Isaiah is an astoundingly Gospel-filled book; Isaiah speaks centrally, and constantly of the coming of Christ. Specifically, the prophet Isaiah was commissioned by Jesus Christ (who appeared to Isaiah well in advance of His coming in the flesh (Is. 6)) to preach the Gospel to the nation of Judah in the form of parables so that they would not understand (Is. 6:9 & 10). In fact, it could be said that Isaiah was the first apostle (meaning: ‘One Sent’) of Christ. Because Isaiah’s ministry was to be a mystery, and his message to be shrouded, the book cannot be understood outside of the context of Jesus Christ. In following days, I hope to bring some understanding to the book by seeing it in the context of the New Testament, finding Jesus as the filfilment of the prophecies.
In this first post we’ll look at chapter 1. An apt opening for the book, this chapter describes the historic setting in which Jesus would come to the earthly nation of Israel, and the initiation of His plan to restore it.
The text, itself, will be in italics; my commentary un-italicized, and in brackets wherever inserted into the text. Any emphasis (bold, or underlined) by me.
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning [(1)] Judah and [(2)] Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of [(1)] Judah.
This first verse is the very brief introduction to the entire book of Isaiah; it verifies to us the jurisdiction of Isaiah’s earthly ministry (which is important given the content of this first chapter (and much of the rest of the book)). At this time in history, Israel is divided into two nations: Judah, and Israel. Isaiah was a prophet in the nation of Judah whose capital was earthly Jerusalem. Samaria was the capital of the OTHER country, Israel. The distinction is important between the two countries is important immediately; in this chapter you will notice that Isaiah is speaking to Israel as though it is a single, undivided nation NOT in the context of his own day. As I said, this chapter describes the setting, and condition of Israel at Christ’s first coming:
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. [The people of the nation of Israel.]
3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
Here, Isaiah insinuates that the nation of Israel, having been raised up by God do not recognize either Him, OR His dwellingplace (his master’s crib); this is an interesting implication because as we continue we’ll see in verses 11-14 that they appear outwardly to be obedient to the statutes of their temple worship. This is a prophesy that they will not recognize their Messiah when He comes; they have an established religion built on types and shadows, but they do not walk with God after the inward man – they do not know their Master, OR His dwelling therefore they will not recognize Him when He appears.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Though they will outwardly appear to follow the Law at Christ’s coming, yet have they forsaken God. Messiah [Jesus] is ‘the Holy one of Israel’ whom they provoked to anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:14-16). Isaiah here calls them ‘a seed of evildoers,’ we’ll look at this thought a little more as we continue, but Jesus pointed out that the scribes Pharisees of His day witnessed against themselves that they were the children (seed) of them that killed the prophets (Matt 23:31).
5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
God has led them, and punished them, yet they continue in their ways so that the head (leadership) is ‘sick’ (corrupt), and the spirit of the whole nation is faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
This verse describes the vicarious bodily harm that will be laid on Christ when He comes – the Passion, and crucifixion of Jesus wherein He was pierced, stiped, and bruised, bearing wounds from the soles of His feet (nail pierced) to the top of His head (crown of thorns). Isaiah describes later (chapter 53) that His wounds are for our healing. That is: Jesus recieved physically (in His body) the spiritual woundedness of the nation.
Here is another important point to catch between verses 6 & 7 below: Isaiah is personifying the inheritance of the Jews. Their inheritance under the Old Covenant was LAND; but Isaiah is prophesying the New Covenant, where our inheritance is Jesus Christ, and His kingdom (not land) – that will be important in later chapters. Their primary spiritual inheritance is Jesus – His sacrifice was the result of our sin (specifically, Israel’s in context).
7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Again, this is an extension of thought from verse 6, though while verse 6 describes the spiritual condition of the PEOPLE of Israel (and laid upon Christ in His passion), Isaiah here describes the final judgment upon the NATION of Israel. Vers 7 succinctly describes the Roman occupation, culminating in the complete burning and desolation of the nation of Israel by Vespasian and Titus which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (approximately 35 years after the ascention of Christ).
8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
The ‘daughter of Zion,’ by this phrase Isaiah is speaking of the elect; notice he does not use the term ‘Israel,’ or even Jerusalem. Mount Zion was the place of perpetual worship under the reign of king David. The term ‘daughter of Zion’ specifically denotes the people who worship God in Spirit, and in Truth. The daughter of Zion are those who recieved, and worshipped Jesus when He came (John 4:21-26). Though the nation was destroyed, God preserved the elect, the Church even as though they were nourished in an isolated vineyard, or garden of cucumbers. That is: they had a spiritual haven for they dwelt in the secret place of the Most High (Christ in them, and they in Him (John 15:1-5)). The final statement: ‘as a besieged city’ denotes that this spiritual dwelling with God is surrounded on all sides with the carnal: earthly opposition to the Kingdom of heaven.
9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
If God had not saved a remnant of the Jews (the first Christians), the people of God would have been utterly destroyed just as Sodom and Gomorrah. Notice the stark contrast in language between ‘the daughter of Zion’ (the remnant who recieved Messiah), and those upon whom wrath came (those who held to the religion and nation but rejected Messiah).
10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Now Isaiah directly calls the nation Sodom and Gomorrah; he is speaking specifically to the rulers of earthly Jerusalem, and Israel at the time of Christ’s coming: the Sanhedrin. Begining here, Isaiah begins to explain why the judgment described will come on the nation. In doing so, he paints a very clear picture of the religious leaders in Israel in the days of Christ:
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Now, its interesting: what Isaiah has just described appears to meet all of the outward requirements of righteousness under the Law of Moses. They are not here accused of idolatry as they have been at other times by the prophets. Rather, this describes the outward legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees revealed in the Gospels (see Luke 11:39-48 for example). Though there is the outward semblance of righteousness through works of the Law, their hearts are not in communion with God; the entirety of their religion is outward (Matt 6:16; 23:27), they are not worshippers in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Their ‘hands are full of blood’ this is an interesting prophecy, and studying the Gospels we find that Jesus held the Sanhedrin personally responsible for the blood of all the prophets (including Isaiah) – see Luke 11:49-51; Matt 23:29-39. And just as He told them to ‘fill up the measure of their fathers,’ (Matt 23:32) and prophesied that they would kill the vineyard owner’s Son outside of Jerusalem (Matt 21:38, 39), they also claimed Messiah’s blood to be upon their own hands (Matt. 27:24 & 25). Should God hear the prayers of those who murdered His Son? Who murder the righteous?
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Believe-it-or-not, this is a prophecy of the coming ministry of John the baptist, which preceded the earthly ministry of Christ. Although their hands are full of blood, God sent them the prophet of repentance to prepare the way before Christ. God calls them (and us all) to repentance, and promises to forgive them if they turn to Him Whom they have slain. Before Jesus came, John the Baptist’s ministry shook the nation; his message was repentance in preperation for the coming Messiah. John specifically declared to the Sanhedrin representatives (the same people that Isaiah is speaking of): ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father…’ (Matt 3:7-9)
Despite the fact that God foreknows the events, and knows the hearts of those to whom He is sent; although he has already prophesied the final judgment on the nation of Israel, and laid out the reason for it, He still gives them the opportunity, and He calls them to repent. In fact according to Jesus, those who submitted to the ministry of John the Baptist were prepared to recieve salvation through Christ, but the religious rulers could not recieve salvation because they had not repented at the preaching of John (Matt 21:32; Luke 7:27-30).
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Here the Lord reveals two potential outcomes: if the nation repents at the preaching of John, and receives their Messiah, He would bless them, and they would inherit the kingdom. If they ‘refuse and rebel’ their destruction was certain. It is interesting that Jesus reserved His final pronouncement of the religious rulers, and of Jerusalem until it was fully evident that theh had rejected His coming. Only then did He pronounce His final judment that Jerusalem would be decimated, and would remain desolate until such a time as they were willing to recieve Him (Matt 23 whole chapter, but specifically verses 37-39). He left the option open exactly according to this prophecy of Isaiah.
21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
Jerusalem was the capital city from the time of king David it is the city in which the temple was built, in the days of David and Solomon the Lord was honored there. By the time that Christ came, the city had become filled with wickedness again and again, and had now reformed to the outward semblance of religion without a fellowship, or communion with God (just as Isaiah declared in verse 3).
22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
‘Thy silver is become dross’ i.e. that which had been the precious worship when the people knew God had become so tarnished that it was fully vain: dross to be discarded; all true spiritual worship had been lost, and the priests were just going through the motions of the form – there was no longer anything precious in their worship to God, though they finally had the outward forms right, within they were ‘full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.‘ (Matt 23:27) ‘thy wine mixed with water’ their was no potency in their spiritual service.
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
24 Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
Because of their wickedness God will judge them, and purge away all of their ‘dross’ and take away their tin. The prophecy here is both of judgment, and of restoration as we shall see in the proceeding verses. Isiah now begins to describe the spiritual revival of Israel when Christ came, that is: the foundation of New Jerusalem, the Church. God promises to remove the dross which represents – as we looked at above (v. 22) – the outward forms of religion; the un-anointed forms of the Law. ‘And take away thy tin’ the physical representations of heavenly things (see also Hebrews 10:1 & 12:18-24).
26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in the New Testament. First, He is the is the Prophet which Moses predicted: the Prophet who would have full authority over Israel (see Deut 18:19-22 (the very fact that Jesus predicted the final destruction of Jerusalem in proves that He also met the requirement for determining He was That Prophet (Deut 18:22))). As that Prophet, Jesus began to restore the SPIRITUAL KINGDOM of Israel. Like the heads of the twelve tribes, Jesus appointed the 12 Apostles. Like the 70 judges of the Sanhedrin appointed in Numbers 11, Jesus sent the 70 (see Luke 10). Initiating these, Jesus laid the foundations of New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14), which is the Church: spiritual Israel.
Isaiah here promised that the dross and tin would be removed, and that God would restore the judges and counselors. The promise was to take the remnant, the daughter of Zion (v. 8) (for they alone of all natural Israel knew their Owner, and their Master’s crib (v. 3)), and to remove all the dross and tin (the carnal forms of worship), and to restore the spiritual judges and counsellors to them.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
The oaks, and the gardens represent the natural inheritance promised Abraham: the land of Palestine, and the blessing of THE LAND. They chose the inheritance of the land above the more important spiritual inheritance they were promised: Messiah. When the Sanhedrin finally determined to kill Jesus, it was because they were worried that the land would be taken from them (see John 11:46-52).
30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
Just as they sought to kill Jesus so that the land would not be taken from them, yet their strength would fade, and their land would receive no nourishment. (Interesting to note that even today most of the water brought into the land of Israel has to be imported artificially.) Because they chose the natural for their inheritance, even their natural inheritance was taken from them (Matt 13:12 & 23:38).
31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
The Sanhedrin, the priests, the political all contributed to the destruction of Jerusalem (see Josephus’ Wars of the Jews for a thorough historical account of the fulfillment of Christ’s judgment pronounced on Israel).
To continue reading: Isaiah 2:1-9 The Gospel of Isaiah, pt. 2