This post and those to follow are extracts from a draft chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology’ Vol. 1 (forthcoming d.v.)
The prophet Isaiah prosecuted his ministry between around 755 to 685 B.C. Isaiah has a lot to say about both the developing picture of the Creation Project and the person of the promised King who will reign upon the earth. His presentation of both of these broad themes furthers the developmental picture of the covenant program greatly.
The Prophet before his God
Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in chapter 6 of his book helps us to understand the rest of what he had to say. The prophet is confronted by the unimaginably majestic vision of the throne room of God, being brought face to face with the King of the universe (Isa. 6:5b). In this environment he quickly becomes acutely aware of his own decrepitude and unworthiness. He is a sort of microcosm of the people of Israel to whom he is sent, and to every reader of his work.
The vision of the holy King in Isaiah 6 grants a glimpse of God, albeit terrifying, but with a lining of hope, that not only enables us to make (some) sense of God’s difficult words in the book, but also invites us to examine ourselves personally and corporately…
The prophet sees his own sin before denouncing the sins of Israel, and is given many indications of sin’s vanquishing by the Judge on the throne. Restoration, salvation, healing, and harmony are brought before the chosen race in this book; especially in and through the Messiah, whom Isaiah likes to call God’s “Servant,” in the second main division of the work. Although there is an irony in that the prophet’s message will only accelerate Israel’s decline.
Be that as it may, the hope which punctuates this book originates directly from the One who sits exalted on the throne. If there was no hope from that quarter there would be no point in asking “Who will go for us?” for it would only be a fool’s errand of one doomed sinner telling every other doomed sinner what bad things God had in store for them all. The vision of God in chapter 6 may be strategically placed so that, as Oswalt comments: “Just as the man of unclean lips had to abandon all hope before being cleansed by fire, so too must the nation.”
The Lord (‘adonay) is seen in a temple (Isa. 6:1), and the whole vision concerns the created earth (6:3). The fact that the Almighty cleanses the prophet before He asks for a volunteer (6:7-8) shows that a redemptive mission is in His mind. Isaiah goes forth “for Us” (the plurality that is the Lord). And even though there will be judgment against willful sin (6:9-10), yet in the end some, the “holy seed,” will be saved (6:13 cf. 4:3).
The Introduction to the Book
As Isaiah’s prophecy begins he wastes no time in coming to the point about Israel’s (i.e. Judah and Jerusalem’s) spiritual condition. Isaiah employs several memorable images to show the people their abandonment of God: they are “laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), “the whole head is sick, the whole heart faints” (1:5). The trouble is the people don’t think (1:3). Still, God tries to reason with them:
Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. – Isaiah 1:18-19
It is unclear whether this is simply a statement that we reap what we sow, or is also a prophetic oracle, looking at the cleansing action of God that will qualify His people to inherit what was promised to them many centuries earlier. But as the first chapter draws to a close, Isaiah foresees a time when God will turn His people back to Himself.
I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. – Isaiah 1:25-27
With the benefit of hindsight we know that at no time was there a national repentance that led to Jerusalem being known as a “city of righteousness.” The prophet is definitely on predictive ground again. Furthermore, although it is not given the name, these are New covenant words; true righteousness will only come once the Law is satisfied. (more…)