Pastor Drew Hunter helps readers grasp the message of Isaiah, a prophetic book about the God who saves his people from their sins.
About the Author
Drew Hunter (MA, Wheaton College) is the teaching pastor at Zionsville Fellowship in Zionsville, Indiana. He previously served as a minister for young adults at Grace Church of DuPage and taught religious studies at College of DuPage. Drew and his wife, Christina, live in Zionsville, Indiana, and have four children.
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is CEO of Crossway, formerly called Good News Publishers. Before joining Good News Publishers in 1974, he served as a pastor in campus ministry at the University of Michigan (Sault Ste. Marie) and as the managing director of Verlag Grosse Freude in Switzerland. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dennis has served as the chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the executive editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Gentle and Lowly and Edwards on the Christian Life. He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Wheaton, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
WEEK 1: OVERVIEW
The Hebrew meaning of Isaiah's name summarizes his message: The Lord saves. The prophecy of Isaiah alternates between promises of judgment and restoration, continually reminding us of the magnitude of humanity's sin, the judgment that all deserve, and the God who displays his glory by saving sinners.
The message is not for Israel and Judah alone, but for the whole world. Isaiah rebukes all nations for their unfaithfulness to God, yet announces a surprising plan of grace and glory for any sinner who comes to him in faith. As we are surprised by grace time and again throughout the book, a glorious picture of God's cosmic renewal develops. Central to this salvation is the sending of a Messiah, a servant-king who will suffer for his people and be exalted in victory.
Isaiah presents God in all his glory, worthy of all our trust. He is the redeemer who rescues from sin and restores all things, to the praise of his glorious grace. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 1233 — 1239; available online at www.esvbible.org.)
Placing It in the Larger Story
Isaiah stands at a turning point in the history of God's people when, after centuries of breaking their covenant1 relationship, God's judgment will fall upon them and, indeed, the whole world. Yet Isaiah proclaims the "good news" that God will bring his kingdom, renew all creation, and restore his people to himself. This redemption will be accomplished through a servant, who will suffer in the place of sinners that they might be forgiven and restored to God. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has begun to fulfill in a decisive way the promises of Isaiah. We await the day when Jesus returns to gather the redeemed to worship God in a new creation forever.
"And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 40:5).
Date and Historical Background
Isaiah's writing can be dated within the time frame of his ministry, which began in 740 BC and continued to the 680s. He served when God's people were divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah's ministry was in the context of Judah as their lengthy period of prosperity declined in the shadow of the rising threat of Assyria. Because of their continual rebellion, Judah would eventually be exiled2 to Babylon.
Isaiah's prophecy assumes three different historical backgrounds: his own context in the eighth century BC (Isaiah 1 — 39), Israel's exile in Babylon in the sixth century (40 — 55), and after the exiles have returned to their land (56 — 66). Yet the entirety of Isaiah's message challenged his own contemporaries and continues to remain relevant to all of God's people until Jesus returns.
I. Introduction: "Ah, Sinful Nation!" (1:1 — 5:30)
II. God Redefines the Future of His People: "Your Guilt Is Taken Away" (6:1 — 12:6)
III. God's Judgment and Grace for the World: "We Have a Strong City" (13:1 — 27:13)
IV. God's Sovereign Word Spoken into the World: "Ah!" (28:1 — 35:10)
V. Historical Transition: "In Whom Do You Now Trust?" (36:1 — 39:8)
VI. Comfort for God's Exiles: "The Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed" (40:1 — 55:13)
VII. How to Prepare for the Coming Glory: "Hold Fast My Covenant" (56:1 — 66:24)
As You Get Started
What is your understanding of how Isaiah helps us to grasp the whole story line of the Bible? Do you have an idea of how aspects of Isaiah's message are fulfilled in the New Testament? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
What is your current understanding of what Isaiah contributes to Christian theology? How does his book clarify our understanding of God, Jesus Christ, sin, salvation, the end times, or any other doctrine? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
What aspects of the prophecy of Isaiah have confused you? Are there any specific questions that you hope to have answered through this study? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
AS You Finish This Unit ...
Take a few minutes to ask God to bless you with increased understanding and a transformed heart and life as you begin this study of Isaiah.
Covenant — A binding agreement between two parties, typically involving a formal statement of their relationship, a list of stipulations and obligations for both parties, a list of witnesses to the agreement, and a list of curses for unfaithfulness and blessings for faithfulness to the agreement.
Exile — Several relocations of large groups of Israelites/Jews have occurred throughout history, but "the exile" typically refers to the Babylonian exile, that is, Nebuchadnezzar's relocation of residents of the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon in 586 BC (residents of the northern kingdom of Israel had been resettled by Assyria in 722 BC). After Babylon came under Persian rule, several waves of Jewish exiles returned and repopulated Judah.CHAPTER 2
WEEK 2: CONFRONTATION AND HOPE FOR GOD'S PEOPLE
The Place of the Passage
This first section introduces the book and, in doing so, introduces the problem God addresses through the prophet Isaiah. "Children have I reared and brought up," God says, "but they have rebelled against me" (Isa. 1:2). The people who were supposed to be a holy nation are a "sinful nation" (1:4). Even as Judah's sin is thoroughly confronted, this first section also gives us a glimpse of God's purposes to bring grace for his people and, indeed, for the whole world.
The Big Picture
Isaiah 1–5 shows us the depth of Judah's sinfulness, the judgment they deserve, and the grace that God promises to bring to them and the rest of the world.
Reflection and Discussion
Read through the complete passage for this study, Isaiah 1–5. Then review the questions below and write your notes on them concerning this introductory section to Isaiah's prophecy. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 1240–1250; also available online at www.esvbible.org.)
1. God's Confrontation of Judah's Sin (1:1–30)
As the heavens and earth are called into the courtroom as witnesses, God announces the charge against his people (Isa. 1:2–6). What are they accused of? Referring to Judah as "children" or "sons" of God highlights their great privilege (v. 2). It also points to God's patience, for he graciously endured their rebellion from the time he first called them his "son" at the exodus1 (Ex. 4:22–23; Deut. 14:1). How does this help us to see the great offense of Israel's ongoing problem? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? ... I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats" (Isa. 1:11). At first glance, it appears God is rejecting the very acts of worship he previously required of his people in Leviticus. Yet 1:10–20 shows it is hypocrisy, not worship, that God opposes. The ordinances were always intended to foster true godliness, which would be demonstrated in humble purity of heart and energetic promotion of others' well-being. According to verses 13–17, how did Israel divorce these worship practices from their original purposes? In what ways is religious hypocrisy seen today? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
"How the faithful city has become a whore" (Isa. 1:21). The covenant God made with Israel after the exodus was viewed as a marriage covenant (54:5). Why does Isaiah use such shocking language here? What does this tell us about the way God views sin? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
2. God's Promises of Judgment and Grace (2:1–4:6)
From their first appearance in Genesis 49:1 onward, phrases such as "in the latter days" (Isa. 2:2) are often used in contexts charged with end- time expectations, typically connected to the establishment of God's kingdom and the redemption of his people (Gen. 49:1, 10; Num. 24:14–19; Deut. 4:30–31; Dan. 2:28–35; Hos. 3:5). The focus here is on a future exaltation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Since gods in the ancient Near East were thought to dwell at the heights of mountains, what is Isaiah communicating by insisting on the exaltation of God's dwelling place over all? What results of this exaltation appear in Isaiah 2:1–5? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
"For you have rejected your people ..." This begins the lengthy section announcing God's approaching judgment against his people's rebellion (Isa. 2:6–4:1). Review 2:8, 17–18; 3:8, 14–16 (note also 1:21–23). What has Israel done to deserve judgment? Since we can learn what God is for by hearing what he is against, what does this section teach us about God? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
How is Isaiah 2:22 a fitting command in light of the promise of a day when "the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted" (v. 17)? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
We saw the numerous reasons for Israel's condemnation in Isaiah 2–3. Yet in a surprising entrance of grace, God promises to provide "the branch of the LORD," the Messiah2 (4:2). Read Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8–9; 6:12–13. Who is "the Branch," and what else will he do? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
3. God's Condemnation of Judah's Sin (5:1–30)
Israel was God's "pleasant planting" and carefully cultivated vineyard (Isa. 5:7). Yet as Isaiah sings about this vineyard in 5:1–7, we learn that they failed to produce the fruit of righteousness that God expected. They brought forth only unwanted "wild grapes" (v. 4). In 5:8–30 a cycle of six "woes" shows us some of these bitter fruits of Israel's degenerate character. What are they? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
This section ends with a terrifying scene (Isa. 5:26–30). The sovereign God will summon nations, including Assyria, to carry out his judgment against his people. There only remains a picture of "de-creation," darkness, and chaos (v. 30). What have we already seen about God's character and promises in chapters 1–4 that gives assurance that there is still hope? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider the Personal Implications these sections may have for you.
INVITATION. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in Eden, they were sent away from his presence. As their descendants, we're all born outside of God's presence and continue to rebel against him. Yet God invites us back. Even after Israel provoked God with their many sins, he still extended an invitation of grace: "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). It is ultimately the blood of Jesus that cleanses us in this way (1 John 1:7). He invites us to "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
SURPRISING GRACE. Throughout Isaiah 2:6–4:1, we hear what God will do "in that day" — a day of utter terror for sinners (2:20–21). In 4:2 Isaiah once again says, "in that day," only this time it is followed by an unexpected, surging wave of grace. Isaiah often introduces grace as a surprise. In this instance, God promises to provide "the branch of the LORD," the Messiah (4:2). His people will be washed of their filth (4:3–4) and the presence of the God they defied will become their refuge (4:5–6; note 3:8). God's surprising grace to sinners should never get old. The New Testament words, "But God," should always awaken fresh wonder. "And you were dead in the trespasses ... But God ... made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved" (Eph. 2:1, 4–5).
GOD'S FAITHFUL CITY AND BRIDE. Because Israel rejected God, "the faithful city has become a whore" (Isa. 1:21). They are like a faithful city that has become faithless, and a bride who abandoned her marriage covenant. Yet Isaiah looks to the future and sees restoration: "Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city" (1:26). She will be a faithful city and bride because of Jesus Christ, who loved her and gave himself up for her on the cross (Eph. 5:25). Revelation describes the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah's promise: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2; note also vv. 10–11).
THE TRUE VINE. "Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard" (Isa. 5:1). Using the metaphor of a vineyard, Isaiah's song retells Israel's history from their initial "planting" in Canaan to their continual failure to bear righteous fruit (5:1–7). While Isaiah sees destruction coming in the future (5:5–6), the psalmist later writes from the midst of it and pleads for God to "have regard for this vine" (Ps. 80:14). This is the background to Jesus' announcement, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). He is the True Vine who bore the fruit of righteousness that Israel and all of us failed to produce. Although he is the only one who didn't deserve to be destroyed like the unfruitful vine of Isaiah 5, Jesus took this destruction in our place on the cross. And now, through faith in him, any failed vine can be united to the True Vine and begin to bear good fruit. "Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit" (John 15:5).
THE WORD OF GOD. This book is "the vision of Isaiah" (Isa. 1:1). As a prophet who receives a vision, Isaiah is called to declare God's word to his world. Thus, when Isaiah speaks, it is no contradiction to say, "the LORD has spoken" (v. 2), and "hear the word of the LORD" (v. 10). Like others who wrote Scripture, Isaiah "spoke from God as [he was] carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21; see also 2 Tim. 3:16). As we read Isaiah's words, we are reading the very words of God.
THE DEPTHS OF SIN. The book of Isaiah is unrelenting in its confrontation of sin. From the beginning, we see that God's people have rebelled (Isa. 1:2) and are a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly" (v. 4). What is worse, they sin against grace, for God cared for them as his children (1:2; 5:4). Since we are corrupt in every part of our being, God's redemption must (and does) include comprehensive cleansing and renewal.
Take time to reflect on the implications of Isaiah 1–5 for your own life today. Consider what you have learned that might lead you to praise God, repent of sin, and trust in his gracious promises. Make notes below on the personal implications for your walk with the Lord of (1) the Gospel Glimpses, (2) the Whole-Bible Connections, (3) the Theological Soundings, and (4) this passage as a whole.
1. Gospel Glimpses ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
2. Whole-Bible Connections ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
3. Theological Soundings ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
4. Isaiah 1–5 ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
As You Finish This Unit ...
Take a moment now to ask for the Lord's blessing and help as you continue in this study of Isaiah. And take a moment also to look back through this unit of study, to reflect on some key things that the Lord may be teaching you — and perhaps to highlight and underline these things to review again in the future.
The exodus– The departure of the people of Israel from Egypt and their journey to Mount Sinai under Moses' leadership (Exodus 1–19; Numbers 33).
Messiah– A transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning "anointed one," the equivalent of the Greek word Christ. Originally applied to anyone specially designated for a particular role, such as king or priest. Jesus himself affirmed that he was the Messiah sent from God (Matt. 16:16–17).
De-creation– The reversal of the goodness and blessing of God's creation. As the blessing of creation is described as light out of darkness, order from chaos, and filling emptiness (Gen. 1:1–2:3), judgment is sometimes described as a return to darkness, chaos, and emptiness (Jer. 4:23–26).CHAPTER 3
WEEK 3: SALVATION THROUGH JUDGMENT FOR GOD'S PEOPLE
The Place of the Passage
After the sober introduction to Israel's sinfulness and the promised judgment and grace to come, chapter 6 introduces us to Isaiah and his commission to proclaim God's message. While judgment will certainly fall upon unfaithful Judah and Israel, God's grace will preserve a remnant to be restored and enjoy his salvation. This grace begins with Isaiah (Isa. 6:1–13) and will spread to the remnant of God's people (7:1–11:16), leading them to a day of worldwide praise (12:1–6).
The Big Picture
In Isaiah 6–12, we see God's grace extended to Isaiah, then promised to the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.
Reflection and Discussion
Read through the entire text for this study, Isaiah 6–12. Then interact with the following questions and record your notes on them concerning this section of Isaiah's prophecy. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 1251–1264; also available online at www.esvbible.org.)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knowing the Bible: Isaiah"
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Table of Contents
Series Preface J. I. Packer Lane T. Dennis 6
Week 1 Overview 7
Week 2 Introduction: Confrontation and Hope for God's People (1:1-5:30) 11
Week 3 Salvation through Judgment for God's People (6:1-12:6) 19
Week 4 Salvation and Grace for the World (13:1-23:18) 27
Week 5 The Final End (24:1-27:13) 35
Week 6 Sovereign Rebukes and Comforting Promises to the World(28:l-35:10) 43
Week 7 The Delivering Grace of God (36:1-39:8) 51
Week 8 Comfort for Israel and the World (40:1-48:22) 59
Week 9 The Suffering and Triumphant servant(49:l-55:13) 67
Week 10 Salvation for the Nations, Judgment for the Wicked (56:1-59:21) 75
Week 11 The Return of the Lord and a New Creation (60:1-66:24) 83
Week 12 Summary and Conclusion 91
What People are Saying About This
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