We’ll finish Isaiah this week, continue along the narrative story from Kings and Chronicles, and jump into Nahum (who prophesies after Sennacherib, which is why his prophecy is included this week). Hold onto your hats: Isaiah has a wonderful ending with a beautiful vision of the new heavens and new earth, Kings and Chronicles will give you whiplash between the “good” and “bad” kings, Nahum will bring a big vision of God and a big vision of his judgment on evil empires.
Right on the heels of the Servant who bears our sins come a chapter on the eternal covenant of peace and the compassion of the Lord. It’s a beautifully consistent pattern with the New Testament. The peace and compassion of the Lord is fully revealed in Christ – the true Servant who bears our iniquities. Don’t rush over the compassion of the Lord. Let the magnanimous mercy of God move you to amazement and mission. Phrases like these should floor you: “for a brief moment I deserted you … for a moment I hid my face … but with great compassion I will gather you … with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.” Chapter 56 builds upon the peace and compassion, which spurs salvation into the nations. Isaiah’s vision of the future is bright – but Israel in his day was still irresponsible, idolatrous, and hypocritical.
The Lord sees, hears, and knows the evil and oppression of humans, but he is not content to leave us there. He himself will come, armed for battle, to bring justice and salvation (ch. 59). When the Lord comes, all nations will look to him and will bring their “common good inventions” into the kingdom. Chapter 61 should sound familiar – it is the mantle Jesus takes up when he introduces his ministry in Nazareth in Luke 4. As you move into chapters 62-63, the Lord bestows incredible blessings on Israel, even though his wrath falls on the nations.
Today, we finish the book of Isaiah! Isaiah’s prayer for mercy continues through chapter 64. His pleas for the Lord’s forgiveness, his confession of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and his honest questioning of the Lord’s perceived distance warrants a response from God in Isaiah 65. Sowing unfaithfulness reaps punishment from the Lord – especially on those who forsake the Lord. However, the Lord’s punishment will not last forever for those who seek the Lord. In fact, those who seek the Lord with a humble and contrite heart will inherit a new heavens and a new earth where they dwell together with the Lord in perfect peace. They will be comforted and will be sent to the nations to declare the glory of the Lord – and some of those who are foreigners will be priests and Levites to the Lord.
These two chapters begin and end in a really interesting place. We cover the reigns of three kings. The end of Hezekiah’s reign – even for all the good things he did – sets Judah up for imminent destruction. Now, the Babylonians know what they’re up against. Also, the final summary of Hezekiah’s life is an interesting note because you can still walk the pool, conduit, and water tunnel under Jerusalem to this day (it’s called Hezekiah’s tunnel). As we move into chapter 21, we might be hopeful Hezekiah’s sons would continue in his ways. But the opposite is the case. Manasseh does “more evil than all that the Amorites did” – a damning statement since the iniquity of the Amorites led to their destruction by the hand of Joshua upon entering the Promised Land. Manasseh’s son, Amon, is no better, but the end of his story is fascinating (to me, at least): his servants conspire against him, but the people of the land kill the servants and install Amon’s son, Josiah, in his place. It seems the people are totally on board with the idolatry of Amon, but in a wild turn of events which we’ll read about on Saturday – the Lord superintends the people’s sin to bring revival through Josiah.
These chapters will be familiar, but compared to the account in Kings – the significant factor in both of these chapters really is the destructive nature of pride for both Sennacherib and Hezekiah. The pride and idolatry of Manasseh makes his eyes blind and ears deaf … and yet …. the Lord still speaks. That’s a terrifying thought that God might be speaking to us and our ears are too deafened to hear. At the same time, there’s a glimmer of hope in this text that even if we have been unfaithful, we can call on God and humble ourselves and he will come to us. That’s even more true for us on this side of the cross.
Here’s the Bible Project’s summary sentence of this book: “Nahum is portraying Nineveh’s fall as an example of how God will not allow violent empires to endure.” You know, Nahum takes place only about 100 years after Jonah’s reluctant trip to Nineveh. Their repentance was obviously short-lived and should be a warning to us about the ongoing need for repentance and faith. Let’s follow Jesus faithfully everyday and not rest on past successes. At the same time, let’s also marvel at the fact that Yahweh is a God who can call all the nations to judgment because he truly is Creator and Redeemer of the whole earth – not just one little tribal deity. His holiness and justice will one day be made known across the whole earth.
This is what revival looks like – a whole-hearted turning to the Lord. In the face of destruction, Josiah’s repentance delayed judgment, but did not prevent it. If you do the math, then it’s likely Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were born and lived their teenage years during Josiah’s reforms. If you wonder how they could remain faithful in exile – Josiah’s kingship and reforms re-establish faithful worship, which get into the habits of these young guys. What an inspiring thought that our generation’s obedience can, by God’s grace and for his glory, re-wire the habits for the next generation in order that they remain faithful in “exile.” You know a king has made a difference when even a prophet offers a lament for him (2 Chron. 35:25).