For background to this chapter you should go to I Kings 16. There are a lot of historical events that are taking place in this chapter. But this is also the chapter around which revolves the reason why it is such a powerful Advent book of the Bible. Look at vs.10-14 and you should be able to settle into the Christmas story pretty comfortably. Ahaz is the king of Judah, which is one of the two nations which composed what was at one time Israel. Israel at that time, at least the nation called Israel, had turned completely against the Lord and had allied itself with foreign nations and was looking to attack Judah. Ahaz, petrified of this new alliance, didn’t know what to do, whether he should ally himself with this new group, who had actively turned against the Lord, or hang in there and stand firm with the Lord.
So the Lord commands Isaiah to go and have a talk with him. If you doubt, Ahaz, that the Lord is on your side, then ask of Him a sign, any sign you may want. Hang in there, don’t buckle under the military pressure, know that God is on your side. But if you doubt, ask for a sign, anything you want. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, so Isaiah provides one for him.
The young girl, one of his wives?, his daughter?, will have a son. Notice the Hebrew does not say a virgin, but a young girl, but that’s okay because the New Testament does say a virgin to describe Mary. I have no problem with God performing a real miracle in the birth of Jesus even if Isaiah does say that it is a young girl. God takes it another step and allows the Holy Spirit to perform a miracle which will define our relationship with him, he takes our lives and turns them for the good, whether we realize it or not.
The name of the child will be Emmanuel, God with us. This is what Advent is all about, waiting for this child to come.
So this chapter has this song as a tribute to it. It is a hymn that brings a tear to all of our eyes. But why is that? This chapter is the calling of Isaiah. Isaiah finds himself in a vision where seraphs (read winged creatures but not angels) are around the Lord who is sitting on a throne and his presence, the hem of his robe, fills the entire temple, which would be his home.
Isaiah states that he is not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord because his lips are unclean. Now, as a prophet having unclean lips must lead inevitably to unclean statements. So having unclean lips as a prophet, or as a pastor, is a terrible situation in which to find oneself. But God has an answer for that: a hot coal. This hot coal will clean his lips. The lips are cleansed and now God has a question for the general public: Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?
Isaiah realizes that his sin has been blotted out and that he is now prepared to do the work of the Lord, not because he was worthy, but because he was made worthy by the work of the Lord. Here I am, send me. Whenever we hear a song that commands us to go serve the Lord without pretense and without our ability being what dictates our actions, it moves us. It is a song about the love of God who makes us ready to go out to let people know about the love of God. Now, the whole vss.9-13 aren’t so endearing, but they aren’t in the hymn anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Isaiah gives us a simile with the image of a vineyard. He tells us about his vineyard and how he cared for it and planted it and did everything he needed to do in order for it to grow, but it only produced wild, bitter grapes. He then says in vs. 7: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.” The entire chapter is dedicated to the disappointment that the Lord must feel for the people that he had so carefully watched over and yet they did not return the favor.
There is also an undercurrent of chastising against those who drink too much. He warns the people that when wine overcomes them, then they are overcome by others in defeat. It is a simple message, but one that is also good for the ages. Anytime any substance finds itself in our body and runs our body, then we are no longer able to follow the pursuits that the Lord would want us to do, rather, we are like a rudderless ship directed by the wind, which is the substance. It makes the Lord angry, we read, when people do not follow him.
In this chapter we read that hell has a special place for them as well. Look at vs.14 and we read: “Sheol (hell) has enlarged her appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, the nobility of Jerusalem (those who thought they were safe) and her multitude go down.” This is a real warning for any of us who think we are safe by coasting through our life and not really paying attention to our faith or the relationship that we have with God. God is always paying attention and wants to be in relationship with us, even when we disregard him. This chapter states that there might come a day when God has to simply tear down and replant.
A short little chapter in Isaiah here, but one that has so much meaning and nuance. The first verse is an indication that there are no longer men left in the town because they have either all been deported, sent to war, or ran away because of the incessant conflict in that area. All that are left are the women who are looking for someone who would give them a last name otherwise they would be left abandoned for the rest of their lives. That is the way that it was back then. The man provided the safety, security, and respect that was needed for the woman. There are exceptions, of course, such as Deborah, but this tended to be the norm. I find it fascinating that they say that they do not need to be provided for materially, they will provide their own bread and their own clothes, just remover their disgrace by being alone.
The prophet says that the only ones left in Jerusalem will be called holy. God will revamp the city and those who are in it and cleanse the city and those who are in it by the power of His hand. It is a beautiful picture of a rebirth after a time where only desolation is present.
I remember in seminary I took a class and we had to translate in Hebrew Isaiah chapters 1-11. It was a chore, but I remember specifically chapter 3 because of the many vocabulary words that I had to look up in order to finish the translation. In so much of the Old Testament Hebrew you find words that are repeated and used over and over again. Well, in chapter 3 you find a whole new world of words that aren’t used anywhere else in Scripture. It is a very descriptive chapter that lets us know that God is taking away support from Judah because Israel betrayed God.
It is in essence a chapter which speaks about the judgment of the Lord on those who do not follow His ways. It is also very specifically addressed to a nation state. We do not live in a theocracy, thank God, no really, thank God, but I do often hear people talk about how God has blessed the US in a very unique way. I’m guessing the reason why people say that is because of the prosperity and the peace that we have enjoyed for so many years now. But keep in mind how we have said that prosperity is not a direct sign of obedience or blessing.
But this chapter speaks about how God is going to remove from the nation: support and staff, warrior, soldier, judge, prophet, diviner, elder, captain, and counselors. Instead children will rule the nation, which assumes a maturity that would be wanting. Everyone will be oppressed by each other and by all of their neighbors. The young will be totally disrespectful to their elders. As you follow along I hope you understand the type of society that it is depicting. One in which none of us would ever want to live.
But part of this is also the expectation that some day things will get better, and that getting better can only happen when the Messiah comes. As I said in an earlier blog post: Maranatha!
This chapter gives us some great social ministry verses that would be good for us to know and know well. Look first at vs. 4 and you will read “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like this:
But the prophet transitions from speaking about a time when we would study war no more, to a time that the people have been humbled and so the Lord of hosts will come again and cast judgment upon them. It makes your head spin a bit as we read that people will flock to his holy mountain to worship him, but then in the next verses we read that people will enter the caves of rocks and holes in the ground in order to flee from the terrible presence of the Lord.
But it does all make sense within a context of the coming of the Christ. When God does come back he will turn against anything that is lifted up against him and considered not his ally, but his enemy. This is indeed considered a time when God will come back and make all things new, and make all things right under his reign. A part of that would be to abolish war. Maranatha!!
The prophet Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament. We find the prophet referring to the birth of a child to a virgin (young woman) which then Luke takes and turns it into the classic Christmas story. This is later on in Isaiah but significant for this time of year. Isaiah is used often for both Advent and Lent because it is a book which speaks about waiting for the coming of Christ who will free and liberate us from our current condition. Isaiah was written in a time in the history of Israel when things were pretty bad. The people had been taken into captivity and were slaves in Babylon. Isaiah speaks out of that context and addresses the nation of Israel in order to restore their relationship to God which must have been fractured. Their current state was proof of that fracture.
There is much upon which we can focus. I would like to focus on vs.16 and 17 which tells the people of Israel that they need to focus, even while they are in captivity, upon making sure that they “must cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.” Often when we find ourselves in times of crisis we don’t do a real good job in looking outward to those who might need help. We tend to circle the wagons and try to make sure that our families, our loved ones, the ones that we know and “care about” are taken care of. But here Isaiah states that it is in times such as these that the most vulnerable of our society will be overlooked and trampled upon. Do not let it happen.
As a result of that message I have always made it a point to make sure that any church in which I serve our focus and emphasis would never be to make ourselves great, but rather to reach out to the least of these and strengthen them and lift them up. When we try to make ourselves great, then the desires of God will be overlooked. When we try to rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow, then I think we will find God’s blessings continue to fall upon us. When we try to focus on ourselves then I believe God’s hand is removed from us. This is a great first chapter to introduce Isaiah because this will be a continual emphasis.
Would you be upset if when you get to heaven you would find Hitler there? Or what if you get to heaven you would find Osama bin Laden? Or what if we get to heaven and we see people there who have hurt us badly, who have not lived their lives on this earth in a way that you would think might give them an opportunity to ever get into heaven? Jonah was furious. “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?” He ran away from God because he did not want the people of Nineveh to hear the Gospel and then repent and then be saved. They did not deserve to be saved. There is no place in heaven for Stalin, or for anyone who was a tyrant and an architect of genocide on this earth. Isn’t there a special place in hell for all of them? Jonah was sure there was a special place in hell for the Nineveties, after all, they deserved it.
But they were saved and Jonah was furious. He went up to see the destruction of the city and fully expected God to act in a way that would have been just in our eyes. God did not. God repented, or changed his mind, or whatever you want to say, God did not destroy the Ninevites. We end the book of Jonah with God teaching him a lesson about the clay and the potter. We end the book of Jonah with God teaching him a lesson about creator and creature. We end the book of Jonah with God teaching him a lesson on providence and subject. We end the book of Jonah hopefully convicted for each of those times that we spoke about someone in light of them not deserving any of the grace of God that we receive from God. Surely they don’t deserve to have the same blessings that we have, after all, look at them. Look at us, we are the most of the undeserving.
It is one of my favorite books of the Bible because I often experience those who feel as if they deserve the grace of God over and above others in this nation. But the reality is that none of us deserve it, so whatever any of us gets, is bonus. I can also identify with a prophet of God who doesn’t always feel that what they have been tasked to do is exactly what they had in mind. It helps me to resist any thought of running away from where God has placed me.
Can you imagine cows wearing sackcloth and ashes? That is what the message of Jonah describes, the mandate that if you really wanted to show that your country was repentant then everyone, including the beasts of burden, needed to show that they were really sorry. Look at vs.8 you will see what the king of Nineveh demands, that “people and animals shall be covered with sackcloth.” How does one put sackcloth on a cow? I guess one hoof at a time.
I always use vs.10 in this chapter as an example of how our prayers and our petitions to God actually make an impact. Read vs.10 again and tell me what you hear. Let me lay it out there so that you can read it again: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring up on them; and he did not do it.”
God changed his mind. God changed his mind. Did you read that. Because of how the people repented, God changed his mind. The impact that we have upon God cannot be overstated. Like any good parent who hears His children, that parent responds to the request of His children, so God responds to the parameters that he had established with the people of Nineveh. If you repent, then I will save you. They repented. He saved them.
I want to be sure that every person who is reading this knows that we are able to change God’s mind. God loves us so much, and cares for our needs and our life so much that if we do what God asks us to do, then that will create a whole change of events which will always lead to our good. This is at the root of what we read in Romans in chapter 8:28 which tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God. What a great Scripture this is.
We find ourselves in the setting where Jonah is in the belly of the fish. While he is in that fish he prays. That’s not a bad thing to do while you are in the belly of a fish. As he is praying he focuses on how he called out to God in his distress trusting and hoping that God would deliver. He states in vs.7 that as he was dying, he remembered the Lord.
Isn’t it nice to know that the Lord remembers us in every single moment of our lives, not just in these crises moments? It is interesting to me that here is Jonah, a prophet of the Lord, and somehow in the midst of all these activities he had to “remember the Lord.” It might be a reminder to us that we should never find ourselves in a place where we have to consciously “remember the Lord”, but rather that a song should always be on our lips. When we say that we ought to pray without ceasing, taking our example from Paul in I Thessalonians 5:17, it means that we should constantly have the blessings and the presence of God on our mind and be aware of that.
In this sudden moment of clarity for Jonah we then read a proclamation that we are grateful that he makes. He states: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Oh yes it does, and immediately after that we see that Jonah is spewed up on the dry land. At this point, at the end of chapter 2, we do not know yet where this dry land is. We don’t know if he is spewed up in Nineveh, or somewhere else. We just know that he was delivered. Maybe he can go home and continue on his life without that impossible task of bringing the Gospel to the Ninevites. Let’s see what happens next chapter.