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Isaiah 1-5: Judgment and Restoration Print E-mail
Sunday, 19 October 2008

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Writers often provide a preface to the main body of their work. Normally the preface will include some background material, the purpose of the book, an occasional outline, things to help the reader understand the message of the book before they start reading the specific material. Some would say that the first five chapters of Isaiah is somewhat similar to that. Although it does not include all that often makes up a preface, the first five chapters do introduce many of the major ideas in the book. It gives us a glimpse into the situation that Isaiah is addressing, which prepares us for the calling of Isaiah in chapter 6. However, I should note that calling this material introductory does not mean that it is not important. On the contrary, what Isaiah says here (and throughout the rest of the book) is important for the message of the whole. We might be tempted to skip the preface or the introductory material in certain books, but when we are looking at books of the Bible, we must resist any temptation to ignore any part of any book.

Two themes that are prominent throughout the rest of the book and take center stage in chapters 1-5 are those of judgment and restoration. Isaiah, as with much of the prophetic material, will spend much time warning his readers about the coming judgment, particularly for the two Kingdoms of Israel. Of course, he will also tell us about the judgment that awaits the other nations as well. Judgment will be a central part of his message. Yet, his work also contains Godís promise of restoration for His people. Judgment for Israel and Judah is not the end of the story. As we see even in these first five chapters, the Lord will restore His people. In our time together this morning examining the beginning of this book, I want to answer one main question: what does Isaiah teach us about judgment and restoration in these first five chapters? I want to identify three answers to this question.

First, judgment and restoration are part of Godís plan.

We might be tempted to conclude at this point in Israelís history that things are not going exactly how the Lord had planned. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, His people had sinned and rebelled against His covenant. Yes, they were trusting in themselves and worshipping idols. Yes, the Kingdom was divided and few of the Kings followed after the Lord as David did. Yet, for all of this, the Lord was still bringing His plan to fruition. He is the Sovereign King of the universe and His plans can never be thwarted. What did this plan include?

Godís plan included judgment and restoration. Make no mistake about it, the Lord was not simply going to overlook Israelís sin. This is not how a Holy God responds to sin. No, they will be judged for their sins and those who persist in their sin, as many were doing in Israel, will experience the severity of Godís judgment. We see throughout these first five chapters the promise of Godís judgment for Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah tells us of the peopleís sin, which we will consider in a moment, and speaks of Godís judgment. Look at 1:28, 2:12ff, 3:13-15, 5:5-6. All of this and more tells us of the coming judgment against Judah. Yet, Isaiah also tells us of Godís promise of restoration. Look at 1:26, 2:2-3, 3:10, 4:2-6. God will preserve a remnant of His people and will restore them to Himself. Thus, the Lord has a plan that involves judgment and restoration. In fact, did you notice in 4:3-4 that at least one of the purposes of judgment is to purify for restoration. For all that Isaiah is teaching us here, he does not leave open the thought that the Lord is not Sovereign over all things. His plan will not be turned away. There is still a coming Day of judgment for all of those outside of Christ (see Hebrews 9:27) and a coming Day of restoration for all of those in Christ. This is Godís plan and He will bring it to pass. We can be sure of that.

Second, Godís judgment will be terrible and His restoration will be glorious.

I know, that answer is not all that profound. In fact, it probably seems pretty obvious to us all. So why do I make it? I want to point this out because Isaiah wants us to be clear on it. He does not want us to forget it. We, like Judah in Isaiahís day, have a tendency to make judgment less severe and restoration less glorious. In fact, most in Isaiahís day must have thought that he was out of his mind. Things were good in Judah. Sure, there were threats from Assyria and Egypt and others, but they were Godís people so His judgment against them could not be all that bad. Likewise, as we in America might be tempted to think: ĎWhatís so great about a coming restoration? I mean, life is pretty good. We have a little heaven right here on earth.í Such responses to Godís judgment and restoration are exactly what Isaiah is addressing. He wants his readers to know just how terrible Godís judgment will be and just how glorious His restoration will be. Why is that so important?

We need to understand just how terrible Godís judgment is so that we will have a holy fear of it. Listen to Isaiahís description of it. Look at 1:29-31, 3:1-5, 3:18-4:1, 5:25-30. These descriptions of Godís judgments, many of them already fulfilled on Israel and Judah, should fill us with a holy fear of the Lord. We should never take the fact that He is the Judge lightly. In much the same way, we need to see the greatness of Godís restoration in order that we might rightly long for it and hope in it. Look again at 4:2-6. Isaiah gives Judah this vision that the repentant might not grow too discouraged. Yes, the purifying fires of the Lord are difficult, yet they are preparing Godís people for a glorious future. Just as the psalmist prayed and longed for restoration in Psalm 80, we too should long for the glorious restoration of Godís people.

Third, the Lord judges those who persist in sin and restores those who repent of sin.

Obviously the critical question in all of this is who will be judged and who will be restored? Of course, in one sense we know that all of Godís people will go through judgment for the purpose of purification. Yet, is that all we can say? No, Isaiah seems to make a distinction between those who refuse to repent of their sin and those who do. In order to see this, we need to look at the particular sins in Judah and how Isaiah describes them.

Isaiah identifies numerous specific sins of Godís people at the time. Yet, for our purposes here, I would like to group them into two major categories: sins of pride and sins of injustice. Look at 1:4. They have sinned by forsaking the Lord (pride) and by dealing corruptly (injustice). Look at 1:21-23. They have failed to bring justice to those in need, particularly the fatherless and the widow. In 2:6-22 Isaiah speaks against the pride and arrogance of Godís people. They have money and horses and idols. They have lofty places of worship, high towers, and beautiful ships. All of which the Lord will destroy in His coming judgment. Look at Isaiahís charge in 2:22. There is more of the same in chapter three. Look at 3:9, 15. The leaders in Judah flaunt their sin as if nothing will happen to them and crush the poor. Look at 3:16. The women in Judah, who possibly represent the whole of Judah, walk around in beautiful clothes with outstretched necks.

In chapter 5, after introducing the vine analogy, Isaiah speaks of the Ďbad fruití that has been produced by Godís people. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor (5:8). They get drunk and party with no regard for the Lord (5:11-12). They have no time to hear from the Lord (5:18-19) and ignore what He has taught about right and wrong (5:20). They are wise in their own eyes, heroes at drinking (and nothing else), and guilty of taking bribes (5:21-23). Continual, persistent sins of pride and injustice. Without repentance, those who persist in these sins will know the judgment of the Lord.

Before we leave the discussion of Judahís sin, let me point out one other notable truth. Continual, persistent sin impedes the worship of the Lord. Look at 1:10-15. Judah was full of pride and injustice. They were living lives of rebellion against the Lord. Yet, they kept going through the motions of worship. They brought their sacrifices, they observed religious days, and they continued to pray. They simply assumed that they could live however they wanted to as long as they continued going through the rituals of worship. I fear that many of us today take a similar approach. Our lives are full of sinfulness and rebellion against the Lord, but we figure as long as we show up on Sunday, mouth our way through the songs, give our 10 percent, and endure the sermon, then we are alright. Do we really think that the Lord is so easily fooled? The Lord is not after our rituals, He wants (and demands) our full devotion. Instead of going through the motions, I pray that our services are characterized by humility and repentance. Likewise, I pray that we will go from this place committed to obey God by His grace. Worship on Sunday mornings that is not consistent with lives lived for the Lord is meaningless. The real war for worship in our culture has nothing to do with contemporary or traditional music and everything to do with repentance and obedience.

Isaiahís response to this sin is the same as all the other prophets: repent and obey. Look at 1:16-20. If they will turn from their sin, then the Lord will forgive them and restore them. He will accept their worship and bless His people. Look at 1:27. The call of the prophet is to consider the coming judgment, repent of your sins against the Lord, and follow Him in obedience. The Lord will restore all those who repent.

The two themes of judgment and restoration in Isaiahís preface (and the rest of his book) point us clearly to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How? Isaiah teaches here of Godís holy character and His necessary response to sin, namely judgment. Why was the cross necessary? Isaiah tells us: the cross was necessary because someone had to pay for the sins of Godís people. Look at 5:16. In order for God to be exalted in justice and to show himself holy in righteousness, Jesus had to die in our place. He took the judgment of God for our sins. Likewise, all of those who will not repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ will face the coming Day of judgment. If you will not repent, then you will face the enduring wrath of God in eternity in Hell. The glorious good news is that God has a plan of restoration for those in Christ. The image of God is being restored in us as we are conformed into the image of Christ. And one Day this restoration will be complete. What a glorious Day it will be!! Thus, may we be a people who are characterized by repentance and obedience, knowing that God is restoring His Bride for the coming Day. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 15 November 2008 )

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