PART FOUR: Ch 56-66
SUMMARY LINE: A trusting, redeemed servant Israel becomes the messenger with clean lips through whom the world can find its Savior.
- Week 1: Ch 1-12 – Calling of Isaiah – to be a servant for Israel, a people of unclean lips – fiery coal
- Week 2: Ch 13-39 – Same calling applies to Israel – to be a servant for the nations – instead of fiery coal, God uses pagan nations as his tool of judgment
- Week 3: Ch 40-55 – Forget the former things – instead of deliverer from God’s flock, God uses Cyrus, the king of Persia to deliver his people; Messiah is promised who will provide spiritual deliverance
- Week 4: Even with physical deliverance, people of God could not sustain righteousness and justice – same situation after we are saved and spiritually delivered, we cannot sustain a life of faith on our own strength. That is why we need the HS, but there is a catch – God will only give the HS to those who will use it properly.
Whole book is an outworking of ch 6 – man of unclean lips – this man receives the fiery cleansing of God and moves out in trusting obedience to God and through him the people of Israel get to hear the message of the Holy One of Israel.
In the same way, when the people of unclean lips receive the vision of God and our placed under judgment via pagan nations (ch 7-39) and they receive the gracious forgiveness and deliverance of God (ch 40-55) and are enabled to live as God lives (ch 56-66), then the nations come to know the Holy One of Israel.
- Ch 7-39 – call to live righteously in obedience with the threat of destruction if they fail
- Ch 40-55 – grace – all you do is receive it
Age old question – how can you reconcile righteous/right living or obedient living (“works”) with grace? Are these two reconcilable?
Ch 56-66 – marks of the servants of the Lord
- 56:1-8 – foreign worshipers
- 56:9-59:15 – ethical righteousness
- 59:15-21 – Divine Warrior
- 60-62 eschatological hope
- 63:1-6 – Divine Warrior
- 63:7-66:17 – ethical righteousness
- 66:18-24 – foreign worshipers
Ch 56-59 – begins with foreign converts and ends with Divine Warrior; interlude – ch 60-62 about eschatological hope; this final section (ch 63:1-6) begins with Divine Warror and ends with treatment of foreign converts (66:18-24).
So in both ethical righteousness sections, the thrust is the inability of the people to produce the ethical righteousness called for. What is the signification of the reversed ordering?
Significance of reversed ordering – If it ended with ch 62, then we have the eschatological vision with its glowing promises and we may be tempted to look past the present and wait for heaven or the Second Coming of Christ. But there are 4 more chapters tacked on. It appears that the eschatological hope is important but it ought not to obscure the call to live according to the ethical demands of the present. So we have a future to hope in, but there are still 4 chapters to live out in the present.
An important theme throughout is human inability to live out our calling. That is why there are two references to the Divine Warrior. In the first section, human inability comes first, then the Divine Warrior so the accent is on human inability. However, in the second section, the Divine Warrior comes before human inability. There is a change of emphasis – God is able to overcome human inability – there is no enemy, including sin, that can defeat God.
Key – God empowers us through the HS to live righteously, as servants
Context: encroachment of Canaanite religion. Canaan is modern day Israel and Syria. Polytheistic.
- Baal-Hammon – god of fertility and renewer of all energies
- Dagon – god of crop fertility and grain
- Kotharat – goddess of marriage and pregnancy
- Mikkal-wa-ib – goddess of orchards and fruit
- Molech – god to whom children were sacrificed by fire
Those in power were looking for political legitimacy so that they could maintain their power. Peasants were more interested in the fertility gods because they promised abundant crops, flocks and humans.
Also recognized gods of Baal and Asherah and a host of others.
One of their most detestable practices was child sacrifice – evidence of the graves of many children in various religious sites in N Africa such as Carthage.
Apparently, this polytheistic tendency had infiltrated God’s people. And the result is a fading of justice and righteousness. Polytheism – loss of standard – everything is permissible – justice and righteousness go out the window – people suffer.
- 56:1 – Keep justice and do righteousness – moral and social implications
- 56:3-8 – fundamental criterion for being among the servants of the Lord is doing justice and righteousness
There’s a problem. What if God delivers his people from Babylon and Persia and they are restored to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple? What next? They will fall short of their calling again.
Religious people who were doing all of the external rituals and practices and who are being tempted by their cultural context of polytheism and idolatry. The result – there was nothing which could sustain their righteous living.
I call this outside-in faith. Motivated by activities, attend all the prayer mtgs and small groups, yet there is no change at the core.
Isaiah is espousing an inside-out faith – at the core, there is a shift, a knowlege of God that is deeply personal and from that core there is overflow that shows up in behavior. Behavior as an expression of a relationship with God.
So the people of God in Isaiah’s day and for centuries afterward were people focused on the exterior – what I call an outside-in faith. They were religious on the surface, but in their hearts they were characterized by 56:11.
56:11 – problem with leaders is unbridled desire – the people have wide-open (HEBREW) throats that cannot be filled.
Gratification of desire – their goal. Putting his own way before God’s way or his people’s way. Laziness, greed and self-concern have sapped the vitality of the shepherd.
56:12 – drinking in excess – appetite out of control.
Desire does not know satiation.
Rolling Stones – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Desires drive us on and on, with rising expenditures of time, money and energy and with diminishing returns. Ends in slavery.
Reflection: how do you know if you have an outside-in faith? What are some signs?
57:1-2 – disappearance of the righteous – God in his mercy is removing them – signal that the critical stage has arrived – judgment.
We sometimes think, God, send me to the darkest place so I can shine your gospel. LA might be one on that list. Maybe that is why God sent us here. But interestingly, God wants to spare righteous people from situations that would surely corrupt them. So if you are in a city and there are few righteous people around, watch out! Maybe you have become part of the unrighteous and you don’t even realize it (just kidding).
The religious people described in this passage thought they were righteous, but in reality, they were involved in cultic behavior including a “collection” of all the worst features of paganism (ch 57):
- fertility/bed/temple prostitution, ritual prostitution was a part of worship (57:5, 7-8)
- child sacrifice, idol of sex and practice of sacrificing the next generation in order to gratify the present (57:5)
- animism – wadis – dry gullies – view of paganism – continuity – creation is God – goes against chosing God as our inheritance and instead settling for physical inheritance (57:6)
- ceaseless demands – addiction – insatiable thirst (57:9-10)
57:5 – two aspects of Canaanite religion – fertility worship and child sacrifice
What is the result?
57:17 – greed – desire to have more of everything at all costs. Idolatry seeks to satisfy these desires. You see something – I want that, I need that. The line between needs and wants is blurred – enslaved by desires.
Reflection: Is our society today any different? Any parallels? Do you see similarities in your approach to Christian life?
Covetousness is the last of the 10 Commandments – to break this (you shall not covet) is to break the first (thou shalt have no other gods before me)
There is some good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective in 57:15.
Read 57:15 – biblical theology makes 3 pts:
- God is transcendent – high and lofty One, living in a high and holy place
- God dwells with the crushed and low-spirited – contrite and lowly in spirit
- God enlivens the spirit of the lowly – REVIVE the heart of the CONTRITE
If you are feeling spiritually poor and lowly, then there is hope for God to revive us.
58:2 – Who are the rebels and sinners? Scary thing is that it is those who seek God every day. Key word is “seem” – they seem eager to know my ways, they seem eager for God to come near.
We can deceive one another but God is not deceived.
Why does God not consider their seeking something pleasing?
He sees their heart and the motivations for their actions.
58:3-4 – there is fasting but it is with the attitude of “See, God, look at us.”
What if you bring this mentality into the Christian life? Religion of works in which the worshiper by his or her performances tries to manipulate the world in order to secure its blessings
Manipulating God into action. I do this for you, now give me what I want. Engaging in acts to show how religious we are or trying to use it as device for making God do our will
And the clearest demonstration that their hearts are not right is the fact that in the midst of their fasting, they are lacking justice and righteous in their behavior. Exploiting of workers, quarreling and strife, striking each other with fists.
58:6-7, 9-10 – They failed to see connection between their mistreatment of poor/lowly and their religion.
This is precisely the attitude that God wants to address.
God does not care about the practice of fasting if this ritual is to be offered in place of changed attitudes and behavior, then God does not want fasting at all.
Key is doing what pleases God and God is pleased when there is just treatment of others.
Our worship and love for God needs to be so deep that it overflows in our treatment of others, esp those weaker than we.
If they want to deprive themselves, let them do it for the sake of the oppressed, the needy, and the helpless, not for the sake of their own relgiousity.
One major theme in Isaiah is to be the servant who properly reflects the character of God. And what is this character?
One description of God is that He is a God who gives himself away to those who can never repay him. There is no clearer evidence of the presence of God in a person’s life than a replication of that same behavior.
No wonder Mother Teresa was such a godly saint. She loved the lepers who were abandoned and forgotten. There was nothing in it for her.
What about us? With what motivation do we love others?
The call is to love those who can never repay us. Those who are suffering injustice. Or maybe, loving those who could repay us but we love with no strings attached so there is no sense of obligation. Don’t we love by saying – we’ll love but that guy better be thankful or I am through with him… We expect some kind of thanks, or at least some kind of recognition from God.
Out of all the spiritual practices, why is fasting chosen?
Any idea? Because fasting captures the essence of being a servant. You practice self-denial in the sense of not fasting for your own sense of righteousness. But you fast and practice self-denial for a purpose and that is to serve others and not to serve yourself.
Why go through all this judgment and training and discipline if it is just about us getting our act together and cleaned up before we get into heaven. It’s like a soldier who goes through boot camp and then the sergeant said, Now that you are trained and ready to defend our country, I want you to files these papers for the next 10 years. You would think, why did I go through all the sleepless nights and terrible food and rigorous endurance training?
Our self-denial has a purpose. It is for the benefit of others. What good is it to deny yourself food when those around you are hungry and you don’t even notice (58:10)? What end is it serving? Instead of fasting, why don’t you just feed the guy next to you – isn’t that more pleasing to God?
58:9-10 – malicious talk – oppression of the poor and the weak will not stop ultimately until they are no longer seen as objects of scorn and contempt or as victims who require our pity. They must be seen as persons of worth and dignity, under God.
We show our devotion to God by alleviating hunger in others
Fasting was called “affliction of the soul” – “bread” instead of “soul” – worshiper was pouring out his or her soul to God in an act of self-denial – God would rather that we pour out our souls in ministry to those whose souls are really “afflicted” (meaning they have no food) rather than engaging in an ecstasy of self-congratulation over how severe we are on ourselves out of our supposed love of God.
The question from God’s perspective, why should God manifest himself to people who would not use it to benefit the weaker ones?
58:10-12 – Knowledge of the Lord translates to proper treatment of the powerless – these people who are ready to live out this calling will never lack for the water of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They will be a fountain – enough waster for their own lives and more than enough to pour out on the afflicted souls around them.
Holy Spirit is given not for a spiritual high or so that we can feel close to God. It is given for empowerment to live out righteous living as shown through our care for the powerless around us.
Reflection: What do people think about this? Do you guys feel God’s presence? If not, do you think this is one possible explanation?
God feels distant or there is no power in our lives because we lack the Holy Spirit – and perhaps we have not received the HS because our motivation is not to help others.
Another, more obvious reason for God feeling distant is given in the final chapters of Isaiah.
Sin. Gratification of desires has become the most important thing.
59:7-8 – perverse society has no restraints – self-interest is king
God as a Mighty Warrior – 59:15-21 – Divine Warrior – enemy is no longer a pagan nation, but Sin.
People of unclean lips will be cleansed so that they may speak the Word of God to the world.
- 59:21 – deliverance into a life empowered by the Spirit of God
- 62:4-5 – incredible transformation from Ch 1 to ch 62 (end times) – shift from the name “Desolate” can become “Married”
- 63:10 – grieving of the Holy Spirit – sin is a matter of the will – until that sinful will has been brought into submission to the HS (no more rebelling), consistent holy behavior is not possible. It’s our choice.
Is that how you view sin? A willful choice? Some say I couldn’t help it. It’s because of my upbringing, whatever.
We do this on a microscale all the time. You hear a message and God give you an impression — I need to reconcile with that person, I need to confess my sin, I need to love this person — but you fail to act. That choice sets a pattern. God tries everything to get our attention — judgment, difficulty — but we refuse to acknowledge him and God eventually says, okay, you have it your own way. Result – spiritual insensitivity and hardening of heart and eventual death.
That’s what is described in 64:5-6 – iniquities = wind – dead leaf is helpless before the wind, human spirit becomes captive to its sins – sins come to define us and determine the directions our lives take.
Worst situation – enslaved but having no desire to call upon the name of God
What if we are calling out to God, we are seeking God and he does not answer? Isn’t that many of our questions?
Why is God silent?
Ch 65 gives an answer to this question. 65:1 – we must choose God’s ways and thoughts because our ways and thoughts are not good – we want God on our terms – when he doesn’t respond we blame him for being unresponsive.
65:6 – we ask God, why aren’t you speaking – underlying this is an expectation of deliverance. Warning – if God does speak, he is going to pay back in full, it is going to be more judgment and this time perhaps it will be complete judgment.
It is mercy sometimes when God is silent.
65:15-24 – it is out of judgment that hope emerges – hope of a promise of a new heaven and a new earth, a new created order. Only hopeless one – one who persists in rebellion.
Closing Remarks: Why is God distant?
- Wrong approach to Christian life – how can I do certain things and manipulate God to get what I want? Active Christians who even do things like fasting. For what purpose? To feel spiritual? To gain God’s favor? Why? So that I have a blessed life? No, fasting so I can be a blessing to those in need.
- Related to this, the lack of Holy Spirit – stemming from a lack of real desire to be God’s servant, to be filled and empowered for the sake of others. Christian life is not about what we can gain. Many people are stuck on the benefits, Christian life is just tacked on, no change in destiny or direction of life.
- Lastly, God is distant because of flagrant sin.