been called the prophet of righteousness and Hosea the prophet of lovingkindness, so Isaiah has been called the prophet of holiness (cf. 1:4; 5:16, 24; 8:14; 10:17, 20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:23; 30:11f.; 31:1; 37:23, etc.). Gods holiness is displayed nowhere better in all its beauty as in this book.

He is so highly exalted above his creatures as to be totally different from them, not only in his moral perfection (cf. 6:5) but also in his power, his wrath, his love, his faithfulness and all his virtues (cf. also 29:16; 31:3). Yahweh’s holiness is the very essence of his divine being, which causes men to tremble before him as they worship him.

God as the light that gives Light.

Another major theme in this book is that Israel was called to be a light to the nations – they were called to proclaim his glories among the peoples. God is sovereign over all nations. He wants all nations to praise him. And as we go through Isaiah you see more and more the nations share Israel’s judgment, but they will also share the blessings. It is not like missions is only a NT thing, it is the means through which God has ordained that the earth should be filled with his glory and all things should worship him and him alone.

Hope through judgement:

And because He has entered into a covenant with Israel, Israel’s sin is the worst kind of sin – it is rebellion or apostasy (1:2–4; 30:1–9, etc.). Instead of preserving due humility in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, they are haughty and frivolous (2:6ff.; 3:8; 5:15f., 19ff.; 22:1ff.; 28:15; 29:14ff.; 32:9ff., etc.). Isaiah insists that sin, in whatever sphere it may be committed, is first and foremost sin against God. And so God must judge his people as the exalted God.

This holy God has associated himself in a special way with Israel (1:2; 5:1ff., etc.), and uniquely with the house of David (8:13; 11:1, etc.). He dwells in the midst of Israel, on Mt Zion (8:18; 11:9, etc.).

The fact that God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ involves a massive tension. On the one hand, he is filled with righteous anger with Israel’s sin; on the other hand, he does not break his covenant with Israel. So, you have the theme, Salvation comes through judgment. In his wrath God remembers mercy. Through the darkness – there is the light that shines. The remnant will be saved.

The God that breaks hard hearts

Isaiah 6:9–10 reads, “And he said, ‘Go and say to this people, hear indeed but do not perceive, see indeed but do not know. Cause the heart of this people to remain fat and ears to remain heavy and their eyes to remain blind otherwise they will see with their eyes and hear with their ears and perceive with their heart and repent and I will heal them.’” The terms within the text reflect Isaiah’s background. Emphases on hearing, seeing, perceiving, and knowing, and the inability of the heart to believe comes out again and again. Adams sin is reaching its pinnacle in Israel – Preparing the way for the exalted one to come, and deliver them, by bearing the ultimate punishment – so that our proud hearts may once for all be broken though the power of God.

And indeed, you find that through all the judgement there is a tremendous message of hope of comfort! Because you now realize God will not turn back on his promises. He will defeat his enemies; he will plant his people. This is history. Their history. Our history. But more than that – this is about the restoration of all things! It is about the promises made to Adam and Eve to Abraham, to David! There is hope!

That’s the story that God is writing. A story of grace. Sometimes grace is not that sweet little thing we imagine. Sometimes grace is violent – it breaks the soul down to realize there is nothing that we as God peoples offer to him, and everything that he offers us. But that same grace builds even as it breaks down. It transforms a people in the words of Isaiah into oaks of righteous.

The exile that Isaiah prophecies is not a final exile, but that someone would come to be exiled – and sent from Gods presence. Someone to bear your sin.

At the end of this book Christ is its center. This book, more than any other OT book, as more of the NT in it, and more of the OT in it than any other OT book. It has been said if you had to have only one book of the whole Bible this might be it! the Gospel is clear, the need of the people is clear, the call to mission is clear, and the end of all thing’s glorifying God is clear.

This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These people were saved by grace. A grace that came through the ultimate judgement. The ultimate exile. The ultimate return. The ultimate restoration in the death, resurrection, ascension and return of the great servant, the faithful Israelite – Our Lord Jesus Christ.