1. Early Messages (Isaiah 1-6)

Audio (41:41)

James J. Tissot, 'Isaiah the Prophet'
James J. Tissot, "Isaiah the Prophet" (1896-1903), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York, Larger.

These first six chapters of Isaiah serve as an introduction to this book of collected prophecies. The first five chapters include nearly all the themes found in the book as a whole. They pose the central problem: The Israelites are God's people, pledged to serve him. But instead of being true, they are arrogant, sinful, and rebellious. They will be God's light to the nations. But how? Chapter 6 begins an answer to that question, as God begins to reveal his plan.

Part 1A (Isaiah 1-5)

Introduction to Isaiah's Visions (1:1)

"The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." (1:1)

Isaiah probably had a ministry that spanned 50 years or longer. See the Introduction for the historical background on this period.

Rebellious Nation (1:2-4)

Isaiah's prophecy begins with Yahweh's sad indictment of his own people.

"Hear, O heavens!
Listen, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
'I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.'" (1:2)

This is the broken heart of a father who has raised sons who do not follow in his ways, but instead are wicked and rebellious. Moreover, they are confused about their own identity as children of Yahweh.

"The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner's manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand." (1:3)

Now he gives his sad assessment of his people.

"Ah, sinful nation,
a people loaded[11] with guilt,
a brood[12] of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD.
they have spurned[13] the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him." (1:4)

They have completely rebelled against Yahweh. They have insulted him. How they grieve the heart of the Father!

Persistence in Rebellion (1:5-9)

Isaiah describes the utter stupidity and pig-headedness of Judah's rebellion. It is self-destructive!

"5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness--
only wounds and welts and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil." (Isaiah 1:5-6)

Because of their rebellion they have lost God's protection. They have been beat up by oppressors, yet they continue in their rebellion against the only One who can save them and make them whole again.

"Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah." (1:9)

Sodom and Gomorrah were pagan cities utterly destroyed with fire and brimstone in Abraham's time for their gross sins (Genesis 18-19).

A Call to Justice instead of Empty Worship (1:10-17)

Now God addresses his own people as "rulers of Sodom ... people of Gomorrah" (1:10). They are as wicked as those ancient cities that had suffered the terrible wrath of God for their sins.

Judah's problem isn't a lack of religion. They offer sacrifices (1:11), they gather in the temple for the prescribed feasts (1:12-14), they pray (1:15), but God is sick of their utter hypocrisy. Their gross injustice is completely contrary to what God has taught them:

"15 Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow." (1:15b-17)

Religion is an abomination unless it represents obedience to God's commands and conformity to his values. You'll recall that Jesus castigated the Pharisees of his day in a similar way:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matthew 23:23)

A Call to Repentance (1:18-20)

Yahweh confronts his people and calls them to repentance:

"18 'Come now, let us reason together,'says the LORD.
'Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.'
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (1:18-20)

Be reasonable! says the Lord. You don't understand the terrible state you are in. I am willing to forgive and cleanse you, but if you rebel, your future will be terrible indeed.

Now we come to the first discussion question. Pause and think about it, then write down your answer. Post it on the Forum at the URL below -- or discuss with others who are studying with you. Don't skip this. The meat of this study is your application of the key points so your life can change. Pause and consider each discussion question. Okay?

Q1. (Isaiah 1:2-20) In what way is Judah confused about its identity, according to verses 2-4? What are the consequences when Christians today suffer from such identity confusion? What injustices does God accuse his people of in verses 15-17? In verses 18-20 God argues that their behavior is "unreasonable." Why is it unreasonable? What does God offer as an alternative?

Judgment Ahead (1:21-31)

The prophecy spells out Jerusalem's sin and its consequence in verses 21-31. Observe a theme that we see throughout Isaiah:

"I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities." (1:25b)

The analogy is from metallurgy. To refine precious heavy metals such as gold or silver, ore is heated in a crucible until it becomes molten. At this point, the impurities (which are lighter) rise to surface to be skimmed off, while the precious metals (which are heavier) fall to the bottom. This process is repeated again and again until there is no more dross or impurity left. It describes the process of sanctification for a disciple. God uses difficult circumstances to help us become fully committed to him and to purify our character. This analogy of purification of precious metals is seen in both the Old and New Testaments.[14]

The reference to oaks in 1:29 recalls worshipping Baal and Asherah with sacrifices, and perhaps lying with cult prostitutes under sacred oak trees (Isaiah 57:5; 65;3; 66:17; Ezekiel 6:13; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6; Hosea 4:13).

Future of Jerusalem (2:1-5)

Yet, in spite of Judah's sin, that is not the final word.

"1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple
will be established as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream[15] to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.'
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD." (2:1-5)

This passage is duplicated in Micah 4:1-5. It is a remarkable prophecy from several points of view. It speaks of a time to come when a great spiritual revival will sweep the earth. We'll be looking deeply at similar prophecies in later chapters, but observe what this prophecy predicts:

  1. Universal belief in Yahweh (2:2). Whereas each nation previously had its own god (2:5), now there is a general acknowledgement of the true God, signified by the elevation of his temple. "Nations" is gôyim, the word used to describe the pagan nations surrounding Israel, the heathen, the Gentiles.[16]
  2. Spiritual hunger (2:3). There is a widespread hunger for God's word and way. The peoples are now seeking to learn from the true God -- and to obey him, "so that we may walk in his paths" (2:3b).
  3. Peace (2:4). Previously, disputes between nations were settled by war, the strongest nation forcing its will on the others. But now, Yahweh is looked to as the high king whose justice is sought to settle disputes. War becomes a thing of the past, and peace reigns to such an extent that people turn their weapons into farm implements, since they will never be needed again.

Q2. (Isaiah 2:1-5) What does this prophecy of the future Jerusalem tell us about God's plan for the Gentiles? About God's plan for the Jews? About spiritual hunger? About peace?

Judgment on Judah (2:5-4:1)

In the future, Yahweh will be seen as the true God, superior to any other. In light of this, God's people are called to "walk in the light of the Lord" (2:5b). Israel's present state, however, is far away from following him. Instead, they are attracted by pagan religions and values. They are:

  1. Influenced by Eastern religions[17] (2:6a). They are full of the ideas of Eastern religions, probably under the influence of the current world power, the Assyrians.
  2. Practicing divination or "soothsaying"[18] (2:6b), seeking guidance from other means than seeking God himself.
  3. Under the spell of greed, war, and idolatry practiced by the pagan nations (2:7-8).

As a result God's people -- as well as the pagan nations -- will be subject to Yahweh's awesome judgment on the Day of the Lord. The utter terror of the judged is expressed by the exhortation:

"Go into the rocks,
hide in the ground
from dread of the LORD
and the splendor of his majesty!" (2:10, see also 2:19, 21)

Later these words are echoed in the judgments of the last days in the New Testament (Luke 23:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 6:15)

The supposed glory of man is suddenly eclipsed by the splendor of Yahweh when he comes. Judah and Jerusalem will find themselves without food and water (3:1). Proud leaders -- great military heroes and kings -- will be replaced by children, for the leaders will be gone (3:2-4). It will be a day of ruin and chaos (3:5-6).

Towards the end of this passage is an indictment against those who become rich by oppressing the poor -- both the leaders and their rich, haughty wives (3:14-17)

"14 The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people:
'It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?'
declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty." (3:14-15)

Leaders -- both in Isaiah's day and ours -- have special responsibility to God for the people God has entrusted to them. These are my people, God is saying, my vineyard that you are exploiting! The leaders and elders are acting just the opposite to God's core character. Throughout the Bible, God is seen as the champion of the poor,[19] with laws to protect the alien, the widows, and orphans. He is:

"A father to the fatherless,
a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling." (Psalm 68:5)

One of the chief sins of Israel was to exploit the poor and powerless. It is one of the chief sins in our day, as well.

The Branch (4:2)

But judgment is not the last word. The final word is reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoration. Isaiah points to the future glory of the survivors.

"In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel." (4:2)

Notice the new title, "the Branch[20] of the Lord." In the prophets, Branch is used to designate the Messiah, the promised descendant of David.

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch[21] will bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1)

"The days are coming when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land." (Jeremiah 23:5; cf. 33:15)

"I am going to bring my servant, the Branch....
and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day." (Zechariah 3:8-9)

"Here is the man whose name is the Branch,
and he will branch out from his place
and build the temple of the LORD." (Zechariah 6:12)

Cleansing of the Remnant in Jerusalem (4:3-4)

Though Jerusalem will be judged, yet in the future there will be forgiveness and cleansing. Isaiah speaks of the remnant.

"3 Those who are left in Zion,
who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy,
all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.
4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion;
he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem
by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire." (4:3-4)

"Recorded/written among the living" (NIV, KJV), "recorded for life" (NRSV), means "destined for life," written in the Lord's book (Exodus 32:32-33; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 20:12b; 21:27).

The Pillar of Cloud Returns (4:5-6)

During the Exodus, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night was the outward sign of God's presence with his people, to protect and guide them (Exodus 13:20-21; 14:19; Numbers 14:14). Now this visible protection returns to restored Jerusalem.

"5 Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion
and over those who assemble there
a cloud of smoke by day
and a glow of flaming fire by night;
over all the glory will be a canopy.[22]
6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day,
and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain." (4:5-6)

Isaiah recalls the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire over the Tabernacle during Israel's wilderness journey (Exodus 13:21-22, etc.). The fulfillment of this prophecy is probably to be seen in the last days when Christ the Messiah returns.

The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard (5:1-6)

Isaiah swings from the future glory of Jerusalem to its present sinful condition. He uses a common metaphor of the careful preparation for planting a vineyard. Land is cleared, the vineyard is surrounded by a thick hedge to keep out animals, and the soil is made ready.

"1 I will sing for the one I love[23] a song[24] about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile[25] hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.[26]
He built a watchtower[27] in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.[28]

3 Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?

5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,[29] and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,[30] and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds not to rain on it." (5:1-6)

God's vineyard, of course is Israel. This parable and 3:14 seem to be the first references to a common theme in Scripture (Isaiah 27:2; Psalm 80:8-11; Jeremiah 2:21), used by Jesus as well.

"There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.
He put a wall around it,
dug a winepress in it
and built a watchtower." (Matthew 21:33)

What more could I have done? asks Yahweh. I have given the grapes every opportunity to grow fruitfully and well, but all that comes of it is, literally, "stink-fruit" -- foul-smelling fruit. The bad fruit represents the gross injustice and unrighteousness that abound in the land.

"The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress."[31] (Isaiah 5:7)

As a result of bad fruit where there should have been good fruit, the Lord declares a judgment of exposure to destructive forces. The thorn-hedge will be removed, any stone wall will be broken down, and nothing will grow there except briars and weeds. This prophecy was fulfilled in the increasing destruction wrought in Judah by the Assyrians, culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587 BC.

Q3. (Isaiah 5:1-6) What was the vintner's vision for the vineyard? What did he do to accomplish his vision? What happened when the crop came in? What did the vintner say he would do with the vineyard? What does this parable mean?

Woes and Judgments (5:8-30)

The Lord pronounces a series of "woes"[32] upon Judah. In a similar way as in Revelation (Revelation 8:13), these woes are God's response to the sins of Judah, specifically:

  1. Adding house to house (5:8-10). The rich get richer, presumably by exploiting the poor, and taking advantage of the weak, taking the houses of widows and orphans (1:17), with accompanying bloodshed and cries of distress (5:7b).
  2. Continual banqueting (5:11-17). They party early and late, but have no respect for God's people, his vineyard.
  3. Deceitful sin (5:18-19).
  4. Calling evil good and good evil (5:20-21).
  5. Bribery and injustice (5:22-25).

Each of these flagrant sins comes with its own recompense, the final of which is war's destruction (5:26-30) and exile (5:13).

The final portion of this prophecy is a description that a powerful army from a distant nation will plunder the land, bringing destruction and death. God summons distant nations by signaling with a banner and a whistle.[33]

"26 He lifts up a banner for the distant nations,
he whistles for those at the ends of the earth." (5:26a)

A banner is a visible rallying point used to direct troops in battle. Now Isaiah describes the discipline of this army with terror-inspiring verse[34] (5:26-28). God has great plans for Israel. Indeed, the future Jerusalem will be glorious. But since they seem determined to continue in their rebellion and sin, terrible judgment is to come.

Part 1B (Isaiah 6)

A Vision of the Lord, High and Lifted Up (6:1-4)

Israel is a mess, but God has a plan. In this passage, Isaiah shares with us a vision that he saw in 742 BC following the death of one of Judah's longest-reigning kings.

"1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord[35] seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying." (6:1-2)

In Isaiah's vision he is in the huge palace or temple[36] of King Yahweh. In the temple is an elevated[37] throne[38], and on it is the Lord, seated in grandeur, high above all others. The King is so massive in relation to the room size that the edge or train of his royal robe[39] fills the entire throne room.

Isaiah doesn't detail God's appearance, but describes the awesome setting of this King. The King is flanked by seraphs[40], winged creatures -- apparently the same as the cherubim that were common guardians of throne rooms in the ancient Near East. Cherubim flanked the ark (Exodus 25:18-22) and their images were embroidered into the tapestry inside the Tabernacle in the Wilderness (Exodus 26:1, 31). You can get an idea of what these winged guardians looked like in museums (such as the Oriental Museum in Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) that contain huge stone winged beasts that once stood in Assyrian throne rooms. You find other descriptions of these in Ezekiel 1:6-9 and Revelation 4:8.

The seraphim are calling[41] out to each other, reciting again and again qualities of the King whom they serve.

"3 And they were calling to one another:

   'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
   the whole earth is full of his glory.'

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple[42] was filled with smoke." (6:3-4)

Their voices were so deep and powerful that the vibrations shook the very doors of the temple. You may have been in a motion picture theater with "surround sound" that simulates deep sounds that you can almost feel. The temple was filled with smoke -- either smoke from incense (Exodus 30:7-8), or the cloud of the glory of God that filled the temple (Exodus 40:34-35). The scene was overpowering.

The message the seraphim chanted was powerful in its own right. It has three elements that tell us about God.

1. Yahweh Is Holy

"Holy, holy, holy...."[43]
"Qādôsh,  qādôsh, qādôsh...."

The verb qādash in the Qal stem connotes the state of that which belongs to the sphere of the sacred. Thus it is distinct from the common or profane.[44] So people who are holy are dedicated to the deity and set into his holy sphere rather than the common sphere. We belong to God! We are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). But what does it mean for God to be holy? Nowhere in scripture is holiness defined with regard to God. But an analysis of God's revelation to the Patriarchs seems to indicate that God's holiness involves his unique presence with his people, his justice and righteousness, his love and compassion, his desire to communicate with the people he has created, and his glory, often manifested by brightness and fire.[45]

2. Yahweh Is Mighty

The seraphim ascribe holiness to the "Lord Almighty" (NIV), "Lord of hosts" (NRSV, KJV), literally "Yahweh of army/war." Sābāʾ, is "war, army." Usually (but not here) ṣābāʾ is in the plural -- ṣebā'ôt, a word transliterated in the second verse of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" as "Lord Sabaoth, His Name, / from age to age the same, / And He must win the battle." Yahweh is mighty because the armies of heaven accompany him and are at his bidding. He must not be trifled with!

3. Yahweh's Creation Exhibits His Glory

Now the angels thunder the words,

"... the whole earth is full of his glory."

Some religions worship the creation -- the spirits of trees, of "Mother Earth." But this clause clearly states that Yahweh is separate (qādôsh) from his creation. Yet, his creation points to his greatness. We see this thought in David's psalm as well as in Paul's writing.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1)

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

God is invisible, non-corporeal. He is Spirit (John 4:24), but what he has made declares his glory to all who can see.

This word "glory" (kābôd) is also worth pondering. The noun comes from a verb that means "to be heavy." Thus to have glory is to be "weighty" -- honorable, impressive, worthy of respect.[46] The glory of the great kingdoms is commonly compared to the splendors and beauties of the great forest of Lebanon. So God's glory is his character, his perfection, his power -- all to be admired and praised. God's glory possesses "the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2, KJV). God's glory is often expressed in extreme brightness and blinding light (Isaiah 60:19; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 21:23).

Q4. (Isaiah 6:1-4) Why do you think Yahweh revealed himself in this way to Isaiah? In what ways does this vision reveal God's majesty? What do we learn about Yahweh from the serphaim's chant?

The Call of Isaiah (6:5-8)

So Isaiah witnesses the majestic and awesome presence of Yahweh on his throne and hears the earth-shattering chant of the seraphim declaring Yahweh's holiness, might and glory. In contrast, Isaiah is overcome by his own sense of smallness, unworthiness, and sinfulness.

"'5 Woe to me!'I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean[47] lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal[48] in his hand, which he had taken with tongs[49] from the altar. 7 With it he touched[50] my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt[51] is taken away[52] and your sin[53] atoned for.[54]'" (6:5-7)

Seldom had anyone had such a vision of Yahweh and lived to tell the tale. Even Moses was shielded so he did not see a full vision of Yahweh (Exodus 33:20-23). Isaiah's conclusion, "I am undone" (KJV) would be equivalent to our expression, "I'm a dead man!"[55]

In sharp contrast to Yahweh's holy character, Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness, his "unclean lips." The lips represent the expression of an unclean, unholy, unsurrendered heart. As Jesus said,

"But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:18)

In his vision, God doesn't accept Isaiah's sinfulness as a barrier. Just as in Jesus'death for our sins, God is not willing to continue our separation from him, but to forgive. Just as fire purifies,[56] so a live coal from God's fire on the altar touches Isaiah's lips, and Yahweh declares that his sin and guilt are removed.

Now that Isaiah has confessed and repented of his sins and has been cleansed, God has work for him. God's question doesn't single out Isaiah. But when God states his need for a representative to carry out his mission, Isaiah willingly volunteers.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord[57] saying, 'Whom[58] shall I send[59]? And who will go for us?[60]'
And I said, 'Here am I.[61] Send me!'" (6:8)

You have repented of your sins and been cleansed. God has given you abilities and gifts with which to serve him and build up his kingdom. Have you volunteered to use these abilities and gifts for serving him? This isn't about you and your limited time. This is about your God and his gracious willingness to use you in his great purposes during your lifetime.

There's a wonderful song that comes from this passage, originally written for an ordination service.

"Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart."[62]

The full lyrics and haunting melody stay with you long after the song is over.

Q5. (Isaiah 6:5-8) What is Isaiah's reaction to the vision? How does God deal with Isaiah's fear? What question follows Isaiah's cleansing? What is Isaiah's response to God's question? What is your response when you sense God calling you?

The Dilemma of Declaring God's Word (6:9-10)

Isaiah has volunteered, but God gives him a seemingly impossible mission -- certainly counter-intuitive. Isaiah is to tell God's people to hear but to not understand. There is clear irony to God's words.

"9 He said, 'Go and tell this people:

"Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving."
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.'" (6:9-10)

These verses are hard to understand, but very important, since they are cited several times in the Gospels and Acts (Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:26-27).

Here's the problem that Isaiah faces -- and all preachers, for that matter. People who resist the truth can only be brought to repentance by telling them the truth again. But if they reject the truth a second time, and a third, and a fourth, they become increasingly hardened in their resistance -- hard hearts, the Bible calls it.[63] Their pride and rebellion have reached such a stage that most likely they will misperceive the truth they do hear.[64] Paul comments to Timothy about people who are "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).

If Isaiah were to sugar-coat the message to make it more palatable, some people might be "healed," but not deep in their souls where the work must be done. To do this is to create a group of people who are convinced that they are "believers," but who exhibit none of the fruits of responding to truth.[65] Like it or not, the truth is the only thing that can heal. Some -- a remnant -- will hear and believe, but most, sadly, will become even more resistant.

So God speaks with irony: "'Hear, but of course you will not hear."[66] Jesus dealt with the same kind of people in his day, and said to them with a kind of resignation,

"Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" (Matthew 23:32)

We see something similar in the people of the Exodus.

"You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear." (Deuteronomy 29:2-4)

So in verse 10, Isaiah is commanded to carry out a hopeless task of preaching truth to a willfully stubborn people, who only become more hardened in the process.

Q6. (Isaiah 6:9-10) How do you make sense out of these verses? Is Isaiah called to an impossible mission? Why will Isaiah's prophecy make the task worse? In which parable did Jesus quote this passage (Matthew 13:1-23)? In Jesus'parable, is there any frustration in preaching the gospel? Is there any hope?

The Judgment and the Hope (6:11-13)

Isaiah asks God how long this terrible blindness will continue:

"11 Then I said, 'For how long, O Lord?'
And he answered:
'Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste. '" (6:11-13a)

The blindness will continue until the land is destroyed, "utterly forsaken," and its people taken away in exile. But when all seems to have been lost, there remains a sign of hope.

"But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps[67] when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land." (6:13b)

Recently I cut a number of trees on our property near the fence line. When I cut down pines, that was the end of them. But when I cut oaks, a number of sprouts began to grow from the stump. The oaks wouldn't give up. So it is with God's promised seed.

The "holy seed" could refer to either Abraham's seed[68] or David's seed -- the Messiah. Here, especially in the light of 11:1, Isaiah seems to be referring to the promised "seed" of David that will result in the Messianic king who will bring deliverance (2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 18:50; Galatians 3:16). A few chapters later we read about this Davidic Messiah using the same imagery:

"A shoot shall come out from the stump[69] of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots." (11:1)

We've begun Isaiah's prophecy. We've seen God's love and mercy contrasted with his people's sinfulness and stubborn rebelliousness. I wonder how Jesus looks over your community. Does he see the same kind of willful blindness? What can you do to minister to these who are truly "lost." Three things: water them with earnest and regular prayer to soften the ground; cultivate them with a palpable love through your attitude and actions toward them; and then sow seeds of truth -- clearly but winsomely planted.

Don't give up. People's stubbornness wasn't an excuse for Isaiah any more than it can be an excuse for you.

Jesus looks over the harvest field and utters these words:

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:37-38)

It's not so different than Yahweh's question in Isaiah 6:8.

"Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"

I pray that your answer will be like Isaiah's:

"Here am I. Send me!"


Father, as I begin to read Isaiah, I begin to understand your broken heart for those whom you love. It's so easy to throw up my hands and pronounce it hopeless. But then I remember Jesus'great love that drove him to the cross to atone for just such people as these. Put his heart in me. Open in me a new responsiveness to your mission and vision. Lord, here I am. Send me. In Jesus'name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

It is difficult to select the most memorable verses, since Isaiah is so rich and we are only skimming, looking for the high points. Nevertheless, here are just a few from Isaiah 1-6:

"The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner's manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand." (Isaiah 1:3)

"18 'Come now, let us reason together,'says the LORD.
'Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.'
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 1:18-20)

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'
And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8)

End Notes

[11] Kābēd, "be heavy" (TWOT 943). Kābôd, "glory," comes from this root, but God's "weightiness" is much different than the weight of Judah's sin.

[12] Zeraʿ, "sowing, seed, offspring."

[13] Nāʾaṣ, "despise, abhor" (TWOT #1274).

[14] Job 23:10; Psalm 66:10; Proverbs 17:3; 25:4; Isaiah 1:22; 48:10; Jeremiah 6:29; 9:7; Ezekiel 22:18-22; Daniel 12:10; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18.

[15] "Stream" (NIV, NRSV), "flow" (KJV) is nāhar, "flow, stream." In the Old Testament it is only used figuratively, of the confluence of the nations. The related noun nāhār, is "river" (R. Laird Harris, nāhar, TWOT #1315).

[16] As the children of Abraham become established as a people, "gôyim increasingly takes the meaning of "gentiles" or "heathen," in reference to the non-covenant, non-believing peoples considered as national groups" (Gerard Van Groningen, gwh, TWOT #326e).

[17] "Superstitions" (NIV), "diviners" (NRSV), "replenished" (KJV) is mâ lê ʾ, "fullness, that which fills" (TWOT #1195a).

[18] The verb ʿānan means to "bring clouds." Here, perhaps, the verb carries the figurative idea, "to act covertly" or means to read and interpret the patterns of the clouds as a means of divination (R. Laird Harris, ʿānan, TWOT #1656). We're just not sure. At any rate, the occult practices described by the word are strictly forbidden.

[19] Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 146:9.

[20] "Branch" is ṣemaḥ, "sprout, growth, branch" (TWOT #1928a).

[21] Nēṣer, "branch, shoot, sprout" (TWOT #1408a).

[22] "Canopy" (NIV, NRSV), "defense" (KJV) is ḥuppâ , "canopy, chamber, shelter." Twice it refers to a wedding (Joel 2:16) (TWOT #710b).

[23] This sentence contains two expressions of love, which seem to be combined in the NIV: (1) yādîd, "'one greatly loved'by God or by man" (TWOT #846a); and (2) dôd, "beloved uncle." All the other uses of this noun are in the Song of Solomon referring to her lover (TWOT #410a).

[24] "Song" (NIV, KJV), "love song" (NRSV) is shîr, "song," used often of the Psalter (TWOT #2378a).

[25] "Fertile" (NIV, NRSV), "fruitful" (KJV) is shemen, "oil," used here metaphorically of prosperity (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #2410c).

[26] "Choice/est" is sôrê q, "choice vine." The word is also used in Jeremiah 2:21 -- "21 I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?"

[27] "Watchtower" (NIV, NRSV), "tower" (KJV) is migdāl, which designates a tower from which to guard a flock (Micah 4:8) or vineyard, or as a place of refuge (William S. LaSor, "tower," ISBE 4:883).

[28] "Bad fruit" (NIV), "wild grapes" (NRSV, KJV) is beʾush, "stinking or worthless things, wild grapes," from the root bāʾash, "stink, abhor." The word describes objects that have a foul odor (TWOT #195c).

[29] "Thorn hedge." Hedges were generally made of cut thorn branches or formed from thorny plants. A 'fence'normally comprised a loose stone wall, such as surrounded fields and vineyards" (R.K. Harrison, "Hedge," ISBE 2:672).

[30] "Wall" is gādēr, "enclosure, wall, fence" (BDB p. 154). Gāḏēr and related words most often refer to defensive walls built of stone, whether a simple structure built around a vegetable plot or the walls of a city ("Wall," ISBE 4:1005).

[31] "Cries of distress" (NIV), "cry" (NRSV, KJV) is seʾāqâ , "cry, outcry." Here it is the cry of those who are oppressed, in bondage (TWOT #1947a).

[32] "Woe" (NIV, KJV), "ah" (NRSV) is hôy, an interjection, usually of lamentation: "Ah! alas! ho! O! woe!" (TWOT #485).

[33] "Whistle" (NIV, NRSV), "hiss" (KJV) is shāraq, "hiss, whistle." In some places it is the response to horror, for example, when passing by ruins. But several times is used as a signal to summon, either nations to destroy Israel (Isaiah 5:26; 7:18) or to invite Israel to return to the promised land (Zechariah 10:8) (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #2468).

[34] This sounds similar to Joel's description of the disciplined army of locusts that will descend on the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:7-8).

[35] "Lord" here is ʾādôn, "lord, master, owner," not "Yahweh," but "Yahweh" is used in verse 3b.

[36] "Temple" is hê kāl, "palace, temple, nave, sanctuary ... essentially represents a king's dwelling quarters, that is, a palace.... Extra-Palestinian applications of hê kāl refer solely to the domicile of a king. Within Israel it refers to the dwelling place of the great king, God" (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #493). God's house, of course, is the temple.

[37] "Exalted" (NIV), "lofty" (NRSV), "lifted up" (KJV) is a participle of nāśāʾ, "to lift up."

[38] "Throne" is kissēh, "seat, stool, throne." Of 136 references in the Old Testament, all but 7 refer to kingly or divine thrones. It is often used figuratively, for the one who sits on the throne is the ruler of the kingdom (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #1007).

[39] "Train of his robe" (NIV), "hem of his robe" (NRSV), "train" (KJV) is shûl, "skirt of robe." (BDB 1002), "flowing skirt, hem of skirt" (Holladay 364).

[40] "Seraphim" is plural of śārāp, "seraph," from the verb śārap, "to burn." "angelic creatures are surely to be compared with the cherubim of the temple decoration and of Ezekiel's later vision." The creatures in Revelation 4 have elements of both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's descriptions. "They are kerûbîm ["cherubim"] described from their brilliant appearance" (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #2292b).

[41] "Called/calling" (NIV, NRSV), "cried" (KJV) is qārāʾ, "call, call out, recite (read)... The root qrʾ denotes primarily the enunciation of a specific vocable or message. In the case of the latter usage it is customarily addressed to a specific recipient and is intended to elicit a specific response (hence, it may be translated "proclaim, invite") (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #2063).

[42] "Temple" (NIV), "house" (NRSV, KJV) is bayit, the common word for "house."

[43] We echo these words in the Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," written by Reginald Heber in 1826.

[44] Thomas E. McComiskey, qādôsh, TWOT #1990b.

[45] Discussed by J.E. Hartley, "Holy and Holiness, Clean and Unclean," Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp. 420-431.

[46] John N. Oswalt, TWOT #943e.

[47] "Unclean" is the adjective ṭāmēʾ, from a word group used especially of ritual uncleanness, or of those defiled by idolatry (TWOT #809a).

[48] "Live coal" is riṣpâ , "glowing stone (or coal)" (BDB 954).

[49] "Tongs" is melqāḥayim, "tongs, snuffers" (TWOT #1124d), from the verb lāqaḥ, "take, get, fetch."

[50] "Touched" (NIV, NRSV), "laid upon" (KJV) is nāgaʿ. "The essential meaning of nāgaʿ is 'to touch.'It can refer to a thing touching, i.e. contacting another thing" (TWOT #1293).

[51] "Guilt" (NIV, NRSV), "iniquity" (KJV) is ʿāwōn, "iniquity, guilt, punishment for guilt," from the verb ʿāwâ , "bend, twist, distort." It carries the derived, abstract theological notion of the root: "infraction, crooked behavior, perversion, iniquity, etc. ... [denoting] both the deed and its consequences, the misdeed and its punishment" (Carl Schultz, TWOT #1577a).

[52] "Taken away" (NIV, KJV), "has departed" (NRSV) is ç ûwr in the Qal stem, "turn aside, depart" (R.D. Patterson, TWOT #1480).

[53] "Sin" is ḥaṭṭāʾt, the principle word for "sin" in the Old Testament, with the basic meaning of the root of "to miss a mark or a way" (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #638e).

[54] "Atoned for" (NIV), "blotted out" (NRSV), "purged" (KJV) is kāpar, "make an atonement, make reconciliation, purge." Harris questions the popular meaning of "covered over," derived from an equivalent Arabic root meaning "cover," or "conceal." He sees the meaning, as "to atone by offering a substitute," derived from the meaning of the related noun kōper, "ransom," (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #1023).

[55] "Ruined" (NIV), "lost" (NRSV), "undone" (KJV) is dāmâ , "cease, cause to cease, cut off, destroy, perish" (BDB 198).

[56] Numbers 31:23; Zechariah 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7.

[57] "Lord" in verse 8 is ʾādôn, "lord, master, owner," not "Yahweh."

[58] "Who" (used twice in this verse) is , an interrogative pronoun.

[59] "Send" is shālaḥ (used twice in verse 8), "send, send away, let go." God is often depicted as sending men on an official mission as his envoys or representatives. Thus, God often speaks of sending his prophets with great earnestness that they might warn Israel, as here (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #2394).

[60] "Go" is yālak, "go, walk," denoting movement in general, although usually of people. (TWOT #498). It is used with the preposition , "to, at, in, in reference to, of, by etc." (first person common plural) to indicate the idea "for us."

[61] "Here am I" is hinnēh, a very common interjection demanding attention, occurring over 1000 times in the Old Testament -- "behold, lo, see" (TWOT #510).

[62] Copyright © 1981 by Daniel L. Schutte, S.J., and NALR.

[63] Motyer expounds this reasoning further (Motyer, Isaiah, pp. 81-81). Keil and Delitzsch observe that, "The two prohibitory expressions, 'understand not'and 'perceive not,'show what the result of the prophet's preaching was to be, according to the judicial will of God" (Keil and Delitzsch, Isaiah, p. 199).

[64] Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39,p. 189.

[65] Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39,p. 189.

[66] Young, Isaiah 1:255.

[67] Stump" (NIV, NRSV), "substance" (KJV) is maṣṣebet, "that which stands," here "stock, stump" of a tree. Sometimes it is used for "pillar" (maṣṣeba, BDB 663).

[68] God promises Abraham that his "seed" or "descendants" will continue (Genesis 17:9). We see the phrase "holy seed" in Ezra 9:2 when the integrity of Yahweh worship was threatened by marrying pagan wives.

[69] "Stump" (NIV, NRSV), "stem" (KJV) is gezaʿ, "stock, stem of a tree" (BDB 160).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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