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.
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.
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).
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).
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.