(Today we start a fresh set of meditations as we take a break from Luke – we will come back to Luke later on.)
MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.1
Isa 1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
I approach this set of meditations more self-consciously that I have ever written before. This is going to be a challenge. I have read Isaiah a number of times, I have written a number of Bible studies from within it, and it’s an amazing book. However, over the past two years, I have been challenged by facing up to some of the more prominent atheists of the world who question the Old Testament and who say that it portrays an angry, vicious God who is totally different from the God portrayed in the New Testament. I confess that this has helpfully stirred me to challenge my thinking and my Bible reading, to see the God, who is described by the apostle John as ‘love’ (1 Jn 4:8,16), as the God of love in the Old Testament. That will be one of the key ideas I will be working on in these studies in Isaiah.
I am also going against the grain of some commentators in that I am going to assume that the book we call Isaiah was written by just one person and was not written by several people. My assumption is that if there are two or more phases of writing in this book, it is simply because Isaiah went through phases of understanding or revelation, as we all do. Again, as I tend to do with all these mediations, I am calling them meditations rather than studies because although there is a study element in them, I want to be wider ranging and verging on the devotional or personal. I may also range over broad swathes of a chapter at a time, and sometimes verse by verse.
This is first for my benefit and then for yours. I want to enjoy this book and enjoy writing about it, as I have so often enjoyed many other parts of Scripture. This is not a ‘hard’ exercise, but an enjoyable one! Yes, the subject matter of the first half of Isaiah especially, is about failure and destruction, yet let’s face it honestly, with the full revelation of Scripture, and see both the awfulness of sin and the wonder of the mercy and grace of God that is here revealed. (I’m not sure as I start this particular set whether we will cover the whole of Isaiah or just the early chapters.)
After the above introduction, telling us that Isaiah received revelation during the reigns of four kings, we find him – whoah! Hold on, we mustn’t go too fast. Look what that first verse says – The vision. Singular! The whole book comprises a panorama that affects Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, there are going to be a number of ‘oracles’ (e.g. 13:1. 15:1, 17:1 etc.) and there are going to be included a number of personal happenings involving Isaiah (e.g. Ch. 6,7,8, 20 etc.) but all of these things contribute to the big picture that involves the Lord and His people. Jerusalem was all important as it was the place God had established His ‘house’, the Temple, the place of encounter between God and His people. This whole book with its many facets and styles, which have confused so many commentators, is actually like a patchwork quilt, or a mosaic, or a collage, and it all contributes to the vision, the overall revelation from God for His people at that time, so we must see it all as a complete package. Yes, there are specific individual bits but we must recognise that they are just parts of the collage that make up the whole.
So, here he goes in chapter 1: “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken.” (v.2a). Isaiah has caught a sense of God’s voice speaking. What has the Lord said? “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (v.2b). God speaks as a father whose children have rebelled against Him. Now something I have observed over the years is that we attribute to God feelings that we have, and so you can take the Lord’s words in different ways and with different feelings behind them, depending on how we view Him. Some people have a negative view of their father and so attribute negative attitudes to God. Now of course we’ll never know the complete truth until we get to heaven, but bear in mind the challenge that I spoke of earlier – that we learn to see God as the God of love who is the same in the Old Testament as He is in the New.
Listen to how He continues to illustrate what has happened: “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (v.3). You can take that as a negative if you wish, but look at the description of Israel, “my people”. God is hurt, as a father is hurt by his children disregarding him, but God still speaks of them as my people. Yes, He is not casting them away simply because they turn from Him. In the West today it is common, when one partner in a marriage has been unfaithful, for the other partner to divorce. Separation comes so easily, but the Lord is not doing that. They are still His people, still His children, and so He wants to remedy the situation. Simply, His people do not understand. They are short sighted and cannot see the folly of what they have been doing. Now the Lord could have abandoned them, given them up and walked away and started afresh with a new group of people – but He didn’t! They may not be committed to Him but He is committed to them! That is love! Love can say some strong words, but it still hangs in there, it still remains committed.
There are a lot of chapters in Isaiah, a lot of words, so this is a lot of communication from God, sharing His vision about Israel. It is a vision that sees their past and the folly that has brought them to the present. It is also guidance and direction of how to deal with their present plight, so that they may be part of His future blessed people. It has warnings in it, to be sure, but it also holds out great hope. Let’s try to see as much as we can through this kaleidoscope of a book, and try and catch as much of the vision as we can, the overall picture of the revelation of God about His people. Only He sees truly, only He sees the reality of life, and so only He can share that reality. Let’s watch for it.