We’re spending more time with Isaiah this week. We’ve only got to cover nine chapters of bad news this week. We’ll make a turn on Wednesday to the good news of God’s comfort and restoration of his people. We’ll finish the week looking at the coming Servant of the Lord who will bear our iniquities.
After a reminder that the Lord will be gracious, Isaiah reminds Israel again not to look to the Egyptians for help because they are humans and not God. That’s a helpful reminder for the people of God at any time – our trust is in the Lord, not people (no matter how powerful). As you move into chapter 32 there’s a hint of a righteous king, a warning against complacency, and a glimpse of what the Spirit of God brings to his people: righteousness, peace, quietness and trust. I don’t know about you, but I’m fully on board for a vision like that – and we experience it because we’re on this side of the cross! Chapter 33 gives us a vision of Yahweh as King – the true king ruling and reigning over his people. In the midst of a people tempted to go elsewhere – this vision of Yahweh is reassurance of his holiness and righteous indignation, which will be swiftly applied to the detriment of the nations (ch. 34).
Those who have been living in the wilderness will see the glory of the Lord. Those who are deaf and blind and lame and mute will hear, see, walk, and speak. They will walk on the highway of holiness. Yet into this vision of restoration and gladness, breaks an invading army led by Sennacherib of Assyria. We know from 2 Kings that Hezekiah walked in the ways of the Lord – but what will he do this time? We’ll have to find out tomorrow.
Hezekiah literally lays his situation before the Lord and asks him to save Judah so that the nations may know the Lord alone is God. The second half of chapter 37 is incredible because Yahweh so identifies with Israel that he says Sennacherib has mocked God himself. Foolish Sennacherib boasted in his great accomplishments – but Yahweh determined his end from days of old. Yahweh is the one really in control here and he himself will defend Jerusalem for his own sake and for David’s sake. The Lord even restores Hezekiah to health. And yet, for all the steadfastness of Hezekiah, one moment of impulsive pride sets the scene for the Babylonian exile.
Just when you think more bad news is coming from Isaiah, he makes a significant turn. Just when you think we’re going to spiral down into Babylonian exile, there’s a brief reprieve like a cool breeze on a hot day: “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God.” Yahweh himself is calling and comforting his people. Truly, he will not cast them off forever because his word of promise endures forever. Read chapters 40-41 thinking about the bigness and glory of God, yet also notice the intimate, wooing language he speaks to Israel, his people. When you move into chapter 42, the focus seems to pan into a single individual, a mysterious Servant in whom the Lord delights and on whom the Spirit resides. Pay attention to language used in 42:1-9 that sounds like Jesus’ ministry. Though the Lord has been gracious, Israel still did not hear. Amazingly, in chapter 43, the Lord is still gracious, still wooing, still redeeming Israel … and he is yet again doing a new thing.
Taking a big picture overview of these chapters, we’ll see that though Israel is the Lord’s chosen, they have forgotten that the Lord alone is God and have turned too often to the folly of idolatry. Even still, the Lord redeems them from folly by using Cyrus. This is a sure testament that the Lord alone is God over all nations and the only Savior of his people. Because Yahweh is the Savior, he must reveal the folly of Babylon’s idolatry and bring them to nothing because of their pride. Israel emerges from the crucible of battle refined and renewed to make much of God’s glory in the earth.
Here you get the same story about Hezekiah we read earlier this week, but with a few Psalms thrown in. Given the context, it’s helpful to remember that God is our refuge and strength (Ps. 46), the one simultaneously enthroned upon the cherubim yet willing to restore his people (Ps. 80), and the one whose name endures forever and whose renown resounds throughout the ages.
This section of Isaiah is commonly called “The Servant Songs.” You should read these chapters grounded in Isaiah’s time, which means you’re really trying hard to see and understand who this is, how he represents Israel, and how the Lord can speak so highly of him. But don’t read it only grounded in Isaiah’s time. We have the privilege to read the Bible backwards. We are able to see very clearly how each of these chapters reveal something to us about Jesus and his ministry. Read them slowly and savor the comfort God is giving to his people – comfort we have received by the power of the Spirit, who has given us new life.