Introduction: The Corruption and Future of the Holy People and Holy Place
This section introduces both chapters 1-5 and the whole book; be watching for the pervading themes. Here Yahweh's complaint takes the form of a lawsuit against Jerusalem's ongoing rebellion against the Holy one of Israel that has brought on his judgment (vv. 2-9, 24-25); their religion is useless (w. 10- 15d) because of their sins- social injustice (vv. 15e- 17 cf. Amos) and idolatry (v.29)-but there is also the offer of mercy (w. 18-20) and a bright future(w 26-28). In 2:1-4 Yahweh makes plain his commitment to redeem his creation, with Mount Zion functioning as the new Mount Sinai to which all the nations come (thus fulfilling Israel,s true purposes in keeping with his covenant with Abraham). Note how the section ends with an invitation to Israel to thus walk in the light of Yahweh.
The Coming Day of the Lord
In the first oracle (2:6-22) the key issues are arrogant trust in idols and lack of trust in Yahweh; also watch for some repeated themes that give power to the poetry. The coming disaster prophesied in 3 :1-4:l is directed especially at the leaders, and again the issue is social justice-the wealthy abusing the poor and the land (including the graphic portrayal in 3: 16- 4:1). But after disaster there is hope (4:2-6), the first expression of "second exodus" themes in Isaiah. Likewise, the song of the vineyard (5: I - 7; picked up in Jer 12:10; Ezek 19: l0- 14; and by Jesus [Mark l2:l-12; John 15:l-81) focuses on social injustice (Isa 5:7),as do the six woes that follow (w. 8-25); hence, instead of the nations now coming to worship on Zion (2:2-4), they are summoned to destroy it (5:26-30).
Isaiah's Vision and Commission
Uzziah has died (symbolic of what is happening to the Davidic dynasty). In the temple, the place of Yahweh's presence, Isaiah sees a vision of Israel's true King, the Holy one of Israel. Crushed because of his own and his people's uncleanness, Isaiah is pardoned and then commissioned to pronounce God's judgments on a people who have become like the idols they worship, that is, neither seeing nor hearing.
A Crisis of Trust: Ahaz and the Syro-Ephraimite Coalition (Chs. 7-12)
At issue in chapters 7 -39 is whether or not Jerusalem, represented by her king' will trust in Yahweh or in entangling alliances (a form of idolatry). Note that the narratives about Ahaz's (7: 1-8:10) and Hezekiah,s (ch. 39) failures to trust Yahweh bookend this larger section. And this is why there must be a future faithful king for Judah and the nations (9: I - 7; 12:1-6; and throughout the oracles against the nations).
Failed Kingship in Judah
Watch how this opening narrative reveals Ahaz's wavering before a Syro-Ephraimite coalition. The names of Isaiah's two sons reflect Yahweh's response to Ahaz-the threat of Israel's being plundered (Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz) and the mere remnant that will remain of the northern alliance after Yahweh judges them (Shear-Jashub)-while Immanuel, Yahweh's "sign" to Ahaz) reminds him of Yahweh's own presence in Zion (in this case, probably as a threat). Yahweh's word to Isaiah and Isaiah's response (8:ll-22) indicate the issue at hand-trust in Yahweh.
Future Kingship in Judah
Central here is kingship in Israel. So note how Ahaz's failure to trust Yahweh is responded to by the announcement of a coming great Davidic king (9:1-7; 11:1-16). Together these oracles bookend (1) the announced fall of Samaria (9:8- 10:4, who sided with Damascus against Judah) , (2) the punishment of her destroyer, Assyria ( 10:5- 19), and (3) the preservation of Judah (10:20-34). After the second announcement of the coming king (11:1-16), the section concludes with Yahweh on Zion as Judah's true king (ch. l2).
Yahweh's Complaint with the Nations (chs. 13-27)
Against Babylon and Assyria
Note that both oracles against these two historic enemies of Judah are distinguished at their heart by words of hope for Judah (14:1-3,25). Babylon probably stands first in the series because eventually she would turn out to be the world power, whose collapse would be of monumental significance. Two things are noteworthy about this oracle: (1) It contains the imagery of the holy war, as Yahweh himself musters the army that will destroy Babylon (13:4-22), and (2) the king in particular is singled out because of his arrogance against Yahweh (14:12-21).
Against Judah's Neighbors: Philistia, Moab, Damascus
These oracles each put emphasis on the coming disaster, not on these
nations' sins as such; in each case, as with the preceding two, look for the word of hope about the future of Zion and her people (14,32;16:5; 17:6-7).
Against Cush and Egypt
Note how the two more general oracles (chs. 18-19) are concluded with a historically specific oracle against both Egyptian realms (ch.20). In the two oracles, note that, as before, emphasis lies more on the announcement of judgment than on the reasons for it, and again it will result in the exaltation of Yahweh as king (1 8:7; 19:19-21). The length of the oracle against Egypt is probably related to the way it concludes: Judah's having sought help from Egypt.
Against Babylon and Her Allies
The oracle against Jerusalem (ch. 22) fits within these final oracles against Babylon and her allies (ch. 21), because Jerusalem's ruin will come at the hands of Babylon. Note the repeated motifs-emphasis on the doom, not the sins as such; turning from Yahweh on the part of Jerusalem, but with a future for the house of David (22:20-24); Yahweh's judgment of the arrogant (23:9).
The Distress of the Nations, and Feasting on Yahweh's Holy Mountain
The preceding oracles seem to imply that Yahweh is merely reacting to what the nations are doing; however, this next series makes it clear that he is the Sovereign Lord of the nations. In the first oracle, the coming destruction of Jerusalem (24: l0- 13) is appropriately placed in a context of the ultimate devastation of the earth. The nations respond by joining his people in a great eschatological feast on Mount Zion (ch. 25), while Judah's response (ch. 26) is to renew commitment to her trust in Yahweh and to enjoy his peace after discipline-to which Yahweh, having atoned for her guilt, responds by a renewed song of the vineyard, as Jacob takes root once more (ch. 27).
A Crisis of Trust: Hezekiah and the Babylonian Threat (chs. 28-39)
Woe to Ephraim and Judah, Who Trust in Egypt
Back to present reality in Judah once more; note how these oracles pickup themes from chapters 6-12. Again it is a crisis of trust regarding Yahweh. Watch for the sins that call forth this series of woes, first against Samaria (28:1-6) and then against Judah and her leaders (28 :7-3l:9)-especially the sins of injustice (the rich lying around getting drunk off the labor of the poor), mockery of God's prophet, and idolatry, all of which reflect Judah's arrogance, both in worship and foreign policy, with its accompanying failure to trust Yahweh, for which exhibit A is their going to Egypt for help (ch. 31).. But note also how these threats are interlaced with words of hope that focus on the future of Zion and God,s righteous king. Future hope then becomes the primary theme of chapters 32-33, interlaced with threats of judgment. Note especially that when Yahweh,s righteous king reigns, the blind finally will see and the deaf hear (32:3-4; cf. 6:9-10)'
Also be on the lookout for the many wordplays that mark these oracles (Samaria as a fading "flower'' to be replaced by Yahweh as their "wreath" [28:1-5]; Judah,s mockery is turned into God's mockery of them [28:9-13; cf. v.22]; the deaf will soon hear from the scroll [29:11- 12, 18]; etc).
Once More: Judgment on the Nations, and the Future of Zion
The final two oracles of this part of Isaiah conclude with Yahweh's love for Zion, first by announcing the Divine warrior's judgment against the nations, especially Edom (ch. 34; cf. the similar phenomenon in Ezek 35-36), and second by announcing the coming new exodus (Isa 35:1-10); note how the judgment of 6:9-10 against the blind and the deaf, who have become like their idols, is finally reversed forever (35:5) and the ransomed of the Lord enter Zion with joy (v. 10). This final oracle also paves the way for chapters 40-55.
Trusting Yahweh regarding Assyria, and Failure regarding Babylon
Most of this narrative is repeated in 2 Kings 1 8: 13, 17 -20: 19. In contrast
to Ahaz earlier, Hezekiah listens to Isaiah and puts his trust in Yahweh, who miraculously delivers Judah from Assyria. Note again the emphasis on Zion and the remnant of Yahweh. But then Hezekiah fails to trust Yahweh by dallying with Babylon, not recognizing, as Isaiah does prophetically, that Zion's real threat lies in that quarter. So this narrative also serves as a transition to the oracles that come next.
Consolation and Confrontation (chs. 40-48)
Watch how the theme of Israel's second even greater exodus, which lies at the heart of the oracles contained in this section, is introduced here. Jerusalem's "hard service" in exile is coming to an end (w. 1-2), as the desert is to be prepared like a highway, and Yahweh's glory will be revealed once more (w. 3-5). All of this is the result of God's unbreakable word (w. 6-8). Thus the prophet announces "good tidings to Zion"-that Yahweh will once more come with power and "shepherd" his people, bringing them safely home (vv. 9-l1; note how v. 9 responds to 35:4).
The Consolation of Israel
But is exiled Jerusalem ready for this? Note how the oracles begin with Yahweh's contending with his people that he is the Sovereign Lord who can be trusted absolutely. His wisdom is unsearchable (40: L2-14); no nation or idol can compare with him (w. 15-26), so he will strengthen them for the journey (w. 27 -31; cf. v. 31 and Exod l9:4). Then Yahweh contends with the nations and their idols (41:I-7 [which have to be created in order to join the dispute!], w. 21-29) to point out that he alone has raised up "one from the east" (v. 2, Cyrus), who comes on Babylon from the north (w. 21-29). These oracles are obviously for Israel's consolation, since they bookend Yahweh's encouragement to Israel his "servant" that he is with them (as in the former exodus) and will provide for them through the desert (w. 8-20).
Israel As God's Reluctant Servant to the Nations
As you read this series of stirring oracles, watch for the following repeated themes-that God's gracious redemption of Israel is so that she might become his servant for the nations; that Israel, still deaf and blind (cf. 6:9-10), is reluctant to receive this redemption; that Yahweh thus contends with them that he alone is God and that there is no other; that he will bring about a second exodus that will cause them to forget the first; and that all of this is for his own glory, he who is the gracious Redeemer of Israel.
Yahweh's Chosen Deliverer, Cyrus
Note the renewed emphasis on Yahweh's unbreakable word that accomplishes what he intends, including the raising up of Cyrus his servant for the sake of Israel his servant; especially note the repeated emphasis on "I am the Lord [Yahweh], and there is no other" (45; 5, 6, 18; cf. 43:11; 45:14, 21, 22). Tucked into all this is also the note of Israel's reluctance (45 :9-10). Nonetheless Yahweh intends to use Israel's redemption as an appeal to the nations (vv. 14-25).
Yahweh's Disputation with Stubborn Israel
In this series of oracles Yahweh at last announces the actual fall of Babylon (46: l-2;47:l-15). But his contention is with citizens of stubborn Israel, who are resistant to what Yahweh has planned for them (46:3-13; 4g:1-19); he concludes with a final plea to flee Babylon (48:20-22).
Yahweh's Coming Servant Who Will Bring Salvation (chs. 49-55)
Yahweh's Servant and the Salvation of Israel
Note in these oracles how Yahweh's "servant, Israel," narrows down to one servant who will stand in for Israel and redeem both Israel and the nations. Note also that the new exodus is more clearly located in the relatively distant future. The first oracle paves the way: Yahweh's servant, Israel, becomes the one who brings Israel-and the nations-back to Yahweh (49 :1-7).This is followed by the renewed announcement of the new exodus (49:8-13), along with Israel's continued reluctance (49 : 14, 24)and Yahweh's responses (49:15 -23, 25 -26), climaxing with the servant,s own response to his commission (50:1-9) and the prophet's invitation for Israel to obey Yahweh (50:10-11).
The Glorious Future of Zion
After Yahweh appeals to the faithful in Israel who will inherit the promises (51:1-8), the prophet calls for Yahweh to lead the new exodus (51:9-11). Yahweh responds with words of consolation to Israel (51: 12-16), so the prophet calls for Israel to respond (5 1:17 -21), since their cup of wrath is to be passed on to Babylon (w. 22-23). Zion must therefore prepare herself for the great exodus to come (52:1-6), which climaxes with Yahweh's return to Zion (w. 7 -10) and a final appeal to flee Babylon as they did Egypt, but not in haste this time (vv. 11- l2).
The Servant Atones for Israel's Sins
How will this new exodus be achieved? Through the redeeming work
of Yahweh,s suffering servant, whose effective ministry is presented in 52:13-15, its means in 5 3:1-9, and its divine origins and assessment in 53:10-12. No wonder the New Testament sees the fulfillment of this passage in Jesus Christ (Mark 10:45; Acts 8:30-35; 1 Pet 2:21-25).
The Glorious Future of Zion
The climax of the servant's work is now expressed by means of echoes of three former covenants-Abraham (54:1-3), Sinai (vv. 4-8), and Noah (w. 9-1O)-as Zion's future glory is expressed with lavish imagery (w. 11-17). Note especially that the exiles in chapter 52 are still in Babylon, but here they appear on Zion (v. I l). How did they get there? Through the suffering servant of 52:13-53:12!
Yahweh's Invitation to Israel and the Nations
Yahweh's final word in this section is one of invitation-to Israel and to the nations-to receive freely of God's gracious provision (55: I -7). Appealing once more to his sovereignty and unbreakable word (w. 8-11), Yahweh announces the great reversal of fortunes for those who respond (vv. 12-13).
Present Failure, and Zion's Glorious Future (chs. 56-66)
True Sabbath Keeping and True Fasting
This final section of Isaiah begins with a kind of reprise-a return to the themes with which the book began. An opening oracle (56:1-8) sets the tone, with its concerns for Yahweh's soon-coming salvation, Israel's keeping covenant, Sabbath keeping in a context of justice, and the gathering of the nations on the holy mountain.
The series of oracles that follows picks up these themes, plus condemnation of Israel's leaders (.56:9-57:4) and idolatry (57:5-13). But inserted between this condemnation of idolatry and of religion without
justice (58:1-14) is an oracle of salvation for the humble (57:14-21). Note how all these themes echo 1:2-2:5.
The section concludes with an announcement of the sins that have kept Yahweh at a distance (59:1 -8), a pray er of repentance by the people (w.9-15) and Yahweh's response of coming salvation (w. 16-21), which echoes 1:18-20. Note especially how it ends by announcing the coming Redeemer and the Spirit (59:20-21).
The Future Glory of Zion, and Yahweh's Anointed One
This collection of oracles is the centerpiece of the final section of Isaiah. It starts with a marvelous picture of the future glory of Zion (ch. 60), which, as throughout Isaiah, includes the nations (w. 10-14). Then comes the announcement of the coming Redeemer (ch. 6l), who has remarkable resemblances to the servant of chapters 42-53-a passage that Jesus announces as fulfilled in himself and his ministry (Luke 4:16-21). Note also that the redeemed are the humble poor of the preceding oracles. This is followed by yet another oracle about Zion's glorious future (Isa 62), concluding with the Redeemer's eschatological judgment of the nations (63:1-6), a passage picked up by John (Rev 14:17-20).
Yahweh's People Pray
This prayer brings us back to present realities, as Cod's people await their great future. Note how it begins by recalling the first exodus-that Yahweh was present by his Spirit and in mercy redeemed them despite their rebellion (63:7-14)-which leads to the prayer for God to act again on their behalf (63:15-64:12), constituting one of the more poignant moments in Isaiah.
Judgment and Salvation
Yahweh's response to their prayer is to remind them of their waywardness (w. 1-7), but also of his consistently promised redemption (w.8-16).
Future Zion in a New Heaven and New Earth
Isaiah now concludes with one more look at the future glory of Zion-what Yahweh has always been after-placed in an eschatological setting of a new heaven and a new earth, with a reminder of final judgment to come. Note how the end echoes 2:2-4: God's salvation encompasses a renewed Zion that will include the nations (66:18-21).