Isaiah Part One Deep Dive
DEEP DIVE INTO ISAIAH | DR KYLE KEIMER
How do we dive into the Book of Isaiah, one of the most theologically significant and complex books of the Bible? Well, before we become daunted about reading sixty-six chapters, we find a nice summary statement of the key messages of judgment and hope that run throughout the book in Isaiah 1. It is a chapter that looks backwards and is full of references and allusions to earlier biblical passages (e.g. Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28), and it is a chapter that looks to the future. Significantly, Isaiah 1 is the present experience of a future possibility that was detailed in Deuteronomy 32. Deuteronomy 32 is a warning to Israel about what will happen if they break their covenant with God; Isaiah 1 is written shortly after the Neo-Assyrian Empire has decimated the Kingdom of Judah in 701 BC as a result of this lack of covenant keeping.
The idea of God’s judgment is rife in Isaiah. But so is the idea of hope. It is the juxtaposition of these two concepts that highlights God’s justice and righteousness and Israel’s (and our) lack of virtue. You see, Isaiah 1 shows us that salvation comes from and through God alone, not through our striving. This gives us hope. Another way to think about it is that the Book of Isaiah is tying to highlight what the rest of the Bible is all about: deepening the grasp of God’s reality. In this regard, the prophet Isaiah himself is so important because he expounds greatly upon the reality of God and God’s plan, and he tries to call Israel back to this plan, back to the Torah (the ‘law’ or ‘teaching’). God’s reality is made known through the Torah — the law — and while prophetic proclamations, such as those given by Isaiah, are built upon the already existent knowledge of God, they are simultaneously not subordinate to the law. God is free to send prophetic messages that offer further revelation or that are meant to correct man’s understanding of the law.
god’s reality and our reaction
With this in mind, we can say that Christ also is meant to deepen the reality of God as He is the fulfillment of the law. Further, the apostle Paul’s work, which draws upon all of Hebrew scripture, also deepens our understanding of God’s reality. Yet, the words so common from the mouths of Christ and Paul are an expression of the essence of Isaiah’s messages, in particular, key parts of Isaiah 1: God is just and righteous (punishment comes if we deserve it), and God is gracious and mighty to save (He will save us because we can’t do it ourselves). There is nothing that humanity can do to bridge the gap that we created when we broke (time and again) our covenants with God. Only God can choose to forgive our transgressions. What we need to do is say ‘thank you’ (Read Galatians 2-3 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
When we come to God from this place of humility, we are living out the nature of a true relationship with God as Isaiah sees it. There is an affective (relational) and a volitional (performative) component to our faith that leads us, out of love for God, to distance ourselves from the world and changes the way we live.
Do we have such a right relationship with God? Isaiah 1:24-26 is quite interesting because these verses can stir two different reactions within us. The first is a negative reaction that causes panic because the verses discuss the judgment of God. The second is a positive reaction that arises because we see these verses as discussing the salvation of God. The perspective depends on how we live our lives and with whom we relate in these verses. Are we scared of God’s judgment because we are living as enemies of God? Are we the dross that He will burn away? Or, do we rejoice in the fact that God’s salvation means we will be/are purified and have had our dross removed? Perhaps we could say, have we heeded the message of Deuteronomy 32 so we do not need to reap the reality of Isaiah 1?
The golden thread
The entire message of the Bible, from Genesis 3 onward, is that 1) God is faithful in His love, 2) that the evil one (Satan) will resist that love-solution, but 3) that this love-solution will emerge from what appears to be total defeat (Romans 8:31-39)! How is this so? Because of the faithful Servant of the Lord in whom we place our trust: Jesus. When one begins to absorb this astounding message — that salvation comes from God alone and through His faithful actions in Christ — that courses throughout Isaiah (who prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, ca. 750-700 BC) it becomes clear that the moment in time and space recorded in Isaiah 1 (ca. 701 BC) was a 'teaching' moment for Judah: what really counts is not what is seen but what is unseen (stunningly expressed in 2 Corinthians 4-5 which culminates with the central kernel of Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
What happened right after the Assyrian siege and conquest of the city of Lachish and the Judean countryside (which are the events alluded to in Isaiah 1) reveals the same reality as what happened right after Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, and what happened soon after Jesus died on the cross — God brought salvation. The hope tied to this salvation that Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah and others expressed culminates on the cross but also in the empty tomb. Peter, Paul and others realized this through various experiences, and wonder of wonders, we Gentiles actually have their reports to ponder. Do you see why Paul emphatically states in Romans 11, 'Don't be proud, stand in awe'? So, as the Book of Isaiah looks backward to highlight God’s mercy, grace, justice, and righteousness, it explains these attributes in real-time, in contexts in which Israel/Judah has not heeded God’s word or has tried to save themselves. These failures have led to judgment. But judgment does not mean complete destruction. God’s mercy allows for salvation through His actions if people will but turn to Him and trust in Him. His righteous fire can either destroy or purify. What do you want it to do to you?