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Isaiah: Behold the Holy One of Israel Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 October 2008

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Over the next few months, Lord willing, we are going to work our way through the book of Isaiah. For the record, I should go ahead and say that we are not going to cover this book because I just named my first son after its author. No, I have yet to cover a major prophet (Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel) and I wanted to start by preaching Isaiah. Normally I would not take a whole sermon to introduce a book, but due to Isaiah’s size (66 chapters) and some of the difficulties that often come along with interpreting the major prophets, I want to begin our series this morning with an introduction to the book as a whole.

Before we get to that, let me say a word about our approach to studying this book together as a Church. My hope and my prayer for preaching of the Bible here at Trinity is that we would actively study through the individual books together. In other words, preaching is not just about me delivering to you a message. No, my hope would be that you would be studying this book along with me, longing and praying for the Lord to teach us what He sees fit from Isaiah. Granted, I will be the one standing up and talking on Sundays during the time that we have set aside for preaching (unless someone fills in for me). But that does not mean that you are to be passive in those moments or even leading up to those moments. I want us as a Church to engage with the book of Isaiah and through it the God of Isaiah over the next few months.

Thus, I want to take a couple of practical steps to encourage that. First, as always, we will do our best to let you know what passages will be covered each week so that you can read and meditate on them in preparation. Second, I want to challenge you to memorize a section of the book with me. I am committed to memorizing 52:13-53:12 (from the ESV) as we study through the book. Each week, I want someone else to read this passage (or recite it) as we close our services. I know that is a big challenge, so that is why I want us to do it together. Just take it one verse at a time and try to work through the passage. Let me know how you are doing and try to encourage each other as we go along. I have one other practical suggestion, but I will close with it later.

Let’s turn our attention now to introducing the book. What do we need to know as we begin our study of the book of Isaiah?

First, we need to know that Isaiah is a book of real history.

I have said this before, but one of the reasons that we struggle so much in understanding the Old Testament is because we do not take the time to understand the historical situation of the book. Obviously the book was not originally addressed to the residents of Sikeston in 2008. Yet, to whom was it addressed? What was going on in their lives that set the background for what the prophet wrote? Likewise, who is the author and what do we know about him that could help us understand the text?

I will start with the second question, namely who is the author. Look at 1:1 and 2:1. Both of these verses identify Isaiah, the son of Amoz, as the writer of the book of Isaiah. We do not know a great deal about Isaiah personally. Yet, due to his repeated discussions with the Kings of Judah, it is possible that his family was important, maybe even somehow part of the royal family in the Southern Kingdom. Of course, these are mere implications drawn from the text so we cannot be sure. Now, it should at least be noted that many scholars believe that the book actually had multiple authors. Since, from their perspective, it would be impossible for a man writing in the 700s to predict what would happen in the 500s, they conclude that Isaiah, son of Amoz, may have begun the book, but he did not finish it. In defense of Isaiah writing the whole work, let me simply say that I have no problem accepting predictive prophecy and that the rest of their arguments (different words, themes, ideas) do not mean that the book could not have been written by one man. Thus, I believe that Isaiah, son of Amoz, wrote the entire book.

So then, what about the audience to whom he wrote? Look at 1:1 again. The words of Isaiah concern Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. We noted last week that Israel was split into two Kingdoms after the reign of Solomon. Isaiah’s book was addressed to the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He prophesied during the reign of three Kings of Judah: Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, receiving his call at the death of Uzziah (see 6:1). During Isaiah’s ministry, the nation of Assyria was the dominant power. In fact, in 722, the Assyrians would destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We will see the Lord deliver Judah from the Assyrians during the reign of Hezekiah (see 36-39). Yet, Isaiah also sees that the Babylonians will be used of God to bring judgment upon Judah. The latter part of the book (beginning in chapter 40) addresses those who will face this judgment. Other nations that play an important role in the book are Egypt and Israel, or the Northern Kingdom who is also a threat to Judah at times.

I tell you all of this because it is important to know that Isaiah was written by a real man to real people who were living through real history.

Second, we need to know that Isaiah is a book of true prophecy.

Obviously, the book of Isaiah contains predictive prophecy if you believe that it was all written by Isaiah, son of Amoz. What types of prophecy does the book include? Let me mention three. First, the book includes immediate prophecy. By this I mean prophecy that is fulfilled relatively close to the ministry of Isaiah. For example, Isaiah told Hezekiah that the Lord would defeat the Assyrians (37:21-35), which is immediately fulfilled (37:36-38). Another example of this could be Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Cyrus’ defeat of the Babylonians and his edict which would allow Israel to return from exile. This prophecy was not fulfilled in Isaiah’s lifetime, but came relatively close to his ministry. Second, the book contains end-time prophecy. The majority of this is found in chapters 56-66 and speaks of God’s judgment of the world and ultimate deliverance of His people. Finally, the book includes Messianic prophecy. Isaiah tells us that Immanuel will come (ch. 7). He will be a shoot from the stump of Jesse (ch. 11) and the Suffering Servant, who will pay for the sins of God’s people (ch. 53). Seven hundred years before Christ came, Isaiah speaks of what He will do. Sometimes this prophecy overlaps and that makes for difficulties (like with Immanuel in chapter 7), but even so, we see that what Isaiah prophecies is true. He was right about the Assyrians and Cyrus. He was right about the Suffering Servant. And he is right about the coming Day of the Lord. His prophecy is true.

Third, we need to know that Isaiah is book of deep theology.

As we saw in our study of the doctrine of God, the book of Isaiah tells us much about the Holy One of Israel. This is of course the whole point of the book. Isaiah involves real history to teach us that the Lord is the Sovereign King of the universe. He rules over the nations and controls their destinies. He is the Judge, who will right every wrong and judge the whole world. History merely sets the stage for the glory of God. Isaiah is book of true prophecy because He knows the future. Not only does He know it, but as the Sovereign King, He controls it. He alone knows the whole story and He alone can reveal what He wants to whom He pleases (in this case, the prophet Isaiah, and to us through him).

Thus, as much as history and prophecy play a part in the book, Isaiah is not primarily a history book or a prophecy book. No, it is a book about God. It tells us that He alone is holy, holy, holy (chapter 6), that He is the great comforter and protector of His people (chapter 40), that He is indeed the Judge (chapters 13-23). These truths concerning the Holy One of Israel were the goal in Isaiah’s writing. To miss these in our study of the book is to miss the book itself. Isaiah wanted Israel (and the future generations of God’s people) to know that the Lord was both transcendent and imminent. He was to be feared for His power and splendor. And He was to be drawn near to for His comfort and grace. This is the Holy One of Israel as He has revealed Himself to us in this book (and the rest of the Scriptures).

Therefore, my goal for this series is that we would simply behold the Holy One of Israel, that we would come to the text each week searching for what it teaches us about God. And let me be clear, it may not always be what you expect. The theology in the book of Isaiah is not easy, it is not safe. It is deep and wide, so much so that we could never exhaust it in our lifetime. The reason beholding is so important is because in beholding we are becoming. Look at 2 Corinthians 3:18. As we behold the glory of God we are being transformed into the same image. We want to behold the Holy One of Israel in the book of Isaiah so that we can be conformed into His image. My third practical suggestion is to come each week with this thought: ‘I have gathered to worship God because this passage from Isaiah teaches me that He is…’ May such thoughts fuel our worship each week.

This past week, Glenna, Isaiah, and I spent time in the Great Smoky Mountains. One day we decided to drive up into the national park area. At one of the visitor centers I grabbed a brochure about the park. Later that night I was reading through the brochure, looking for other ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains, and I was struck by what it said. In a section entitled ‘Essentials for seeing the Smokies’ it reads: “From your car you can see much of what the Smokies offer, including wildflowers, flowering trees, colorful fall foliage, mountain vistas, and historic buildings.”

Now, in one sense, I understand what they are saying. In our short time there, we saw some beautiful sights from our car. Yet, on the other hand, such a statement seems like a terrible tragedy. All of these great things to stop and enjoy and we are encouraging people to simply take a drive-by tour. Unfortunately, this is how we approach many things in our culture. We value the quick and easy. We want fast food, fast fun, fast ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains. Even more tragic is that this approach has made its way into the local Church. ‘We’ll take a combination number three of God,’ which includes a ticket to heaven with a side order of a good family and a good job. We want the drive-by experience of the mountain of God. Snap a few pictures out the window and we are on our way.

So let me begin our study of the book of Isaiah by saying this: stop and behold. I know your life is busy. I know you've got things to do. But you cannot afford to settle for a shallow understanding of the deep truths of God. Park the car. Get out. Behold the majesty and splendor that is God. Let the truth of His holiness and splendor and plan to send us Christ to suffer for our sins amaze you and astound you and ultimately change you into His image. May we behold the Holy One of Israel. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 November 2008 )

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