Two Paths to Eternity
I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will wait for him. (Isa 8:17)
Main Idea: People travel to their eternal destiny by two paths—one of light and one of darkness.
- Two Paths to Eternity
- Terrifying Context: Assyria Invades the Region.
- Phase 1: Assyria comes to rescue.
- Phase 2: Assyria comes to destroy.
- Phase 3: Assyria comes to be destroyed.
- The Way of Light
- A life in God’s strong grip
- A life listening to God’s word and warnings
- A life apart from the crowd
- A life of fear and fearlessness
- A life resting in the true sanctuary
- A life guided by God’s laws
- A life inquiring of God
- Ultimately, a life of faith in the Lord
- The Way of Darkness
- A life spent rejecting God’s gentle provision
- A life of rejoicing while others suffer judgment
- A life of stumbling over God and being snared by him
- A life of false spiritual guidance
- A life of spiritual famine and restless roaming
- A life of rage and cursing
- Ultimately, a life of darkness now and eternally
- Christ (Immanuel), the Only Way
Two Paths to Eternity
In 1916 Robert Frost wrote his most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” describing a quandary he found himself in. He was walking through a beautiful forest in the autumn, enjoying himself until he came to a fork in the road; which direction should he go? After a time of wrestling based on uncertainty about the two destinations, he decided in the end to take the road less traveled, and, he said, “that has made all the difference” (“The Road Not Taken,” 75).
Jesus Christ describes even more poignantly a far more significant choice—two paths, one leading to heaven, the other to hell:
Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14)
So also, in Isaiah 8 there are two ways to live woven together side by side. The Bible teaches that there is one way, and only one way, that leads to heaven, and his name is Jesus (John 14:6). It was true in Isaiah’s day, as they looked forward to God’s promised Messiah, and it will be true to the end of time.
Terrifying Context: Assyria Invades the Region
As we saw in Isaiah 7, Ahaz and Judah were terrified by the prospect of an alliance between Israel and Aram. God warned Ahaz not to give way to fear but to trust him. Instead, Ahaz made a political alliance with Assyria to deliver him from these enemies (2 Kgs 16:7-9). That’s like a mouse, threatened by a rat, turning to a ravenous alley cat for assistance. The cat is only too delighted to gobble them both up!
Assyria is dealt with in Isaiah 8 in three phases. In phase 1 Assyria comes to the “rescue” of Judah by destroying her enemies Israel and Aram. Verses 1-4 center on the mysterious name Maher-shalal-hash-baz: “Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil.” In the past, God spoke through the prophets both by their words and their lives. In each of these ways God gets this message out to the people through Isaiah. First, he is told to write this name on a large scroll so that people could read it. Second, Isaiah and his wife (the prophetess) had a son whom the Lord commanded to be named “Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” The message is that Assyria is going to sweep in and swiftly conquer the two dreaded enemies. The boy born with this long name will become, like Immanuel in Isaiah 7, a living timepiece for the fulfillment of God’s purposes through Assyria. Before the boy is old enough to say “Dada” or “Mama”—generally six to twelve months—the wealth and plunder of the two feared kings will be carried off by the king of Assyria. Judah will be spared but only temporarily!
In phase 2 the Lord has more work to do through Assyria: judgment will come on Judah as well. In verse 6 God gives reasons: The people have rejected the “slowly flowing water of Shiloah” and have rejoiced over Rezin and the son of Remaliah. The king of Assyria is likened to an overflowing, powerful river, impressive in its dominance. So the gently flowing water of Shiloah (a pool outside of Jerusalem) represents God’s quiet and steady provision for and protection of his people, but the people have tragically rejected it, turning instead with awe and lust toward the perceived power of Assyria. They also rejoiced in the demise of the two nations they dreaded. The Hebrew word translated “rejoiced” implies a great exaltation, a gloating over the destruction of Israel and Aram. A German word captures this: Schadenfreude, delight in other people’s misery. God hates it because it is basically arrogance; not “There but for the grace of God go I,” but rather “Ha! They’re finally getting what they deserve!” or “Better you than me!”
So, because of this attitude, God is bringing the king of Assyria with all his pomp, like a river that overflows its banks. It will flood the land of Judah and go right “up to the neck” (v. 8). The flood will destroy the entire land but will spare the head (Jerusalem), a very clear and accurate prophecy of the deliverance of Jerusalem described in Isaiah 37.
This brings us to phase 3: the destruction of Assyria. The flooding river would love to have drowned the head (Jerusalem and King Hezekiah), but God stopped it cold. Phase 3 is clearly described in 8:9-10: any Gentile nation who makes a plan to destroy God’s people will themselves be destroyed. This is the power of the word Immanuel: God is with us, to protect us from annihilation. So Assyria will itself be annihilated because they came against Judah and sought to destroy it.
So, “God is with us,” but who is the “us”? Many citizens of Judah would be slaughtered in phase 2, when the Assyrian river of destruction floods “up to the neck.” Who is the “us” God fights for, the “us” included in the word Immanuel ? The rest of the chapter is devoted to answering that vital question.
The Way of Light
The way of light is described in a variety of ways in Isaiah 8. Verse 11 says, first, it is a life in God’s strong grip. God spoke to Isaiah with, literally, “the power of the hand” on him. This strong grip is a sense of the presence of almighty God to shield and protect at every moment but also to guide. Like a godly father putting his strong hand on the shoulder of his toddler son to keep him from running into the street, so the way of light involves this mighty grip of God day by day. Jesus, our good Shepherd, takes hold of each believer in Christ (John 10:28) and leads him or her powerfully through life, ultimately to heaven. So the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:12 that he daily makes every effort to take hold of heavenly perfection because he also has been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Second, the way of light consists in listening to God’s Word. Again, in verse 11 not only did the Lord put his strong hand on Isaiah; he also spoke a word of warning to him. Christ’s sheep listen to his voice (John 10:27) speaking through the written Word and by the power of the Spirit within. It keeps us from following the way of those other people (Isa 8:11-12).
Thus, third, the way of light is a way apart from the crowd. We march to the beat of a heavenly drummer. We do not fear what they fear (v. 12), and we do not love what they love. It is a life of separation from the world (2 Cor 6:17), not thinking as they think, living as they live, or touching the unclean things they touch.
Fourth, the way of light is a life of a fear that drives out all other fears. Verses 12-13 say, in effect, “Fearing the holy God, we will fear nothing else. But if we don’t fear him, we need to fear everything else!” Ahaz and Judah were terrified of Israel and Aram, and their hearts fluttered like trees in a wind. They should have feared the Lord; then they would have feared nothing that could possibly happen. Jesus said plainly, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).
Fifth, the way of light is a life lived safely in the sanctuary of the Lord’s protection. Verse 14 says, “He will be a sanctuary.” That means a refuge, a safe haven, like Noah’s ark in the flood—a place to flee to when the waters rise. Ultimately, this is a life lived in the shelter of Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
Sixth, the way of light is a life lived in a pathway completely bounded by God’s Word. Verse 16 says, “Bind up the testimony. Seal up the instruction among my disciples.” God’s disciples are the ones who listen to the testimony and instruction of his laws. Verse 20 commands them to “Go to God’s instruction and testimony!” This is the straight way that leads to heaven, completely bounded left and right by God’s perfect laws. Christ perfectly obeyed the law of God for us, and his righteousness is ours by faith. But having been justified by faith, the law’s requirements are then fully met in us as we live by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:4). The way of light is not lawless but gladly submissive to God’s perfect laws.
Seventh, the way of light is a life spent inquiring of God (v. 19). We need guidance about the future, and unlike the dark pagans who go to mediums and spiritists, we simply ask God for wisdom (Jas 1:5). It is a life of submissive prayer, saying, “Lord, what is your will for me?”
Eighth and ultimately, it is a life lived by faith in the Lord. Verse 17 says twice, “I will wait for the Lord.” Even if it seems he is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, even if great trials and purifying judgments come—still, “I will put my trust in him.” Jesus is the final Immanuel, the one whom we must trust continually.
The Way of Darkness
By contrast, the way of darkness is described in this chapter as well. It is a life spent rejecting God’s gentle provision, “the slowly flowing water of Shiloah” (v. 6). This rejection of God, exchanging the fountain of living water for the cracked cisterns that can never satisfy, is the fundamental and most shocking sin Israel ever committed (Jer 2:13).
Second, the way of darkness is characterized by a mocking delight in the sufferings of others (v. 6) rather than taking the occasion of those judgments to look inwardly and repent deeply, knowing one deserves the same kinds of judgments. People tend to watch some criminal on trial, some politician who gets caught with a high-priced prostitute, or some athlete who gets caught with drugs, and cluck their tongues self-righteously and say, “Serves them right!” This self-righteousness is the enemy of our souls, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 13:1-5. Unless we too repent, we will all likewise perish!
Third, the way of darkness is a life of stumbling over God and being snared by him (vv. 14-15). Instead of fleeing to Christ for salvation, people stumble over the stumbling stone (Rom 9:32). They can’t believe in the doctrine of the incarnation and are offended by the cross. So they end up being crushed by him and snared by him rather than being saved by him.
Fourth, the way of darkness is a life of false spiritual guidance. People are essentially spiritual, and if they reject the true God who is Spirit (John 4:23-24), they will seek some supernatural “voice,” some spiritual “guidance” that often comes in the costume of the occult. Isaiah 8:19-20 speaks of those who consult mediums and spiritists, who seek to consult the dead on behalf of the living, instead of going “to God’s instruction and testimony!” Rejecting God’s Word, they go after demonic voices “who chirp and mutter.” And why can’t the dead speak to the living? Because the evil dead are too busy screaming in agony in hell, and the righteous dead know that God has spoken adequately in the Word. Instead, it is demons who impersonate the dead and deceive those who consult them.
Therefore, the way of darkness is, fifth, a life of spiritual famine and restless roaming (v. 21). Like the devil who roams the earth (Job 1:7) and homeless demons who restlessly roam through arid places seeking rest (Matt 12:43), these dark people become demonic themselves. They roam through the land, famished for true food, and, enraged, they look upward and curse God. When they look at life on earth, they see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction.
Sixth, and ultimately, such a dark, demonic life can only end in an eternity of thick darkness in hell. Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” (Matt 25:41). And they will be thrown into outer darkness where there will be nothing but “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30).
Christ (Immanuel), the Only Way
As we have mentioned throughout this chapter, the key to everything is Immanuel (v. 8), Jesus Christ, who alone fulfills all the images of this chapter: He is the way of light, and he will judge the way of darkness. He is the refuge to which we flee, and he is the rock of stumbling over which the children of darkness stumble and are snared (vv. 14-15). In the end, we must put our trust in him (v. 17) for the salvation that he alone can give. It also behooves us to assess the course of our lives and be sure that we are on the way of light and not the way of darkness. There are two ways and only two ways. Christ alone leads to heaven.
Reflect and Discuss
- Comment on the two methods that God used to speak through the prophets in the Old Testament era—their words and their lives (Heb 1:1).
- Describe the three phases of the Assyrian invasion traced out in this chapter.
- How do these three phases show the complexity of God’s plan and its wisdom? How do they show the sovereignty of God over the events of human nations?
- Comment on the precision of the prophecy saying that the Assyrian invasion will be like a river that overflows its banks and rises “up to the neck.”
- Compare the two ways to live in Isaiah 8 with the teaching of Christ in Matthew 7:13-14.
- As you look at the attributes of the way of light in Isaiah 8, how do you see these things lining up with the New Testament’s description of the life of a true Christian?
- How should we understand the role of the law, God’s instruction, in the Christian life (vv. 16,20)? Why is it true that we who have been rescued from the law must now live out the law every day by the Spirit?
- What is the significance of the way of darkness being characterized by the rejection of the “slowly flowing water of Shiloah”? Why do people reject God and go after other sources of protection and guidance?
- How do you see the occult flourishing in our day?
- How is Christ (Immanuel) the fulfillment of the themes of this chapter? Why is it vital for each person to line himself up with the characteristics of the way of light versus the way of darkness to be sure that we are truly alive in Christ?