I. The Judgment of God (Isaiah 1:1–39:8)
I. The Judgment of God (1:1–39:8)
A. God’s Judgment on Judah (1:1–5:30)
1:1 God called Isaiah son of Amoz to be a prophet during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry, then, occurred many years before the ministry of Jeremiah that ended with the nation’s exile in Babylon. But even during Isaiah’s ministry well over one hundred years before Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC, the tone is one of God’s great displeasure with his people and determination to judge them for their sin.
1:2-9 God put Judah on trial, calling the heavens and earth as witnesses (1:2) against his people, whom he described as a sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, [a] brood of evildoers, depraved children! (1:4). Judah’s insistence on rebelling against the Lord was ridiculous in light of the chastisements God had already laid on them. The nation is pictured as a body so covered with wounds, welts, and festering sores that there’s no healthy place to land another blow (1:6). And yet, Judah wouldn’t throw in the towel and submit to God’s agenda. She persisted in her sin, even though her enemies were already besieging her cities. Isaiah likened Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:9), the epitome of God’s judgment on sinful people. Yet God had gracious future plans for Judah, unlike those cities.
1:10-15 That assurance did not minimize the seriousness of Judah’s sin, though. The tone of 1:10-23 is straightforward regarding the evil practices of the people and how God viewed them. Judah’s citizens did all of the right things outwardly: they brought offerings to the temple and observed the religious festivals (1:13-14). Thus, they thought they were fine in God’s eyes. But the Lord brushed all of their outward acts aside: What are all your sacrifices to me? . . . I have had enough of burnt offerings. . . . I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats (1:11). And it only goes downhill from there. Every sacrifice and act of worship had become abhorrent to God because the people performed them with evil hearts. Even Judah’s prayers went unheeded because their hands [were] covered with blood (1:15). Judah was a place where injustice and treachery flourished, and the helpless were mistreated by the powerful. Things were so bad that the people’s hypocritical acts of religious observance made God sick.
1:16-17 The only remedy for Judah’s sin was repentance and cleansing. True repentance, which is the inner resolve and determination to turn from sin and return to God, would be obvious in the nation’s treatment of the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow—the weakest members of society (1:17). True religion is not selfish. It helps those who can do nothing in return for what is offered them. The charity giving of false religion, by contrast, is more of a business deal than it is faith in action.
In Isaiah’s day, orphans and widows were the poorest of the poor. They needed help. And because they were basically powerless, they were often the victims of injustice. So God warned his people to make sure they defended the helpless. To live out a faith that is valuable to God, we must reach out to those who can’t help themselves. Why? Because that’s what our heavenly Father did for us. When we were sinners and could do nothing for God, God in Christ became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21). God wants his children to act like their Father.
1:18-31 Judah was called to cleansing and repentance, and God promised that if they were willing and obedient (1:19), if they turned from their wickedness and embraced his agenda, their crimson sins would be made white as snow (1:18). But they wouldn’t listen. Unfortunately, repentance would only come after the severest of judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. It would burn away Judah’s dross and impurities (1:25), leaving behind a righteous remnant that would one day enjoy God’s favor.
2:1-4 This passage is a magnificent prophetic look ahead to the millennial reign of Christ, when God will restore righteous rule to the world. The headquarters of his one-thousand-year rule will be Jerusalem on the mountain of the Lord in the holy city of Jerusalem (2:3). As glorious as the millennium will be for us as the church in general, it will have very special meaning for believing Israel. Christ’s kingdom reign will mean the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel. Jewish believers in Christ will finally live in real peace, as will all the nations (2:4), and Israel will occupy all of the land God gave to Abraham.
Israel will also have its rightful King in the millennium. Initially, Jesus was rejected when he presented himself to the Jews as their King. They even cried, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15), scorning Christ. But God promised David that his Son would rule on his throne forever. Jesus is that Son of David, and he will one day take the throne in Jerusalem. And make no mistake, his rule will be a righteous dictatorship. He will not share either his throne or his glory with another. The kingdom will be Israel’s golden age of restoration and the realization of all God’s purposes.
2:5-8 As Isaiah was writing, though, the southern kingdom of Judah was in such desperate spiritual condition that he said God had abandoned his people (2:6). This was strong language telling Isaiah’s readers that in reality, it wasn’t God who had moved; they were the ones who had walked away from him by practicing idolatry. It must have stung to be told that in God’s sight, they weren’t any better than their arch enemies, the Philistines (2:6), because of their pagan practices. Yes, Judah’s land was full of silver and gold, but it was also full of idols (2:7-8). Judah likely concluded its wealth was the fruit of worshiping idols.
2:9-22 It’s no wonder Isaiah cried out, Do not forgive them! (2:9). Then in 2:10-21, he delivered a message of judgment that looked beyond the coming devastation of Judah to the end-time judgment God will bring on the whole earth during the great tribulation. He said, Go into the rocks and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord and from his majestic splendor (2:10; see also 2:19, 21). This will not be finally fulfilled until God pours out his final judgments on an unbelieving world (see Rev 6:15-17). On that day, idols will finally be thrown away (2:20).
This section thus illustrates how the Old Testament prophets wrote not just of things relatively near but also of things further away. It is doubtful that Isaiah even knew he was writing about the last days when Israel’s Messiah would return in glory. The prophet probably did not see the long valley between the two mountain peaks of Judah’s judgment and the judgments of the tribulation. He just faithfully recorded what the Holy Spirit inspired him to write. This section speaks of the humbling of all of mankind’s sinful pride, ending with this universal warning: Put no more trust in a mere human, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth? (2:22).
3:1-8 Isaiah answered that question in chapter 3 by saying that God would remove from Judah the daily necessities of life and every category of leader and counselor the people trusted in—heroes and warriors, fortune-tellers, and necromancers (3:1-3). That pagan occultists, whose penalty under the law was death, were included in this list gives a clear picture of how depraved God’s people had become. Instead of wise, strong, and spiritually minded leaders, then, the nation would be ruled by unstable, oppressive, and foolish people (3:4-7). In other words, Judah would be led by those wholly inadequate to lead.
Unfortunately, we see this happening too often in our own times as leaders who know nothing of true leadership rise to power. As homes and families unravel, it tragically produces leaders who lack spiritual foundation. And this trend, of course, has to be addressed in our homes, because no government or school system alone can develop spiritual leaders when the home is lacking God’s leadership.
Too often, when children leave their homes each day, there are forces at work to unravel everything good their parents try to teach them. The competition is great. The world will give your kids a different story than you give them. So while good families were important in Isaiah’s day, remember that they’re still desperately important today, and see your own home as a training ground for producing godly seed. We need to teach and live God’s Word at home if we want to see godly leadership in our neighborhoods, schools, and government.
3:9 The people of Judah in Isaiah’s time had failed miserably at the parenting assignment, and they would reap the bitter fruit of inept and ungodly leadership at the very time of crisis when they needed a word and direction from God the most. But Isaiah didn’t feel sorry for them. After all, instead of seeking God in repentance and restoration, Judah paraded its sin like Sodom, whose men flaunted their homosexuality in God’s face (see Gen 19). As a result, God’s people brought disaster on themselves.
3:10-15 The good news was that there was a promise of rescue and blessing for the righteous amid this chaos (3:10): God would not destroy forever the people of his covenant. But this promise did nothing to ease the judgment due to the wicked (3:11). The rich and the powerful were so cruel and corrupt that God called a special session of his heavenly court to denounce them for plundering the poor (3:14). They had crushed those less fortunate than them. But they weren’t counting on the Lord God of Armies (3:15) who avenges the weak and levels justice upon their oppressors to address their behavior.
3:16–4:1 The daughters of Zion, who were elaborately adorned with all manner of jewelry and garments, obviously benefited from this ill-gotten wealth (3:16, 18-23). They were arrogant and haughty (3:16). In response to their shameful displays of finery, the Lord decreed, Instead of perfume there will be a stench; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of beautifully styled hair, baldness; instead of fine clothes, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding (3:24). As Judah’s men would fall in battle, slaughtered by the Bab-ylonian invasion, Judah’s surviving women—the ones not taken away as captives—would go to desperate lengths to try and ease their disgrace (4:1).
4:2-6 In the remaining verses of chapter 4, the Lord broke through the darkness with a prophecy of Israel’s future glory in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. While Isaiah may have only understood this as speaking of the nation’s future return from captivity in Babylon, the term Branch of the Lord (4:2) is a reference to Christ as the righteous descendant of King David who springs out of David’s roots (see 11:1). This will be ultimately fulfilled at Christ’s return to reign as the true King of Israel. And just as God’s glory was visible to Israel during the exodus, so the visible glory of God will be seen over Mount Zion (4:5). Despite severe judgment of Judah, there would be a remnant of God’s people whom he would preserve, restore, and rebuild according to his promises.
5:1-7 Because the righteous remnant’s restoration was still future, though, God had to return to the work of judgment. He pictured unfaithful Judah in terms of a vineyard that he had planted to be fruitful and produce joy (5:1-2). God lovingly tended his vineyard, but instead of good grapes, all it yielded was worthless grapes (5:2). He had done all that could have been done for his vineyard (5:4), yet when he looked for justice and righteousness there, all he discovered was injustice and cries of despair (5:7). Thus, God would allow the vineyard of his people to be destroyed.
One day, Jesus would allude to this metaphor (see Matt 21:33-46). In his retelling of the story of the vineyard owner, not only would his servants reject him but they would also kill his son (see Matt 21:38-39).
5:8-23 Woe to Judah, God said in response to his complete disappointment in his people (5:8). There are two meanings for this terminology in Scripture. One is that of sorrow for what has happened to the unfortunate, while the second is a warning of coming disaster. This woe is of the latter variety; it is followed by five more pronouncements of woe for various sins (5:11, 18, 20-22).
In the midst of these denunciations, God made a declaration that is relevant to our day. Because Judah disregarded God and his righteous requirements, he said, My people will go into exile because they lack knowledge (5:13)—that is, they lacked a God-centered worldview. It is inextricably clear that one major reason the people of Judah would be judged and sent into exile was that they didn’t know—and hadn’t bothered to learn—God’s views on life. They didn’t know (and didn’t care) how God expected them to live. God meant for them to be learning and growing in him even as they were surrounded by pagan cultures, but they simply ignored him and his Word.
God meant for his entire people to be a light of his knowledge and a reflection of his glory, teaching their neighbors his truth. But instead of influencing the world around them, they had become imitators of the world. Even Judah’s prophets and priests, who should have taught and led the nation to know God, were corrupt and self-serving. Thus, the people were wilting away like an unwatered and neglected vineyard.
This issue of worldview is relevant today because the church should be the primary university for the culture. It should be leading the way in educating the masses since it is the one entity that can interject a God-centered perspective, his kingdom agenda, into any discussion. Our culture looks at the world through the eyes of man rather than through the eyes of God. The church, therefore, must educate and encourage people to consider life from a divine kingdom perspective. It must provide a divine orientation on every subject. Everything the Bible speaks about, it speaks about authoritatively. And it speaks to every issue of life. So through all of the church’s ministries, people ought to be encountering a God-centered worldview. The church is charged with imparting the knowledge and wisdom of God, executing his kingdom agenda in history.
Judah had sadly failed in this responsibility. They indulged every sinful desire imaginable. They even proudly challenged the Creator of the universe to execute his plan on his own so that they could see it (5:19). In other words, they mocked him! They called evil good and good evil (5:20), advocating a complete reversal of God’s moral order. They considered themselves wise and clever (5:21), but their opinion was far too exalted.
5:24-30 Judah would pay a terrible price for their blasphemies. When the Lord’s anger burned, their corpses would be like garbage in the streets (5:25). God would use the unnamed armies of distant nations to judge his people (5:26-29). The land would be left in darkness and distress (5:30).
B. The Commissioning of Isaiah (6:1-13)
6:1 After five introductory chapters that set the stage for what is to come, Isaiah takes us to his backstory. Here we see the prophet’s life-changing vision of God’s overwhelming holiness and his call to ministry. It was a very crucial point in the history of Judah. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. So although Judah was experiencing turmoil at the death of its king, the true King was seated on his throne in sovereign glory. Isaiah thus learned that the kingdom of God operates according to his will, not according to outward circumstances. If you embrace this kingdom principle, it will change your life.
That God was still in charge was crucial for Isaiah to grasp because the death of Uzziah was a personal tragedy for the prophet, as well as for the southern kingdom of Judah. Although he certainly wasn’t perfect (see 2 Chr 26:16-21), Uzziah had been a good king who had brought Judah a long way back toward God (see 2 Chr 26:3-5). It would have been easy for Isaiah to pin his hopes on Uzziah for a national revival that would perhaps forestall God’s judgment, but God had another plan. And to make it real to Isaiah, the Lord gave him an incredible vision. Of course, Isaiah knew the Lord before Uzziah died. But the point is that Isaiah didn’t really see the Lord until Uzziah died. Isaiah needed to learn that although a king was dead, the King was alive and well. Judah had definitely flourished during Uzziah’s reign. It had become a power to be reckoned with. And yet, times were changing.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy in our lives, or other negative circumstances, for us to truly see God. We may know him as our Savior but not be growing in a day-by-day experience of adopting his perspective of the world and living in obedience to it. In fact, that’s one reason God sometimes allows difficult situations to come into our lives. They help shift our focus off the created things and onto the Creator. Until we adjust our vision from the temporal to the eternal, we may miss out on seeing the eternal altogether. God is not merely interested in getting us to heaven. He wants us to see and experience him here. Sometimes God is most clearly seen in the midst of painful situations.
6:2-3 What did Isaiah see? He saw a God who is holy to the third power: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies (6:3). The angelic beings who called out these words weren’t stuttering; the triple repetition was for emphasis. God is holy—that is, he is separate or distinct. “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him” (1 John 1:5). He is perfect, pure, and righteous. God’s holiness is the centerpiece of his character. All of his other attributes flow from it. His wrath against sin, then, is a holy wrath. His sovereignty over the universe is a holy sovereignty. His love for the world is a holy love. If God is anything, he is holy.
The prophet saw a God who rules over all the situations of life. The seraphim who were calling out eternal praise had six wings (6:2): four were for worship, and two were for working. To me, this indicates that when we prioritize worship over working, our work will be more fruitful. Spending time in God’s holy presence will enable us to understand his kingdom perspective so that we may live it out.
6:4-5 This was a terrifying sight for Isaiah as the foundations shook with the power of the angels’ voices and the temple was filled with smoke (6:4)—a reference to the glory of God. Isaiah was so overcome that he cried out, Woe is me for I am ruined (6:5). The word ruined means “coming undone,” so Isaiah felt like he was falling apart, unraveling before a holy God. The prophet was thus in despair: I am a man of unclean lips (6:5). Despite being a significant and prominent prophet dedicated to the service of God, Isaiah fully felt his own inadequacy and sinfulness in God’s holy presence. And in that reality, Isaiah confessed his uncleanness.
6:6-7 Because of this, Isaiah experienced God’s grace. One of the seraphim flew over to him with a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs (6:6). He touched Isaiah’s lips with it and said, Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for (6:7). The lips are the most sensitive part of the human face, so when the angel touched Isaiah’s with a burning coal, there must have been pain. This was necessary because, in order for Isaiah to experience cleansing, he had to embrace the pain of the past that had gotten him there.
6:8-9 Isaiah discovered more than the purifying searing of the coal. He discovered his purpose. He heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who should I send? Who will go for us? The God of the universe was calling for kingdom volunteers. Isaiah didn’t hesitate. He said, Here I am. Send me (6:8).
Isaiah came to know the revealed will of God and received the power to do that will when he saw God. The prophet got plugged into God’s kingdom agenda when, in a broken and painful situation, he saw God for himself. Isaiah needed this powerful revelation, because the people to whom Isaiah was being sent were a rebellious and sinful crowd who had already signaled their lack of interest in what God had to tell them. But Isaiah was ready for service after his cleansing, and he knew that Judah needed the same purging of sin and forgiveness that he had experienced.
6:10-13 For the most part, the people of Judah were not going to listen, and God alerted Isaiah to that fact. Their eyes were blind to their sin and to spiritual reality; their ears were deaf to God’s call for repentance; and their minds were dulled lest they understand and be healed (6:10). Understandably, then, Isaiah asked how long he would have to speak to a spiritually dead nation. Unfortunately, he learned, their defiant state would continue until Judah was destroyed (6:11-12). Isaiah would not live to see the Babylonian captivity; nevertheless, Isaiah would prophesy to Judah the rest of his life. But lest he become too discouraged, the Lord ended Isaiah’s commissioning with a promise that a holy seed would remain as a remnant (6:13). In spite of the coming judgment, God was not finished with his people.
C. The Coming Messiah (7:1–12:6)
7:1-2 Isaiah’s ministry began in a spectacular fashion with the announcement of a prophecy that would ultimately be fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ (see 7:14), although it would also have a nearer fulfillment prefiguring that greater end. This message was delivered to the wicked King Ahaz of Judah, Uzziah’s son (7:1).
The historical context explained here occurred while the northern kingdom of Israel was still intact, as it was during the early years of Isaiah’s prophecy. The king of Israel and King Rezin of Aram (that is, Syria) allied themselves to wage war against Judah, which caused the hearts of Judah’s people to tremble in fear. Notice that Isaiah referred to the kingdom of Judah as the house of David (7:2). This was a way of telling Isaiah’s readers that God had not forgotten or abandoned his promise that a ruler would come from David’s line to fulfill all his promises to his people (see 2 Sam 7:1-17).
7:3-8 Isaiah went to Ahaz with the Lord’s message that the king should not fear the alliance of Israel and Aram, or their plan to depose Ahaz and replace him with a king of their choice (7:3-6). God said this regarding their plot: It will not happen; it will not occur (7:7). In fact, God said that Israel, here referred to as Ephraim (one of the leading tribes there), would be devastated within sixty-five years (7:8). Not only would their threat come to nothing, but they wouldn’t be around long.
7:9-13 God invited Ahaz to ask him for a sign to validate the prophecy (7:10-11), but the king answered with mock piety: I will not ask. I will not test the Lord (7:12). Isaiah’s angry reaction shows that Ahaz’s refusal was the result of his unbelief (7:13). Such lack of faith in God, in fact, would be Ahaz’s downfall, for God made it clear: If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all (7:9). Those are words we all need to hear.
7:14-19 Isaiah responded to the king, The Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel (7:14). Immanuel means “God with us.” While Isaiah’s words would have ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, as the Gospel of Matthew makes clear (see Matt 1:22-23), they had a more immediate application, too.
Importantly, the birth prophesied was to be “a sign” to King Ahaz specifically, but his lifetime unfolded hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. In fact, it’s possible that Isaiah himself did not understand the full import of what he was writing. So the child, who was to be a sign that Judah would not be conquered by the Israel-Aram alliance, was most likely the son soon to be born to Isaiah and “the prophetess” (8:3). This son would have the God-given name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil” (8:1). This child was the sign to Ahaz personally because, before the boy [knew] to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings whom Ahaz dreaded would be abandoned (7:16). And indeed, this happened about three years later when Aram was crushed by the Assyrians (7:17-19). The name Immanuel, when applied to Isaiah’s son, indicated that God had not abandoned his promises to the house of David.
It is noteworthy that “the prophetess,” Isaiah’s wife, may well have been a virgin when Isaiah made this prophecy to Ahaz. If so, the meaning for the immediate context of 7:14 would then be, “An unmarried young woman who is a virgin now will get married and bear a son”—which was fulfilled when Isaiah married her and she gave birth.
7:20-25 The good news of Judah’s escape from conquest by Israel and Aram was tempered by the bad news of God’s judgment on Ahaz and Judah’s unfaithful people. The prophecy that Isaiah’s son would be eating “curds and honey” (see 7:15) was not encouraging, since these were foods of nomadic people—indicating that Judah would be desolated (see 7:21-25). The king of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser III, got Aram off Judah’s back. But then he invaded Judah and exacted a heavy tribute. God called him a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River who would shave all the hair off of Judah (7:20). Such was the ultimate humiliation for a Jewish man in that day.
Why was God so angry with Ahaz and Judah? In 2 Kings 16:7-14, we learn that Ahaz begged Tiglath-pileser III to save him from Aram and Israel, and he gave him silver and gold from the Lord’s temple as incentive. Not only this, but Ahaz also liked Tiglath-pileser’s pagan altar so much that he had one made just like it in Jerusalem! Looking to a pagan king for deliverance and worshiping his false gods will accomplish only one thing: arousing the anger of the living God.
8:1-10 Despite Judah’s faithlessness, though, God promised that he had not forgotten his people and would deliver them. As happened so often in the prophets’ writings, this assurance was given in the midst of God’s pronouncements of judgment. Chapter 8 begins with the prophecy of Judah’s deliverance from Israel and Aram (8:1-4; see commentary on 7:14-19). But because this mercy from God did not lead Judah to repentance, the same Assyrian army would pour into Judah like mighty rushing water (8:7), reaching up the nation’s neck (8:7-8). In other words, God’s people would almost, but not quite, drown because of their sin. Yet Isaiah used the name Immanuel, and its meaning, God is with us (8:8, 10; see 7:14 above)—offering reminders that God would not completely abandon his people.
8:11-14 God cautioned the people not to fear their human enemies (8:12). Only the Lord of Armies is holy. Only he should be feared and held in awe (8:13). For those who will not fear him—that is, take him seriously, he will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over (8:14). Interestingly, Paul and Peter apply this text to Jesus Christ (see Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:8). The Son of God shares the same divine nature as the Father, so the New Testament writers often read passages of Scripture that originally referred to God and apply them to God the Son. Just as the unfaithful in Israel stumbled over the Lord in Isaiah’s day, so unbelieving Jews would stumble over the Lord Jesus in his.
8:15-22 The unrighteous would be snared and captured, but the faithful were to wait for the Lord as he went about his hard work of judgment (8:15, 17). Sadly, instead of seeking God through his appointed prophet, unfaithful Judah sought advice through mediums and spiritists. Isaiah’s question cut to the heart of the matter: Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? (8:18-19). Nobody, after all, calls the morgue for help when they’re in trouble! So why seek counsel from those who have died rather than from the living God? While the righteous would flee to the safe haven of God and his Word, those who persisted in sin would perish (8:20-22).
9:1-5 Chapter 9 brings both a promise of future blessing and the reality of then-present judgment. The reference to the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali points to the northern kingdom of Israel. At this time, it was already a vassal state of Assyria and headed for destruction because of the people’s sins. Yet God would one day bring honor to this land, for his Son would live and minister there (9:1). There would come a day when the people walking in darkness would see a great light (9:2), and the kingdom of heaven would come near (see Matt 4:15-17). Indeed, in the future the Messiah will reverse the humiliation and bondage of Israel and usher in an era of peace in which the garments of war will be no more (9:5).
9:6 Here we see another messianic prophecy. Its language is very precise. Isaiah said a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us (emphasis added). This tells us that Jesus had to be born as a child to come to us, but he is also the preexistent Son of God who was given to us. The child would be born in time and space in Bethlehem, but the Son has existed from all eternity. And since the government will be on his shoulders, which is a reference to Jesus’s coming rule in the millennial kingdom, he rightly bears the great names ascribed to him: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Here again we see the “near” and “far” aspects that frequently occur in Old Testament prophecy because Jesus was born two thousand years ago as a child, but the government of the universe has yet to be placed “on his shoulders.” This will happen at his coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords in the millennium.
9:7 Notice the description of Jesus’s kingdom rule: He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness. In other words, his reign will have social and political aspects as much it will have spiritual aspects. This detail has implications for the church today as we seek to live in accordance with God’s perspective.
Many Christians misunderstand these aspects of the kingdom, thereby marginalizing its authority and influence in their lives and in the land. Some have so spiritualized the kingdom, in fact, that its sociopolitical features have become little more than an ideology lacking modern application. This has led to a sad reduction of the vast socioethical implications of the church, creating an organism that offers little power toward transforming society.
The multifaceted nature of the kingdom of God is very real, biblically substantiated, and relevant to the manifestation of the church’s greatest and true potential. Our kingdom activity today should be reflective of, and point to, the ultimate kingdom of Jesus Christ in which he will execute justice for the oppressed and rule righteously over his subjects (see 10:1-2).
9:8-21 Isaiah’s turn to judgment in 9:8 is stark. But such alternating style between coming judgment and promised blessing is a common characteristic of the prophetic books. Although Isaiah was primarily a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, he also delivered God’s message to Jacob—that is, to the people of Israel (9:8). They had arrogantly vowed to recover from the calamity that had fallen upon them and come out even stronger (9:9-10). But God had another plan—they’d be destroyed at the hands of their enemies. A recurring refrain here is God’s anger: In all this, his anger has not turned away, and his hand is still raised to strike (9:12, 17, 21).
Because Israel refused to turn back to the Lord, he would cut off Israel’s head and tail. In other words, Israel’s wicked leaders, the elders and the prophets who led the whole nation astray, would be punished (9:14-16). God’s fury against his faithless people would not be quenched until their destruction was complete. The people were like fuel for the fire (9:19).
10:1-2 The proclamation of judgment continued with a dire warning of Woe. God declared a curse on Israel’s leaders for their oppressive laws (10:1) that deprived the poor and the needy of justice (10:2). God expects his people to demonstrate righteousness and justice in their lives. This was true in ancient Israel, and it’s true today. The church of Jesus Christ should lead the way in caring for the poor and advocating for the oppressed. Isaiah condemned the mistreatment of widows and the fatherless (10:2); later, James tells Christians “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (Jas 1:27).
10:3-4 Because of Israel’s sin and social injustices, God’s hand of judgment would not be lifted until Assyria had finished off the northern kingdom. Isaiah’s readers in Judah should have taken warning, since their nation was heading down the same path. But they also refused to listen. When God’s anger will not turn away (10:4), who will you run to for help? (10:3).
10:5-7 Here we see God’s finger of judgment pointed to the Assyrians. As he often did with pagan powers, God used Assyria as a rod of his judgment to strike Israel, a godless nation (10:5-6). The Assyrian king was a tool in God’s righteous hands to chastise his people. The Assyrian king, however, didn’t see it the same way. His plan was to destroy and to cut off many nations (10:7). The king wasn’t intentionally serving the Lord; he was serving himself. In fact, he wasn’t even trying to punish the wicked; he was trying to conquer the world. But although the king of Assyria had evil intentions when he assaulted Israel, God worked through him to punish Israel for its disloyalty to his covenant.
This is an example of the mysterious mingling of divine sovereignty and human responsibility that we often see in the Bible. Perhaps the most famous example is when Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). So remember, regardless of what wickedness human beings have planned, God is always working behind the scenes to accomplish his purposes.
10:8-19 Assyria itself would not escape divine wrath. The arrogance of Assyria’s king displeased God and invited his judgment. The Assyrians assumed that just as they had marched through and conquered other lands (including Israel), they could easily sweep on south and take Jerusalem (10:8-11). But Judah’s day for chastisement and defeat had not yet come. So the Assyrians were stopped. God also declared through his prophet, I will punish the king of Assyria for his arrogant acts and the proud look in his eyes (10:12). The Lord, Israel’s Light, would consume Assyria like a raging fire (10:17).
10:20-34 Although the northern kingdom of Israel would fall as a result of the destruction that God had decreed (10:22), he would spare a remnant (10:20). The southern kingdom of Judah need not fear Assyria (10:24). The Assyrians would strike at Zion (that is, Jerusalem), but they would meet with the wrath of the Lord of Armies (10:24-26). The Lord would level the pagan nation as if he were clearing a forest with an ax (10:33-34). The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
11:1-5 Although the evil “forest” would be chopped down (10:34), God’s kingdom would grow. A shoot would sprout up from the stump of Jesse (11:1). Jesse was the father of King David, so God is proclaiming through Isaiah that he hasn’t abandoned the Davidic dynasty. Although this line of kings was experiencing hard times—and worse ones were to come—a better descendant of David was coming. Clearly, this is a reference to the promised Messiah, who possesses the fullness of God’s Spirit, endowing him with wisdom, strength, and the fear of the Lord (11:2). He will rule in perfect justice and righteousness, delivering the oppressed and slaying the wicked (11:4-5). Today, we have a difficult time finding leaders with integrity to occupy government offices. That will not be a problem when the Lord Jesus Christ takes the reins of government.
11:6-16 Even the animal kingdom will be renewed in Christ’s millennial kingdom, and creatures now considered predator and prey will be at peace with one another (11:6-9). Also, God will initiate a “second exodus,” bringing the Jews back to Israel from their lands of exile (11:11-12). All of this will take place in that day because the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water (11:9). Given the hostility between Judah and Israel in Isaiah’s day, this prophecy of reunification must have sounded impossible to Isaiah’s readers. Nevertheless, the reestablished nation will appear in the kingdom age and defeat its enemies (11:13-14). God will divide the Gulf of Suez and wave his hand over the Euphrates (11:15) so that his people can return easily, just as he dried up the Red Sea when the Israelites departed Egypt (11:16).
12:1-6 The final chapter in this section is a song of praise for what God will do when Israel meets her King and acknowledges him at his second coming when he establishes his kingdom. On that day, the Lord’s anger will be turned away as he becomes the salvation of his chosen people (12:1-3). There will be singing and rejoicing when the Holy One of Israel lives among and rules over them (12:6).
D. God’s Judgment on the Nations (13:1–23:18)
This section of eleven chapters includes pronouncements of judgment against the nations. The prophecies are open to several interpretations, which I will unpack.
13:1-22 Isaiah’s pronouncement against Babylon (13:1) makes it clear that Babylon was going to be judged and destroyed because of its pride (13:19). The mention of the Medes (13:17) leads some to believe that Isaiah was describing Babylon’s defeat in 539 BC, but the desolation described in 13:20-22 does not fit this later conquest because the city of Babylon was not destroyed and rendered unlivable by the Medes and Persians. More likely, Isaiah was prophesying the sack of Babylon by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, in 689 BC. He ransacked the great city whose pride was an offense to God.
Interestingly, these chapters also have an element of eschatological prophecy, since the book of Revelation describes a rebuilt and revived Babylon that will be finally judged by God in the tribulation (see Rev 17-18). The Babylonian kingdom that conquered Judah under Nebuchadnezzar was a later kingdom, sometimes referred to as Neo-Babylon; it helped the Medes defeat and destroy the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC.
Whichever Babylonian kingdom is in view here, Babylon stood throughout Scripture for everything that was arrogant, evil, and opposed to God. Thus, the Lord of Armies, the name of God that signifies his power (13:4), would bring judgment upon this jewel of a kingdom (13:19). In the end, Babylon would be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them (13:19).
14:1-23 At this defeat, Jacob and Israel would taunt the proud king of Babylon with contempt (14:1, 3-4). God would bring their arrogant earthly tormentor down to the dust, even to the grave (14:11). But notice the change of tone in 14:12-14. The ruler is described in language that could not be attributed to any mere human ruler. It’s best, then, to see Isaiah speaking here of the original fall of Satan and applying it to the king of Babylon.
The devil was originally the shining morning star, a beautiful angelic being who fell from the heavens (14:12). He rebelled against God and thus became Satan, God’s ultimate adversary. Satan’s I will statements in these verses describe his rebellion when he tried to usurp God’s throne (14:13-14). But he was judged, cast from heaven, and destined for eternal punishment (see Matt 25:41)—a sentence that will be carried out as the last stages of God’s prophetic plan are unveiled (see Rev 20:10). Satan’s future defeat at the end of the millennium was typified in history by the crushing of Babylon, a symbol of rebellion against God ever since the founding of the city of Babylon (or Babel; see Gen 11:1-9).
Appropriately, the Lord of Armies made several I will declarations of his own to describe Babylon’s defeat and decimation. At the hands of God, the city would lose its reputation and offspring and become a swampland (14:22-23). Because the Lord carries a broom called destruction, wicked Babylon would be swept away (14:23).
14:24-27 These verses are a summary of God’s judgment upon Assyria and Sennacherib, its king. When Assyria attacked Jerusalem, God delivered the city by decimating the Assyrian army and even taking out Sennacherib himself (see Isa 37:36-38). The Lord of Armies himself . . . planned it (14:27). This brings to mind the fact that it’s okay to make plans, as long as you allow God room to overrule you with his own. Anyone—from the mightiest king to the lowliest citizen—who thinks his plans will stand is in for a rude awakening when his agenda bumps up against God’s. His agenda always wins.
14:28-32 The Philistines were one of Israel’s oldest and fiercest enemies. They felt secure in their land along the coast, but their confidence would be shattered when the Assyrians came like a cloud of dust . . . from the north to ransack Philistia, at the end of the eighth century BC (14:31). Those in Zion would be safe from this conflict because the Lord was their refuge (14:32).
15:1-9 The kingdom of Moab was also ripe for God’s judgment (15:1). The Moabites should have been Israel’s friends and allies, since they were kin. The Moabites descended from Moab, the son of Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham (see Gen 11:27; 19:36-37). But Moab was one of Israel’s cruelest enemies, and they rejected the true God for idol worship. The various Moabite cities Isaiah catalogued in 15:1-4 would all be destroyed by an Assyrian invasion. And unlike Judah, Moab would receive no deliverance. Its army could do nothing to stop the destruction (15:4). The refugees who fled the onslaught would go as far as the southern end of the Dead Sea, but their wailing would echo far and wide (15:8).
16:1-14 In desperation, the Moabite refugees would send lambs to the ruler of the land . . . to the mountain of Daughter Zion (16:1), a reference to Jerusalem, in hopes that they could find asylum there (16:1). This plea was answered by a prophecy that the aggressor, Sennacherib, would be destroyed himself (16:4). Nevertheless, Moab would not be spared judgment. Moab’s haughtiness, pride, arrogance, and empty boasting would be its undoing (16:6). The only cure was Moab’s complete destruction for its prideful rejection of the Lord and reliance on its own power. The final blow would come soon, within three years (16:14). The Assyrians did come, and Moab was swept into the dustbin of history.
In the midst of this prophecy, there is another messianic reference. It looks beyond the immediate situation to the day when a throne will be established in love, and one will sit on it faithfully in the tent of David, judging and pursuing what is right (16:5). This is an announcement of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.
17:1-3 Damascus was a major city in Aram (modern-day Syria; 17:1). The city appeared in Isaiah 7, when the kings of Aram and Israel made an ill-fated alliance to ward off the threat posed by the Assyrians. God prophesied their ruin then, and this chapter is a restatement of that disaster which left Damascus a ruined heap (17:1). The Assyrians defeated Aram in 732 BC and destroyed Israel in 722 BC, carrying its people into exile and repopulating the land with foreigners.
17:4-14 Isaiah drew a graphic picture of Israel’s demise, likening it to a healthy person whose body slowly wastes away (17:4). Once the assault started, the Israelites would realize that their idols were powerless to save them, and they would turn to their Maker . . . the Holy One of Israel (17:7). Although individual Israelites may have been restored to a right relationship with God, it was too late to prevent the northern kingdom’s defeat. There would be desolation, because the people had forgotten the God of [their] salvation (17:9-10). But this does not mean that the pagan nations that spurn God will flourish. No matter how powerful, the nations are nothing before God. He rebukes them, and they flee (17:13).
18:1-7 The biblical land of Cush encompassed parts of modern Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, although it is usually identified with the latter. Rather than being “a pronouncement” (see 15:1; 17:1; 19:1), the Lord’s message to Cush was a woe (18:1). It appears they had sent envoys to Judah, perhaps seeking to form an alliance against Assyria (18:2). But Isaiah said to send word back to Cush that God would judge Assyria in his own time (18:2-5). When his work with them was done, God would cut off the Assyrian Empire and leave it desolate (18:5). Interestingly, the chapter ends with a prophecy that the people of Cush would one day come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord (18:7), a possible reference to Christ’s millennial kingdom when people of all the nations will worship him.
19:1-4 From early in the biblical storyline, the nation of Egypt figures prominently in the story of God’s people. By the end of Genesis, Egypt was a source of protection from famine for the descendants of Jacob. By the beginning of Exodus, Egypt was their enemy and persecutor. At one time it was the greatest power in the ancient world. But by Isaiah’s day, Egypt too was threatened by Assyria. Neither Egypt’s power nor its wisdom would be able to deliver the nation, because God had decreed its judgment.
This would start internally, with God provoking Egyptians against Egyptians (19:2). The turmoil would cause distress and frustration; nevertheless, instead of turning to the Lord, the Egyptians would futilely seek their idols, ghosts, and spiritists for help (19:3). It would be of no use, though, because God would hand the Egyptians over to a strong king (19:4). Indeed, King Esarhaddon of Assyria conquered Egypt in 671 BC.
19:5-15 The conquest under God’s judgment would wreak havoc on a land whose livelihood depended on the Nile River. The Lord would dry up Egypt’s water source (19:5). Fishermen and flax workers would be unable to ply their trades, since both depended on the Nile being full (19:8-9). In fact, all [Egypt’s] wage earners will be demoralized (19:10). Egypt’s pride in its wise counselors would be crushed. Even the wisest of Pharaoh’s advisers would give stupid advice (19:11). God would give Egypt a spirit of confusion to make their leaders like fools (19:13-14). The smartest and brightest are no match for the one who is the source of all wisdom.
19:16-25 Suddenly the pronouncement for Egypt took a different turn, one that Judah may not have believed possible. Once God’s work of judgment against Egypt was complete, this pagan nation would swear loyalty to the Lord of Armies (19:18). The Lord will strike Egypt, but then heal them. They will turn to the Lord and he will be receptive to their prayers and heal them (19:22). God is always ready to show grace and mercy to those who will repent.
This amazing turnaround will come on that day (19:19), which in this case is a reference to the future kingdom of Christ. Not only will Egyptians become worshipers of the true God, but so also will Assyrians. This will occur in what Isaiah called a triple alliance. Egypt, Assyria, and Israel will all faithfully worship the Lord (19:23-25). God’s plan is to win worshipers from all nations, not only from Israel.
20:1-6 Chapter 20 reverts to further explanation about Egypt’s judgment, this time including Cush also. The people of Judah wanted to form alliances with the surrounding nations against the power of Assyria, but God continually warned them against that plan. Judah needed to understand that neither foreign power could protect them from the Assyrians. Their only protection was found in the Lord. They, however, didn’t heed the warning, and both Cush and Egypt fell to the invaders. And as a result, Judah would learn a hard lesson: Those who made Cush their hope and Egypt their boast will be dismayed and ashamed (20:5). If these powers failed to stop the Assyrians, what chance did Judah have without relying on God? Rely on God, and you have nothing to fear—regardless of the outcome. Rely on man, and you have everything to lose—regardless of the promise.
21:1-10 Some Bible interpreters believe this passage refers to Babylon’s defeat by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, in 689 BC (see 13:1-22). Others believe it refers to the Persian Empire’s conquest of Babylon in 539 BC (see Dan 5). Regardless, Isaiah’s troubling vision of the destruction was so horrific that it caused the prophet to be filled with anguish and with sheer terror (21:2-4). God told Isaiah to post a lookout watching for news from the battle (21:6), but not until several verses later do we learn who the victim of this conquest is: Babylon has fallen (21:9). This judgment upon the nation would be a judgment upon her false gods—a pathetic defense against the Lord of Armies (21:9-10).
21:11-12 It is not clear what Dumah refers to. There was a Dumah in Arabia that was conquered by Assyria in the seventh century BC, but Seir was located in Edom (21:11). Whichever location the prophet intended, the Lord’s judgment upon them would come like nightfall.
21:13-17 The desert tribes in Arabia would also suffer at the hands of the Assyrians. Tema was an oasis whose water would be needed for the thirsty . . . refugees from the battle when Assyria attacked (21:13-14). This would happen within one year because the Lord had spoken, and nothing could change his decree (21:16-17).
22:1-14 In the midst of this series of pronouncements of judgment on the nations (13:1–23:18), there is a pronouncement against Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Judah was as unfaithful as any of her pagan neighbors. The siege of the great city by Assyria was a terrifying time for Jerusalem’s inhabitants. They could go up to the rooftops of their houses and see the Assyrian army massed against the city and building siege ramps against its wall (22:1). But instead of turning to the Lord in repentance and seeking his protection, the people actually resorted to partying! (22:2, 13). There was a fatalistic tone to the festivities, though, because the people said, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (22:13). The apostle Paul quotes this verse as an appropriate response to life if there is no resurrection—no hope in God beyond the grave (see 1 Cor 15:32).
Yet there would also be confusion and crying in the Valley of Vision, an expression for Jerusalem (22:5). The city was besieged and the people were helpless because God had removed the defenses of Judah (22:8). In spite of this, they scrambled to defend themselves anyway. They tried to fortify the breaches in the walls (22:9-10). They stored water to prepare for the siege. But their fatal mistake was not turning to the Lord, the one who made the water (22:11). All of Judah’s planning and partying wouldn’t help them. God revealed to Isaiah, This iniquity will not be wiped out for you people as long as you live (22:14).
22:15-19 The remainder of the chapter addressed two men in Judah, one who would experience God’s curse and one who would experience God’s blessing. The first was Shebna, the steward . . . of the palace (22:15). The reason for God’s judgment on him is not stated, but he was a high official in Judah. He certainly must have been wicked to warrant mention among all the divine judgments in these chapters! Shebna’s pride is evident in his grand plan to have a burial spot in Jerusalem that was so prominent that his name would be remembered for generations to come (22:16). God hates pride, so his plans for Shebna were the exact opposite of the steward’s own. He would be ousted from [his] position, dragged off to a wide land, and die there (22:18-19).
22:20-25 In contrast to Shebna, Eliakim was a faithful servant of the Lord, who would provide wise counsel and a steadying hand in Jerusalem (22:20). God would grant him Shebna’s authority, and he would serve Jerusalem in godliness (22:21). While Shebna sought glory and was denied, Eliakim sought nothing but would find honor from the Lord (22:23). Whereas Shebna would be plucked out of the land, Eliakim would be a firm leader in the land (22:22-24). Nevertheless, he would be unable to prevent Judah’s inevitable collapse (22:25). Nations need godly leaders, yet godly leaders alone can’t protect citizens who refuse to repent of their wickedness.
23:1-9 Tyre, a commercial giant whose people depended on sea trade for their wealth, was one of the most famous cities of the ancient world (21:1). In the Bible, Tyre is often linked with the city of Sidon because they were two major seaports of Phoenicia (21:4). Tyre and Sidon benefited greatly from their international trading, and the nations they traded with also prospered. The two cities’ wealth had been made so quickly from trading that the sea could speak as if it were a person, noting, I have not been in labor or given birth. I have not raised young men or brought up young women (21:4). In other words, Tyre and Sidon had the benefits of “children” without having to go through the discomfort of delivery and the frustrations of being raised.
But Tyre was also menaced by Assyria, and God called on trading partners like Tarshish to wail over Tyre’s demise—which meant great economic losses for them, too (23:1). Tyre’s merchants were the honored ones of the earth (22:8), but that meant nothing because the Lord had planned to disgrace all the honored ones (22:9). This is a sobering reminder that to be honored in the eyes of people means nothing if you earn God’s displeasure. By contrast, those who are “persecuted because of righteousness” will be honored by God, because “the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt 5:10).
23:10-18 Tyre was not actually destroyed until several hundred years later, but in God’s sight the judgment was as good as done. They would be like the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) who also fell under the Assyrian onslaught (23:13). The exact time frame in which Tyre would be forgotten for seventy years is unclear (23:15). The length suggests the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of Judah, but that was much later. Thus, some suggest it refers to a period when Assyria ruled Tyre and limited its trade. In any case, the important message from God’s perspective was that it did not lead to repentance. Tyre would go back into business, returning to its old ways like a prostitute returning to her sin (23:17). There would, however, be a difference this time: Her profits and wages would be dedicated to the Lord. And although Tyre didn’t intend it, her wealth would go to those who live in the Lord’s presence, to provide them with ample food and sacred clothing (23:18). God knows how to take the wealth of the wicked and use it for kingdom purposes. Tyre’s final demise came in 332 BC when Alexander the Great destroyed the city.
E. Isaiah’s Prophecy of the End Times (24:1–27:13)
In this section, the prophet turned from pronouncing judgment on various nations to address God’s judgment during the great tribulation and the glorious kingdom of the Messiah that will follow. Thus, chapters 24–27 are often referred to as “Isaiah’s apocalypse.” As often happens in the Bible, judgment precedes blessing. In the last days, God must remove the wicked from the earth before he pours out the universal blessings of Christ’s millennial kingdom.
24:1-6 The descriptions of the coming judgment make it clear that Isaiah is referring to something far larger than the judgments of his day. In view here is universal judgment, set in motion directly by God. In that day, the earth will be stripped completely bare and will be totally plundered, because of humanity’s rebellion against God (24:3). They have transgressed teachings, overstepped decrees, and broken the permanent cov-enant. Such blatant disregard for God’s law causes the earth to be polluted by its inhabitants (24:5). The “permanent covenant” probably refers to God’s universal laws of righteousness that all people are obliged to obey. Because of mankind’s sin and rebellion, only a few will survive the awful judgments of the tribulation (24:6).
24:7-16 Isaiah then pictured a sinful humanity groaning under the weight of God’s wrath (24:7-13). All of their joy, festivities, and drinking? Gone. Only desolation will be left behind (24:12). But in the midst of the gloom and destruction, something else was heard: They raise their voices . . . they proclaim in the west the majesty of the Lord (24:14). These were evidently the righteous praising God for his glory and his righteous judgment on sin. They sing because they are spared the wrath of God, which is the best reason of all to sing! And their song has one subject: the Splendor of the Righteous One (24:16). This great chorus of voices will be heard in Christ’s millennial kingdom when he returns to judge and rule the earth for a thousand years. Yet even though Isaiah was one of the righteous who could sing of God’s greatness, he was distressed when he saw the coming wrath against mankind. This tells us he was a sensitive soul who reflected the heart of his Lord who asked, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? . . . Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?” (Ezek 18:23). That truth about the Lord, in fact, is why Jesus said there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance” (Luke 15:7).
24:17-23 When the Son of God comes in his fiery wrath to execute his justice, it will be futile to run. Whoever flees . . . will fall into a pit, and whoever escapes from the pit will be caught in a trap (24:18). They will call to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us … from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev 6:16). But the wicked won’t escape. This group will include both God’s earthly enemies and the heavenly ones too: The Lord will punish the army of the heights in the heights and the kings of the ground on the ground (24:21). The angelic forces that rebelled with Satan, then, will meet their doom. Moreover, the world’s mighty leaders who defy God will be treated as prisoners in the great tribulation (24:22). When Jesus comes to take his rightful throne, there will be no doubt about who is earth’s rightful King.
25:1-2 Isaiah recorded the reaction of the righteous to the announcement of Christ’s coming millennial kingdom. The Lord is praised because his program of judgment on the wicked and salvation for the righteous are all part of plans formed long ago, and are executed with perfect faithfulness (25:1). Politicians make promises, especially when they’re running for office. Frequently, though, their promises are never realized. But the faithful God has never made a promise he will not keep. He will turn the fortified city, here representing all the nations and kingdoms of earth, into ruins (25:2).
25:3-5 But after his judgment, all of the world will worship God. He will bring about a complete reversal of status for the poor and the needy. While God levels the strongholds of the mighty nations that do not honor him, he himself will become a stronghold for the destitute and the oppressed (25:4). He will rescue them, as sure as the shade of a cloud cools the heat of the day (25:5).
25:6-9 Still speaking of the future kingdom, Isaiah says, On this mountain, the Lord of Armies will prepare for all the peoples a feast (25:6). This promise emphasizes both God’s care for his people and the worldwide reach of Christ’s rule as the Lord of all the earth. This is not the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19), which occurs before the kingdom is established, but a millennial banquet celebrating Christ’s victory over all the forces of earth. And it gets even better. God will destroy death forever and wipe away the tears from every face (25:8). Those are promises you can bank on. And what a joy and privilege it will be to stand among those who declare, Look, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he has saved us. . . . Let us rejoice and be glad (25:9)! Those who trust him now will see the vindication of their hope and the fulfillment of God’s Word.
25:10-12 God will also deal with his enemies in the kingdom age. That Christ will rule on this mountain refers to Jerusalem where his throne will be established. Moab is used here probably as a representative of all of God’s enemies—none of whom will be able to stand before him. The image of rebellious nations swimming in a dung pile could not be more graphic (25:10). Those who, like Moab, proudly shake their fist at God will experience complete humiliation.
26:1-4 Here Isaiah continues the praise of God’s people for delivering them from the hands of their enemies. In fact, this chapter is actually a song that will be sung on that day when Christ establishes his kingdom. Although God will tear down the strongholds of wicked nations, in the kingdom the redeemed will have a strong city (26:1). This is Jerusalem, the capital city of the King. Believers can claim this promise: You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace (26:3). This peace is not only valid in the kingdom age, but also for all those who tune their minds to God’s spiritual realities. So while this was a message of hope and consolation to the people of Judah to whom Isaiah was writing, it also applies to us. The ambitions of selfish sinners will crumble, but the Lord himself is an everlasting rock! (26:4).
26:5-9 The reversal of earthly fortunes in Christ’s kingdom continues with the picture of the proud and mighty who live in lofty places (26:5). They’re convinced that they’re out of reach, only to find themselves trampled by the feet of the humble and the poor (26:6). By contrast, although God’s people may have trials, he will smooth out the path of the righteous (26:7). Those who desire and long for his agenda will see good results (26:8-9).
26:10-11 Tragically, the wicked do not learn righteousness even if God should show them his favor (26:10). God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance (see Rom 2:4), but many refuse to follow where kindness leads.
These verses were probably written as a warning to Isaiah’s contemporaries in Judah, many of whom fit this description. One of the recurring messages of the prophetic books is that Israel and Judah continued to plow ahead in every form of sin, even though God continually sent messengers to warn them. It takes a special kind of blindness not to recognize the work of God when it is all around us, but Judah did not turn back to the Lord because they stubbornly refused to give up their evil ways. They would not be saved from judgment because they didn’t want to be saved. And so they would fall to God’s consuming fire (26:11; see Heb 12:29).
26:12-15 The theme of praise returns as the redeemed in the kingdom exalt God for the peace they enjoy and the deliverance from earthly lords who oppressively ruled over them (26:12-13). Such oppression will never happen again because these evil rulers are dead (26:14). They will not even be remembered, but the righteous will flourish and grow under the kingdom rule of Christ (26:14-15).
26:16-21 The judgment of evil that precedes the kingdom will be a cause of great distress to the unrighteous in Judah. Isaiah likened them to a pregnant woman about to give birth (26:17). Instead of bringing forth something joyous, though, Judah gave birth to wind (26:18). This note is followed by a clear promise of resurrection for the righteous: Your dead will live; their bodies will rise (26:19). God’s people need only to go into their rooms and wait for a little while as God completes his wrath on the earth (26:20). This should have been a strong encouragement to Isaiah’s readers to stay true to the Lord. No rebellion will go unpunished; God will set the records straight.
27:1-6 On that day—that is, at Christ’s return to defeat his foes and establish his kingdom—he will strike down Israel’s enemies, represented here by Leviathan, the fleeing serpent (27:1). There was a myth in the ancient Near East about this creature. Isaiah was not endorsing it as fact; he simply borrowed the imagery to depict God’s enemies. God’s people, by contrast, purged of their sins, will finally become the fruitful vineyard that God always desired them to be (27:2-6).
This description of Israel as the Lord’s vineyard in the kingdom contrasts sharply with the depiction of Israel as a vineyard in 5:1-7. The return of the vineyard imagery highlights the dramatic turn that will come about for God’s people. In Isaiah’s day, Israel was an unfruitful kingdom, producing worthless grapes. But in the kingdom to come, redeemed Israel will thrive under God’s tending and protection. The Lord will care for the vineyard and bring forth produce. His anger against his people will be satisfied, and he will defend them against any enemy (27:4). God’s judgment will be supplanted by his deliverance as the new vineyard prospers under his care. The vineyard of Israel will flourish in those days. And as often promised in the Old Testament, Israel will bless the whole world: Israel will blossom and bloom and fill the whole world with fruit (27:6). The assurances given in 27:2-6 underscore the coming restoration of Israel and set Israel’s situation into relief with that of the nations.
27:7-13 But before the glories of the kingdom, Judah would be judged. Her sins had to be dealt with. Although God would not judge Judah in the way he had judged other nations (27:7), her punishment would still be severe, as God purged her by banishing and driving her away (27:8). One sign of Judah’s repentance would be the complete removal and destruction of all evidence of her idolatry (27:9). But it would take severe chastisement for that to happen. The fortified city (Jerusalem) will be desolate, a place where animals graze (27:10). And even though God loved his people with a cov-enant love, he had to turn his back on them. Their Maker will not have compassion on them or be gracious to them (27:11). What a sad reality for the people whom God had chosen “out of all the peoples” of the earth “to be his own possession” (Deut 7:6)! However, the chapter closes with a prophecy of Israel’s future ingathering when King Jesus reigns in Jerusalem and Israel returns to the land God covenanted to give them (27:12-13).
F. Woes and Blessings on Israel and Judah (28:1–35:10)
This section begins with a series of woes on the disobedient and arrogant people of both Israel and Judah—particularly on their leaders but also on Assyria, which was ready to crush the northern kingdom and was menacing the southern one. We noted in Isaiah 5 that the word “woe” can mean either sorrow for what has happened to the unfortunate, or can be used as a strong word of warning for a coming disaster. The following woes are clearly warnings of coming evil days for God’s sinful people; nevertheless, they are sprinkled with a message of hope for the future.
28:1-4 Although Isaiah’s primary message was to Judah, God also used him to speak to the northern kingdom in the last years before its decimation by the Assyrians. The first woe is pronounced against the leaders of Israel, who lived in a disgraceful condition. God pronounced judgment on the majestic crown of Ephraim’s drunkards and the fading flower of its beautiful splendor. The former tells us that although the fall of Israel was imminent, Israel’s leaders were overcome with wine (28:1). Importantly, Ephraim was a common name for the northern kingdom, since it was the most prominent of its ten tribes. The fury with which Assyria would slam into the nation was described in unmistakable terms: it would come like a devastating hail storm, like a storm with strong flooding water (28:2). Such a warning made it inextricably clear that God was the one bringing this judgment, using the Assyrians as “the rod of” his punishment (see 10:5-6).
28:5-8 There was a word of comfort for the faithful, though. As the nation faded like a flower, God would be a crown of beauty and a diadem of splendor to those who kept faith with him (28:5). But the priest and prophet, Israel’s pitiful spiritual leaders, were nothing more than drunks. They staggered in a dazed stupor so heavy they couldn’t possibly serve as God’s messengers and worship leaders for the people (28:7). They had been chosen to minister in God’s holy temple and magnify his glory; instead, all their tables [were] covered with vomit; there [was] no place without a stench (28:8). Those who were to represent the Holy One had sunken to an almost unspeakable low.
28:9-13 And yet, in their arrogance these false leaders scorned Isaiah and made fun of his message! They mocked the prophet by speaking gibberish, being offended that he would talk to them as though they were little children who could take only a little here, a little there (28:9-10). But God turned the mocking of Israel’s prophets and priests back on them (28:11-13). Isaiah said, in effect, “All right, if you don’t want to listen to God’s spokesman delivering his message of warning and judgment, then you will hear it from a people whose language you do not know.” In fact, they would hear it from the Assyrians.
28:14-15 Although the warnings in this chapter were directed against the northern kingdom, the Lord also had a word for Judah, particularly those who ruled in Jerusalem (28:14). They had made a very strange boast: We have made a covenant with Death, and we have an agreement with Sheol; when the overwhelming catastrophe passes through, it will not touch us, because we have made falsehood our refuge and have hidden behind treachery (28:15). Evidently, and foolishly, these corrupt leaders were affirming their confidence in their alliance with Egypt to save them from the Assyrian invasion. The statement may also reflect their belief in false gods, since “Death” was often personified as a god in the pagan religions practiced around them.
28:16 Whatever its meaning, the boast the leaders made was an insult to God. Yet he would have the last word because he had set a precious cornerstone in Zion, the only sure foundation for deliverance. Indeed, the word of the Lord is the only sure foundation, and the one who believes will be unshakable. The apostle Paul saw this fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, the “stone in Zion.” Though many would “stumble over” him, “the one who believes on him will not be put to shame” (Rom 9:33).
28:17-22 The Lord announced to Judah, Your covenant with Death will be dissolved, and your agreement with Sheol will not last (28:18; see commentary on 28:14-15). In other words, the nation had zero hope of escaping judgment. Instead of avoiding the flood coming their way, the people would be swept away by it. God would sweep down on his rebellious people to do his work, his unexpected work, and to perform his task, his unfamiliar task of severe judgment (28:21).
28:23-29 Both Israel and Judah needed to listen to what God was telling them—including this word of hope. Just as a farmer knows how to plant and reap his various crops to bring about the best harvest, so God knows how to bring about restoration for his people. They needed his wondrous advice and great wisdom (28:29).
29:1-4 Even though the Assyrian army was occupied with the northern kingdom, Judah was also in the enemy’s crosshairs. Sennacherib’s army marched to Ariel, another name for Jerusalem, the city where David camped (29:1). The Assyrians besieged it, but it was not yet Judah’s time for judgment. The Assyrian enemy would be destroyed by God’s supernatural intervention (see ch. 37). However, Judah’s pride would still be brought low (29:2-4).
29:5-8 The nation’s deliverance is described in these verses, yet they also seem to have the end days in view. Isaiah speaks of a massive attack against Ariel (that is, Jerusalem) by many nations whom the Lord would defeat with a spectacular display of his power (29:5-7). This prophecy seems to go beyond Assyria’s assault on Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day. So once again, God’s prophetic word blends nearer events with the distant future.
29:9-12 In spite of God’s miraculous rescue, the people of Judah soon fell back into their spiritually insensitive condition. These verses illustrate a principle of spiritual receptivity and blindness that we see throughout Scripture (29:9-11). When people refuse to listen to God and reject his Word by deliberately closing their ears and eyes to it, God confirms their rebellious decision by sending them blindness and deafness. That’s what happened to Pharaoh: He hardened his heart (see Exod 7:22; 8:15, 32); then God hardened it for him (Exod 9:12). The people of Judah blinded themselves, yet God also covered the eyes of the prophets and seers (29:10). This brings to mind the fact that Jesus said on more than one occasion that his teaching was meant to veil spiritual truth from those who had already made up their minds to reject it. The result for Judah was that God’s message was like the words of a sealed document that no one could understand (29:11).
29:13 Nevertheless, Judah continued to go through the motions of worshiping God. So God spoke of the futility of Judah’s worship: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service—yet their hearts are far from me. This is a reminder that prayer and praise have to come from within, from a heart in tune with God, to be valid. It’s not enough merely to let words fall from our lips. Years later, these same words of condemnation would be fulfilled by the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’s day (see Matt 15:7-9).
29:14-16 Judah’s people not only thought they could get away with insincere worship, but they even fooled themselves into believing that they could plot their evil in the dark without God’s knowledge: Who sees us? Who knows? (29:15). But if you try to hide from God, you’re like an ostrich sticking his head in the sand. You’re only fooling yourself.
29:17-21 In the future, the spiritual blindness of God’s people will be reversed forever. These verses point forward to the kingdom age, which from God’s point of view will come in just a little while (29:17). On that day, when Jesus Christ reigns in righteous glory, the deaf will hear and the eyes of the blind will see (29:18). God’s kingdom will also be characterized by complete justice for the humble and the poor, who will no longer be oppressed (29:19). The joys of the kingdom will teach God’s people about his faithfulness, and we will worship him with pure hearts.
Isaiah’s reference to the justice that will prevail in the millennial kingdom is not the first time we have encountered this aspect of God’s righteous administration. Justice will be perfect when God’s kingdom fully comes to earth, but we as believers are not to ignore the importance of justice today as we seek to live out God’s kingdom agenda now. Biblical justice is not a human-made, socially imposed, top-down system ultimately leading to the negation of freedom. Instead, it promotes freedom by emphasizing accountability, equality, and responsibility in providing a spiritual underpinning in the social realms. Biblical justice is the equitable and impartial application of God’s moral law in society.
Each of the four jurisdictions in God’s kingdom—individual, family, church, and state—is called to promote justice and responsibility under God in its own distinct way. His Word is the standard by which the aspects of his law, reflected in truth and righteousness, govern what we do. God’s justice is therefore predictable because his standard does not change. In the kingdom to come, this attribute of God will be on full display. But we can reflect his justice today, too.
30:1-5 Isaiah’s next woe was pronounced on Judah’s foolish and futile attempt to form an alliance with Egypt to ward off the threat from Assyria (30:1-2). A strong faction, the “pro-Egypt” party, was lobbying hard for Judah to reach out to Egypt for help. But seeking aid from that place made no sense on any level. Egypt was a fading power by this time, so politically and militarily the Egyptians had nothing to offer Judah. In fact, Egypt itself was headed for defeat at the hands of the Assyrians! But worst of all was that God had expressly forbidden his people to make alliances with Egypt, or even to go back to that place of their slavery (see Deut 17:16). Relying on Egypt sent a clear signal that Judah was depending on Egypt’s gods instead of the true God. The result of such a treaty would be only shame and humiliation (30:3). Egypt would be no help (30:5).
30:6-11 Nevertheless, the pro-Egypt party prevailed, so Judah sent caravans loaded with riches to Egypt to buy protection (30:6). The travelers even had to go through a dangerous part of the desert to avoid the Assyrians and reach Egypt, but they plowed on ahead. They even told their seers (prophets), Do not prophesy the truth to us (30:10). So they were like people who say, “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.” What comes through again and again in the book of Isaiah is the incredible stubborn rebellion of Judah. They didn’t want to hear from the Holy One of Israel (30:11). They had their fingers in their ears.
30:12-17 Although the people of Judah didn’t want another message from God, they got one—a powerful word of judgment. Their sin would crumble like a weak wall collapsing suddenly (30:13). And as in Humpty Dumpty’s case, there would be no way to put the shattered pieces of their supposed strength back together again (30:14). While the people insisted on trusting in fast horses, a biblical image for military strength, God would deal with it by making the Assyrians’ horses faster still (30:16). Their enemies would be so fearsome that one thousand of God’s rebellious people would flee at the threat of one Assyrian (30:17).
30:18-33 But immediately after this prophecy of disaster, Isaiah turned again to a message of ultimate hope, a description of Israel’s blessing in the millennial kingdom (30:18-26). Your Teacher will not hide any longer. Your eyes will see your Teacher (30:20) is clearly a messianic prophecy: no human could fulfill this role as perfectly as is described in verse 21 (see Ps 32:8). Even though God’s people were then limited to bread and water, the rain of God’s blessing (literally and figuratively) will pour down on them in the kingdom (30:20, 23). To assure his people of their future deliverance in the final days, God predicted Assyria’s destruction even though its army was at the gates of Jerusalem (30:27-33). As powerful as the Assyrian force was, they would be wiped out by the mere breath of the Lord (30:33).
31:1-3 Isaiah again directed a woe against Judah’s misguided attempt to seek an alliance with Egypt against Assyria. The arguments against this plan were ironclad. On the human level, it was a bad idea because Egypt was weak and had nothing to offer Judah in terms of any real military support. But far more important was the misguided motive behind the plan—a deliberate attempt to avoid obeying God and trusting in his deliverance. They do not seek the Lord (31:1). And how pitiful that they relied on men, not God (31:3)! It was only by God’s grace, then, that he did not allow the Assyrians to wipe Judah off the map. The Egyptians were so weak that when Judah leaned on them for help, they would both fall together (31:3).
31:4-9 God could promise deliverance because he is like a ferocious lion that has no fear of a band of shepherds (31:4). He would protect Jerusalem—not because they deserved his protection—but because God remained faithful to his covenant (31:5). Through Isaiah, God told his people to return to him in repentance and faith (31:6). On that day, when their Messiah comes to reign over Israel in the future, they will throw away their idols (31:7). To this Judah might object, “But what about the Assyrians at our gates?” But they were no problem for the God of Israel. The Assyrians, in fact, would be taken out in one night (see ch. 37)—not by the armies of Judah, but by the angel of the Lord. God’s people could depend on his promise: This is the Lord’s declaration (31:9). When God declares it, it’s as good as done.
32:1 God’s protection of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day points forward to a time when he will be Israel’s ruler through his Messiah, Jesus Christ. This description of Christ’s reign in his millennial kingdom is unlike any Israel has seen. Not only will Christ rule righteously, but the rulers under him will rule justly. What a huge contrast to the way Judah’s leaders in Isaiah’s day ran things! One of God’s repeated indictments of their political and spiritual leadership was that they deprived the poor and defenseless of justice. Under the rule of heaven on earth, Christ’s administrators will be a protection for those in need.
32:2-8 The people who enter the millennial kingdom will be believers who survived the great tribulation as well as the saints who return with Jesus. There will be births in the kingdom age, and these people will also see and understand spiritual truth clearly. It will be an age for which God’s people have longed but have never fully experienced (32:3-8). Truth will be universally accepted, taught, and understood so that even the reckless mind will gain knowledge, and the stammering tongue will speak clearly and fluently (32:4). Our age has been marked by spiritual blindness. The truth is denied and twisted by those who don’t know the Lord. But in the kingdom, the one who speaks foolishness and plots iniquity will no longer hold power or influence over others (32:6).
32:9-14 Isaiah then addressed the complacent women of Judah who thought they would continue in luxury and self-indulgence without interruption (32:9; see 3:16–4:1). In a little more than a year, when Sennacherib and his Assyrian army came against Jerusalem, their overconfidence would be overturned (32:9-11). Widespread destruction would occur throughout Judah (32:12-14)—even though Jerusalem would be spared. The abandonment of the busy city may imply that dozens of other Judean cities would be captured and ransacked by the Assyrians, too (32:14).
32:15-20 In verse 15, Isaiah turned to the distant future again with a further prophecy about the blessedness of the kingdom age. One of the blessings we enjoy today as believers under the new covenant is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The righteous in the kingdom will enjoy the same. Christ’s rule will put down all attempts at rebellion and injustice so that the kingdom will be marked by perfect justice and righteousness (32:16-17). Israel will also be a place of true peace as her people live in safe and secure dwellings (32:17-18). After centuries of conflict and persecution by her enemies, Israel will enjoy a thousand years of peace and security.
33:1-6 The final woe Isaiah pronounced was against Assyria, Israel’s conqueror and Judah’s then-current threat. God was using this powerful enemy to discipline his people—but Assyria’s days were numbered, thus the warning, woe, you destroyer never destroyed, you traitor never betrayed (33:1). The Assyrian army was a destruction machine that would, in the end, be annihilated itself when God’s wrath against his rebellious children had been satisfied. Assyria would experience the destruction it had wreaked on other kingdoms. In contrast, those in Judah who were living righteous lives cried out to God for strength and salvation in a time of trouble (33:2). The answer they received had to be tremendously comforting. God would be a storehouse of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge to those who were faithful in the middle of a faithless Judah (33:6).
33:7-12 Isaiah then described the Assyrian invasion, showing how futile were Judah’s attempts to ally itself with other nations for protection. The invaders would cause even the warriors to cry. The messengers of peace could refer to those failed alliances that Judah had hoped would bring deliverance (33:7). It may also refer to the fact that even though King Sennacherib of Assyria had agreed to leave Jerusalem alone in return for the payment of tribute (see 2 Kgs 18:13-15), he attacked the city anyway. That betrayal (see 33:1) left King Hezekiah and the people of Judah without any place to turn. When the king called out to the Lord, however, Jerusalem was spared (see ch. 37).
33:13-24 Don’t miss that even in this time of extreme distress when a brutal enemy was at Jerusalem’s gates, the righteous would be delivered (33:13-16), and the day would soon come when the Assyrians who caused such dread would be gone forever. This deliverance, in fact, caused Isaiah to look ahead and prophesy the day when all of God’s enemies will be defeated and Jerusalem will finally be the city of peace God intended it to be (33:17-24). In the millennial kingdom, they will see the King in his beauty (33:17). Christ will rule from there in perfect peace and righteousness. Those who dwell in Jerusalem will be forgiven their iniquity (33:20, 24).
Isaiah 33:22 is an important testimony to God’s kingdom agenda, both for the future reign of Jesus Christ and for our lives today. Isaiah said that the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King. Man was created in the image of God, and God established government. Therefore, it stands to reason that human governments should pattern themselves after God’s government, as they live under and reflect his rule. This should be manifested and modeled through the diversity of our own governmental institutions: legislative, executive, and judicial.
When Jesus Christ rules in his kingdom, he will exercise each of these areas of authority himself. But in a fallen world, God’s kingdom agenda is accomplished through decentralized institutions. In other words, multiple governing authorities with distinct spheres of responsibility ought to rule under his divine authority. God is the only centralized Governor in the universe. He is the only one who can claim absolute power. All other authorities ought to have checks and balances.
In every area of our lives, we must recognize that the authority under which we operate goes far beyond any human authority. God operates his kingdom by his Word. The Bible is the divine blueprint by which all of life is to be lived. It is the benchmark by which all decisions should be made. If we are going to advance God’s kingdom, we must recognize and submit to the divine authority of his Word.
Christians who are committed to living out God’s kingdom agenda have a great future. The invisible kingdom of which we are a part will become universally visible the day when Jesus Christ returns to earth and establishes his reign, and that event gets closer daily (see Rev 20:1-6). Jesus will rule the world the way God intended it to be run when he created the first Adam. When Jesus returns as the last Adam (see 1 Cor 15:45-49), he will do what the first Adam did not do: he will serve as a just and righteous Judge, Lawgiver, and King. Those who submit to his kingdom agenda now will have the privilege of ruling with him in the kingdom. Right now, God is selecting his prime ministers, governors, mayors, city council members, and so forth—faithful people who will rule with him in his earthly kingdom. Will you be among them?
34:1-4 Here God’s judgment on Assyria expanded into a larger prophecy in which Isaiah looked ahead and described God’s ultimate day of wrath and judgment on all nations (34:1). The universal nature of this judgment is clear: The Lord is angry with all the nations, furious with all their armies (34:2). The problem is that they have opposed God and his people, filling up the cup of God’s righteous wrath to be poured out in fury against them during this last great rebellion against heaven. The reference to the stars in the sky (34:4) may be literal, in which case Isaiah could be describing the eternal state following the millennium: “The [New Jerusalem] does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). It’s also possible that Isaiah was speaking metaphorically of worldly leaders whose powers will be stripped when Christ returns to defeat Satan and establish his kingdom.
34:5-7 Edom was an example of the ungodly nations God would judge and destroy. The Edomites were Israel’s relatives, descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. Here they are held up as an example of nations that forget God. The New Testament similarly used Esau as an example of a godless person in order to warn believers: “Make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal” (Heb 12:16). Isaiah described Edom’s judgment as a sacrifice, God’s holy work (34:6).
34:8-17 Edom’s destruction would be a time of paying back Edom for its hostility against Zion (34:8). Although the Edomites should have supported Israel on its journey through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, for instance, they turned against the Israelites and made their journey harder (see Num 20:14-21). God would not let such sin go unpunished, so the land of Edom was turned into a heap of burning rubble, never to be inhabited again. Edom’s fate is even described in terms of a fire whose smoke will go up forever (34:10). The same expression is used of the judgment on those who worship the Antichrist during the tribulation: “the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever” (Rev 14:11). So Edom would fall, never to rise again. Wild animals would replace Edom’s leaders and people as its only inhabitants (34:11-17).
35:1-2 As often happens in the prophetic books, a declaration of fierce judgment is followed by a promise of God’s blessing on his people. After the judgments of the tribulation will follow the joys of Christ’s millennial kingdom. The promises here are especially for Israel. The desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower (35:1). (This is a promise that is particularly meaningful to anyone who has been to the Holy Land and seen the vast expanses of dry, desert land.) The beauty of the land in the kingdom will not just be agricultural, though. All will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God as he reigns in Jerusalem in the person of his Son (35:2).
35:3 The certainty of God’s promise of Israel’s future blessing also had immediate relevance to the people of Isaiah’s day who held to their faith in God as they faced the terrifying menace of the Assyrian army. These believers needed to remain strong and continue to trust God, knowing that he would fulfill his promises. Isaiah’s exhortation to the faithful was direct: Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! There must have been palpable fear among the people as the Assyrian army commander stood outside the gates of Jerusalem. But the faithful remnant in Judah did not need to fear, for God knew who they were and how to preserve them.
The author of Hebrews similarly urges his Christian readers by using this same language: “Strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees” (Heb 12:12). God’s people throughout the ages need encouragement to persevere in the midst of a sinful world that entices and threatens them. Yet, if you align yourself with the King, you need not fear. Though the gates of hell rise against you, Satan can’t prevail against Christ’s church (see Matt 16:18). Therefore, look to the Lord. If you focus on his will for you, it will bring you much joy. This, in turn, will strengthen you to keep fighting the good fight, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).
35:4 Isaiah exhorted God’s faithful to say to those among them who cowered in fear, Be strong. . . . Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you. In their case, God’s salvation was not a future kingdom promise. They saw it firsthand as he destroyed the Assyrians before their eyes.
35:5-10 Returning to the theme of kingdom blessing, Isaiah notes that both the people and the land of Israel would experience healing from the Lord (35:5-7). Those with any physical defect would be made whole, and the land itself would be changed from a desert to a well-watered paradise. In addition, God will make a road to Jerusalem, called the Holy Way, on which the righteous will travel to worship the Lord (35:8). The joys of the kingdom are unimaginable to us today. We experience the joy of the Lord as we sing to and worship him, but life also contains trials and sadness. In that day, however, we will know unending joy and the complete absence of sorrow and sighing (35:10).
G. Historical Interlude: Sennacherib and Hezekiah (36:1–39:8)
36:1-3 Chapters 36 and 37 detail the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic word that Judah would be invaded by King Sennacherib and the Assyrians, but that Jerusalem would be delivered. The enemy invasion of Judah came in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, which was 701 BC (36:1). Hezekiah was being put to the test to see if he would trust in God’s promises in the face of an Assyrian threat against his capital (36:2). The king and his people certainly had reason to fear the Assyrians, who had already overrun and destroyed dozens of towns in Judah.
36:4-7 The royal spokesman for King Sennacherib announced his threat and offer with great authority (36:4). His speech to the leaders and people of Jerusalem was designed to intimidate them, instill fear, and cause them to lose heart at the seeming impossibility of being able to avoid defeat. Ironically, his first reason for demanding Jerusalem’s surrender was what Isaiah had been telling his people. Judah’s desperate hope that an alliance with Egypt would somehow bring victory was absolutely futile (36:6). But then the spokesman proceeded to insult the Lord by saying that Judah’s hope in him was also pointless. After all, hadn’t Hezekiah removed his high places and altars? (36:7). Of course, these were actually pagan locations for idol worship, and Hezekiah had done the right thing in destroying them. The Assyrian commander thus revealed his complete ignorance of God and the proper worship that he required.
36:8-10 The royal spokesman continued by ridiculing Judah’s military abilities. I’ll give you two thousand horses if you’re able to supply riders for them (36:8) was the ancient equivalent of saying, “Beating you will be so easy that I’ll fight you with one hand tied behind my back.” Clearly this was not merely an announcement of terms of surrender, then. This was taunting and disdain for Jerusalem and her king. The spokesman even claimed that God had sent the Assyr-ians and given his hearty approval for them to destroy Judah (36:10). Actually, God had sent the Assyrians, wielding them as a rod of anger to chastise his people for their sin (10:5-6). But Isaiah made it clear that Assyria had not come on this quest in submission to the Lord. Assyria’s intent was to conquer Israel and Judah as it had conquered other nations—for its own gain (10:7-11). Although God would use Assyria to discipline his people, he would also thrash Assyria for its pride (10:12).
36:11-20 The officials Hezekiah sent to deal with the Assyrian spokesman attempted to get him to speak to them in Aramaic, a trade language of the day similar to Hebrew because they didn’t want the citizens on the wall to hear the threats (36:11). But the spokesman refused. He wanted everyone in Jerusalem—not just the king—to hear the Assyrian intimidations and to grasp what they were facing.
Based on the spokesman’s warnings, it’s clear that Hezekiah (to his great credit) had been assuring his people of God’s ability to deliver them. In saying, Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you (36:14), Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you (36:15), Don’t listen to Hezekiah (36:16), Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you (36:18), the spokesman implied that their king was a fool who would get them all killed. And in case Jerusalem’s king really was confident of withstanding the onslaught, the Assyrian spokesman wanted the population of Jerusalem to shudder at what they were in for. Even if they settled in for a prolonged siege, in time their only food and drink options would be horrifying (36:12). Thus, there was only one sane thing they could do, according to the Assyrian: Make peace with me and surrender (36:16). Interestingly, when life becomes hard, these are words that Satan will whisper to you. But although the “father of lies” (John 8:44) promises peace, he only delivers slavery.
The Assyrian spokesman concluded by mocking the ability of Jerusalem’s God to deliver them. He pointed to the gods of the nations that Assyria had conquered: Who among all the gods of these lands ever rescued his land from my power? So will the Lord rescue Jerusalem? (36:20). In other words, he said, “No god has been able to stop us, and neither will yours.” But Assyria would soon learn the difference between the gods of the nations and the one true, living God.
36:21-22 Hezekiah’s officials didn’t even dignify the commander’s rant with an answer, since the king had ordered them to keep silent (36:21). But the reality of the mighty Assyrian army at the gates of Jerusalem caused Hezekiah’s officials to tear their clothing as a sign of distress and despair (36:22).
37:1-4 When the officials reported Assyria’s threat to King Hezekiah, the king did the right thing: he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and went to the Lord’s temple (37:1). This is a reminder that, when there seems to be no hope, you too should humble yourself before the Lord and seek his face. Hezekiah’s actions were an acknowledg-ment that Judah’s only hope lay in the power and promises of God. The king also sent men to Isaiah for a word from the Lord (36:2). So although Israel and Judah were often filled with false, self-seeking prophets, Hezekiah sought counsel from a true prophet: one who spoke God’s word without deviation. Hezekiah’s message to him revealed the deep distress of the king and his people (37:3-4).
Hezekiah’s use of the word perhaps in his message to Isaiah was not a sign of doubt in the Lord’s ability to hear and answer (36:4). Instead, it was a sign of humility, showing that Hezekiah would wait for the divine King’s answer instead of assuming he knew what it was. Hezekiah realized the Lord had heard the mocking words of the Assyrian commander, and he had faith that God would defend his people and vindicate his great name. The king also asked Isaiah to offer a prayer for the surviving remnant (36:4). So although Isaiah had endured repeated rejection and abuse as Judah’s evil leaders refused to listen to his message, Hezekiah was a godly king who acknowledged before everyone that Isaiah was God’s true spokesman.
37:5-7 The men the king sent to the prophet didn’t have to wait long for a word from the Lord. While they were still in his presence, Isaiah gave them God’s answer: Don’t be afraid (37:6). That divine command is repeated multiple times throughout Scripture. It’s an exhortation to those who trust in the Lord. If you place yourself under the umbrella of God’s covenantal protection, you have no need to fear. Those in Jerusalem who submitted their lives to God certainly had nothing to fear from the Assyrians. He would judge King Sennacherib for his blasphemy by having him assassinated in his own land (37:6-7).
37:8-13 The fulfillment of this prophecy unfolded immediately. The royal spokesman left Jerusalem because the king of Assyria had pulled out of Lachish and was fighting at Libnah, a town about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem (37:8). This change necessitated what the Assyrians no doubt thought was merely a temporary withdrawal from Jerusalem. The sight of enemy forces pulling back, however, must have been a tremendous relief to the people of Jerusalem; nevertheless, Sennacherib wanted them to know he had not abandoned his plan to attack and destroy their city. So he sent messengers to Hezekiah with a letter, repeating the previous threats (37:9-13).
37:14-20 Hezekiah responded once again in faith by taking the enemy’s letter to the temple and offering a tremendous prayer that glorified the Lord as the only Creator and Sovereign of the world (37:14-19). Although Isaiah had promised deliverance, Hezekiah did not presume upon God’s grace. Instead, he prayed. Furthermore, the king asked God to judge the Assyrians for the right reason: Now, Lord our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God (37:20).
37:21-29 God’s answer through Isaiah is a magnificent, poetic review of the situation and reminder of God’s abundant power to deal with Sennacherib’s blasphemous pride. Who is it you have mocked? (37:23). The king of Assyria had mocked Judah. But, ultimately, he had mocked the Lord (37:24), whom Sennacherib thought was no different from the gods of the nations. Importantly, the conquests Sennacherib bragged about were only possible because God had used him as a tool of his judgment on other nations (37:24-27). The king of Assyria thought he was the master of his own fate, but God was aware of the king’s slightest daily activities (37:28). The king, in fact, couldn’t make a move that God didn’t know about ahead of time. So far from continuing as a world conqueror, Sennacherib would be guided back home like a farm animal under God’s sovereignty (37:29).
37:30-38 God assured Hezekiah that life would continue in Judah despite the momentary Assyrian threat (36:30-32). Crops would be planted and harvested, even though the Assyrians had ravaged much of Judah. By the third year, the harvest would be plentiful (37:30). Then God said in no uncertain terms that Sennacherib wouldn’t set foot in Jerusalem, much less attack it, again (37:33-35). The Lord had earlier declared that the Assyrian king would return home and be killed there (37:7). All that remained was for the prophecy to be fulfilled. The angel of the Lord killed thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their own camp (37:36)! And as a result, Sennacherib returned to his home, where he was eventually slain by his own sons while worshiping his god (37:37-38). No matter how devotedly you serve them, idols can’t deliver you either.
38:1-8 The actual chronological order of events recorded in chapters 36–39 is different than how they appear in Isaiah. According to 38:6, Hezekiah’s illness preceded the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian army. The visit by representatives of Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon (39:1), must also have preceded the siege of chapters 36–37, since it is highly unlikely that these messengers would have been able to enter Jerusalem with the Assyrians surrounding the city.
When Hezekiah became terminally ill, God sent Isaiah to the king with the announcement of his impending death (38:1). The king prayed that God would remember his faithfulness and wept bitterly (38:2-3). In response, God had mercy on him and granted another fifteen years of life (38:5). It could be that this was a test of Hezekiah’s faith, since God knew all along that he would heal him. If this was a faith test, Hezekiah passed. And he got a tremendous bonus. God said, I will rescue you and this city from the grasp of the king of Assyria; I will defend [Jerusalem] (38:6). Hezekiah would receive a sign to affirm that God would fulfill his promise: the sun’s shadow would go back by ten steps, a miracle that Hezekiah could observe (38:7-8).
38:9-20 After he recovered from his illness, King Hezekiah penned a poem, giving God the glory for hearing and answering his prayer (38:9). The king spoke honestly of his anguish at the prospect of dying at a young age: In the prime of my life I must go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the rest of my years (38:10). That’s a gut-level emotional response that almost any human would experience in the same situation. Hezekiah wanted to live. “Sheol” was the name for the place of the dead. Though Hezekiah recorded his initial despair (38:11-15), his poem ends with praise to God for his mercy and love (38:16-20).
38:21-22 The final verses look back to Isaiah’s prescription for Hezekiah’s healing and the king’s request for a sign that he would be healed and would worship at the temple again (38:22). Hezekiah was to have a lump of pressed figs applied to his infection—a simple act of faith (38:21).
39:1-2 Isaiah’s inclusion of historical events from the reign of Hezekiah continues here. After Hezekiah’s recovery, Merodach-baladan, the Babylonian king, sent Hezekiah a gift and congratulated him on that recovery (39:1). Babylon would be the next great world power in the years to come, but in Isaiah’s day it was another vassal state under Assyria. Hezekiah welcomed the envoys and, in a display of pride, the king of Judah showed the envoys his treasure house . . . There was nothing in his palace and in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them (39:2). He was evidently trying to impress his Babylonian visitors.
39:3-8 God’s response to this arrogance was immediate: He sent Isaiah to the king with a devastating prophecy of Judah’s future destruction and captivity by Babylon (39:3-7). This tragic turn of events, however, must have seemed like a remote prospect to Hezekiah. After all, in his day more than a century before these events, Babylon was just another nation trying desperately to hold back the Assyrians. So selfishly, Hezekiah breathed a sigh of relief that this would not be fulfilled in his lifetime (39:8). Isaiah’s prophecy is a foreboding hint of what is to follow in his book.