Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 1:1-9
Sermon Title: My People Do Not Understand
Sermon Text: Isaiah 1:1-9
Memory Verse: Deuteronomy 32:4
MAIN IDEA: Place complete faith and trust in God’s mercy for the salvation of your soul.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
Why preach from the book of Isaiah?
The Lord’s indictment to His people is, “My people do not understand.” Why preach through the book of Isaiah, so that we may understand.
The book of Isaiah is the Old Testament theology bridge we cross to go from the Old to the New Testament. Each Gospel writer includes multiple references to Isaiah and in all passages from his book are quoted over 65 times, far more than any other prophet. He is referred to by name 22 times in the New Testament.
Isaiah speaks so many times of Christ that his book is sometimes referred to as the fifth gospel. There is no doubt that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus uses Isaiah as part of His explanation of how the Scriptures speak of Him.
Isaiah is extremely challenging to interpret. The historical setting is complicated and covers 60 years involving many rulers and nations. The writing style is unlike many other books of the Bible.
We can organize the book into sections, and it appears to be a collection of writings. We are not sure when the final book was put together, but we do know because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the book of Isaiah as we have it today is the same as the book of Isaiah during the time of Christ.
Because it is a collection of writings, subjects are repeated because they are spoken about in multiple sections. Isaiah is telling the story from another perspective or vantage point.
Isaiah is written with a Hebrew literary style. He uses a great deal of imagery to illustrate a point. He structures verses, paragraphs and chapters following the convention of Hebrew poetry. Knowing the book is a collection of prophetic writings written with poetic structure is vital for us to know when we interpret what he writes.
The thought of undertaking the book of Isaiah may seem overwhelming. Going through the book of Isaiah will be like eating an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
We need to make a commitment to one another that we will endeavor to understand this book. We do not want to be a people who God says, “My people do not understand.”
We will not go through the book verse by verse, but we will go from beginning to end. The goal is to be thorough, without being tedious. We need to understand the theological and historical background while keeping the information interesting and relevant. The goal is to serve up a tasty, appetizing, and, most of all, a nutritious plate of elephant, one meal at a time.
We undertake the book of Isaiah, not because it is a challenge, but because it is incredibly important for us to understand. The goal is that we become mature Christians who understand God’s word.
No matter how much you or I commit ourselves, unless the Lord helps, we will not bear fruit. Let’s take a moment to ask the Lord for His help in understanding this treasure. (Pray)
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
We know very little about Isaiah. His Hebrew name is Yesha’yahuand; Yeshaiah for short. His name means, “Yahweh is salvation.” He writes about the events taking place from 740bc until 681bc. He has two sons, and his residence is in Jerusalem. Isaiah is the son of Amoz. There are many guesses about who Amoz is, but there is no conclusive evidence pointing to a specific person.
The first verse is the title of the book. Isaiah did not sit down and write the book in a day or a week. It is written over 60 years during the reign of four kings. When Isaiah speaks of a vision, he is speaking of actual pictures, like in a dream, and of seeing events spiritually. God gives Isaiah unique insight to His purposes and plans with Israel and the nations.
Prophecy may be either forth-telling or foretelling. To forthtell is to declare, “thus says the Lord.” Isaiah speaks for God to God’s people. He proclaims God’s voice on current affairs and gives warnings to repent. All preaching is forth-telling and considered prophetic.
Isaiah’s vision is also foretelling, which is to predict the future. All prophecy which is foretelling is saying what God will purpose and ordain to accomplish. Isaiah provides both short-term predictions and long-term predictions, sometimes in the same verse. In Isaiah’s day, the short-term predictions are fulfilled in his time and give him credibility as a prophet. Because his prophecies come true, the people of his day know he speaks for the Lord. That is a good thing because it keeps the people from stoning him according to the Law of Moses.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies spans a long period. Some are fulfilled immediately and some after hundreds of years; such as details about the birth and death of Jesus. Some prophecies are yet to take be fulfilled, such as the second coming of Jesus and His kingdom. Our worship of Christ as Gentiles is a fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah.
Many people believe Israel becoming a nation in 1948 is a fulfillment of Isaiah 66:7-8. The passage speaks of a nation being born in one day, and the birth pains come afterward. Israel declared independence and became a nation in one day. The “birth pains” came about afterward when other nations went to war following the declaration.
The vision of Isaiah is relevant for God’s people in the time of Isaiah, during the time of Jesus incarnation, and it continues to be relevant for God’s people until Jesus’ return.
Vision for the Southern Kingdom
Verse one says the vision concerns Judah and Jerusalem. The book is not written to all twelve tribes of Israel. We must understand the history of the Israelites which gives us the context.
After Solomon’s death, the Nation of Israel divides into a Northern and Southern Kingdom. Judah is the name of the Southern Kingdom. It consists of the land occupied by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Jerusalem is the capital of Judah. When the Promised Land is divided, Levites are given land in each of the 12 tribes. The Southern Kingdom also consists of Levites scattered within Judah.
After the division, the Northern Kingdom is referred to as Israel or sometimes Ephraim. The capital is Samaria (hence, the hatred for Samaritans during the time of Jesus). Israel abandons the Lord and is given in to the idolatry of worshiping cows. The King of Israel declares pilgrimages to Jerusalem as unnecessary.
The two kingdoms have different kings, different religions, and different alliances with other nations. They even have different prophets. While Israel is the prophet to Judah in the south, Amos and Hosea are prophets to Israel in the north. Eventually, Israel is absorbed into the Assyrian Empire and lost forever.
The audience for Isaiah is the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
The Lord Speaks
Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the LORD speaks, "Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. 3
"An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand."
Isaiah begins with God expressing complete anguish to the point that God insults the people of Judah. This is so unlike most books of Scripture which begin with such nice joyful sentences of good tidings. God tells Judah that even an ox and a donkey have enough sense to know their master. Judah is as dumb as an ox. God’s people, sons, raised by God, are revolting against God. Do they not know God is their source of all things? Do they not know that all the good they have is because of God’s adoption? Apparently, they do not.
As God says, “My people do not understand.” God’s people think their life somehow exists apart from God. They are lost sheep wandering about the forest with no intent of returning to the safety and goodness of their Master’s manger. How ignorant and stupid. Even a donkey knows the need of a master. But, not the sons of God. They revolted against God’s covenant to care and look after them.
The main complaint against Judah is that they don’t understand. We need to understand what Isaiah is writing.
The Broken Covenant
There are prophets throughout the history of Israel. The Old Testament historical books, from Genesis through Esther have prophets. Moses is a prophet as is Samuel and Elijah. The Old Testament prophetic books are separate books written after the historical books. The reason they are written is that they speak about God’s people breaking away from the Covenant.
Isaiah is declaring that God’s people have broken the covenant of God. After declaring God’s disgust for His people, Isaiah provides his prophetic commentary. He tells forth God’s judgment upon the nation of Judah.
Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.
Sons of evil doers
Isaiah begins by telling the people that they are not living as sons reared and brought up by God, but they are living as sons of evildoers acting corruptly. They are not taking the safety of God’s life, but they are living a life of abandonment from the Lord.
Holy One of Israel
Isaiah uses a special name for the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. He uses the phrase 25 times throughout the book of Isaiah. (He is quoted in 2 Kings using the name as he speaks to king Hezekiah - 2 Ki. 19:22). The name reveals the nature of the sinful rebellion. God does not rear up sons and daughters so that they may be people weighed down with iniquity. God is holy and expects His children to reflect His character. Their sinful ways are the reason for God’s disgust and judgment.
The Curse of a Broken Covenant
During the time of Moses, God warns His people that curses will come upon them and overtake them if they fail to observe God’s commandments and statutes (Deut. 28:15-68). Remember the flood? Remember Sodom & Gomorrah? Remember the wilderness ground opening up and swallowing Korah’s rebellion? Remember those who died from God sending poisonous snakes? God is about to do it again.
Isaiah tells them that their disobedience is so great, God has run out of places to strike them.
Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion?
Isaiah pronounces the judgment is resulting in a curse of God upon their bodies.
… The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. 6
From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil.
They are in dire condition. Every part of their body is afflicted, from head to toe. We don’t know if this image is figurative, or literal. In any case, it is not a good sight.
Afterward, Isaiah describes the curse of God upon their land and how, instead of being a blessing to the nations, they are being overrun by their enemies.
Your land is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, your fields—strangers are devouring them in your presence; it is desolation, as overthrown by strangers.
Isaiah uses agricultural imagery to describe their impoverished condition.
The daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a watchman's hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
The picture represents that they are no longer living in luxury but in shacks. It is a picture of a farmer who has fields away from his home. He works to harvests crops while living in a temporary structure rather than travel back and forth every day. The temporary structure is not an ideal place to live. No longer do God’s people live in great houses of wealth and blessing. Now they live in shacks. Gone is their great wealth.
The people of Judah have brought this condition upon themselves. Their bodies are so stricken with bruises that there is no place left for God to strike. Their land is desolate, and the people of Judah is living in poverty. The prophetic word from Isaiah is clear. Disobedience to God brings judgment.
Sovereign Mercy of God
After pronouncing the judgment, Isaiah proclaims that there is only one thing which saves the nation of Judah, and that is God’s sovereign grace and mercy.
Unless the LORD of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom; we would be like Gomorrah.
Verse nine gives another name for God; the Lord of hosts. The name is given to strike fear in the hearts of Judah. Isaiah uses the name Lord of hosts throughout the book (49 times). A significant use of the name occurs in chapter six when Isaiah sees the Lord in heaven. He writes:
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3
And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
God is the commander of a legion of angels, powerful beings, waiting to do His bidding. At any moment, all God needs to say is, “Enough!” The only reason the nation of Judah still stands and is not utterly destroyed is that God is leaving survivors, a remnant. There is no reason God should hold back. But, He does, because He is merciful. God’s glory is to “be gracious to who he desires and to show compassion on whom He desires to show compassion (Exodus 33:19).
How are we to apply this prophetic word spoken to the people of Judah centuries ago? Here are some principles which we need to take seriously.
1) Don’t underestimate the power of our wicked flesh.
Do we understand? Do we understand exactly how much God hates sin and the deeds of the flesh?
It takes no effort to go the way of our sinful flesh. It takes great effort to be holy. We often think that if the circumstances of life go our way, it will be easier for us to be holy. Outside circumstances have little influence.
The people of Judah have a history of experiencing God’s deliverance. They are delivered from their enemies continually. Yet, the people still fell away from God. Don’t think for a moment that if only we might experience a miracle or the blessings of the Lord’s deliverance, that it will motivate us to be holy.
Solomon’s wealth is estimated to be 2.1 trillion. During his reign, the nation controls all the major trade routes. Much of Solomon wealth is invested in the nation. There are around 2,000,000 Israelites which makes each person more than a millionaire. There is no poverty in Israel during Solomon. Wealth does not keep us back from our flesh. Don’t think for a moment that if only we might experience material wealth, we will be holy.
During the time of Solomon, society is governed by laws designed to show love to your neighbor. There is no political backstabbing, just one king, and judges all of the same political party. A strict code, the Mosaic Covenant, makes life good for everyone. Any person coming into the nation must agree to assimilate and abide by the Covenant. Society has all the laws needed for a life of decency, and the laws are strictly enforced. People who do not live accordingly are shunned from the society as outcasts. Society and government are very good during the reign of Solomon. Don’t think for a moment that if we can only live in a good society, we will be holy.
During the time of Solomon, the people worship God in the most beautiful and God-glorifying temple ever constructed. God gives them good priests and God prescribes a perfect and acceptable way to worship Him. The religion is perfect and right. Don’t think for a moment that if we only have the right church or worship correctly, we will be holy.
The people of Judah may only place the blame on their rebellion against God on one thing. They are guilty in their own heart. They may not blame the culture, government, religious establishment, or lack of money.
Our heart will always be quick to blame anybody and anything but ourselves. Holiness is an individual choice that is incapable of being influenced by outside circumstances. As we think about the fallen people of Judah, we all need to do a self-examination. We all need to ask ourselves, am I striving for holiness? Am I striving to remain unstained in the world? Am I putting to death the deeds of the flesh?
Don’t underestimate our sinful heart and our tendency to judge everything but our self. We need to understand the power of our sinful flesh.
2) Let’s examine our life to see if we are a people found to be striving for holiness.
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God requires obedience and holiness for the people of Judah. God requires the same of us today.
Do we understand? Do we understand what God requires of us? Do we understand how to apply God’s word to our lives?
We are like the people of Judah whenever we walk away from God’s prescribed way of life. God is the Holy one of Israel, and God is the holy One of our salvation. When we ignore God’s commands to be holy, we are an ox that doesn’t return to the Master’s manger of righteousness. When we feast upon the world, we are the donkey who eats at the trash heap at the edge of town rather than the grain of God’s word.
Is God the Lord of our tongue? Do we gossip or slander? Is God the Lord of our envy? Is God the Lord of our work, family, hobbies, diet, serving of others, or whatever else that comes to mind? We must ask ourselves what area of our lives are we straying from our Master’s manger.
We are adopted sons and daughters of the most-high God. God is holy, righteous, pure, and loving. God adopts us and nurtures us to be like Him. He sent His Son as an example of humility and obedience. Every part of our life which is not surrendered to our Lord and Master is nothing short of rebellion.
We need to keep the holiness of God and His judgment of sin at the forefront of our lives. He is the Lord of hosts which ought to strike fear in our hearts. God desires to bless us with His love and care, but He refuses to do so when we wander from holiness.
3) Recognize that without the mercy of God, we would be like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Do we understand the greatness of God’s mercy? Do we understand how deeply we are convicted, guilt sinners in need of mercy? God’s salvation is based upon one criterion; His mercy. God does not call us, My people, because we are deserving. The gospel is not for the good and righteous. The gospel is for those who know they are sinners crying out to God for mercy. Jesus came to heal the sick, not those who think they well.
It is too easy to think of ourselves as “good church-goers.” When we do, we become proud and believe we are no longer in need of God’s mercy. No error is more destructive than to think we are ever in a place outside of the need of God’s mercy. We are never to rely on our self; either our own powers or our own merit.
Because salvation is according to God’s mercy, and because God has shown us beggars mercy and bestowed upon us all the privileges and blessings of being His children, our response must always be a continual expression of gratitude. Knowing of God’s mercy in our salvation ought to completely affect our thinking. It should humble us.
Every day we all need to put our faith and trust for salvation in the mercy of God.
Place complete faith and trust in God’s mercy for the salvation of your soul.