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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Be comforted, part 12, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

TWELVE

ISAIAH 54–59

Promises and Punishments
The Servant obediently finished His work on earth; and today He is at work in heaven, interceding for God’s people (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34). But what are the consequences of His sacrifice? What difference does it make that He endured all that suffering? To Israel, it means restoration (Isa. 54:1–17); to the Gentile nations, it means an invitation (55:1–56:8); and to rebellious sinners, it means an accusation (56:9–59:21), a warning from the Lord that they need to repent.
1. Restoration for Israel (Isa. 54:1–17)

The image in this chapter is that of Jehovah, the faithful husband, forgiving Israel, the unfaithful wife, and restoring her to the place of blessing. Isaiah has used the marriage image before (50:1–3) and will use it again (62:4). Jeremiah also used it (Jer. 3:8), and it is an important theme in both Hosea (chap. 2) and Ezekiel (chaps. 16 and 23). The nation was “married” to Jehovah at Mt. Sinai, but she committed adultery by turning to other gods; and the Lord had to abandon her temporarily. However, the prophets promise that Israel will be restored when Messiah comes and establishes His kingdom.
What kind of a restoration will it be? For one thing, it is a restoration to joy and therefore an occasion for singing (Isa. 54:1a). Isaiah is certainly the prophet of song; he mentions songs and singing more than thirty times in his book. The immediate occasion for this joy is the nation’s deliverance from Captivity, but the ultimate fulfillment is when the Redeemer comes to Zion and the nation is born anew (59:20).
It will also be a restoration to fruitfulness when the nation will increase and need more space (54:1b–3). The nation had been diminished because of the Babylonian invasion, but God would help them multiply again. At the end of this age, only a believing remnant will enter into the kingdom; but the Lord will enlarge the nation abundantly. Israel may feel like a barren woman, unable to have children; but she will increase to the glory of God. God will do for her what He did for Sarah and Abraham (49:18–21; 51:1–3). The tents will need to be enlarged, and the desolate cities will be inhabited again!
Paul quoted Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27 and applied the spiritual principle to the church: Even as God blessed Sarah and the Jewish remnant with children, so He would bless the church, though she is only a small company in the world. Paul was not equating Israel with the church or suggesting that the Old Testament promises to the Jews are now fulfilled in the church. If we claim the Old Testament Jewish prophecies for the church, then we must claim all of them, the judgments as well as the blessings; and most people do not want to do that!
Israel’s restoration to her land will also mean confidence (Isa. 54:4–10). Isaiah gives another one of his “fear not” promises (41:10, 13, 14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8; 51:7; 54:14) and explains why there was no need for the nation to be afraid. To begin with, their sins were forgiven (v. 4). Why should they fear the future when God had wiped out the sins of the past? (43:25; 44:22) Yes, the people had sinned greatly against their God; but He forgave them, and this meant a new beginning (40:1–5). They could forget the shame of their sins as a young nation, as recorded in Judges and 1 Samuel, as well as the reproach of their “widowhood” in the Babylonian Captivity.
Another reason for confidence is the steadfast love of the Lord (54:5–6). Jehovah is their Maker and would not destroy the people He created for His glory. He is their Redeemer and cannot sell them into the hands of the enemy. He is their Husband and will not break His covenant promises. As an unfaithful wife, Israel had forsaken her Husband; but He had not permanently abandoned her. He only gave her opportunity to see what it was like to live in a land where people worshiped false gods. God would call her back and woo her to Himself (Hosea 2:14–23), and she would no longer be “a wife deserted” (Isa. 54:6, NIV). She felt forsaken (49:14), but God did not give her up.
A third reason for confidence is the dependable promise of God (54:7–10). God had to show His anger at their sin; but now the chastening was over, and they were returning to their land. (On God’s anger, see 9:12, 17, and 21.) “With great mercies will I gather thee,” He promised. “With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.”
Whenever we rebel against God and refuse to listen to His warnings, He must chasten us; and He does it in love (Heb. 12:1–11). Our Father cannot permit His children to sin and get away with it. But the purpose of His chastening is to bring us to repentance and enable us to produce “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). When God “spanks” His erring children, He may hurt them; but He never harms them. It is always for our good and His glory.
God kept His promise concerning the Flood (Gen. 9:11–17), and He will keep His promises to His people Israel. They can depend on His love, His covenant, and His mercy.
Not only will the captives be set free and the nation restored, but also the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt (Isa. 54:11–17). If the language here seems extravagant, keep in mind that the prophet sees both an immediate fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment (Rev. 21:18–21). The remnant rebuilt the temple and the city under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, Ezra the scribe, Nehemiah the wall-builder, and the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah. But the restored Jerusalem was nothing like what Isaiah describes here! For that beautiful city, we must wait till the return of the Lord and the establishing of His kingdom. Then every citizen of Jerusalem will know the Lord (Isa. 54:13), and the city will be free from terror and war (v. 14).
Our Lord quoted the first part of verse 13 in John 6:45. When you read the context, beginning at verse 34, you see that Jesus was speaking about people coming to the Father. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (v. 37, NKJV) does not mean that the Father forces sinners to be saved. People come to Him because they are “taught of God,” and the Spirit draws them through the Word. Personal evangelism won’t be needed in the New Jerusalem, for all the citizens will know the Lord.
2. Invitation to the Gentiles (Isa. 55:1–56:8)

The Servant died not only for the sins of Israel (53:8), but also for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 1 John 4:14). Isaiah makes it clear throughout his book that the Gentiles are included in God’s plan. What Isaiah and the other prophets did not know was that believing Jews and Gentiles would one day be united in Jesus Christ in the church (Eph. 3:1–12).
God gives a threefold invitation to the Gentiles: come (Isa. 55:1–5), seek (vv. 6–13), and worship (56:1–8).
Come (Isa. 55:1–5). The invitation is extended to “everyone” and not just to the Jews. Anyone who is thirsting for that which really satisfies (John 4:10–14) is welcome to come. As in Isaiah 25:6, the prophet pictures God’s blessings in terms of a great feast, where God is the host.
In the East, water is a precious ingredient; and an abundance of water is a special blessing (41:17; 44:3). Wine, milk, and bread were staples of their diet. The people were living on substitutes that did not nourish them. They needed “the real thing,” which only the Lord could give. In Scripture, both water and wine are pictures of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; Eph. 5:18). Jesus is the “bread of life” (John 6:32–35), and His living Word is like milk (1 Peter 2:2). Our Lord probably had Isaiah 55:2 in mind when He said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27, NKJV).
People have to work hard to dig wells, care for flocks and herds, plant seed, and tend to the vineyards. But the Lord offered to them free everything they were laboring for. If they listen to His Word, they will be inclined to come; for God draws sinners to Himself through the Word (John 5:24). Note the emphasis on hearing in Isaiah 55:2–3.
“The sure mercies of David” involve God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7) in which He promised that a Descendant would reign on David’s throne forever. This, of course, is Jesus Christ (Luke 1:30–33); and the proof that He is God’s King is seen in His resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:34–39). Jesus Christ is God’s covenant to the Gentiles (“peoples”), and His promises will stand as long as His Son lives, which is forever.
Isaiah 55:5 indicates that God will use Israel to call the Gentiles to salvation, which was certainly true in the early days of the church (Acts 10:1ff; 11:19ff; 13:1ff) and will be true during the kingdom (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:14; Zech. 8:22). Jerusalem will be the center for worship in the world, and God will be glorified as the nations meet together with Israel to honor the Lord.
Seek (Isa. 55:6–13). When God delivered His people from Babylon and took them safely back to their own land, it was a witness to the other nations. It also gave Israel another opportunity to be a light to the Gentiles (49:6) and bring them to faith in the true and living God. While it was important for Israel to seek the Lord and be wholly devoted to Him, it was also important that they share this invitation with the nations.
What is involved in “seeking the Lord”? For one thing, it means admitting that we are sinners and that we have offended the holy God. It means repenting (55:7), changing one’s mind about sin, and turning away from sin and to the Lord. We must turn to God in faith and believe His promise that in mercy He will abundantly pardon. Repentance and faith go together: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
But no one should delay in doing this! The phrase “while He may be found” suggests that, if we do not take His invitation seriously, the invitation may cease while we are delaying. In the Parable of the Great Supper, God closed the door on those who spurned His invitation (Luke 14:16–24; see Prov. 1:20–33). “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
It is not a mark of wisdom to try to “second guess” God, because His ways and thoughts are far beyond our comprehension (Isa. 55:8–9). We make God after our own image and conclude that He thinks and acts just as we do (Ps. 50:21), and we are wrong! Have you ever tried to explain the grace of God to an unsaved person who thinks that heaven is a “Hall of Fame” for achievers instead of the Father’s house for believers? In this world, you work for what you get; and you are suspicious of anything that is free.
How does God go about calling and saving lost sinners? By the power of His Word (Isa. 55:10–11). God’s Word is seed (Luke 8:11). Just as the rain and snow are never wasted but accomplish His purposes, so His Word never fails. “The Word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). We never know how God will use even a casual word of witness to plant and water the seed in somebody’s heart.
Isaiah 55:12–13 describes both the joy of the exiles on their release from Captivity and the joy of Israel when they share in that “glorious exodus” in the end of the age and return to their land. When the kingdom is established, all of nature will sing to the Lord (32:13; 35:1–2; 44:23; 52:8–9).
Worship (Isa. 56:1–8). The nation had gone into Captivity because she had disobeyed the Law of God, particularly the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). This commandment was a special “sign” between God and the Jews (31:12–18; Neh. 9:13–14); it was never given to the Gentiles. The Jews were rebuked for the careless way they treated the Sabbath during their wilderness wanderings (Ezek. 20:10–26) and when they lived in the land (Jer. 17:19–27). Even after their return to the holy land after the Captivity, the Jews continued to violate the Sabbath (Neh. 13:15–22).
Keep in mind that the Sabbath Day is the seventh day of the week, the day that God sanctified when He completed Creation (Gen. 2:1–3). Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week; and it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To call Sunday “the Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” is to confuse these two important days. The Sabbath was a sign to the Jews and belongs to the Law: You labor for six days, and then you rest. The Lord’s Day speaks of resurrection and belongs to grace. God’s people trust in Christ, and then the works follow.
God never before asked the Gentiles to join the Jews in keeping the Sabbath, but here He does so. He calls the very people He prohibited from entering His covenant nation: foreigners and eunuchs (Deut. 23:1–8). This is another picture of the grace of God (see Acts 8:26ff). The invitation is still, “Ho, everyone! Come!” It applies to sinners today, but it will apply in a special way when Israel enters her kingdom, the temple services are restored, and the Sabbath is once again a part of Jewish worship.
God’s admonition to the remnant to “keep justice and do righteousness” (Isa. 56:1) was not obeyed. When you read Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Malachi, you discover that the Jews soon forgot God’s goodness and returned to their old ways. Taking special time each week to remember the Lord and worship Him helps us to obey His will.
3. Accusation against the sinners (Isa. 56:9–59:21)

The prophet presents in this section a series of indictments against the disobedient in the nation: the leaders (56:9–57:2), the idolaters (57:3–13), the proud and greedy (vv. 14–21), the hypocritical worshipers (58:1–14), and those responsible for injustice in the land (59:1–21). But even in His wrath, God remembers mercy (Hab. 3:2); for along with these indictments, the Lord pleads with people to humble themselves and submit to Him.
The leaders of the nation (Isa. 56:9–57:2). It was the godless conduct of the leaders that caused Judah to fall to Babylon (Lam. 4:13–14). Had the prophets, priests, and rulers turned to God in repentance and faith, He would have intervened on their behalf; but they persisted in their rebellion. With biting sarcasm, Isaiah calls them “blind watchmen” who cannot see the enemy coming, and “sleeping dogs” who could not bark their warning even if they were awake! The leaders were not alert; they loved to sleep, and when they were awake, they loved to eat and drink.
Spiritual leaders are “watchmen” (Ezek. 3:17–21; 33:1–11) who must be awake to the dangers that threaten God’s people. They are “shepherds” who must put the care of the flock ahead of their own desires. When the foreign invaders (“beasts of the field”) come, the shepherds must protect the flock, no matter what the danger might be. See Acts 20:18–38 for the description of a faithful spiritual ministry.
God permitted the unrighteous leaders to live and suffer the terrible consequences of their sins, but the righteous people died before the judgment fell. The godly found rest and peace; the ungodly went into Captivity, and some of them were killed. Rebellious people do not deserve dedicated spiritual leaders. When His people reject His Word and prefer worldly leaders, God may give them exactly what they desire and let them suffer the consequences.
Idolaters (Isa. 57:3–13). During the last days of Judah and Jerusalem, before Babylon came, the land and the city were polluted with idols. King Hezekiah and King Josiah had led the people in destroying the idols and the high places; but as soon as an ungodly king took the throne, the people went right back to their old ways. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah told the people that God would punish them for breaking His Law, but they persisted in the ways of the godless nations around them.
God sees idolatry as adultery and prostitution (v. 3). The people knew it was wrong, but they arrogantly practiced their sensual worship (“inflaming yourselves with idols”) without shame. You would find them everywhere: visiting the shrine prostitutes under the green trees in the groves; offering their children in the fire in the valley; worshiping under the cliffs and by the smooth boulders; sacrificing up in the mountains; and committing fornication behind the doors of their houses. Publicly and privately, the people were devoted to idols and immorality.
But they were also guilty of consorting with pagan leaders and trusting them for protection instead of trusting God (v. 9). To trust a pagan ruler and his army was the same as trusting the false god that they worshiped (see 30:1–7; 31:1–3). They found false strength in their political alliances and refused to admit that these treaties were hopeless (57:10). God would expose their sin and judge it; and when that happened, their collection of idols (“companies” in v. 13, KJV) would not save them.
Anything that we trust other than the Lord becomes our god and therefore is an idol. It may be our training, experience, job, money, friends, or position. One of the best ways to find out whether we have idols in our lives is to ask ourselves, “Where do I instinctively turn when I face a decision or need to solve a problem?” Do we reach for the phone to call a friend? Do we assure ourselves that we can handle the situation ourselves? Or do we turn to God and seek His will and His help?
When the storm starts blowing, the idols will blow away like chaff (v. 13). They are “vanity,” which means “nothingness.” The storm does not make a person; it shows what the person is made of and where his or her faith lies. If we make the Lord our refuge, we have nothing to fear.
The proud and greedy (Isa. 57:14–21). God has a word of encouragement for the faithful remnant: The highway will be built and the obstacles removed, so that the exiles might return to the land and serve the Lord. (On the “highway theme,” see 11:16.) God will dwell with them because they are humble in spirit. (See 66:2; Pss. 34:18; 51:17.) Pride is a sin that God hates (Prov. 6:16–17) and that God resists (1 Peter 5:5–6). God was “enraged” by Israel’s “sinful greed” and repeatedly chastened them for it; but they would not change (Isa. 57:17). How often He had “taken them to court” and proved them guilty, yet they would not submit. But now that was over. The time had come for God to heal them, guide them, and comfort them.
The hypocrites (Isa. 58:1–14). God told Isaiah to shout aloud with a voice like a trumpet and announce the sins of the nation. The people went to the temple, obeyed God’s laws, fasted, and appeared eager to seek the Lord; but their worship was only an outward show. Their hearts were far from God (1:10–15; 29:13; Matt. 15:8–9). When we worship because it is the popular thing to do, not because it is the right thing to do, then our worship becomes hypocritical.
The Jews were commanded to observe only one fast on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29–31), but they were permitted to fast personally if they wished. They complained that nobody seemed to notice what they were doing. Perhaps they were trying to “buy God’s blessing” by their fasting. Worshiping God involves more than observing an outward ritual; there must be an inward obedience and submission to the Lord (Matt. 6:16–18).
If in my religious duties, I am doing what pleases me, and if doing it does not make me a better person, then I am wasting my time; and my worship is only sin. Fasting and fighting do not go together! Yet how many families walk piously out of church at the close of a Sunday worship service, get in the family car, and proceed to argue with each other all the way home!
True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others. We deprive ourselves so that we might share with others and do so to the glory of God. If we fast in order to get something for ourselves from God, instead of to become better people for the sake of others, then we have missed the meaning of worship. It delights the Lord when we delight in the Lord.
The unjust (Isa. 59:1–21). There was a great deal of injustice in the land, with the rich exploiting the poor and the rulers using their authority only to make themselves rich (see 1:17–23; 3:13–15; 5:8–30). The people lifted their hands to worship God, but their hands were stained with blood (1:15, 21). God could not answer their prayers because their sins hid His face from them.
It was a conflict between truth and lies, just as it is today. Isaiah compared the evil rulers to pregnant women giving birth to sin (59:4; Ps. 7:14; Isa. 33:11), to snakes hatching their eggs, and to spiders weaving their webs (Isa. 59:5–6). What they give birth to will only destroy them (James 1:13–15), and their beautiful webs of lies can never protect them.
When people live on lies, they live in a twilight zone and do not know where they are going (Isa. 59:9–11). When truth falls, it creates a “traffic jam”; and justice and equity (honesty) cannot make progress (vv. 12–15). God is displeased with injustice, and He wonders that none of His people will intercede or intervene (Prov. 24:11–12). So the Lord Himself intervened and brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah and Jerusalem and to teach His people that they cannot despise His Law and get away with it.
God’s judgment on His people was a foreshadowing of that final Day of the Lord when all the nations will be judged. When it is ended, then “the Redeemer shall come to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), and the glorious kingdom will be established. Israel will be not only God’s chosen people but God’s cleansed people, and the glory of the Lord will radiate from Mt. Zion.
The glory of the Lord in the promised kingdom is the theme of the closing chapters of Isaiah. While we are waiting and praying, “Thy kingdom come,” perhaps we should also be interceding and intervening. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13–16), and God expects us to make a difference.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 141–153). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.Logos gif

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