Read Scripture

Invitation to Isaiah

The prophecy of Isaiah invites us to meditate deeply on two profound truths. One, our whole world is so flawed that our own virtue, wisdom, and strength cannot save us. Even God’s people cannot dig their own way out of their mess. Two, God promises to restore all of his people to perfect integrity in a perfect world forever—through his grace alone, in Christ alone. Truly, there is nothing trivial or small about the vision of Isaiah.

The Author

“Isaiah the son of Amoz” (Isa 1:1) wrote the whole of this book. The Bible does not tell us more about his father, Amoz, but Jewish tradition claims that he was brother to King Amaziah of Judah, putting Isaiah within the royal family. Isaiah was married with children (Isa 8:3, 18). He seems to have lived in Jerusalem (Isa 7:3). Obviously, he was a brilliant thinker and writer.

Unlike Jeremiah, Isaiah does not reveal much about himself personally. The one exception is chapter 6—his account of how God called him to serve as a prophet. His preaching, God told him, would harden his own generation (Isa 6:10) but comfort God’s people in later generations (Isa 40:1). A difficult calling!

Isaiah’s name means “the Lord saves,” which is the heart of Isaiah’s message. And since the Lord saves, every idol we invent to save ourselves betrays our trust (Isa 45:20–22).

The Book

The prophecy of Isaiah unfolds in three major sections. In chapters 1–39, the prophet speaks to his own generation (in the eighth century B.C.). He includes wonderful promises (for example, in Isa 2:2–4). But his overall emphasis is how God will judge the people’s hard-hearted resistance to God. The invading Assyrian army is coming as God’s means of correcting his people (Isa 8:5–8).

The Great Isaiah Scroll
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) is one of the oldest and most complete copies of the Book of Isaiah that has been discovered. It is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection, which is a group of Jewish texts that were discovered in the 1940s in eleven caves near the Dead Sea in Israel. The Great Isaiah Scroll is written in Hebrew on parchment and dates back to around 125 BCE. It is approximately 24 feet long and contains 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah, with only minor variations from the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible. The Great Isaiah Scroll is housed at the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. | Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0

In chapters 40–55, the prophet looks beyond his own day, announcing a message of comfort to the Jews far away in Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C. God will surely come to them, revealing his glory with history-changing impact (Isa 40:1–5).

In chapters 56–66, the prophet looks out into the distant future, applying the messages of confrontation (chs. 1–39) and of comfort (chs. 40–55) to all of God’s people throughout history, until the second coming of Christ. In fact, God will gather more and more people into his new community (Isa 56:8), and they will flourish forever in God’s holy presence (Isa 66:20–23).


God promises to restore his corrupt people to better-than-before beauty in a renewed creation, where they will glorify and enjoy him forever, through the death of his Servant and the power of his Spirit.


To correct the flagrant wrongs among God’s people and to comfort them with an astonishing hope far beyond what they could ever deserve, all by his grace and his grace alone.

Key Verse

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

— Isaiah 35:10; 51:11 ESV


Isaiah’s flow of thought unfolds as follows, borrowed from The ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008):

I. Introduction: “Ah, Sinful Nation!” (1:1–5:30)

A. Heading (1:1)

B. Introduction: What the People of God Need to See with New Clarity (1:2–31)

C. God’s People Do Not See Their Helplessness (1:2–9)

D. God’s People Do Not See Their Hypocrisy (1:10–20)

E. God’s People Do Not See Their Corruption (1:21–26)

F. The Choice We All Face (1:27–31)

G. Heading (2:1)

H. Our Only Final Hope Is the Good News of God’s Promises (2:2–5)

I. Our Only Present Danger Is the False Promises of This World’s Idols (2:6–22)

J. Loss: The Lord Takes Away Social Stability (3:1–15)

K. Loss: The Lord Takes Away Selfish Vanity (3:16–4:1)

L. Gain: The Sacred Joys of Our Future Will Far Surpass the Sinful Betrayals of Our Past (4:2–6)

M. What More Could God Do for His People? (5:1–7)

N. God’s Ungrateful People Brought upon Themselves Six Grievous Sorrows (5:8–30)

II. God Restores His Sinful People: “Your Guilt Is Taken Away” (6:1–12:6)

A. A Great King Dies, but the Eternal King Lives (6:1–5)

B. The Prophet Is Cleansed, but the Nation Is Hardened (6:6–10)

C. The Holy King Judges, and the Holy Remnant Lives On (6:11–13)

D. Crisis: Will We Trust God to Save Us, or Are We Left to Ourselves? (7:1–16)

E. Judgment: The Savior Rejected by His People Still Rules the World (7:17–8:8)

F. Grace: A Believing Remnant Will Be Preserved (8:9–22)

G. Triumph: The Kingdom of Our Messiah Will Forever Succeed (9:1–7)

H. Crisis: Will We Stubbornly Choose Evil, or Will We Revere God’s Wrath? (9:8–10:4)

I. Judgment: The God Ignored by His Enemies Still Rules through Them (10:5–15)

J. Grace: God Will Humble the Army of His Enemies and Preserve a Remnant of His People (10:16–34)

K. Triumph: The Kingdom of Our Messiah Will Fill the World with His Peace (11:1–16)

L. Enjoyment: We Will Experience God’s Grace Forever (12:1–6)

III. Our Hope beyond the Troubles of History: “We Have a Strong City” (13:1–27:13)

A. Five Representative Samples of the Lord Moving in Human History (13:1–20:6)

B. Five Cases of the Lord Judging the Character of the Nations (21:1–23:18)

C. Five Views of the Lord’s Final Judgment of This World and His Everlasting Salvation of His Own People (24:1–27:13)

IV. God Judges and Redeems the World: “Ah!” (28:1–35:10)

A. God’s Remnant People Turn from the False Glories of This World and Build Their Hope on the Sure Foundation of His Promises (28:1–29)

B. Our Powerful God Can Outdo Us, and Our Mysterious God Can Outsmart Us (29:1–14)

C. Our Sovereign God Can Reshape Us—and the Whole World (29:15–24)

D. The Surprising Ways of God Contradict Our Intuitive Ways of Facing Life (30:1–33)

E. We Flourish Not When We Overcome Obstacles Our Own Way but When We Turn to the Lord and Walk in His Ways (31:1–32:20)

F. In This World of Tyranny, Corruption, and Intimidation, God Will Stay Forever Faithful to All Who Turn to Him (33:1–24)

G. Christ Will Return to Judge This Tyrannical World (34:1–17)

H. God Promises a New World of Everlasting Salvation (35:1–10)

V. Historical Transition: “In Whom Do You Now Trust?” (36:1–39:8)

A. The Intimidating Threats of This World Are Answered Not by Our Bravado but by God’s Promises (36:1–37:7)

B. God’s Ultimate Purpose Is to Prove through Us, in Our Weakness, That He Alone Is the True King of All This World (37:8–38)

C. By His Grace the Lord Can Give Us a New Opportunity in Life (38:1–8)

D. Personal Piety Can Conceal a Divided Heart (38:9–22)

E. When God Works for Us with Miraculous Power, Our Pride Can Turn the Gain into Loss (39:1–8)

VI. God Comforts His Oppressed People: “The Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed” (40:1–55:13)

A. God Comforts Us with His Promise of Worldwide Redemption (40:1–11)

B. God Claims Exclusive Sovereignty over This Entire World (40:12–26)

C. God Can Renew Our Strength While We Wait for His Promised Glory (40:27–31)

D. God Assures Us That He Alone Guides History, He Alone Emboldens Us, and He Alone Is God (41:1–29)

E. The Servant of the Lord Will Renew the World (42:1–9)

F. The Lord Will Unite the World Joyfully around the Victory of the Servant (42:10–17)

G. But God’s Own People Can Be Sinfully Insensitive to Their Lord (42:18–25)

H. Our Hope Is Not in Our Virtue or Wisdom but Only in the Lord Himself and His Purpose of Grace (43:1–7)

I. God’s Ultimate Purpose Is to Prove That He Alone Is God (43:8–13)

J. God Reassures Us of Our Eternal Future by Promising That He Will Keep On Caring for Us (43:14–21)

K. God’s People Are Secure in His Love, Because He Is Committed to His Own Glory (43:22–28)

L. God Promises to Lift Us from Our Sinful Boredom into His Holy Enthusiasm (44:1–5)

M. The Grace of God Will Succeed, and the Folly of Idols Will Become Obvious (44:6–20)

N. The Inevitable Triumph of God’s Grace Calls for Universal Rejoicing (44:21–23)

O. God Boldly Claims Ultimate Sovereignty over All World Events (44:24–45:8)

P. God Warns Us against Resenting the Ways He Governs History (45:9–13)

Q. God Invites Everyone to Come To Him and Be Saved from the Empty Idols of This World (45:14–25)

R. God Mocks the Exhausting Futility of Man-Made Idols, since He Is the One Who Graciously Carries Us, Proving That He Alone Is God (46:1–13)

S. Human Civilizations Built on the Worship of Idols Are Doomed to Collapse under the Judgment of God (47:1–15)

T. God Will Keep His Promises to Us, for the Sake of His Own Glory (48:1–11)

U. God Will Fulfill His Purposes for Us, Even in Surprising Ways (48:12–22)

V. The Servant of the Lord Is Destined to Be the Light of the Nations (49:1–13)

W. God’s Weak People Have a Glorious Future, Guaranteed by His Grace Alone (49:14–50:3)

X. The Meek Servant of the Lord Is Sustained in His Mission by the Lord God (50:4–9)

Y. Since the Servant of the Lord Is Our Strong Certainty, We Can Follow Him from This Present Darkness into His Future Glories (50:10–51:8)

Z. The Promises of the Gospel, Centered on the Servant of the Lord and His New World, Lift Our Hearts to Live Now with Confident Urgency (51:9–52:12)

AA. The Servant of the Lord Will Atone for the Sins of God’s People, Sacrificing Himself as Their All-Sufficient Substitute (52:13–53:12)

BB. God Understands Our Present Devastation, and He Promises to Reverse Our Enduring Sorrows into Surprising Joys (54:1–17)

CC. God Invites and Commands Us Now to Receive the Good News of the Gospel with a Full and Confident Faith (55:1–13)

VII. How to Prepare for the Coming Glory: “Hold Fast My Covenant” (56:1–66:24)

A. But Who Are God’s True People? Any and All Who Faithfully Keep His Covenant (56:1–8)

B. Selfish Crooks and Idol Worshipers Have No Place in God’s Kingdom, for It Belongs Only to the Contrite and Lowly (56:9–57:21)

C. God’s True People Honor Him with Obedience That Is Costly, Cheerful, and Satisfying (58:1–14)

D. What Defeats the People of God Is Not Any Failure in Him but Their Own Hypocrisies—Multiplied, Blatant, Unconfessed (59:1–13)

E. The Sins of God’s People Are So Disqualifying That Only the Anointed One Can Lift Them into the Promised World of God’s Glory (59:14–60:22)

F. Our Messiah Is Preaching into Existence His Gloriously Transformed People (61:1–11)

G. The Promises of God Move the People of God to Pray for, and to Invite Others into, the Coming Kingdom of Christ (62:1–12)

H. The Prophet Strengthens Our Confidence by Directing Our Gaze in Two Directions: Ahead to the Lord’s Future Day of Vengeance, and Back to His Past History of Faithfulness (63:1–14)

I. God Will Keep Giving Himself, without Holding Back, until We Are Safely in the Eternal Kingdom of Christ (63:15–64:12)

J. Though the People of God Are Mixed Now–the True and the False Blended Together–God Is Eagerly Bringing His True People into Their Glorious Eternal Inheritance (65:1–25)

K. The Worship Of God Is Corrupted by Some Now, but God Will Both Judge His Enemies and Gather His True People for True Worship Forever (66:1–24)

Introduction: “Ah, Sinful Nation!” (1:1–5:30)

Chapter 1 introduces the major themes that will continue to reappear throughout the prophecy of Isaiah.

Heading (1:1)

Isaiah presents his book as a “vision,” that is, a way of seeing. Rather than calling for small adjustments to our lives here and there, Isaiah is offering a whole new way of seeing reality—with God at the center. His book opens our eyes to see beyond the human distractions of the moment into the divine realities that will matter forever. Their clarity of sight is why the prophets were also called “seers” (Isa 30:10).

Although Isaiah reveals God’s purposes for other nations in the world (chs. 13–27), his vision is centered in “Judah and Jerusalem.” Only there, among his own people, did God establish his kingdom in this world.

“Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah” ruled during a time of spiritual decline and loss in Judah, as the people of God drifted away from him.

Introduction: What the People of God Need to See with New Clarity (1:2–31)

The prophet begins by helping the people see more deeply into the reasons for the troubles they are experiencing, as they slide into decline. They are taking God for granted, but they don’t realize it. So Isaiah helps them see their dangerous condition in three ways.

God’s People Do Not See Their Helplessness (1:2–9)

The most heart-breaking story in the universe (“O heavens . . . O earth”) is how much our Father loves his children, compared with how little they love and obey him (vv. 2–3). The human heart is naturally defiant toward God, beyond all self-remedy (v. 4). Not even the painful and humiliating consequences of rebellion can awaken hardened hearts (vv. 5–6). Friendship with the world only invites defeat by the world (vv. 7–8). In fact, if God did not hold on to his people by his own grace, we would keep reliving the horrible story of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 9; cf. Gen 18–19; Rom 9:29). God alone preserves his cause in this world, and even in his church.

The most heart-breaking story in the universe is how much our Father loves his children, compared with how little they love and obey him.

God’s People Do Not See Their Hypocrisy (1:10–20)

The people’s worship to God—their singing, rituals, and sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem—is not honor but insult. Why? In their daily lives, the people of God live like extreme pagans (v. 10). So God tells them bluntly that he hates their lavish, grandiose services (vv. 11–14). And their worst sin, which makes even their prayers disgusting to God, is how cruelly they mistreat one another, even shedding innocent blood (v. 15). But still, God calls them to turn around, repent, and start treating one another with justice, freedom, and compassion (vv. 16–17). He invites them to rethink their lives in his presence, with an offer of fresh cleansing (v. 18). But God is giving this generation their last chance (vv. 19–20).

God’s People Do Not See Their Corruption (1:21–26)

The people’s moral standards are falling so low that “the faithful city has become a whore.” Nothing is sacred, and everything is for sale (vv. 21–23). When God finally confronts this wickedness, it will not be easy for the people. Their compromises will take them into social meltdown. But God will restore them to social justice and personal righteousness (vv. 24–26).

The Choice We All Face (1:27–31)

Isaiah concludes his introductory chapter by offering his generation the only two alternatives before them: either turn and do what is just and right in the sight of God and live, or continue to indulge in the false pleasures of their idols and die.

Heading (2:1)

After the introductory chapter 1, the body of the book begins with a new heading. The prophet “saw” the message that follows, in the sense that he received it by divine revelation (cf. Gal 1:11–12). “Concerning Judah and Jerusalem” reminds us that Isaiah’s focus is not only individual salvation but, even more, how the people of God together, as a community, will display his glory in the world.

Our Only Final Hope Is the Good News of God’s Promises (2:2–5)

“In the latter days” looks ahead to the eternal kingdom Jesus began at his first coming and will complete at his second coming (cf. Acts 2:17; Heb 1:1–2; 1Pet 1:20; 1Jn 2:18). “The mountain of the house of the Lord,” in Isaiah’s day, was the prominent hill in Jerusalem where the temple stood. But here the prophet looks far out into the future, seeing a new focal point of worldwide joy and peace (vv. 2–4), when the nations will cheerfully worship Jesus forever (cf. Ps 48; John 12:32; Rev 21:9–10, 24–26). Our King will rule the world with justice, creating the lasting peace human politics fails to achieve (cf. Matt 11:28–30; Eph 2:14–22; Rev 22:1–5). While we await the fulfillment of these promises, we have the privilege of living right now as his new community of peace in the eyes of the watching world (v. 5).

Our Only Present Danger Is the False Promises of This World’s Idols (2:6–22)

Isaiah is not blind to the constant danger of the present. Rather than the nations moving toward the people of God, as prophesied in 2:2–3, the people of God are tempted to import into their midst the idols of the nations (vv. 6–8). How foolish God’s people are when they fill their lives with this world’s false ideals! Isaiah’s generation became so crowded with idols that their hearts had no room for the living God. They refused their historic opportunity so persistently that God’s patience with them ran out, and judgment had to fall (v. 9).

The center of 2:6–22 is verses 12–16, where the prophet makes a solemn announcement on an even grander scale: God has scheduled on the calendar of human history a day when he will destroy every form of arrogance that opposes him and oppresses people. Surrounding this central warning (vv. 12–16), Isaiah sees the Lord alone exalted in that day (vv. 11, 17). The idols that seem so formidable now will finally be exposed as contemptible—in the presence of Christ the Judge (vv. 10, 18–19). The selfish treasures prized by the world now will be discarded as trash when the Lord returns (vv. 20–21).

If our only real danger is the false gods invented by this world, then let us stop being seduced by the promises, impressed with the powers, and intimidated by threats of mere man (v. 22; cf. 1Jn 5:21). And let us gladly await his new world (cf. 2Pet 3:11–13).

Loss: The Lord Takes Away Social Stability (3:1–15)

In the next two chapters, the prophet describes the judgment coming upon the irresponsible men (3:1–15) and the materialistic women (3:16–4:1) of his generation. But the losses they experience will someday be replaced with the glories of God’s loving, calming grace (4:2–6).

“The Lord God of hosts” is the divine title surrounding this section. It appears in verses 1 and 15, emphasizing that God will act with overruling power. He will take away “support and supply” (v. 1), that is, the basic necessities of daily life, fulfilling the curses of the old covenant (cf. Deut 28:15–68). Isaiah foresees famine coming to Judah because of the Assyrian invasion (Isa 36:12).

In this crisis, leadership will collapse. At the very time when God’s people will need strong men for courage and guidance—“the mighty man and the soldier,” and others (vv. 2–3)—the men they look to as the backbone of the nation will be killed or captured by the invaders (cf. 2Kgs 24:14). In the resulting vacuum of leadership, selfish opportunists will step forward who only make life worse for everyone (vv. 4–5). One way God judges his people is through childish leaders.

In their desperation, the people will look around for anyone, however unqualified, who might take responsibility and offer hope (vv. 6–7). But no one is willing. No one believes the people have a future worth fighting for.

Relief from the Black Limestone Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, 825 BC.
This relief from the Black Limestone Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (825 BC) depicts leaders with distinctive robes. Isaiah speaks of a time when this simple piece of clothing is sufficient to make someone a leader. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Gary Todd, CC0 1.0, UPDL

And what is the reason for this gloom descending on Isaiah’s generation? The people of God are “defying his glorious presence” (v. 8), bringing down upon themselves the evils of their own doing (vv. 9–11).

But God does not view their judgment with a cold heart. He is moved with pity for those who suffer and moved with indignation against those who oppress (vv. 12–15). How dare anyone mistreat those he cherishes as “my people”?

Loss: The Lord Takes Away Selfish Vanity (3:16–4:1)

The Lord now declares judgment on the wealthy, prominent women of Isaiah’s generation (vv. 16–17). Their extravagant self-display, which they could afford in their days of prosperity, will be replaced by humiliating loss and sorrow in the coming invasion and eventual exile. Godly women understand where their true beauty lies (cf. 1Tim 2:9–10; 1Pet 3:3–4). But selfish arrogance was disfiguring Jerusalem’s élite women (cf. Ezek 16:49–50).

The inventory of jewels and fancy clothes in verses 18–24 matches the list of high-level leaders in verses 2–3. Both the men and the women in Isaiah’s day have forsaken the Lord so extremely that their strengths will collapse into devastating loss (vv. 25–26; cf. Rev 3:17–22).

The tragic desperation of Judah’s women (4:1) matches the tragic desperation of the men (3:6). But that is not the end of the story. God’s final word to his people is always his greater grace (cf. Rom 5:20), restoring us to even more blessing than we sinfully threw away. The ultimate reason for this repeated assurance throughout the Bible is always the same—the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Gain: The Sacred Joys of Our Future Will Far Surpass the Sinful Betrayals of Our Past (4:2–6)

The center of this section is “the Lord will create” (v. 5). What he “took away” (3:1, 18) from his people he will give back to his people, and better than before. Now Isaiah tells us more about the wonderful hope of “the latter days” (2:2–4). Not only will the nations flow toward God’s people, but God himself will also visit us with unprecedented blessing.

“The branch of the Lord” is Jesus the Messiah (v. 2; cf. Jer 23:5; 33:15). He will be “beautiful and glorious” for us all with true beauty, better than what was lost in Isaiah 3:18–24. “The fruit of the land” also describes our Messiah, emphasizing his human birth as a son of David (cf. Isa 11:1). He will be our “pride and honor,” the leader who will never let us down, unlike the failures of Isaiah 3:6–7. “The survivors of Israel” are the faithful remnant God has preserved (1:9). They will stand out as holy, washed and cleansed through the fires of divine discipline (vv. 3–4; cf. Matt 3:11–12).

But God will also create something new—his felt presence as our constant experience, never to depart (vv. 5–6; cf. Exod 13:21–22; Rev 21:1–4). After the sufferings of this life, the people of God will be safe and happy forever (Isa 65:17–25).

Isaiah concludes his explanation of Judah’s decline (chs. 1–5) by exposing the root sins of his generation and predicting the painful consequences of those sins (cf. Gal 6:7–8). He begins with a song about the Lord’s “vineyard”—his people—and the distasteful harvest the vineyard produced (5:1–7). That rotten fruit he then describes at length (5:8–30).

The prophet is not raging but grieving. His tenderness of heart toward the Lord is seen in “my beloved” (v. 1), for the Lord is his friend. And his tenderness of heart toward the people is seen in the six-fold “Woe!” (vv. 8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22), which is a cry of pain and sorrow. His heart for the Lord and for the people is sincere.

What More Could God Do for His People? (5:1–7)

With the wisdom of Nathan the prophet (cf. 2Sam 12:1–4), Isaiah does not start by directly denouncing the people; he begins by indirectly disarming the people with a love song (vv. 1–2). He sings about a friend of his—we do not yet know it is the Lord—who has a vineyard. This friend provides for his vineyard, defends it, and cultivates it. He thinks of everything. He overlooks nothing. He gives his vineyard his best. Naturally, a rich harvest will appear, won’t it?

Watchtower in vineyard
An ancient watchtower overlooks a vineyard in Israel. | Photo Credit: Flickr, Ian Scott, CC BY-SA 2.0

Isaiah’s friend—it now becomes clear who the Friend really is—speaks for himself in verses 3–6. After giving his people “grace upon grace” (cf. John 1:16), the Lord has every right to expect them to respond with fruitful lives (cf. 2Cor 6:1). But what Isaiah’s generation actually produced was “wild grapes” (v. 6)—that is, stinking, rancid grapes, bitter to the taste.

Isaiah then speaks again in verse 7. With such advantages, Judah should have grown to be a society of justice and righteousness. But they were a culture of bloodshed and cries of pain. The failure of Isaiah’s generation is not God’s failure. The people have rejected God so absolutely that he must remove his blessing from them. Receiving the grace of God does not exempt us from fruitfulness; rather, it makes us responsible, by his grace, to bear fruit.

God’s Ungrateful People Brought upon Themselves Six Grievous Sorrows (5:8–30)

One, the greed of the people becomes their loss (vv. 8–10).

The rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting squeezed out. But the Lord says he will turn their big estates into deep loneliness, and their rich fields into small harvests. Ignoring God and mistreating others cannot succeed.

Two, their appetites blind their eyes (vv. 11–12).

They have a passion for drink, not for the Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18). They have a mind set on the flesh, not the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:5–8). How can they “regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands”?

After his first two cries of “Woe!”, Isaiah explains what is about to change for his generation, with two outcomes marked by “Therefore.” They will go into exile (v. 13), where their debauchery will turn into hunger and thirst. And the land-grabbers will themselves be eaten up (vv. 14–17). In it all, God is very present, displaying his justice, holiness, and righteousness (v. 16). After his judgment falls on Judah, what is left of the land will be picked over by nomads (v. 17).

Three, clinging to sins pushes God away (vv. 18–19).

The people were deliberate and willful in their sins, but they blamed God for the misery of it all.

Four, willfully redefining good and evil changes nothing in reality (v. 20).

Five, self-confidence reveals self-delusion (v. 21).

Six, personal excess creates social injustice (v. 22).

Isaiah concludes his last four “Woes!” with two more “Therefores.” First, the fires of judgment will consume the culture of corruption built by Isaiah’s generation (v. 24). Second, the mighty army of Assyria will be God’s instrument of judgment, deepening the darkness of this world (vv. 25–30.

Truly, God is not mocked.

God Restores His Sinful People: “Your Guilt Is Taken Away” (6:1–12:6)

Isaiah has painted the picture of Judah’s self-destructive defiance toward God (chs. 1–5). His generation is beyond the reach of self-remedy. Now the prophet affirms that God will rescue a remnant of his people by divine grace alone. And Isaiah’s first example of God’s saving grace is himself, in chapter 6.

A Great King Dies, but the Eternal King Lives (6:1–5)

“The year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1) was around 740 B.C. His death marked the end of a prosperous era for God’s people (cf. 2Chr 26). But as they lost their successful earthly king, their eternal King was reigning gloriously above. Notice that, to Isaiah, the invisible world where God dwells is not distant from this visible world where we live. As the rest of chapter 6 will reveal, our King above is very involved here below. He alone decides the future of this world.

Tutankhamun's throne
The throne of Tutankhamun includes wings covering the sides of the ruler. | Photo Credit: Flickr, Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0

Surrounding the King are his angelic servants—“seraphim,” or “burning ones” (v. 2). They serve God as pure flames of fiery devotion. But even they cover themselves in his presence. They rejoice together in his perfect holiness and endless glory.

“Holy, holy, holy” (v. 3) indicates that God is not just a bigger version of us; his holiness means he is in a separate category altogether (cf. Isa 40:25). We are weak and sinful created beings, but God is the perfectly transcendent Ruler of all. And he is bringing his glory down into this whole world. Nothing defeats God.

“The foundations of the thresholds shook” (v. 4) suggests that, as the heavenly throne room was being revealed to Isaiah, the earthly temple in Jerusalem was shaken to its very foundations. Isaiah himself felt shaken: “Woe is me!” (v. 5). This is the first time Isaiah speaks in this book, and the prophet pronounces a “Woe!” upon himself. He realizes that he is not pure like the seraphim; he is as dirty as everyone else in his generation, talking about God in glib and shallow ways. He humbly admits that he too is unfit for God’s holy presence.

The Prophet Is Cleansed, but the Nation Is Hardened (6:6–10)

The gracious cross of Christ is foreshadowed here. An angel brings a coal from the place of sacrificial atonement for sin, cleansing Isaiah’s mouth and qualifying him to speak for the Lord (vv. 6–7). The cross can cleanse, awaken, and redirect us too, empowering us to serve our King as his faithful voices in the world today.

Roman incense shovel
Roman incense shovel (late 1st–early 2nd c. AD) was used to adjust the coals on an altar. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0 1.0 UPDD

The grace of God frees Isaiah to serve eagerly: “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8). But not everyone wants to hear the word of the Lord. In Isaiah’s own lifetime, his preaching would harden people against God (vv. 9–10). This tragic impact of the gospel is itself God’s judgment upon those who refuse him (cf. 2Cor 2:15–16). The New Testament writers quote these verses in Isaiah often, because so many people rejected Jesus and his message of salvation (cf. Matt 13:10–17; John 12:37–43; Acts 28:23–28). But when people reject God, they do not defeat him; they only prove his power.

The Holy King Judges, and the Holy Remnant Lives On (6:11–13)

Isaiah wonders how far God’s judgment will go in that generation: “How long, O Lord?” (vv. 11–12). God answers that desolation and exile are coming, as the ministry of Isaiah pushes people further and further away from God. Judah will end up like a tree chopped down, with only a stump remaining (v. 13). But from that stump—the believing remnant, “the holy seed”—will come a new era of grace, ultimately through Christ himself.

Judah’s unbelieving king Ahaz refuses God’s way of salvation, bringing God’s judgment down on his generation. But God promises a Child whose birth will declare God’s saving presence forever.

Crisis: Will We Trust God to Save Us, or Are We Left to Ourselves? (7:1–16)

Now Isaiah tells the story of the crisis of his generation. The powerful and cruel Assyrian empire set out to conquer the smaller states nearby. In response, the kingdom of Israel joined forces with Syria in a pact of mutual defense. They wanted Judah to join them, but King Ahaz refused. So Israel and Syria threatened to attack Judah, remove Ahaz, and force Judah to cooperate.

Ancient Near Eastern Treaty
Neo-Assyrian clay tablet documenting a treaty between Ashur-nirari V and Mati’-ilu, king of Arpad (755 BC) | Photo Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Isaiah can see that their evil plan will fail (v. 1), because God upholds the throne of David in Jerusalem. Isaiah wants King Ahaz and Judah to stand strong by faith in God, but the people quake in fear (v. 2).

Isaiah takes a public stand for God, bringing with him his son whose Hebrew name means “a remnant shall return”—a divine assurance of ultimate victory (v. 3). Isaiah appeals to King Ahaz to remain calm and confident, because God will make sure that these two bullies, Israel and Syria, will come to nothing (vv. 4–8). But Ahaz must hold fast to God in faith. He must, by faith, treat God as real, present, powerful—the high King of heaven ruling the petty kings of this world. But if Ahaz and his people do not lean strongly on God, they will collapse (v. 9).

Verses 10–12 are the turning point. God goes so far as to offer a miraculous sign of his commitment. But the unbelieving Ahaz refuses God’s kindness with a hypocritical evasion. And God knows when he is being rejected.

Isaiah denounces Ahab’s stubborn unbelief (v. 13), but surprisingly, he also promises a miraculous sign, living proof of God’s saving presence with his people (vv. 14–16). In Isaiah’s own day, the birth of his son Maher-shalal-hashbaz (Isa 8:1–4) declared God’s presence with his people in their distress. But Jesus is the ultimate and conclusive evidence that God is with us in our deepest distress (cf. Matt 1:18–25). Troubles come and troubles go; but in Jesus, God has come to be with us as our Ally always, never to leave us or forsake us (cf. Heb 13:5).

Judgment: The Savior Rejected by His People Still Rules the World (7:17–8:8)

But in Isaiah’s own time, judgment is coming. Yes, Israel and Syria will fall. But the sovereign Lord of history will bring upon Judah the greater danger—Assyria (v. 17). God’s judgment of his people through the invading Assyrian army will be easily accomplished (vv. 18–19), it will be completely humiliating (v. 20), the nation’s hardships will be increased (vv. 21–22), and their accomplishments will be destroyed (vv. 23–25).

Isaiah explains further what he meant in 7:17. Sadly, “the land of Assyria” (7:18) will soon overwhelm “your land, O Immanuel” (8:8).

Assyrian relief depicting impaled victims
A relief on a gypsum wall panel from the palace of Tiglath-pileser III depicts an Assyrian attack on an enemy town and the typical features of Assyrian conquest. The Assyrians are attacking from both sides and are depicted as spearmen wearing crested helmets and round shields. One soldier is shown cutting off an enemy’s head. The adjoining fragment to the right shows archers and swordsmen attacking the town and impaling prisoners outside the walls as a warning. The depiction includes a wheeled siege engine, a ramp, and an assault from ladders. | Photo Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The name of Isaiah’s son was meant to remind the people that God is present with them in their crisis (8:1–4). But they did not believe. They rejected “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (vv. 5–6), that is, what looked to them like a mere trickle of hope flowing in the city of David. Instead, the people of God “rejoice”—they gloat—over the defeat of Israel and Syria by the powerful Assyrian empire. But the Assyrians will not stop there. The Lord will cause the “river” of Assyrian conquest to spread further, like the Euphrates River overflowing its banks, and it “will sweep on into Judah” (vv. 7–8). Little Judah will have to stand on tiptoe to keep her head above the flood, barely surviving. But God’s promise of the coming Immanuel (Isa 7:14; 8:8) stands firm.

Grace: A Believing Remnant Will Be Preserved (8:9–22)

In verses 9–10, the believing remnant of God’s people, the few who see him as present with them in their need, finally speak. Other people were trembling in fear at the events closing in on Judah (Isa 7:2). But the remnant looks at the same crisis and remains cheerfully defiant: “God is with us” (v. 10). Everything opposing God will come to nothing, but all who believe in him will prevail (cf. 1Jn 5:4–5).

In verses 11–15, Isaiah speaks for the remnant who stand firm in the fear of the Lord. “Do not fear what they fear” (v. 12) calls us not to be misled by the panic sweeping other people away. The dramatic news of the day is always secondary; the Lord himself is always primary. It is he alone we must reverently fear, for he is more real than all this world (v. 13). Everyone experiences God somehow, either as a sanctuary of protection or as a stone of stumbling (v. 14). Therefore, how we are responding to God always matters more than how we can cope with the crisis of the moment.

In verses 16–18, the prophet speaks again for the remnant who stand boldly for the truth of God. Isaiah encourages his followers by his faith in the Word of the Lord (v. 16). However events might unfold during his lifetime, Isaiah pledges to wait on the Lord, according to the promises of Scripture (v. 17). His faith makes him and his family a prophetic presence in their generation (v. 18).

Verses 19–22 show the unbelieving majority among God’s people panicking as their days grow dark with gloom. They cling to their superstitions and rage at their true God, as if he has let them down (vv. 19, 21). Verse 20 interrupts, pointing the way to true safety: “To the teaching and to the testimony!” But those who reject the promises of the Lord “have no dawn,” no light of truth in their hearts. Isaiah’s generation, with no answers, no guidance, no hope, will go from bad to worse (v. 21). And in the end, their tragic darkness will be complete (v. 22).

Triumph: The Kingdom of Our Messiah Will Forever Succeed (9:1–7)

Throughout his book, Isaiah keeps assuring us that God’s grace will triumph over our failures. When we sin, we also suffer—of course. But the sufferings we deserve are not God’s final word to us. Through Jesus, God graciously gives us an endless kingdom of peace.

The promised kingdom of Jesus shines with a joyous light (vv. 1–3), replacing our darkness (8:22). The anguish of the Assyrian invasion, predicted in Isaiah 7:17 and 8:7–8, would first arrive in the north, “Galilee of the nations.” But in the very place where God’s people historically suffered first from foreign invasions, they will first experience heavenly glory, for Jesus will begin his ministry there (cf. Matt 4:12–17). And his new era of light will not be their own wishful thinking; it will be objective reality: “on them has light dawned” (v. 2). It will be God himself taking the initiative by his surprising grace, since the “you” in verse 3 refers to God. His people will not be annihilated and erased from history, because God himself will multiply his nation into a great multitude that no one can number (cf. Rev 7:9). And we will rejoice before him forever, like successful workers at an abundant harvest, like victorious soldiers dividing rich spoil (v. 3).

But how will we enter into such joys? We have proven how weak we are. But God will prove how strong he is: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (v. 7). His surprising strategies are explained in three steps (“for” in vv. 4, 5, 6).

Jesus will bring his peace with a lopsided victory, like Gideon of old (v. 4; cf. Judg 7). He will bring a complete end to all tyranny forever (v. 5). And the new world of peace will triumph through—surprisingly—a child (v. 6). This royal son’s counsel is wise, his power is divine, his love is fatherly, and his rule creates peace. His kingdom will not merely succeed but will forever increase (v. 7). With all the resolve of his deepest heart, the Lord will do this!

Crisis: Will We Stubbornly Choose Evil, or Will We Revere God’s Wrath? (9:8–10:4)

Isaiah, now looking beyond the southern kingdom of Judah, speaks to the northern kingdom of Israel. They too are making a significant decision, choosing the path of their own smug “pride” and “arrogance of heart” (vv. 8–9). For this stubborn sin, God will send upon them his firm wrath (vv. 12, 17, 21).

Israel has suffered invasion and loss, but they think they can rebuild their nation without first rebuilding their relationship with God (v. 10). His wrath will repay their proud stupidity with more invasion from the Assyrians and other predatory nations (vv. 11–12).

Israel refuses to respond to God’s disciplines by turning back to him in repentance (v. 13). So God sends them into rapid social decay through unworthy, unreliable leaders (vv. 14–17).

The nation descends into social anarchy by the searing power of the people’s sins (vv. 18–21; cf. Gal 5:15). The wrath of God is not arbitrary or unfair; he simply allows the intrinsic power of our own evil to catch on: “wickedness burns like a fire” (v. 18). It is even more solemn to consider that, within the destructive burnings of our sins, the Lord’s personal wrath is at work: “Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is scorched” (v. 19, emphasis added).

The powerful leaders of Israel’s society were oppressing the weak (10:1–2). But corrupt power always leads to its own weakness (vv. 3–4). Why? Because God is at work here in this world, enforcing his justice with his wrath. Human pride will never wear him down: “For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still” (v. 4; cf. Isa 9:12, 17, 21). These solemn words, spoken over ancient Israel, mean that God’s patience with that generation was at an end. They would not get another chance. The day of grace was over.

Judgment: The God Ignored by His Enemies Still Rules through Them (10:5–15)

Isaiah helps us see the sovereign rule of God over—and even through—the oppressive tyrannies of this world. God is never defeated but always at work.

Isaiah helps us see the sovereign rule of God over—and even through—the oppressive tyrannies of this world. God is never defeated but always at work.

The Assyrian empire, soon to crush the northern kingdom of Israel, is “the rod of my anger,” God says (vv. 5–6, emphasis added). But the Assyrians are not thinking of serving God’s purposes (v. 7). Their only thought is their own imperialistic grandiosity (vv. 8–11). The human tool in God’s mighty hand thinks too highly of itself! Yes, God will use Assyrian pride to humble his own people, Israel; but God will also punish Assyria’s arrogance (vv. 12–14). God will make sure that human swagger is exposed as absurd (v. 15).

Grace: God Will Humble the Army of His Enemies and Preserve a Remnant of His People (10:16–34)

Isaiah emphasizes the exalted divine title “the Lord GOD of hosts” (vv. 16, 23, 24, 33), because his grace is a mighty power. Other titles for God are sprinkled throughout this section for the same reason. The grace of God is not his weak pleading but his strong prevailing.

By his mighty grace, the Lord will fight for his defeated people, decimating the mighty Assyrian army (vv. 16–19). The invaders will weaken like a sick man wasting away, and they will vanish like a forest blazing with fire.

By his mighty grace, the Lord will save a remnant of his people (vv. 20–23). “The survivors of the house of Jacob” will stop putting their hope in worldly powers that have only let them down; they will finally trust in the Lord (v. 20). They will turn back, in repentance, to the mighty God who really can defend them (v. 21). There must be true faith and repentance among God’s true people, for every false hope is doomed to destruction (vv. 22–23).

By his mighty grace, the Lord will make his remnant people fearless in the face of strong opposition (vv. 24–26). After all, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (cf. 2Cor 12:9), winning for us surprisingly lopsided victories (cf. Judg 7:19–25; Exod 14:15–31).

Finally, by his mighty grace toward his people, the proud bully Assyria will be brought low (vv. 27–34). The Assyrian army surges forward with victory after victory, and God’s people are panicking. But with the holy city Jerusalem almost within their grasp, the Assyrians are stopped dead in their tracks as “the Lord GOD of hosts” cuts them down to size.

Triumph: The Kingdom of Our Messiah Will Fill the World with His Peace (11:1–16)

Chapter 10 concludes with a grim vision. The world looks like a vast forest chopped down to bare stumps, with no new growth, no future, no hope. But suddenly, in chapter 11, amid that scene of worldwide devastation, a little sprig of human life appears, and a whole new world is born.

Isaiah looks ahead to the birth of Jesus our Messiah and beyond, all the way to our Lord’s triumphant second coming (vv. 1–9). “The stump of Jesse” is what little remains of the throne of David after his royal sons failed to rule the world in peace and righteousness (v. 1). But Jesus, the greatest son of David, will fill this world with his peace, not through the power of the sword, but through the power of the Spirit (v. 2). Unlike previous sons of David, our Messiah will not be influenced by mere appearances but will rule with perfect and powerful righteousness (vv. 3–5).

And his rule will not make the world more religious; rather, he will make the world more humane (vv. 6–9). Nature itself will enter into a gentle harmony we have always longed for. The endless trail of human pain and destruction left behind throughout history will be replaced with “the healing of the nations” (cf. Rev 22:2). The whole world will be filled with the reverent knowledge of Jesus (v. 9), with everyone confessing him as Lord (cf. Phil 2:9–11).

This new world will not come about as the result of favorable historical trends. Jesus will create this newness despite the widespread brokenness our fallen human race has always created (vv. 10–16). “The root of Jesse” in verse 10 matches “the stump of Jesse” in verse 1. David descended from Jesse (cf. 2Sam 23:1), and Jesus descended from David (cf. Matt 1:1)—in his humanity. But in his deity, Jesus was also the “root,” the ultimate origin, of Jesse. His divine nature accounts for his worldwide appeal (cf. Rom 15:12), for he is not limited to any one national identity. He will stand in this world “as a signal for the peoples” (v. 10), with his cross drawing in the nations (cf. John 12:32). The Assyrian army had seemed unstoppable, up to a point (cf. Isa 10:28–32). But on that final and everlasting day, Jesus our King will spread his rule to the ends of the earth, bringing all his people home, honoring us as the victors, and no earthly power can prevent our final triumph (vv. 11–16; cf. Matt 19:30).

Enjoyment: We Will Experience God’s Grace Forever (12:1–6)

Isaiah now concludes his great declaration of God’s grace redeeming us from all our failures (Isa 6:1–12:6). Here the prophet is still looking out into the future, when the world will be new forever (11:1–16) and “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (11:9). But now he restates it in a positive and personal way. Now we see what we ourselves will experience and declare “in that day” (vv. 1, 4).

Our eternal experience of our gracious God will be both individual (singular “you will say” in v. 1) and communal (plural “you will say” in v. 4).

Individually, we will never again have to endure God’s disciplining wrath (cf. Heb 12:3–11). Our entire experience of God will only be comfort: “. . . that he might comfort me” (v. 1). We will come fully alive to all that God has for us in Christ—strength, song, salvation (v. 2). With wonder and amazement at his grace, we will strain at the leash of language to give voice to our enthusiasm about him. Literally, verse 2 reads, “. . . Yah, Yahweh, is my strength and my song,” using the personal name of God in the Old Testament. He will be dear to us.

Communally, the tone of our shared experience together will be “with joy” (v. 3). Stepping from the burning deserts of this present world into the green pastures and still waters of our Lord’s eternal kingdom (cf. Ps 23:2), we will enjoy his endless fullness. Heaven will not be stagnant but invigorating and refreshing, because Jesus himself will be our everlasting joy (cf. John 7:37–39; Rev 7:17). Our joy will be outward-moving, shared with all others (vv. 4–5). “The Holy One of Israel,” whom we once foolishly belittled, will be great in our midst (v. 6).

Our Hope beyond the Troubles of History: “We Have a Strong City” (13:1–27:13)

In these dramatic chapters, Isaiah looks beyond “Judah and Jerusalem” (Isa 1:1) and sees the sovereignty of God over the whole world throughout history. God is not a local, tribal deity; he is the King of all the nations. The tyrannies and tragedies of history never defeat his purposes. Therefore, we should never panic amid the upheavals of this world. The Lord is moving his kingdom forward through time and into eternity.

Isaiah designed these chapters with care. His vision unfolds in three large sections, each one composed of five smaller parts. In the first large section, Isaiah shows us five examples of the Lord governing the world in the prophet’s own time (13:1–20:6). Next, Isaiah looks again over the world, showing us five cases of the Lord judging the inner character of the nations (21:1–23:18). Finally, Isaiah looks all the way out to the end of history, showing us five instances of the Lord’s final judgment of this world and his everlasting salvation of his own people (24:1–27:13).

Five Representative Samples of the Lord Moving in Human History (13:1–20:6)

One, the Lord stirs up enemies against Babylon (13:1–14:27).

Babylon was a mighty empire in its time, but it also represented the whole world in its pride and violence (13:11). But far above all political ego, God commands the armies of the world as his own “consecrated ones” (13:3), executing his judgments upon Babylon. God can use bad people to punish other bad people without himself becoming bad. He is “the Lord of hosts,” the unseen Commander-in-chief over all this world (13:4).

“The day of the Lord” (13:6) is any occasion in history, scheduled by God, when he disrupts the evil human plans formed against him. The ultimate day of the Lord will be the second coming of Christ (cf. 2Thes 2:1–2).

Isaiah includes even “the stars of the heavens and their constellations,” because the rule of God is not limited at all (13:10; cf. Matt 24:29).

“The Medes,” led by Cyrus the Great, defeated ancient Babylon in 539 B.C. (13:17).

God’s judgments within history display a repeated pattern of his active wrath (13:19), foreshadowing the final judgment of this whole world.

God promises that the first will be last and the last first, in a great social reversal at the end of time (14:1–2; cf. Matt 19:30). The brutal tyrants will no longer be on top, and the meek shall inherit the earth (cf. Matt 5:5).

The king of Babylon (14:4) and all this world’s leaders and kings (14:9, 18) and all their intimidating cultures of grandiosity will come to nothing, while the humble people of God will rest and rejoice (14:3–23).

Some have interpreted “O Day Star, son of Dawn” (14:12) as Satan. But it is more likely that this impressive figure is the proud king of Babylon, as he imagined himself in his absurd pomposity. Verse 16: “Is this the man . . .?”

The prophet concludes his oracle concerning Babylon by directing his attention to Assyria, which was the arrogant culture of Babylon most visible on the horizon in Isaiah’s time (14:24–27). Indeed, the Lord who promised to break the Assyrian in his land (v. 25) did that very thing (cf. chs. 36–37). Thus, he gave us a glimpse into his power over “the whole earth” and “all the nations” (v. 26).

Two, the Lord warns Philistia of her doom (14:28–32).

“The year that King Ahaz died” was around 715 B.C. (v. 28). The Philistines were happy because a powerful oppressor, perhaps an Assyrian king, had died: “. . . the rod that struck you is broken.” But things will only get worse for Philistia: “. . . from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder” (v. 29).

Through it all, God protects his own people, “the poor,” but the remnant of Philistia he will slay (v. 30). And the city of the Philistines, their culture at its most highly developed, will burn to the ground, while Zion, the city of God’s people, offers refuge (vv. 31–32).

Three, the Lord humbles Moab (15:1–16:14).

Moab’s sudden ruin is fast approaching (15:1–4), but God does not gloat over them in their suffering: “My heart cries out for Moab” (15:5; cf. Ezek 33:11). The desperate people of Moab are seen scattering as fugitives into the surrounding nations (15:5–9).

Mesha stele
The Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone, is a black basalt monument that was discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan. The stele dates to the 9th century BC and was inscribed during the reign of King Mesha of Moab to document his military exploits and construction projects. It also references the interaction between Moab, Judah, and Israel, including a reference to their God “YHWH.” | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Louvre Museum, CC BY 3.0

In their humbled state, the Moabites send tribute to the king of Judah, begging for shelter (16:1–4a; 2Kgs 3:4). Only under the messianic throne of David can oppression cease and justice prevail (16:4b–5). But then the proud Moabites put their foot down, refusing salvation through the son of David, and are therefore doomed to more foreign invasion (16:6–8). Still, God grieves over their pain (16:9–12), even as he seals his decree that Moab will soon fall (16:13–14).

Four, the Lord defeats the Syria/Israel alliance (17:1–18:7).

The foreign nation of Syria had joined with the northern kingdom of Israel to put political and military pressure on the southern kingdom of Judah (cf. Isa 7:1). This oracle “concerning Damascus” (17:1) combines “Ephraim/Israel” with “Damascus/Syria” as the bigger picture (v. 3). They seemed strong (cf. 7:2), but God has decreed “a heap of ruins” (v. 1).

“In that day” marks three declarations in verses 4–6, 7–8, and 9–11. Israel’s false glory will be stripped away (vv. 4–6). Israel’s remnant will turn back to the Lord (vv. 7–8). But in the meantime, Israel’s heart will be broken as their false strengths let them down (vv. 9–11).

Now Isaiah draws out the two insights gained from God’s dealings with the Syria/Israel alliance and broadens the relevance of those insights to the whole world (17:12–18:7).

The first insight contrasts the loud saber-rattling of the nations (vv. 12–13a) with the simple rebuke of God, who blows them away like chaff in the wind (vv. 13b–14).

The second insight comes from the rise of another worldly menace—Cush, beyond Egypt, a “land of whirring wings,” that is, the flying insects of the Nile (18:1–7). This distant power sends ambassadors to Judah, proposing a political alliance (v. 2). But Isaiah sees in their power play only another futile human hope. All true power in this world belongs entirely to the Lord, who is quietly guiding the rise and fall of human empires as he sees fit (vv. 3–6). And at the end of history—“at that time” (v. 7)—through Jesus and his gospel, the Lord will bring in the gentile nations to worship him forever in heavenly Zion, the true city of God (cf. Rev. 7:9–10; 21:22–27).

Five, the Lord strikes–and heals–Egypt (19:1–20:6).

The Lord judges the great nation of Egypt through social upheaval (vv. 1–4), economic loss (vv. 5–10), and political confusion (vv. 11–15).

Isaiah marks verses 16–25 with “in that day” (vv. 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24), locating this prophecy in the undated but inevitable future. The Lord promises to intervene in Egyptian history, honoring his own people but also saving Egypt. The Lord will even bring Assyria into his redemptive purpose, gathering diverse nations together in Christ, for his glory (cf. Eph 2:11–22).

As an assurance that his ultimate purpose will succeed, the Lord makes a short-term prediction of Egypt’s defeat by Assyria (20:1–6). “In the year” was 711 B.C. The Lord called Isaiah to behave like a prisoner of war (v. 2), portraying the doom of the Egyptians. At times God called the prophets to behave in strange ways to communicate clearly to people (e.g., Ezek 24:15–27). The smaller nations of “this coastland” (v. 6), like Judah, will finally see how futile worldly strength really is in the presence of the Lord of the nations.

Five Cases of the Lord Judging the Character of the Nations (21:1–23:18)

Isaiah looks again at the world, but now with an even deeper, more searching gaze. He helps us see through outward appearances into the inner character of five typical cultures.

One, Babylon, a culture of hedonism, will be devastated (21:1–10).

Isaiah portrays Babylon (v. 9) as “the wilderness of the sea” (v. 1)—that is, both deserted (wilderness) and flooded (sea). In other words, Babylon is a doubly hopeless mess (cf. Jer 51:42–43). The prophet sees “a stern vision” of political and military betrayals dooming Babylon (v. 2), and he is shocked by what he sees (vv. 3–4).

The lie that will bring Babylon down is its culture of self-indulgent luxury, with its absurdly confident sense of power and permanence (v. 5).

The Lord calls Isaiah to serve as a lookout, alert to an invading army coming to attack Babylon (vv. 6–9). This ancient prophecy foreshadows God’s final judgment of the whole world (cf. Rev 14:8; 18:2).

God’s suffering people, “threshed and winnowed” (v. 10) by the oppressive powers of worldwide Babylon, are kept safe in the mighty care of “the Lord of hosts” as his own chosen “Israel.”

Two, Edom, a culture of despair, will find no answers (21:11–12).

The reference to “Seir” (v. 11) clarifies “Dumah” as the nation of Edom (cf. Gen 36:8). This strange name “Dumah” means “silence” (cf. Ps 94:17). Even so, a lone Edomite’s sad question to Isaiah, the prophetic watchman, conveys the silence, the uncertainty, the unknowns that Edom must face in their despair. They have no word of hope from God. All Isaiah can say to poor Edom is to keep on wondering (v. 12). An unclear hope is a terrible silence.

Three, Arabia, a culture of decline, will be unable to recover (21:13–17).

The name “Arabia” sounds like the Hebrew word for “evening.” Isaiah’s title for this oracle suggests the twilight of Arabian culture in his day. Instead of their safe remoteness, the Arabians will be flooded with desperate refugees fleeing war (vv. 13–15). And the reason behind this human distress overwhelming Arabia is the sworn purpose of the sovereign God (vv. 16–17).

Four, Jerusalem, a culture of darkness, will not see God at work (22:1–25).

“The valley of vision” is an ironic name for Jerusalem. God wanted his city to be the height of truth and light, the place where divine revelation shines most brightly in this world of darkness. But instead of being elevated as “a city set on a hill” (cf. Matt 5:14), Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day has sunk to a low place, like a valley, with more shadow than light. And in that dark place, their vision is not filled with thoughts of a high and holy God but with desires for momentary escapist thrills (v. 13). When the people of God fall into the opposite of his purposes, judgment is not far away.

The people of Jerusalem, even in their hour of danger, are indulging in shallow frivolity; but Isaiah refuses to join in (vv. 1–4). The Lord has scheduled a day for their defeat at the hands of the foreign enemies Elam and Kir (vv. 5–8a). Why has God formed this decree? The root sin is that his own people do not treat him as real but busy themselves with their own strategies for self-rescue (vv. 8b–11). They seem beyond repentance, as they carry on in their mindless pleasure-seeking (vv. 12–14).

Two personal examples of Jerusalem’s darkness are Shebna (vv. 15–19) and Eliakim (vv. 20–25). Shebna, a high official in the city, is foolishly self-important, disqualifying himself (cf. Luke 14:11). Eliakim, a godly man whom the Lord calls “my servant” (v. 20), is elevated to a David-like role of leadership. But our need for the true and final son of David, Jesus our Messiah, is obvious as even Eliakim’s leadership eventually collapses (v. 25).

Royal Steward inscription
The Royal Steward Inscription is an 8th century BC Hebrew funerary inscription in limestone that was discovered at the entrance of a tomb outside Jerusalem. The royal steward is believed to have been Shebna, who served in that role during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. | Photo Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Five, Tyre, a culture of prostitution, will be redeemed (23:1–18).

Tyre was popular as a hub of business success throughout the ancient world: “the merchant of the nations” (v. 3). But Isaiah condemns the corruption of Tyrian culture, where nothing was sacred and everything had a price, as a culture of prostitution (vv. 15–16).

When God’s judgment falls, her clients will lament the devastation of the city that had made their trade richly profitable (vv. 1–7).

Isaiah sees the hand of God in the collapse of Tyre (vv. 8–14). Their prestige is discredited and their monopoly broken (vv. 8–10). The survivors must evacuate the city after siege (vv. 11–12). If the mighty Chaldeans can fall, so can Tyre and Sidon, with grievous devastation (vv. 13–14).

But Tyre will make a comeback (vv. 15–18). After seventy years of dormancy, the city will get back to business in its old way, charming customers with the lures of a prostitute (vv. 15–16). But God will have something better in mind: redemption. Isaiah looks out into the far distant future, when this worldwide culture of greed and lust will finally become consecrated to God (vv. 17–18; cf. Rev 17:1–2; 21:24–27).

Five Views of the Lord’s Final Judgment of This World and His Everlasting Salvation of His Own People (24:1–27:13)

Now, as Isaiah focuses entirely on the Lord’s final intervention at the end of time, particular nations fade from view and all the nations are combined into one as “the wasted city” in its final crisis (24:10). But the people of God will forever have “a strong city” (26:1). These two cities, two communities, two loyalties are the only final alternatives to choose from.

One, the false joys of this world will be devastated, but God’s people will gather from all over the world to rejoice together in him (24:1–20).

In his final destruction of this world’s false systems, the worldly distinctions of privilege and power will disappear (vv. 1–6; cf. Rom 3:23; Rev 20:11–12). The “everlasting covenant” of verse 5 is probably the covenant with Noah (Gen 9:16), which mankind has so violated that God must set it aside for another worldwide judgment.

The drunken orgy of history is finally ended (vv. 7–13). The “wasted city” of verse 10 means this present evil age is a world of chaotic instability, unstructured and unsteady, like a house built on a foundation of sand (cf. Matt 7:26–27).

By contrast, God’s people, after suffering much in this world, gather to rejoice in the Lord as never before (vv. 14–16a). No more distance, no more absence, but finally together forever!

Isaiah does not gloat over the judgment of this world but mourns the evils of history (vv. 16b–20). It will be as if another flood, as in Noah’s day, breaks upon the world with devastating finality.

Two, the enemies of God everywhere will be defeated, but the Lord will reign in glory among his people (24:21–23).

“In that day” appears seven times in these chapters (24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:1, 2, 12, 13), keeping our focus on the final climax of history. The all-inclusive “heaven” and “earth” in verse 21 reveal that all of God’s enemies everywhere, both demonic and human, will be finally defeated. The glory of the Lord will outshine the moon and the sun (v. 23) when he finally answers our prayer “Your kingdom come” (Matt 6:10). “His elders” in verse 23 are all his people, now fully and equally dignified as leaders in his presence (cf. Exod 24:9–11).

Three, the people of God will celebrate his defeat of death itself as they feast on the richness of his salvation (25:1–12).

The individual believer is now heard rejoicing in the triumph of Christ (vv. 1–5). Even the ungodly nations will have to admit that he is Lord (v. 3). The glory of his kingdom is that he forever shelters his lowly saints who have been oppressed by the high and mighty (vv. 4–5).

In heavenly Zion, the Lord will spread a lavish banquet of eternal life for his people, having absorbed death into himself by his own death and resurrection (vv. 6–8; cf. 1Cor 15:54–55). The wild partying of this present evil age (cf. 24:7–13) will be swept away forever and replaced with a feast of comforts for the saints forever (v. 8; cf. Rev 7:17; 21:4).

Together the people of God declare their joyous relief, after waiting for the fullness of their salvation in Christ (vv. 9–12). “Moab” in verse 10 stands for the whole world. Those who refused Christ and chose instead this world’s passing pleasures will try to swim their way out of the “dunghill” they have made of their lives, but there they will stay forever (vv. 10–11). Everything they took pride in will turn to dust (v. 12).

Four, the Lord will accomplish peace for his people after their long sufferings and many failures (26:1–21).

The only explanation for our final and everlasting peace will not be our faithfulness to the Lord but his faithfulness to us (vv. 1–4). His salvation is like a mighty city, where we live safely and permanently, now and forever.

The fraudulent city of this world’s pride will be trampled to the dust by the poor and needy who cling to Christ, for the meek shall inherit the earth (vv. 5–6; cf. Matt 5:5).

For now, while we walk through this life, the Lord keeps us in his way, as we yearn for him (vv. 7–9).

But the successful and privileged wicked have no sense of God (vv. 10–11). The saints pray for the great and final reversal of the madness of this world.

The Lord will indeed remain faithful to his people (vv. 12–15). God’s people are weak, and his worldly enemies are strong. But the Lord himself, the Lord alone, will cause his people to prevail and flourish forever.

Looking back over history, God’s people admit their pattern of failure upon failure to bring in his kingdom (vv. 16–19). Still, by his grace alone, they will rise, even from death, and sing for joy.

In the meantime, let’s not be surprised by the catastrophes of history but stay close to Christ, as God moves the world toward the last judgment (vv. 20–21; cf. Gen 7:16; Exod 12:21–23). The sufferings of the saints, “the blood shed” on the earth (v. 21), will finally be vindicated.

Five, the Lord will punish all evil with finality, and his people will flourish in a renewed world (27:1–13).

On that great and final day, God will swing his sword of judgment to slay the monstrous evil that has done so much harm throughout history (v. 1). “Leviathan” was an ancient symbol of vicious cruelty, a way of describing Satan himself (cf. Rev 12:7–9).

Moreover, on that great and final day, God’s people will be like a fruitful vineyard, richly cared for by him (vv. 2–6). He feels so strongly about his vineyard that if even one weed of mixture or corruption would appear there, he would fight it (v. 4). But still, his deepest heart is for the salvation of everyone (v. 5; cf. 2Pet 3:9). And in the end, the whole world will be a garden of fruitful, Spirit-filled people (v. 6).

Looking back into history, Isaiah sees the people of God suffering his disciplines (vv. 7–9). But the Lord never afflicts us the way he afflicts those who afflict us (v. 7). He measures our sufferings with careful restraint (v. 8), and he will continue to deal with us gently, until we are freed from all our idols (v. 9).

But on that great and final day, the city of this present world will be forsaken by God. Isaiah compares it to a once-great city so desolate that the only signs of life are animals grazing and women gathering firewood (vv. 10–11). By contrast, God’s people will be a harvest carefully gathered in, one by one (v. 12). “From the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt” describes the Promised Land (cf. Gen 15:18).

Finally, on that great and final day, the great trumpet, calling for the happy year of jubilee, will declare God’s people free forever (v. 12; cf. Lev 25:8–13). In the end, not one of God’s people will be lost. All will be brought home to “the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (cf. Rev 21:10).

God Judges and Redeems the World: “Ah!” (28:1–35:10)

God now assures us that he is able to keep every promise he made in chapters 1–27. Our past is not the measure of our future; the promises of the gospel define our future forever. Our part in it all is simply to trust God and keep walking with him all the way. In these chapters Isaiah helps us to live by that faith (cf. 2Cor 5:7).

The prophet moves forward in two steps. One, the Lord can be trusted in the troubles we suffer here within history (chs. 28–33). Two, the Lord can be trusted in his final judgment and salvation at the end of history (chs. 34–35). He is our strong ally now and forever.

God’s Remnant People Turn from the False Glories of This World and Build Their Hope on the Sure Foundation of His Promises (28:1–29)

Chapters 28–33 are marked by the sad word “Ah!” (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 33:1), also translated “Woe!” (31:1). Isaiah grieves for all who turn away from the Lord and give their hearts to this world. Doing so will only demonstrate that their trust was misplaced.

Isaiah builds three contrasts: false pride versus true glory (vv. 1–6), empty mockery versus sober truth (vv. 7–22), and failed efforts versus solid outcomes (vv. 23–26).

The key word in verses 1–6 is “crown” (vv. 1, 3, 5). The corrupt capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, Samaria, was “the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim” (v. 1). But the Lord is sending to them “one who is mighty and strong” (v. 2), that is, the Assyrian army. And Israel did, in fact, fall to Assyria in 722 B.C. But God’s remnant people have their own crown in the Lord himself (vv. 5–6). He is why they are not “overcome with wine” (v. 1) but are filled with “a spirit of justice . . . and strength” (v. 6; cf. Eph 5:18).

The southern kingdom of Judah is more religious than Israel but equally corrupt (vv. 7–22). “These also” are “the priest and the prophet” in Jerusalem who should declare and defend the word of God (v. 7a). But drunk on their own ideas, they “vomit” out their cynical contempt for God’s truth (vv. 7b–8). Verses 9–10 quote these arrogant leaders, who mock Isaiah’s message and style as childish (cf. 1Cor 2:14). Because God’s own people have rejected his clear message of rest, they will hear “a foreign tongue” from the lips of invading enemies (vv. 11–12; cf. 1Cor 14:21). The word of hope will become, to them, a word of judgment (v. 13; cf. 1Cor 1:18; 2Cor 2:14–17). God rebukes the arrogant leaders of his people who thought they could secure their lives by a treaty with Egypt (v. 14). That covenant of protection will, in fact, be their death, when “the overwhelming whip” of Assyria falls on them (v. 15). But God offers us a firm place to take our stand, “a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation” (v. 16). This stone is Jesus Christ, whose gospel will never betray our trust (cf. Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1Pet 2:6). When we trust in him, we “will not be in haste,” that is, not rushing here and there to throw together our own self-salvation. We will be calm and steady as we walk through this world, because Christ is our solid foundation beyond this world. But the lies other people believe will collapse upon them (vv. 17–19). Every false trust is like a bed too short and a blanket too narrow, failing to give us the rest we long for (v. 20). Why? Because the Lord, who defended his people at Mount Perazim (cf. 2Sam 5:20) and in the Valley of Gibeon (cf. Josh 10:10), is also willing, surprisingly, to turn against them in judgment (v. 21). Isaiah therefore appeals to “the whole land,” Israel (vv. 1–6) and Judah (vv. 7–21), to humble themselves before the word of the Lord (v. 22).

Isaiah concludes with simple encouragements taken from farming (vv. 23–29). Even as a farmer knows the best methods for producing a harvest in his fields, God knows best how to achieve his purposes in this world. He is “excellent in wisdom” (v. 29). Our humble part is to “give ear” to his word (v. 23; cf. Jas 1:21).

Our Powerful God Can Outdo Us, and Our Mysterious God Can Outsmart Us (29:1–14)

God governs his people, and God governs the enemies of his people (vv. 1–8). We lie in his power, not in theirs.

Jerusalem was spiritually complacent (vv. 1–4). Isaiah calls the city “Ariel,” the Hebrew word for the stone surface of the altar where the fire consumed the sacrifices (cf. Ezek 43:15–16). But rather than the place of the fiery worship of God, Jerusalem has settled for mere repetitious routine: “Add year to year; let the feasts run their round” (v. 1). God warns his people that he will discipline them through the Assyrians (vv. 2–3). Jerusalem will be barely able to cry for help (v. 4).

But the Assyrians too will be judged by God (vv. 5–8). The malicious desires of all the hostile nations will, in the end, come to nothing (v. 8). Chapter 37 tells how God’s power did, in fact, defeat the Assyrian army.

Isaiah’s generation has become too hardened to return to God, but their apathy was itself a judgment from their mysterious God (vv. 9–14). The prophet gives up on the people in exasperation (v. 9), for the Lord has blinded their hearts (v. 10). Some of the people could grasp God’s truth, but they didn’t care (v. 11). Others could not understand, and they didn’t care either (v. 12). The people were keeping up an outward appearance of devotion, but inwardly they were far from God (v. 13; cf. Matt 15:8–9). Therefore, God will work this miracle among his people: he will turn their smartest leaders into fools (v. 14; cf. 1Cor 1:19).

Our Sovereign God Can Reshape Us—and the Whole World (29:15–24)

The people who think they can defeat our sovereign God are trying to turn reality upside down (vv. 15–16). The truth is, he is the potter, we are the clay, and even our defiance toward God serves his purposes.

God is bringing big changes to this world (vv. 17–21). Some people will be like a huge forest reduced to an ordinary field, and other people will be like an ordinary field growing into a huge forest (v. 17; cf. Matt 20:16). In other words, the humble people of God will flourish, and the arrogant elite will fall (vv. 18–21).

Then all of God’s true people will finally come to their senses and humbly bow at his feet, fulfilling his ancient promises, “to the praise of his glorious grace” (vv. 22–24; cf. Eph 1:6).

The Surprising Ways of God Contradict Our Intuitive Ways of Facing Life (30:1–33)

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (cf. 1Cor 2:14). Isaiah therefore explains some new understandings we must accept so that we can faithfully follow the Lord.

The help we most need is not found in this world (vv. 1–7).

God’s people in Isaiah’s day were “stubborn children” (v. 1) simply because they would not turn to the Lord when they needed help (vv. 1–5). He had promised them his mighty protection (Lev 26:1–13), but they didn’t believe him. They trusted their former oppressor, Egypt, more than their own Savior. They negotiated a treaty with Egypt for protection from the Assyrian army. It seemed a sensible strategy, but it wasn’t God’s strategy, and it failed (cf. Isa 36:6).

In verses 6–7, with mocking solemnity, Isaiah “laments” the hardships of the caravan beasts who must carry Judah’s financial payments to Egypt for protection. “Rahab” is another name for Egypt (cf. Ps 87:4). But even after Judah’s effort and expense, Egypt just sits there, doing nothing. Truly, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty” (v. 7).

The truth we most need is not found in our brilliance (vv. 8–17).

God commands Isaiah to record his message in writing for the benefit of future generations (v. 8). Isaiah’s own generation, however, is doomed.

The problem? Not the prophet’s preaching, but the people’s listening: “. . . unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (v. 9). Instead, the people silence hard truths and demand flattering lies (vv. 10–11). That is why, God says, their false and selfish beliefs will inevitably be smashed to bits (vv. 12–14).

God had offered his people his salvation and strength through their repentance and faith (vv. 15), but they chose military might instead: “No! We will flee upon horses” (v. 16; cf. Isa 2:7; 31:1–3; Ps 33:17). Their defeat will be catastrophic (v. 17; cf. Deut 32:30).

The hope we most need is not found in our idols (vv. 18–26).

A better day, with no end, is coming. And that new day is worth waiting for (v. 18).

The Lord is not cancelling the fullness of his grace, but he is delaying it until we are ready. This is the right course of action, for “the Lord is a God of justice,” that is, he knows the best way to accomplish his plan. And then, by his grace, we will live with sensitivity to him (vv. 19–21) and with contempt for our idols (v. 22; cf. Phil 3:7–8).

Some interpret the startling abundance found in verses 23–26 as a literal description, and others interpret it as a poetic description. If it is poetic and figurative, then Isaiah is describing abundant spiritual blessings (cf. Rev 21:23; 22:5).

The protection we most need is not found in our strength (vv. 27–33).

Our all-sufficient Ally is the Lord himself, and the Lord alone, in all his fullness—“the name of the Lord” (v. 27), “the voice of the Lord” (v. 31), “the breath of the Lord” (v. 33).

The powers of this evil world will not escape the fiery wrath of God (vv. 27–28). But the faithful people of God will have “a holy feast” and “gladness of heart” (v. 29). We will celebrate the final fall of all human pride with “tambourines and lyres” (v. 32; cf. Exod 15:19–21). The “burning place” of hell, prepared for every tyrannical “king” throughout history and for all who follow such leaders, will be kindled by the breath of the Lord himself (v. 33; cf. Luke 16:19–31).

We Flourish Not When We Overcome Obstacles Our Own Way but When We Turn to the Lord and Walk in His Ways (31:1–32:20)

The power of God is superior to our powers (31:1–5).

Under pressure from Assyria, Judah’s leaders went down to Egypt to buy military help (cf. Isa. 30:1–7). God did not seem real to them. Now Isaiah denounces those leaders who are too impressed by appearances of worldly power (v. 1). But God is wise, knowing how to rescue his people from disaster, and also how to bring his people into disaster (v. 2). He never changes his policy of opposing any who oppose him. Our folly is to treat weak earthly helps as better than our mighty heavenly Helper (v. 3). God is like a fearless lion standing over its prey, and also like a gentle bird hovering over its nest (vv. 4–5). What more do we need?

Our folly is to treat weak earthly helps as better than our mighty heavenly Helper.

Let’s turn to God, who is coming to destroy all false hopes (31:6–9).

Here is how we are renewed in our experience of reality with the living God. Through costly repentance, we get rid of our idols—every false hope (vv. 6–7). The earthly powers we fear will be cut down by a superhuman sword (v. 8). In verse 9, “his rock” is Assyria’s king. When the Assyrian army attacked Jerusalem, they walked into the fiery furnace of God’s fierce judgment. We have nothing to fear.

Our Messiah will create a new world of nobility (32:1–8).

Our triumphant King Jesus will reign forever in righteousness (v. 1), and he will share his life-giving authority with us (v. 2; cf. Rev 2:26–27). By his grace, we will be virtuous and wise (vv. 3–4). By his grace, we will build a culture of virtue and wisdom, refusing unworthy leaders and honoring truly noble leaders (vv. 5–8).

Let’s listen to God, who is coming to destroy all selfish powers (32:9–14).

One example of the corruption rampant in Isaiah’s day was the pampered women of Jerusalem with their selfish lifestyles (v. 9). They will soon lose everything as prisoners of war (v. 10) when the Assyrians invade their land—as, in fact, happened in 701 B.C. Isaiah calls them to listen to the Lord’s voice (v. 9) and to repent of their lavish self-indulgence (vv. 11–14; cf. Jas 4:7–10).

God’s Spirit will create a new world of peace (32:15–18).

What any invading army can destroy, the Spirit of God can renew (v. 15). Our Messiah in verse 1 and his Spirit in verse 15 together will bring God’s people into their true destiny, with no false peace, no lies, no selfishness, but real justice and righteousness (v. 16), real peace and quietness and trust (v. 17). We will live in a new world of calm forever (v. 18).

God will surely create this better world we long for (32:19–20).

The “forest” of Assyria’s vast army will be cut down, and the “city” of Judah’s heedless complacency will be humbled (v. 19), removing all barriers to the kingdom of our Messiah. And we will be so abundantly provided for by our King that we won’t even chase away the oxen and donkeys that wander into our fields (v. 20)!

In This World of Tyranny, Corruption, and Intimidation, God Will Stay Forever Faithful to All Who Turn to Him (33:1–24)

God’s true people put their hope in him, for he will reverse all losses (vv. 1–6).

Isaiah confronts the Assyrian invaders, calling them “you destroyer . . . you traitor” (v. 1). They have succeeded against Judah thus far, but God will turn their own vile tactics against them. No one is getting away with anything.

But the turning point is not out in the world of politics; the turning point is in among the people of God. The prophet gives voice to their new confidence in God (vv. 2–6). They finally see and accept that “the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure” (v. 6). The secret to the life that is truly life is within the reach of us all—fearing the Lord, that is, treating him as more real than all this world. As Jesus said, “According to your faith be it done for you” (cf. Matt 9:29). Not our power, not our brilliance, but our faith is the key to life’s real treasures.

When our failures leave us devastated, God will arise in triumph (vv. 7–12).

As the world in Isaiah’s time falls apart and societies break down (vv. 7–9), only the faithfulness of God remains. And God does indeed prove himself faithful (vv. 10–12). “Now” appears three times in verse 10, as God emphasizes how decisive he is on behalf of his people, even when we are turning back to him after much sinning (cf. Matt 9:12–13).

When we adjust our lives to the ways of God, his glorious presence draws near (vv. 13–24).

Any heart responsive to God, anyone reshaping their life for him, can experience him wonderfully (vv. 13–16). “You who are far off” and “you who are near” in verse 13 draws in everyone everywhere (cf. Eph 2:17–18). Our part is not to deserve and demand but to “hear” and “acknowledge” (v. 13) and to realign our lives with the holy ways of God (vv. 14–15; cf. Ps 15). Then we can “dwell on the heights” (v. 16), that is, the presence of God “who dwells on high” (33:5). Even if we are poor in this world, we can still be rich in God (cf. Luke 1:52–53).

The new reality that God-centered people can see is the Lord himself (v. 17; cf. Matt 5:8; Eph 1:18). Now we are no longer fearful but confident (vv. 18–19). The faithful church settles into reality with God, and she proves durable (v. 20).

With the Lord’s powerful presence in our midst, we are preserved even through attack (v. 21). The “place of broad rivers and streams where no galley with oars can go” corresponds to “a land that stretches afar” in verse 17. The point is, the Lord will preserve his people from attack by sea or by land—that is, by any attack from any direction. This is an Old Testament way to declare the confidence of Romans 8:38–39. Finally, the church is like a ship in bad condition, but still victorious (v. 23). Every one of us will be forever healthy because we are forever forgiven (v. 24).

Christ Will Return to Judge This Tyrannical World (34:1–17)

Now Isaiah looks beyond history, turning his gaze all the way to the end of time, when the Lord will return with final judgment (ch. 34) and everlasting salvation (ch. 35).

God calls the whole world, everyone without exception, to stop and listen and think (v. 1). What does God have to say to the world? If John 3:16 sums up the biblical message (and it does), then here in Isaiah 34 the prophet paints the picture of what the word “perish” means in that verse. He describes how horrible it will be to perish in the final judgment (cf. Matt 10:28).

God has four powers of judgment that will fall upon this world (vv. 2–10).

One, “the Lord is enraged” (vv. 2–5). Or, literally translated, “the Lord has rage.” God is patient, giving everyone time to repent (cf. 2Pet 3:9), but he will not be patient forever. The day will come when all the wrath God has stored up will be unleashed on the unrepentant world, reaching even to the heavens (vv. 4–5; cf. Isa 65:17; Matt 24:29–30). Isaiah singles out “Edom” in verse 5, because that one nation represented the violent pride of the whole world (cf. Isa 63:1–3; Obad 1:1–21).

Two, “the Lord has a sword” (v. 6a). He will assert his right to the worship mankind has withheld from him for so long (cf. Lev 3:16–17).

Three, “the Lord has a sacrifice” (vv. 6b–7). Every sin will be paid for, either by Christ on the cross or by the sinner at the end of time. But every sin will be punished. Bozrah and Edom were representative of the whole world in their staunch rebellion against God (cf. Isa 63:1–4).

Every sin will be paid for, either by Christ on the cross or by the sinner at the end of time.

Four, “the Lord has a day of vengeance” (vv. 8–10). God has scheduled a day on his calendar when he will vindicate the faith of his people who have waited so long for him to step in and make everything right. But for those who reject the Lord, the day of vengeance will last “forever, from generation to generation” (v. 10; cf. Rev 14:11).

God will turn this world of human grandiosity, which seems so impressive now, into a desolate waste unfit for human habitation (vv. 11–15). The words “confusion” and “emptiness” in verse 11 echo “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2. In the end, the Lord will reverse what he created in the beginning, throwing the world into unlivable chaos. Worldly leaders, so smug now, will not consider it a realm worth ruling (v. 12).

God calls all of us to stop and think and consider his sovereign plan for this world (vv. 16–17). Every detail of God’s plan will be fulfilled (cf. Matt 5:18), even for the hawks of verse 15—“none shall be without her mate” (v. 16). And the worst part of God’s judgment will be its eternal endlessness: “they shall possess it forever” (v. 17).

God Promises a New World of Everlasting Salvation (35:1–10)

After his stern vision of eternal damnation in chapter 34, the prophet portrays the overflowing joys of eternal salvation in chapter 35. These are the only two final possibilities for every one of us, and the time to escape damnation and receive salvation is now.

This broken world, so barren now, will finally abound with joyous life (vv. 1–2).

The words here for joy and singing set the tone of the entire chapter. Heaven will not be the absence of damnation but the eternal presence of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (cf. 1Pet 1:8) as we “see the glory of the Lord and the majesty of our God” (v. 2; cf. 1Jn 3:2). “They” in verse 2 are “the redeemed” in verse 9 and “the ransomed of the Lord” in verse 10.

Our future hope in Christ gives us courage today (vv. 3–4). With our hearts strengthened by the gospel, we should encourage one another to stay faithful and expectant all our lives (cf. Heb 10:23–25; 12:12).

Our Savior will remove our afflictions and increase our joys (vv. 5–6a). “Then,” on that great and final day, and not until then, our salvation will be complete, our brokenness healed, and our capacities for good restored and empowered.

God will reverse and redeem the devastations we suffer in this life (vv. 6b–7). Not only will we ourselves be fully saved, but the environment we live in will be renewed (cf. Isa 65:17). The gospel is not merely about our personal moral improvement; it is also about the miraculous renovation of the universe, for the glory of Christ.

The way of Christ leads us into his healing joys forever (vv. 8–10). After wandering through this world of many confusing options, we will finally see clearly and walk confidently on “the Way of Holiness” provided by God’s grace (v. 8). The path will be so obvious and so attractive that even the weakest of us now—“even if they are fools”—will be able to follow it. With no dangers threatening us (v. 9), we will, most certainly, enter the heavenly Zion, radiant with joyous singing, never to mourn ever again (v. 10; cf. Rev 21:4).

Historical Transition: “In Whom Do You Now Trust?” (36:1–39:8)

These chapters form a major turning point in the book. Isaiah takes two steps here. First, in chapters 36–37, the prophet looks back over chapters 1–35 and sums up their message: When we come under attack, but we turn to the Lord and put our trust in him, he does prove faithful. Second, in chapters 38–39, Isaiah looks ahead to chapters 40–55 and prepares us for their message: Since we are often unfaithful, the Lord, by his grace alone, will lift us into our glorious destiny. Isaiah 36–39 is paralleled in 2 Kings 18:13–20:19.

The Intimidating Threats of This World Are Answered Not by Our Bravado but by God’s Promises (36:1–37:7)

Around 701 B.C. the army of the Assyrian King Sennacherib attacked Judah successfully. Jerusalem remained free but was surrounded by enemies. Sennacherib sent his representative, the Rabshakeh, to bully King Hezekiah into surrender. The key word in his speech (vv. 4–10) is “trust,” occurring seven times in the original text. Isaiah’s record of this speech emphasizes this word and clarifies the question of our lives: In the hard realities of this world, will we trust God enough to remain surrendered to him, or will we put our trust in the powers of this world and surrender to them?

One of the Sennacharib Annal Prisms
Sennacherib’s Annals record events during the Assyrian king’s reign (704–681 BC). The prism-shaped Annals provide a detailed account of Sennacherib’s military campaigns, including his conquest of the kingdom of Judah in 701 BC. The annals record how Sennacherib’s army laid siege to the city of Jerusalem before returning home, leaving Hezekiah under tribute to Assyria. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Hanay, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rabshakeh’s boastful words, “Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria” (v. 4), is answered by the prophetic words, “Thus says the Lord” in 37:6. When he sneers, “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (v. 5), he is mocking the negotiations he expects from Hezekiah compared with his own “great army” (v. 2). But ironically, “mere words” were the Assyrian king’s undoing. The Lord caused him to hear a “rumor,” prompting him to call off his attack (37:7). His claim in verse 10 that the Lord has sent him is a half-truth. Yes, ultimately, the sovereign Lord did send him, but he is implying that the Lord is his ally. This arrogance violates the Third Commandment (cf. Exod 20:7) and dooms his selfish imperialism.

King Hezekiah’s officials offer a feeble response (v. 11), emboldening the Rabshakeh to bully the people all the more (v. 12).

In the Rabshakeh’s next speech (vv. 13–20), the key word is “deliver,” occurring seven times. Isaiah’s account emphasizes this word to contrast this world’s false deliverance with God’s real deliverance. The Assyrians even dare to offer the very blessing God intended for his people (v. 16; cf. 1Kgs 4:25). Their only condition is that God’s people surrender to them, which would be rebellion against God.

The leaders of God’s people are deeply shaken by the terrifying boasts of this evil power confronting them (vv. 21–22). But King Hezekiah responds humbly and wisely (37:1–7). He admits Judah’s weakness (vv. 2–3). But what matters more to Hezekiah than their own fate is that the living God is being mocked (v. 4). The prophet reassures Hezekiah that the Lord will faithfully intervene on their behalf (vv. 5–7). In fact, God is so shrewd that he can even change the Assyrian king’s very thoughts: “I will put a spirit in him” (v. 7). How can earthly powers defeat the God who controls the inner thoughts and feelings of those earthly powers? Hezekiah does not need to defeat Sennacherib. God will defeat him back in his own country, where he thought he would be safe (v. 7; cf. Isa 37:38)!

God’s Ultimate Purpose Is to Prove through Us, in Our Weakness, That He Alone Is the True King of All This World (37:8–38)

The Assyrian army is temporarily drawn away from attacking Jerusalem, but their spokesman wants Hezekiah to know they will return in force (vv. 8–13). The arrogant invader takes a fatal step, however, in verse 10, when he insinuates that God is a liar: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you.” He exalts himself, as if he controlled the world (vv. 11–13).

King Hezekiah wisely knows that his primary business is not with Assyria but with God (vv. 14–29). He prays not that Judah will survive but “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord” (v. 20). And God declares that prayer is Hezekiah’s key to true power: “Because you have prayed to me . . .” (v. 21). In response to Hezekiah’s faithful prayer, God promises that Jerusalem will not only survive this emergency but will even end up laughing at the Assyrians (v. 22). God affirms that he, and not Assyria, is the true Lord of history (vv. 23–27). And he promises to judge Assyria’s proud defiance with a painful and humiliating defeat (vv. 28–29). Truly, God can be trusted.

God confirms his promises to Hezekiah with a sign (vv. 30–35). As the people of Judah recover from the devastation of the Assyrian invasion, the land will continue to provide the abundant crops they need by God’s attentive care (vv. 30–31). It is his zeal for them, not their zeal for him, that will get them safely through (v. 32). And God’s ultimate purpose for preserving his people is his own kingdom, leading to the true and better David, Jesus our Messiah (vv. 33–35).

Human opposition to God, even at its most formidable, comes to nothing (vv. 36–38). A single angel of the living God against 185,000 human enemies? The outcome is inevitable! And even as Hezekiah went into the temple of the Lord and got help (v. 14), Sennacherib goes into the temple of his god and gets assassinated (v. 38). Truly, God is not mocked.

The national crisis recounted in chapters 36–37 proved God’s faithfulness. Now the personal crisis described in chapters 38–39 shows our unfaithfulness. King Hezekiah held firmly to God during the national crisis, but here, in his own personal crisis, he selfishly betrays the future of his nation: “There will be peace and security in my days” (39:8). Isaiah’s point is that God is the only one who will never fail us. Truly, “All flesh is grass, and all its constancy is like the flower of the field . . . But the word of our God will stand forever” (cf. 40:6, 8).

By His Grace the Lord Can Give Us a New Opportunity in Life (38:1–8)

2 Chronicles 32:25 reveals that Hezekiah’s heart was not right before God, so when he asks the Lord to remember how he has walked “in faithfulness and with a whole heart” (v. 3), he does not discern his own underlying pride. But God deals with him in grace, mercifully adding fifteen years to his lifespan (v. 5).

We might have expected verses 21–22 of this chapter to appear between verses 6 and 7. But Isaiah makes them his final statement at the end of the chapter to emphasize Hezekiah’s divided heart. He is trusting the Lord, but not entirely.

The sign of the shadow moving backwards suggests that God is turning the clock back on Hezekiah’s life—obviously, a miracle (vv. 7–8). Indeed, the miraculous nature of it is the whole point. God was working in Hezekiah’s life with a surprising divine intervention. Will Hezekiah steward this amazing privilege wisely?

Personal Piety Can Conceal a Divided Heart (38:9–22)

Hezekiah’s lengthy prayer is sincere. But unlike his God-centered prayer in Isaiah 37:14–20, his prayer here is self-centered, more than he realizes. His words sound biblical, but what sets the tone of his prayer is self-pity. His divided heart becomes clear in verses 21–22. Even after God’s promise of healing (v. 5), the miraculous sign (v. 8), and Isaiah’s practical remedy (v. 21), Hezekiah’s faith is still uncertain. He is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:8). His hesitancy about God is the reason for the collapse of his character revealed in chapter 39.

When God Works for Us with Miraculous Power, Our Pride Can Turn the Gain into Loss (39:1–8)

When the Assyrians threatened Hezekiah, he stood up to their bullying, by God’s grace. But now, when the Babylonians flatter Hezekiah, he falls for their trick, due to his pride. With unguarded vanity, he shows off his sacred treasures (vv. 2–4). He does not see how the Babylonians are taking mental notes, adding up these incentives for coming back to invade Judah and take it all away as plunder (v. 6). The Jewish exile in Babylon, now inevitable because of Hezekiah’s failure of character, will form the background to all of chapters 40–55.

When the Assyrians threatened Hezekiah, he stood up to their bullying, by God’s grace. But when the Babylonians flatter Hezekiah, he falls for their trick, due to his pride.

Hezekiah’s final word is a stab in his nation’s back (v. 8). He doesn’t mind that later generations will suffer, for his own life will end comfortably. What betrayal! Truly, only God always remains faithful.

God Comforts His Oppressed People: “The Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed” (40:1–55:13)

Chapter 40 begins a major new section of the book. The prophet is no longer speaking to Judah in his own generation during the eighth century B.C.; now he is speaking to the Jewish people held in Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C. The dire prediction of Isaiah 39:5–7 came true. Now God’s people, in degrading captivity far from their home in the promised land, fear that God has abandoned them, so Isaiah changes the tone of his ministry. His primary emphasis in chapters 1–39 was confrontation (cf. 1:4). Now his primary emphasis is comfort (cf. 40:1). The prophet longs for the people to become confident that God’s gracious purpose for them is deeper than their worst betrayals of him. Their future is still bright—even brighter than before.

God Comforts Us with His Promise of Worldwide Redemption (40:1–11)

The repeated “Comfort, comfort” conveys the tenderness of God’s heart for his suffering people (v. 1). Though they have sinned, they are still his people, and he is still their God. He has dealt fully with their past sins that led them into exile (v. 2). There is always an end to God’s disciplining of us, but there is never an end to God’s comforts of us. The commands in verses 1–2 address the prophetic voices in verses 3, 6 and 9, calling them to spread God’s message of comfort to his defeated people.

The first comforting voice rejoices that the worldwide display of God’s glory is coming (vv. 3–5). But the world is not ready for that glorious new day. That is why John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of Christ, even as our churches today are preparing the way for the second coming of Christ (cf. Matt 3:1–6). God allows the upheavals of history to demolish the barriers to the coming kingdom of Christ (v. 4). His promise will surely be fulfilled: the open display of the glory of Christ, for all to see (v. 5).

The second comforting voice declares the certainty of God’s purposes for his people (vv. 6–8). We mean well, but we often fail. God means well, and he never fails. Our “constancy” is fragile, like the flower of the field (v. 3), and like King Hezekiah in Isaiah 39:8. But the promises of our God will stand firm forever (v. 8). His kingdom is the only final inevitability in all of human history.

The third comforting voice urges God’s people to rejoice together, openly and boldly, in this sacred reality: “Behold your God!” (vv. 9–11). He is present among his people, and he is coming to change the world. He is coming to his people with powerful grace (v. 10) and with nurturing gentleness (v. 11). He, and not this world, will define our future forever.

God Claims Exclusive Sovereignty over This Entire World (40:12–26)

God has promised us the worldwide display of his glory (v. 5). And he is able to keep his promise, because he alone reigns supreme over all things in this world.

As the wise Creator of all things, God alone governs his creation, right down to the details (vv. 12–14). In Babylonian mythology, the creator god Marduk had to consult with other gods. But God, by his own wisdom and power alone, created all things (v. 14).

As the powerful King of the nations, God alone rules the world (vv. 15–17). Lebanon (v. 16) is representative of “all the nations” (v. 17).

All human theories that leave God out are contemptible man-made idols, for God alone is God (vv. 18–20).

As the Ruler of this world’s people, God raises up and brings down the leaders who might seem so impressive (vv. 21–24).

As the watchful Lord of all things, God attends to the smallest star in the distant sky (vv. 25–26). “Who created these?” (v. 26) refers to God’s creation of the stars. What astrologists worship, God alone created.

God Can Renew Our Strength While We Wait for His Promised Glory (40:27–31)

If God watches over every distant star (v. 26), how could he lose sight of even one of us (v. 27)? God’s greatness is big enough to care for all of us forever (v. 28). He stoops down to share his strength with the weak (v. 29). Human resilience at its best will inevitably fail (v. 30). But weak believers who keep looking to God in hope receive his miraculous strength to persevere (v. 31).

God Assures Us That He Alone Guides History, He Alone Emboldens Us, and He Alone Is God (41:1–29)

The Tomb of Cyrus the Great
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in the ancient city of Pasargadae in Iran. The tomb is believed to have been built shortly after Cyrus’s death in 530 BC and is considered one of the earliest examples of a monumental tomb in the ancient Near East. The tomb consists of a stone base and a tower that rises to a total height of around 36 feet (11 meters). | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Bernd81, CC BY-SA 4.0

God alone guides the course of historical events (vv. 1–7).

He invites the whole human race to consider who is managing history, so that they too can turn to him and be strengthened (v. 1). “One from the east” is Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire (v. 2). Cyrus would eventually conquer Babylon and set the Jewish exiles free. But it is God who gives every world figure success (v. 4). As the ancient world watches the rise of Cyrus, they panic (v. 5). But instead of turning to God for strength, they create their own helpless little gods (vv. 6–7).


God alone is able to strengthen us to persevere through all this world (vv. 8–20).

We matter to God (vv. 8–13). He chose us long ago, he gathered us as his people, and he will always stay with us (vv. 8–10). Those who oppose God’s people will not prevail (vv. 11–12). Their idols cannot help us, but God will never fail us (v. 13). And through us, even in our inadequacy, God triumphs over this Christ-denying world (vv. 14–16; cf. Rom 8:37; 2Cor 4:7–10; 1Jn 5:4–5). And along the way, God will keep working miracles of refreshment to sustain us, to the glory of his powerful love (vv. 17–20; cf. John 7:37–39).

God alone is the God who is ordering history to our eternal advantage (vv. 21–29).

He invites the nations to prove that their gods amount to something; but the truth is, manmade idols make no impact on history (vv. 21–24). By contrast, God brings Cyrus the Great, “one from the north,” onto the human scene (v. 25). In verse 2, Cyrus comes from the east, but here in verse 25, he comes from the north and the east, because his vast empire spread in both directions. No one foresaw Cyrus’s meteoric rise to power (v. 26). It is God alone who orchestrates all the events of history for the sake of his people (vv. 27–28). But the idolatrous worldviews of this world come to nothing (v. 29).

The Servant of the Lord Will Renew the World (42:1–9)

In contrast with the empty idols of this world (cf. 41:24), the Servant of the Lord now appears, who will build a whole new world (42:1–9). Four “Servant Songs” stand out in the book of Isaiah (42:1–9; 49:1–13; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). Sometimes the prophet uses the word servant to describe the nation of Israel (e.g., 41:8–9); but in these four passages, the Servant can only be the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the New Testament makes clear.

This first “Servant Song” paints the picture of the Messiah’s surprising strategy for world transformation. The key word in these verses is justice, occurring three times (vv. 1, 3, 4). In this context, justice is not only legal rightness but also the right ordering of the whole of human life and society, as God originally intended. Only the Servant of the Lord can restore us to full human flourishing.

Remarkably, the Servant’s strategy for creating his perfect world is not pushy, not violent, not demanding, but gentle (vv. 1–4). He will succeed simply because God supports him, delights in him, and empowers him with the Spirit (v. 1). Unlike Cyrus the Great, who brutalized people in his lust for conquest (cf. 41:2, 25), the Servant is not selfish but kind (v. 2). He gently restores and heals broken people, which makes his success inevitable (v. 3; cf. Matt 12:15–21). His conquest of evil will not leave him exhausted but quite the opposite; even the furthest ends of the earth will come alive, eager to receive his rule (v. 4).

God speaks to his Servant, promising unprecedented, worldwide triumph (vv. 5–9). With all the authority that belongs forever to God alone (v. 5), he gives the Servant to the world as an unbreakable covenant of full and radiant salvation (vv. 6–7; cf. John 8:12; Rev 21:22–27). Every idol will finally be discredited, and the glory of God will be publicly obvious everywhere (v. 8). Right now we can scarcely imagine how wonderfully new the world will become (v. 9).

The Lord Will Unite the World Joyfully around the Victory of the Servant (42:10–17)

With the Servant vividly in his mind, Isaiah is so joyful that he invites the whole world to join him in celebrating. Looking around at the various regions and cultures of the world, the prophet calls them all to praise God (vv. 10–12). And he reveals God’s own resolve to rid the world of its destructive idols (vv. 13–17). Like a soldier going into battle, God stirs himself (v. 13). Like a woman in labor, God exerts himself (v. 14). He will not hold back at all when the time comes for Christ to return and complete his redemptive work. No obstacle will stand in his way (v. 15). “The blind” in verse 16 are idol-worshipers, whom God intends to save. But those who refuse Christ will be forever devastated (v. 17).

But God’s Own People Can Be Sinfully Insensitive to Their Lord (42:18–25)

The Old Testament people of God missed their historic opportunity (vv. 18–22). Here “the servant of the Lord” is not the Messiah but the nation of Israel (see v. 24). They failed as God’s messenger of salvation to the world. The fault was in their own hardness of heart (vv. 18–20), not the glorious law God gave them (v. 21). Their betrayal of God’s purpose led them into Babylonian exile (v. 22).

God’s people were too uncomprehending to benefit from God’s corrective disciplines (vv. 23–25). Isaiah sees that the Jewish people in exile are incapable of responding humbly to God (v. 23). They brought down upon themselves their sufferings (vv. 24–25). But even their pain has not awakened them, so hardened in sin and despair have they become.

Our Hope Is Not in Our Virtue or Wisdom but Only in the Lord Himself and His Purpose of Grace (43:1–7)

Even though God’s people can be deaf and blind (Isa 42:18–19), he calls us not to fear, for he is committed to us (v. 1). He will go with us and will preserve us through the floods and fires of his own disciplines (v. 2). He will orchestrate history and rearrange nations to our eternal advantage (vv. 3–4). He will gather in his elect from the four corners of the earth, every single one, whom he created for the display of his glory (vv. 5–7). Our eternal future rests not on our commitment to God but on God’s commitment to us.

Our eternal future rests not on our commitment to God but on God’s commitment to us.

God’s Ultimate Purpose Is to Prove That He Alone Is God (43:8–13)

God is not worried that he might fail. He boldly challenges the whole unbelieving world to prove that they are in control (vv. 8–9). The “witnesses” of verse 9 are the people of every culture who are trying to prove that their idolatries are the truth. But God’s people are his “witnesses” (v. 10). We are living proof that Jesus is the only way to true life. And it was God himself, in his exclusivity as God, who appointed us to serve as Exhibit A that he alone is God and his purposes will prevail (vv. 11–13). Truly, his glory is upon us.

God Reassures Us of Our Eternal Future by Promising That He Will Keep On Caring for Us (43:14–21)

God rules the events of history for our sakes. He will conquer those who proudly conquer us (vv. 14–15). The exodus from Egypt (cf. Exod 14:21–31) was not a one-time event only; it was a pattern of how God delivers his people again and again (vv. 16–21). We can always remain alert to new “exodus” events in our journey with the Lord (v. 19)—ultimately, so that we can declare God’s praise (v. 21).

God’s People Are Secure in His Love, Because He Is Committed to His Own Glory (43:22–28)

Sadly, we do not always declare God’s praise. Sometimes we are bored with him (v. 22). But the worship he wants from us is not tedious (v. 23). The real problem is our unconfessed sins, which break God’s heart (v. 24). The only real way to worship God is to face our sins and let him forgive us, for Jesus’s sake (v. 25). We cannot justify ourselves (v. 26); we have never deserved God’s favor (v. 27). But if we persist in rejecting his grace, we risk his judgment (v. 28).

God Promises to Lift Us from Our Sinful Boredom into His Holy Enthusiasm (44:1–5)

Our Lord strongly assures us of his gracious commitments to us: choosing us, making us, forming us, helping us (vv. 1–2). And if God is for us, we have nothing to fear (cf. Rom 8:31). For his own glory, he will keep refreshing our spirits along the way (cf. John 7:37–38), giving us foretastes of his new creation even now (cf. Heb 6:5). Our sinful boredom with him is not permanent (cf. Isa 43:22).

Our journey into God’s eternal promises is an ongoing miracle of his grace (vv. 3–5). He will amaze us as generation after generation of his people rise up with Christ-centered joy and eager devotion (cf. Acts 2:47b).

The Grace of God Will Succeed, and the Folly of Idols Will Become Obvious (44:6–20)

God’s answer to our anxieties is the reality that he is our God (vv. 6–8). His unique and exclusive glory is bound up in our eternal security and triumph. God will prove God’s existence—through us.

And God will expose the foolish emptiness of every man-made idol (vv. 9–20). How can an idol do anything for its human maker (vv. 9–13)? How can an idol become more than its raw materials (vv. 14–17)? How can a blind idol open human eyes (vv. 18–20)? Truly, our only hope is the living God.

The Inevitable Triumph of God’s Grace Calls for Universal Rejoicing (44:21–23)

The overall emotional tone of God’s people is rejoicing “in hope of the glory of God” (cf. Rom 5:2). We can always remember God’s commitment to us (v. 21). We can always turn to him in repentance and faith (v. 22). We can always be confident that the whole creation will rejoice with us (v. 23; cf. Rom 8:19–21).

God Boldly Claims Ultimate Sovereignty over All World Events (44:24–45:8)

Sometimes it is hard to see God at work within history, especially when powerful leaders and predatory nations oppose his kingdom. But even then, God is still at work. He alone rules the whole of creation, and he alone directs the entire course of history, for the eternal advantage of his people (vv. 24–28). “Cyrus” in verse 28 is Cyrus the Great, already hinted at in Isaiah 41:2 and 41:25. This ungodly warlord dominated the stage of history in the sixth century B.C. But through Cyrus, God fulfilled his own redemptive purpose to rebuild Jerusalem after the Jewish exile in Babylon (cf. Ezra 1:1–5; 6:1–5). It was God who appointed Cyrus a “shepherd” (v. 28)—that is, a king (cf. 2Sam 5:2). Isaiah wrote this over a century before the rise of Cyrus. So the reason why God calls Cyrus by name in this prophecy is to prove, far in advance, that the God of the defeated Jewish exiles controls the events of history to accomplish his triumphant will.

Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder is a clay cylinder inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform script that dates to the 6th century BC. The cylinder is named after Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC. The text on the cylinder describes Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon and his policies toward the local population. Cyrus is portrayed as a benevolent ruler who respected the rights of the local population and allowed the people to return to their native lands and rebuild their temples. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Prioryman, CC BY-SA 3.0

By calling Cyrus the Lord’s “anointed” (45:1), Isaiah does not mean that Cyrus was a good man. God can appoint even a bad man to serve his own good will. When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he succeeded easily, because many Babylonians welcomed him. But at a deeper level, God was the one giving Cyrus success (vv. 1–3). God’s purpose was that reverent awareness of his sovereignty in this world would spread from Cyrus to the Jews to the whole world (vv. 3–6; cf. Ezra 1:2–4). God rules over all events, both light and dark, both beneficial and disastrous, without becoming tarnished by moral evil (vv. 6–7; cf. Acts 2:23; 4:26–28). And God rejoices over the good his plan ultimately accomplishes (v. 8).

God Warns Us against Resenting the Ways He Governs History (45:9–13)

God alone has the right to be God (vv. 9–10). Who are we to demand explanations from him? After all, his plan, from the beginning, has been to bend world events around to the advantage of his people (vv. 11–13). “I stirred him up in righteousness” in verse 13 means that God lifted Cyrus the Great to prominence for a righteous purpose—to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem—and “not for price or reward” (cf. Ezra 6:1–12).

God Invites Everyone to Come to Him and Be Saved from the Empty Idols of This World (45:14–25)

Now Isaiah lifts our vision from the restoration of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the growing body of people from all the nations who are turning from their idols to trust the Lord Jesus. The various peoples named in verse 14 represent the many nations of the world. The Lord will make his humble people living proof that he alone is the one true God (v. 14; cf. 1Cor 14:24–25). For now, it is often hard for us to see how God is moving in human events (v. 15), but we are assured that idol worshipers will end up in embarrassing failure, and believers in the Lord Jesus will end up admired and influential (vv. 16–17). We do not have to make our lives turn out well; God himself is committed to our eternal joy (vv. 18–19). All who flee from their idols, like refugees escaping disaster—“you survivors of the nations” in verse 20—are urged to rethink their lives and turn to God and be saved (vv. 20–22). His triumph over all this world is certain (v. 23; cf. Phil 2:9–11). Finally, the Lord appeals to us to put our trust in him rather than be judged by him. All the idols will disappear, and the multiethnic, true Israel “shall be justified and shall glory” in the Lord alone (vv. 24–25; cf. Rom 5:1–11).

God Mocks the Exhausting Futility of Man-Made Idols, since He Is the One Who Graciously Carries Us, Proving That He Alone Is God (46:1–13)

The gods invented by mankind—the false beliefs about ultimacy, the defunct strategies for life—weigh the world down, but the true God faithfully lifts his people up (vv. 1–7).

Bel and Nebo were high gods in Babylonian culture (v. 1). Their images were paraded through the streets of Babylon like good luck charms for the city. But these idols accomplished nothing. They only weighed down the poor pack animals who had to haul them along. Indeed, these fancy idols were themselves carried off as loot when Babylon was captured (v. 2). These gods failed to save their people. By contrast, the God of Israel promises, in emphatic tones, to carry his people all the way to the fulfillment of all his promises (vv. 3–4). He is not just another version of the gods of the nations but is unique, high above our small categories of thought (v. 5). It is foolish for anyone to worship what they themselves invent (vv. 6–7). If a god needs us to carry it, how can it then carry us?

Rather than being another helpless victim within history, God rules and reigns over all (vv. 8–13).

More than anything else, being a Christian means holding firmly to the truth of who God really is (vv. 8–9). Only the true God is successfully working his sovereign plan for all things at all times in all places, from the beginning to the end (v. 10). Part of his surprising plan was using Cyrus the Great, a mere “bird of prey,” to serve his redemptive purpose (v. 11; cf. Isa 41:2, 25; 44:28–45:4). Our part is humbly to admit that God alone is God and to put all our hope in him (vv. 12–13).

Human Civilizations Built on the Worship of Idols Are Doomed to Collapse under the Judgment of God (47:1–15)

The empire of Babylon, representing all idolatrous cultures throughout history, is doomed to fall (vv. 1–7; cf. Rev 18). The “virgin daughter of Babylon” and the “daughter of the Chaldeans” (v. 1) both refer to the city of Babylon, portrayed as a pampered, corrupt queen. Her kingdom will be invaded, so that she is reduced to the status of a slave in exile (vv. 2–3). But the Lord will be the guardian of his people (v. 4). The reason for her downfall is her cruelty and arrogance (vv. 5–7). God sent the Babylonian army to discipline his people (cf. Deut 28:49–50; 2Kgs 25:1–21). But the Babylonians were wrong to treat the Jews unjustly. The powerful always answer to God.

The pride of Babylon is also doomed (vv. 8–11; cf. Jas 4:6). The luxurious lifestyle of the Babylonians lured them into a mentality of complacent superiority (v. 8). “I am, and there is no one besides me” echoes God himself (cf. 45:5–6). Mankind’s arrogant dream of God-like autonomy will come crashing down (v. 9), because pride is delusional (v. 10), and nothing can stop the judgment of God (v. 11).

Babylon is therefore left to its own pathetic helplessness (vv. 12–15). The false beliefs of this world leave people exposed to devastation (vv. 12–13). Isaiah mocks these empty beliefs with his “perhaps . . . perhaps” in verse 12. Moreover, the false comforts of human religion and the empty security of human success will both utterly fail (vv. 14–15).

God Will Keep His Promises to Us, for the Sake of His Own Glory (48:1–11)

Now the prophet looks back over God’s wonderful promises in chapters 40–47, summed up at the start like this: “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (40:5). But what about God’s own people, whose faith in that promise can be weak? Might our unbelief defeat God’s purpose? Isaiah answers that question in this climactic chapter.

“Hear” (v. 1) is our primary duty to God. But instead of humble hearing, too often God’s people fall into nominal hypocrisy (vv. 1–2). Our profession of faith is sometimes “not in truth or right”; however, no thanks to us, God’s promises in the gospel will be fulfilled.

God saw our unbelief in advance. One reason he made predictive promises in the Bible was to prevent us from crediting our idols with power and success (vv. 3–5). “The former things” (v. 3) are the promises God made in the past and has already fulfilled. We are stubbornly self-exalting (v. 4). But as we ourselves should admit, God alone is moving history forward (v. 5).

Moreover, our Savior has “new things” planned for the future (vv. 6–8). But for now, he keeps his plans hidden, and he keeps us guessing (v. 6). God advances his purposes in startling ways to keep us trusting him (v. 7). We would ignore him if we could, so he doesn’t even give us that chance (v. 8).

God is never defeated. He has a purpose even in the painful upheavals of history (vv. 9–11). He has resolved not to punish us as we deserve (vv. 9–10) but to bring his glory to triumphant finality in human history (11). It is God’s glory alone that guarantees our future.

God Will Fulfill His Purposes for Us, Even in Surprising Ways (48:12–22)

As in verse 1, the Lord urges his people, “Listen to me” (v. 12). What is his message? One, God alone is fully God, “the first” and “the last,” the Creator of the universe, whose mighty hands wrap around all things (vv. 12–13). We can rest in God.

Two, God can use even bad people to advance his good purposes (vv. 14–16). “The Lord loves him” means that God favors Cyrus the Great to conquer Babylon and set the Jewish exiles free (v. 14). Cyrus did not make himself successful; he was raised up by the Lord (v. 15), who is always involved in human events (v. 16). Ultimately, God’s favor rests not on the bigshots of history but on his humble servant Jesus, whose power is not of the sword but of the Spirit: “And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.” The one and only hope of this world is the Triune God: “And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.”

Three, God always benefits us, if we will only follow him (vv. 17–19). He offers himself to us generously (v. 17). How he longs to lead us into his overflowing peace and righteousness (v. 18)! Oh, the historic opportunities we lose by not listening attentively to him (v. 19; cf. Luke 19:41–44; 1Cor 10:1–14)! God isn’t holding out on us.

Four, God calls us to follow him joyfully, turning from the empty promises of this world to his abundant promises in Christ (vv. 20–22). Isaiah foresaw the Lord leading the Jewish exiles out of their captivity in Babylon, as the Lord had led Israel out of Egypt long before. Even so, he calls us today to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (cf. Rev 14:4). But there is no peace, no provision, no glad homecoming for those who refuse to follow him (v. 22; cf. 2Cor 6:1–2).

The Servant of the Lord Is Destined to Be the Light of the Nations (49:1–13)

This second of Isaiah’s four “Servant Songs” offers deeper insights into the ministry of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 13:47; 2Cor 6:2; Rev 7:16).

Now the Servant himself speaks, claiming his God-given destiny as the only hope of the world (vv. 1–6). Unlike the violent conquerors of human history (cf. 41:2), the Servant of the Lord prevails by his word (v. 2). God’s saving power is not outwardly impressive, for “he hid me” (cf. 2Cor 10:4). But only Jesus perfectly embodies the high ideals that God’s old covenant people Israel failed to live up to (v. 3). Though he was faithful in his earthly ministry, at times he did struggle with feelings of futility (v. 4; cf. Matt 17:17). Still, Jesus is destined by God to cover the whole world with his radiant salvation (vv. 5–6; cf. John 8:12).

He will gather us, care for us, and lead us all the way into his promised salvation (vv. 7–13). This present world despises the humble Servant, but no one will be able to deny his final triumph (v. 7; cf. Phil 2:6–11). He is God’s “covenant” to us—that is, God’s solemn pledge to us and his gracious promise to restore all things forever (v. 8; cf. 2Cor 1:20; Rev 21:5). As we journey toward his eternal kingdom, Jesus commands reality to help us on our way (vv. 9–13; cf. Rom 8:31–39; Rev 7:9–17).

God’s Weak People Have a Glorious Future, Guaranteed by His Grace Alone (49:14–50:3)

The good news of the gospel should make us confident. Isaiah has announced to us “precious and very great promises” (cf. 2Pet 1:4). But still, we sometimes sink down into despairing unbelief (v. 14; cf. Mark 4:37–38). How does God respond to our foolish gloom? In gentle grace and tender mercy, he bears us along. He is our attentive Lord, who never forgets us or overlooks us or neglects us (vv. 15–21). He is also our triumphant King, ruling and overruling in history to our eternal advantage (vv. 22–26). Finally, he is our faithful and powerful Father, who will stay true to us all the way through the desolations of this world (50:1–3).

The Meek Servant of the Lord Is Sustained in His Mission by the Lord God (50:4–9)

This third of Isaiah’s four “Servant Songs” is marked four times by the majestic title “the Lord God,” each time in the emphatic position in its sentence (vv. 4, 5, 7, 9). The humble Servant is destined to succeed against all opposition, because the Sovereign Lord is his mighty helper.

How does Isaiah see the power of the Lord God moving through his Servant? First, the Servant meekly learned how to encourage his weary followers (v. 4; cf. Matt 11:28; Luke 2:40; Heb 4:15–16). His God-given wisdom does not defeat broken-hearted sinners. Second, the Servant willingly exposed himself to unjust suffering (vv. 5–6). And it is his way of the cross that leads to resurrection power. Third, the Servant boldly defied the opposition organized against him (vv. 7–8). He could face it all, confident in God’s ever-present help (cf. Luke 9:51). Fourth, the Servant was living proof that God does defend his faithful servants (v. 9). The divine help given to Jesus answered the human accusations against him.

Since the Servant of the Lord Is Our Strong Certainty, We Can Follow Him from This Present Darkness into His Future Glories (50:10–51:8)

Present Darkness into His Future Glories (50:10–51:8)

Following Jesus will, at times, lead us onto dark paths (v. 10). But darkness is what faith is for. We keep following him, even with our unanswered questions and our unmet needs, by trusting in his Word. And it would be a disaster for us to turn aside from his way to follow our own self-invented wisdom (v. 11; cf. Prov 16:25; Jas 3:15).

The key to following the Servant faithfully is not our willpower but listening to him (51:1–8). Here Isaiah calls those who trust Jesus to “listen” (v. 1), to “give attention” (v. 4), and again to “listen” (v. 7). Hearing and believing the gospel, over and over again, is how we go on and on following Jesus.

The prophet cheerfully insists that this receptive faith in the Lord will keep us on the path all the way to Eden restored (vv. 1–3). As an example, Abraham and Sarah had no bright future to get excited about (v. 2). They were like dead rocks in a quarry (v. 1). But God’s power to bless gave them newness of life, which will not stop until the world is transformed (v. 3; cf. Rom 4:16–25; Heb 11:8–12).

The world as it stands now is not the measure of our future (vv. 4–6). God’s law and justice are the true future of the whole world (v. 4). He is personally, actively, powerfully involved in spreading his salvation (v. 5). Right now this world is crowded with ideals, systems, and cultures opposed to Christ. But this darkness cannot last. The cosmos itself will give way to his everlasting salvation (v. 6).

Therefore, let us always be brave and carry on (vv. 7–8). The longing for righteousness in our hearts will be satisfied (cf. Matt 5:6; 2Pet 3:10–13).

The Promises of the Gospel, Centered on the Servant of the Lord and His New World, Lift Our Hearts to Live Now with Confident Urgency (51:9–52:12)

Four times the prophet stirs us with a strong, doubled imperative: “Awake, awake!” (51:9), “Wake yourself, wake yourself!” (51:17), “Awake, awake!” (52:1), and “Depart, depart!” (52:11). Isaiah’s passionate appeals begin the four major sections of the passage.

First, “Awake, awake!” is a prayer (51:9). We cry out to the Lord to repeat the mighty miracles of redemption he performed in the past (vv. 9–11). “Rahab” and “the dragon” in verse 9 allude to Egypt (cf. 30:7). The ancient enemy of God’s people is portrayed as a demonic monster, but verse 10 urges us to pray for a renewed exodus from all such oppression. No “Red Sea” barrier can prevent God’s people from marching toward our Promised Land—the eternal kingdom of Christ. And when we arrive there, we will not crawl in on our hands and knees, exhausted, burnt-out, depressed. We will celebrate as we enter heaven (v. 11). And all our “sorrow and sighing” will flee!

Such bold praying is pleasing to God. Even when we feel overwhelmed with fear, still he comforts us (vv. 12–16). We can even be defiant when we are angrily opposed: “Where is the wrath of the oppressor?” (v. 13; cf. Ps 118:6; 2Tim 4:17–18). Our future is assured by nothing less than who God is: “I, I am he who comforts you” (v. 12), “I am the Lord your God” (v. 15). And who are we? He declares to us, “You are my people” (v. 16). No power on earth, and no weakness in us, can change our identity, our worth, and our destiny as his people.

Second, “Wake yourself, wake yourself” is the prophet commanding us (51:17). Our future hope rouses us from despair now (vv. 17–23). The Jewish people of old had “drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath” (v. 17) when they were defeated by the Babylonians and sent away into exile. They were devastated, with none to rescue or even comfort them (vv. 18–20). But the cheering news is this: there is always an end to God’s disciplining of us, and there is no end to his commitments to us (vv. 21–23). So there can be an end to our despondency, even as we wait for history to turn our way. By faith we can wake ourselves up to our hope in God.

Third, “Awake, awake” is again the prophet commanding us, but with a change of tone (52:1). Even in our present hardships, we can throw off a victim mentality and rejoice in the royal dignity God has promised us (vv. 1–6). A time is coming when our beautiful holiness will never again be violated (v. 1). The gospel invites us to lay hold of our freedom and dignity even now (v. 2; cf. Gal 5:1). And just as Israel’s history told a sad story of repeated losses, our future will be a glad story of endless grace, for the honor of God’s name (vv. 3–5). Then his people will forever know him as he truly is—present, near, involved (v. 6).

Now the prophet’s heart bursts with joy (vv. 7–10). What a beautiful sound, he says, is the footfall of a gospel herald running our way with the good news of Christ’s reign over everything against us (v. 7)! The watchmen stationed on the wall of the city of God rejoice to see the messenger approaching, and they spread the word that the King is coming (v. 8). The people of God hear the good news and explode with joy (v. 9). Indeed, the glory of Christ’s reign will reach even to “all the ends of the earth” (v. 10).

Fourth, “Depart, depart” is the prophet urging us on (52:11). As pilgrims journeying to Christ’s eternal kingdom, we should not settle down into earthly comforts but press on toward his heavenly kingdom (vv. 11–12). Zion above, not Babylon here below, is our true home. Believing the promises of the gospel helps us make a clean break with worldly lifestyles (v. 11; cf. 1Cor 5:9–13; 2Cor 6:14–7:1; 1Pet 1:13–19). But as we move forward, we are not panicking, nor are we running from life in cowardly escapism; rather, we are striding forward confidently, for Jesus is escorting us on our journey to heaven (v. 12; cf. Rev 14:4).

The Servant of the Lord Will Atone for the Sins of God’s People, Sacrificing Himself as Their All-Sufficient Substitute (52:13–53:12)

This fourth of Isaiah’s four “Servant Songs” answers a pressing question. The prophet has been announcing to us God’s promises of his glorious new world. But there is a problem. We sinners do not belong in God’s presence (6:3–5). How then can “the Holy One of Israel” (1:4), the incomparable “Holy One” (40:25), make and keep such glorious promises to sinful people like us? All of us have disqualified ourselves, clearly and repeatedly, for entrance into such a kingdom. And God is a morally serious person. He never violates his conscience, never ignores our sins. How can we sinners ever inherit the beautiful promises Isaiah has revealed to us?

In five paragraphs of three verses each, Isaiah presents to us God’s answer to that question: the Servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, will bear our sins for us.

First, the Servant will astonish the world with his power to cleanse sinners (52:13–15).

Jesus will succeed wonderfully and be exalted highly in his redemptive mission (v. 13). But in his passion and crucifixion, he was so badly beaten that he no longer looked even human (v. 14). Still, the surprising truth is that his extreme sufferings declare his extreme abilities to restore sinners (vv. 14–15). “Sprinkle” recalls what a priest would do, for example, to proclaim a leper cleansed and qualified to rejoin the community (cf. Lev 14:1–7). Even world leaders will revere the Servant in awestruck silence when his atoning power is revealed to them through the gospel (cf. Rom 15:21).

Second, the Servant did not aim for popularity but accepted obscurity and even rejection (53:1–3).

Few people accepted the witness of Jesus’s early followers (v. 1; cf. John 1:11; 12:37–38; Rom 10:16). Why did so few believe in him? He was unimpressive, growing up among them with no outward distinction (v. 2; cf. John 7:5). In this world of dazzling but empty human grandiosity, the Servant seemed like a loser (v. 3). He did not stand with the élite but identified with the broken. In fact, he was a “nobody” in the eyes of this proud world (cf. 2Cor 5:16). Thus, as an outsider, he was qualified to save us from our arrogant wickedness.

Chart of New Testament quotations of Isaiah 53
Isaiah 53 is one of the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament.

Third, the Servant took the place of sinners, bearing the punishment we deserve and opening the way for our eternal peace and healing (53:4–6).

When Jesus died, we thought he was suffering as he deserved; but in fact, he was suffering as we deserve. He bore our griefs and our sorrows as his own (v. 4; cf. Matt 8:14–17). On the cross, he stood in as our substitute, atoning for the full extent of our sins against God. Our guilt became his, so that his merit becomes ours (v. 5; cf. 2Cor 5:21; 1Pet 2:24). All of us contributed equally to his cross, and his cross benefits all of us equally (v. 6; cf. Lev 16:21–22; 1Pet 2:25).

Fourth, the Servant was entirely innocent and deeply humble in his sufferings, contrary to our unjust opinions of him (53:7–9).

He was not overwhelmed by events out of his control; he meekly chose to accept the injustice we perpetrated (v. 7). “By oppression and judgment” means “by oppressive judgment”—that is, not by due process. No one involved in the trial and death of Jesus really understood what they were doing (v. 8; cf. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 8:32–33). His manner of burial also bore a stigma, though he had neither done nor said anything wrong (v. 9).

Fifth, just as the Servant’s sufferings were the plan of God, so will be his eternal success as the Savior of sinners (53:10–12).

Down beneath the human cruelty and stupidity, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). And because God’s purpose always prevails, the risen, life-giving Jesus will rejoice forever over his blood-bought followers (v. 10). He will not resent us for the anguish we cost him, but he will be pleased to justify all sinners who turn to him (v. 11). God the Father has put all things under Christ his Son, who will enrich us forever as his fellow-victors (v. 12; cf. 1Cor 3:21–23; Phil 2:9–11; Heb 1:2–3; Rev 2:26–27).

So, that is how the Holy One can make and keep his glorious kingdom promises to undeserving sinners like us: through Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning.

God Understands Our Present Devastation, and He Promises to Reverse Our Enduring Sorrows into Surprising Joys (54:1–17)

Isaiah now concludes chapters 40–55, a major section of his book. He has been assuring us of God’s purpose of grace for his undeserving people. “Comfort, comfort my people” (40:1) set the tone for this entire section. “The Lord laid on [the Servant] the iniquity of us all” (53:6) climaxed the section. And the overflowing grace of God, guaranteeing our glorious future, cheers our miserable present, as Isaiah now emphasizes in chapters 54–55.

Like a woman whose heart breaks over the children she has not borne, God’s people failed to bring new life to the world (vv. 1–3). But God is able, and God promises, to make his barren failures into his fruitful successes. His good purposes will accomplish in us and through us what our own good intentions fail to produce (cf. Gal 4:21–31). We can, in Christ, look to the future with bright expectancy. The world has its formulas for success, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit. The future is ours (cf. Gen 22:17; 28:14; Rev 7:9–10; 22:1–2). And that calls for loud, joyous singing.

Like a wife whose husband had left her, God’s people suffered his absence during their exile in Babylon. But a change is coming! He is returning with overflowing compassion and everlasting love (vv. 4–10). Our losses and regrets will not dismay us forever, for the Lord is our faithful husband (vv. 4–5). Our second honeymoon with him is coming (vv. 6–8). Even as God’s judgment in Noah’s day flooded in but then drained away, so God’s discipline of his people in Babylonian exile will end. But his love will never end (vv. 9–10). His “covenant of peace” is his commitment to our everlasting wholeness (cf. Ezek 34:25–31; Rom 8:1–39; Rev 21:1–5).

Like a city that has decayed into a slum, God’s people have declined into a cheapened culture. But he will rebuild his people, with the finest materials, as the lead culture of a new world (vv. 11–17). The Lord emphasizes himself, his own all-sufficiency, in this great task: “. . . behold, I will set your stones” (v. 11), “Behold, I have created the smith . . . I have also created the ravager” (v. 16). Jerusalem of old, sacked by invaders and left in ruins, tells our story of sin and defeat and ruin. But the eternal city of God, forever rich (vv. 11–12), safe (v. 13), and secure (vv. 14–17), will be the eternal home of God’s new people (cf. Rev 21:9–27). We will not just survive; we will flourish, to the praise of God’s glorious grace.

God Invites and Commands Us Now to Receive the Good News of the Gospel with a Full and Confident Faith (55:1–13)

Isaiah appeals to us, that we come and satisfy ourselves freely in Christ, for his victory over this world will be our victory (vv. 1–5). We need not deserve him, for his fullness is free to all who thirst (v. 1; cf. Rev 22:17). But we must come to him. And why would we hold back? The promises of this world leave us empty, but the gospel spreads before us an endless feast (v. 2). In fact, God welcomes all comers into “an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (v. 3). That is the everlasting kingdom of Jesus, the true and better David, our Messiah (cf. Acts 13:32–39). God will never revoke this covenant with his people, for their sin is covered in it and their glory guaranteed by it. Two great certainties flow from the covenant. “Behold,” the destiny of Jesus is to rule the world (v. 4). “Behold,” God will make sure his rule will be welcomed throughout the world (v. 5). Let us keep our hopes fixed there.

Isaiah appeals to us to get busy adjusting our lives to God’s promises, for his declared purpose will prevail in history (vv. 6–11). God has been dealing plainly with us, through his sincere and generous promises. Now he calls us to deal plainly with him in return, realigning our whole lives with his kingdom. And the sins we must then bring to him? “He will abundantly pardon” (vv. 6–7). But we must stay open and honest, as we discover how far our thoughts and ways fall short of his thoughts and ways (vv. 8–9). Wonderfully, the word of God that both promises his kingdom and calls us to repent our way into that kingdom will accomplish what it proclaims—in both respects (vv. 10–11). The gospel will succeed in all who hear it with a responsive heart.

Isaiah concludes all the wonderful encouragements, assurances, and promises of chapters 40–55 by describing the sheer joy of it all (vv. 12–13). We who believe will enter into perfect joy and peace, and even the creation itself will erupt with raucous singing and a standing ovation (v. 12; cf. Rom 8:18–21). This universal joy—God’s new people in his new creation—will never be reversed or spoiled or even interrupted (v. 13). God’s triumphant salvation will stand forever as “an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off”—irrefutable proof of what only God can do.

How to Prepare for the Coming Glory: “Hold Fast My Covenant” (56:1–66:24)

As Isaiah concludes his great book, he pastors us directly and personally. He guides us into faithful covenant living, as we look to the day when God will fulfill all his promises in the gospel. The prophet understands how to help us live well until then, come what may. He is blunt in confronting our hypocrisies, tender in stirring our longings for God’s presence, and confident in our final triumph in Christ. What now pours out of Isaiah’s heart in these final chapters is his desire to help God’s people become fully prepared for the coming of Christ and the dawning of the new creation (cf. 65:17; 66:22).

But Who Are God’s True People? Any and All Who Faithfully Keep His Covenant (56:1–8)

The Jewish people of old were tempted to feel it was their lineage and culture that identified them with God (cf. John 8:39–40; Acts 20:1). But his true people are defined by something deeper. In verse 1, Isaiah sums up the message of his book thus far: “Keep justice and do righteousness” (chs. 1–39), “for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed” (chs. 40–55). God’s true people keep justice and do righteousness, because they truly believe in his coming salvation and deliverance. The Sabbath was an Old Testament sign of this covenant commitment (vv. 2, 4, 6; cf. Exod 31:13). But all along, real Sabbath-keeping declared an inward faith in God, not an outward show of superiority. Therefore, all who believe in Jesus, simply because they have Jesus, are encouraged to see themselves at home among his true people (vv. 3–7; cf. Mark 11:15–18; Gal 3:7–9, 23–29). The reach of his redeeming love is very wide (v. 8; cf. John 10:16).

Selfish Crooks and Idol Worshipers Have No Place in God’s Kingdom, for It Belongs Only to the Contrite and Lowly (56:9–57:21)

The leaders among God’s people, if they are self-centered, are doomed (56:9–12).

God himself invites brutal powers to come attack them (v. 9; cf. Jer 12:9). The “watchmen” (v. 10) are the prophets, and the “shepherds” (v. 11) are the rulers. Both are oblivious, living in a dream-world, with themselves at the center of their grandiosity.

Isaiah sees two dark trends emerging among those who call themselves God’s people (57:1–13).

One, the godly are disappearing (vv. 1–2). Some might be pleased to see godliness in decline, but in fact the faithful are being released into peace (cf. Rev 14:13). Two, the idolatrous are persisting (vv. 3–13). Isaiah saw the old covenant people of God becoming pagan (vv. 3–4), brutal (v. 5), and idolatrous (v. 6). Idol worship is spiritual adultery, because our covenant with God is like a marriage (vv. 7–8; cf. Isa 1:21; Hos 1:2; Rev 21:9–10). Not only that, but ancient Judah also negotiated futile political alliances, because they had stopped believing God would protect them (vv. 9–10). They were awestruck by human power but dismissive of God’s power and not even open to change (vv. 11–12; cf. Luke 12:4–5). Such a dreamworld cannot survive, but those who treat God as real will inherit his solid promises forever (v. 13).

Among those who do keep covenant with the Lord, sinful though they are, God remains wonderfully present (57:14–19).

The way back to God is always open (v. 14). All we have to do is go down low in humble repentance, for that is where the Holy One dwells with reviving power (v. 15; cf. Isa 6:1–8; Luke 14:7–11; Jas 4:10). He knows how much discipline we can take (v. 16). He does confront us when we need it, but he also restores all his people to the same wonderful healing and peace (vv. 17–19; cf. Ps 32; Eph 2:11–22; 1Pet 5:10).

The horrible end of the wicked, who turn away from Jesus, is an endlessly churning frenzy of distress, regret, and rage (57:20–21). The faithful who die enter into peace (cf. 57:2), but the unfaithful experience the opposite.

God’s True People Honor Him with Obedience That Is Costly, Cheerful, and Satisfying (58:1–14)

God calls the prophet to confront the covenant community for the sin of hypocrisy (vv. 1–5).

Down beneath their rituals of devotion to God, even their sincere rituals, something is wrong (vv. 1–2). But the people themselves feel that God is being unfair. They are fasting, but God is not blessing. Why? Because they are unjust toward one another (v. 3). Seeking the Lord while wronging one another makes prayer a waste of time (v. 4). If our religious duties are fulfilled every Sunday but our social duties are neglected Monday through Saturday, such shallow “religion” offends God (v. 5; cf. Jas 1:27).

God explains the conditions on which he will bless his people (vv. 6–14).

This section is marked by if-then reasoning: If we honor God, then he will bless us. But these conditions are not a matter of merit. We cannot deserve his blessing. These conditions are a matter of openness. We can receive his blessing, as we “prepare the way of the Lord” through active faith and honest repentance (cf. Isa 40:3–5; Luke 3:1–17; Acts 2:37–47; 26:19–20; Rev 2:5; 7:13–14).

In verses 6–14, God defines three conditions of his blessing. First, true fasting abstains from oppression and cares for human needs (vv. 6–7). If we embrace this kind of piety, then God will visit us with his felt presence (vv. 8–9a). Second, true godliness helps people flourish (vv. 9b–10a). If we walk in this godliness, then God will make sure we flourish too, restoring even long-standing human devastation (vv. 10b–12). Third, true pleasure enjoys putting God first (v. 13). If we devote ourselves to holy pleasures, then God will himself delight us, honor us, and fulfill all his ancient promises to us (v. 14).

What Defeats the People of God Is Not Any Failure in Him but Their Own Hypocrisies—Multiplied, Blatant, Unconfessed (59:1–13)

If God chose his people to bless the world (cf. Gen 12:1–3; 22:15–18), why does it seem, at times, that they sink into spiritual captivity to the world? The problem is not weakness in God but corruption in his people (vv. 1–2). God is not limited by anything (v. 1). He is powerful over us, and he is listening to us. But he refuses to bless unconfessed sin (v. 2; cf. Ps 32:3–4; Matt 5:13).

And here God singles out social evils for his fiery rebukes (vv. 3–8; cf. Jas 1:26–27; 3:9–12). The sins he condemns in this passage are not religious but relational: cutthroat cruelty, wicked lies, unjust lawsuits, dishonest testimony, deliberately planned evils that do not even benefit the perpetrators (vv. 3–6a). The eager malice with which God’s people can attack one another, and the destruction they can leave behind, creates nothing but human misery, worthy of condemnation by God (vv. 6b–8; cf. Rom 3:15–17).

Now the hearts of the people finally crack open, and together they humbly admit that, after all, God is in the right, and they are in the wrong (vv. 9–13). There is a reason they are groping in darkness, confusion, and chaos (vv. 9–11), and the reason is that they, the people of God, have been living as if God does not even exist (vv. 12–13).

The Sins of God’s People Are So Disqualifying That Only the Anointed One Can Lift Them into the Promised World of God’s Glory (59:14–60:22)

This passage falls into three parts. First, God’s people in their present corruption—though God remains faithful to his purpose of grace (59:14–20). Second, the Anointed One who will fulfill all of God’s promises (59:21). Third, God’s people in their future glory—with the whole world transformed as well (60:1–22).

First, then, the injustices among God’s people are so extreme that God himself is astonished (vv. 14–15). Since there is no one to redeem our mess, God himself undertakes for us, with all his mighty powers for waging war against all evil (vv. 16–18; cf. 2Thes 1:5–10; Rev 19:11–16). No one will get away with anything. But God’s overwhelming intervention will not only sweep all rebellion away; it will also gain, from people all over the world, a right response of reverence (v. 19). Jesus Christ our Redeemer, at his Second Coming, will be met here on earth by a people marked by repentance (v. 20; cf. Isa 40:3–5; Rom 11:26–27).

Second, the Redeemer of verse 20 is also anointed by God with all authority to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes for his people throughout their generations (v. 21; cf. 61:1–4). Our Lord has pledged himself, by a formal covenant (cf. Heb 6:13–20), to make our Messiah forever successful, by his Spirit and his Word, as a prophetic voice creating a prophetic community, the Church, where injustice will be unthinkable and justice will be triumphant forever. This strong hope is not based on what we deserve but on what the Father has promised to his Son.

Our Lord has pledged himself, by a formal covenant, to make our Messiah forever successful, by his Spirit and his Word, as a prophetic voice creating a prophetic community, the Church, where injustice will be unthinkable and justice will be triumphant forever.

Third, the glory of God upon his people in their eternal future will transform the world (60:1–22). The light of God’s glory will cover his people with publicly obvious beauty (vv. 1–5; cf. 2:1–4; 40:5; John 3:16–21). New converts, like spiritual children, will flood into the church (v. 4). The people of God will be admired as the lead culture of the world (v. 5). The nations too will devote themselves to the glory of Christ and be accepted by his grace (vv. 6–9). Fleets of ships will come, not as an invading force, but as merchant vessels, bringing tribute and transporting more converts (vv. 8–9). The whole world will be swept up into a new enthusiasm for building up the city of God as the most desirable place on earth (vv. 10–14; cf. Rev 21:24–27). The church, never again persecuted, will rise as the very embodiment of nobility and elegance (vv. 15–18). Nothing second-rate will be there, because the glory of Jesus makes everything better (cf. Rev 21:19–21). The radiant gladness of God’s people will not depend on anything natural but will be sustained by the Lord himself forever, to the praise of the glory of his grace (vv. 19–22; cf. Eph 1:6; Rev 21:23). And the least of God’s people, the most unimpressive, will be mighty (v. 22a). When God considers the time finally right, he will bring it all to pass forever (v. 22b).

Our Messiah Is Preaching into Existence His Gloriously Transformed People (61:1–11)

Now the Messiah himself speaks (vv. 1–3; cf. Isa 48:16; Luke 4:16–21). He declares himself anointed with the Holy Spirit for preaching the gospel. In one long sentence, he sums up his powerful mission with seven declarations of purpose (“. . . to bring good news,” etc.), all building toward a larger outcome (“. . . that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord”), and all serving one ultimate goal (“. . . that he may be glorified”). His preaching of the gospel, both by himself and through Christian pastors and evangelists, brings good news, healing news, liberating news, hopeful news, comforting news, generous news, cheering news, all of which make his people solidly righteous, for the greater glory of God. “The day of vengeance” (v. 2) will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ (cf. 2Cor 6:2).

The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, those who are bound, all who mourn—the suffering people listed in verses 1–3 now, surprisingly, get busy rebuilding the world and serving with the dignity of priests (vv. 4–7; cf. Rom 15:15–16; 1Pet 2:5, 9). The anointed preaching of the gospel transforms the people of God. No longer belittled, they will be honored as the only ones who know how mankind’s longstanding injuries can be healed. They will stand out in human society as heroic, and their joy will last forever. (“You” in verse 6 refers to the same people as “they” in verse 7.)

Now the Lord himself speaks, declaring his resolve to accomplish these glorious purposes (vv. 8–9). His heart is set on the overflowing, publicly obvious blessing of his people.

Finally, the chapter comes full circle as the Messiah speaks again (vv. 10–11). His heart also rejoices in the worldwide miracle of salvation God will work through him. His joy is that of a wedding celebration, and his success is that of a garden sprouting with new life. He also returns to the title, “the Lord God,” first used in verse 1, to emphasize the sovereign authority of God surrounding and guaranteeing this bold vision.

The Promises of God Move the People of God to Pray for, and to Invite Others into, the Coming Kingdom of Christ (62:1–12)

The prophet, setting an example for us all, resolves never to stop praying for the glory of God to rest upon his people fully and forever (vv. 1–7). With audacity, even with a spirit of protest, Isaiah longs for the city of God to be aglow with God’s blessing (v. 1; cf. Matt 5:14–16). His prophetic eye sees the church in the future so obviously loved by God that his blessing upon them is publicly visible (vv. 2–5). The Hebrew translated “so shall your sons marry you” in verse 5 could be emended to read “so shall your Builder marry you” (cf. Ps 147:2), which is more consistent with the second half of the verse: “so shall your God rejoice over you.” The “watchmen” on the walls of the city are sentries (v. 6). In other words, God’s people, alert to his movements in history, keep encouraging one another and keep praying to him without ceasing (v. 7; cf. Gen 32:26; Luke 11:5–13; 1Thes 5:17; Rev 8:1–4).

God reassures us with a solemn promise that he will fulfill his loving purposes for us (vv. 8–12). His victory does not depend on us at all but entirely on his own strength (v. 8a). He will reverse the trends of history so that his people live fully, in his presence, for his glory (vv. 8b–9; cf. John 10:10). Moreover, all who are willing to come join his people are invited into the city of God (vv. 10–11a; cf. Rev 22:14–15). Christ, our salvation, is coming again, bringing his rich rewards to all his people (v. 11b; cf. Rev 22:17). Whatever we might suffer for his sake now, we will not regret it then (v. 12).

The Prophet Strengthens Our Confidence by Directing Our Gaze in Two Directions: Ahead to the Lord’s Future Day of Vengeance, and Back to His Past History of Faithfulness (63:1–14)

The watchmen on the walls of the city of God (cf. Isa 62:6) see a frightening figure approaching in the distance. They challenge him with two questions (vv. 1–6).

The first question: “Who is this?” (v. 1). He is coming from the nation of Edom, with its capital city in Bozrah, the ancient enemies of God’s people who personify this whole world of hostility to God (cf. Gen 25:30; 27:41; Isa 34:1–6; Ezek 35:1–15; Obad 1:1–21; 1Jn 2:15–17). The one approaching is striding forward in triumphant confidence, declaring a forthright message: he is “mighty to save.” Fearsome though he is, he assures us that he is the only hope of all who long to be saved from this world.

The second question: “Why is your apparel red?” (v. 2). His clothing is blood-spattered from victorious battle against his enemies (v. 3). His overwhelming energy surged out of his anger, wrath, and vengeance and his determination that redemption will prevail (vv. 4–6; cf. Isa 61:2; Rev 6:15–17; 19:11–16). We do not help him win this battle. The victory is his alone (cf. Isa 59:15b–20). All we can do is welcome his approach and celebrate his triumph. Isaiah is describing Christ at his Second Coming, when he will judge this world with utter finality.

Now looking back into our history as God’s people, the prophet recalls the remarkable, practical, committed, steady faithfulness of God (vv. 7–14). The prophet heaps terms upon terms to describe the love of God (vv. 7–9). Our history bears witness to his steadfast love, his great goodness, his compassion, the abundance of his steadfast love, his love, and his pity. He gave us his whole heart, and he rightly expected our whole hearts in return. But the people of God, again and again, throughout their history, spurn his love (vv. 10–14; cf. Acts 7:51). In ancient Israel, God even turned against them (v. 10; cf. Exod 34:5–7; Ps 78; Jas 4:6). But when his people forget him, he still remembers them and keeps returning to them (vv. 11–13). He will lead us into rest, making for himself a glorious name (v. 14).

God Will Keep Giving Himself, without Holding Back, until We Are Safely in the Eternal Kingdom of Christ (63:15–64:12)

The prophet teaches us how to pray, as we move forward by faith toward the second coming of Christ. This model prayer gives voice to “your kingdom come” (cf. Matt 6:10). It breaks down into five sections, moving back and forth between longing and lament, plus a final appeal. This prayer is recorded in the Bible because God promises to answer these longings and comfort these laments.

Longing for the heart of God to be openly expressed (63:15–16).

The Jewish people of old saw the temple in Jerusalem, “your holy and beautiful habitation” (v. 15), desecrated by the Babylonian army (cf. 2Chr 36:17–21). Will God now stand by and do nothing for his broken-hearted people? They boldly assert that God’s passionately felt love for them is being “held back” from their experience. The same Hebrew verb is translated “restrain yourself” in 64:12, framing the entire prayer within this longing—that God would activate his promises afresh in a time of loss and decline. We too can pray this way today. This biblical prayer is pre-approved by God. He is still our Father, even when we stray from the faith of the saints of old (v. 16).

Lament that our hearts have grown hard (63:17–19).

Isaiah is not teaching us to blame God when our hearts become hardened by sin. But when we wander from God with careless living, the deeper reason might be God’s own discipline of us, allowing us to drift away (v. 17; cf. Matt 13:10–17; John 8:34; Rom 1:24, 26, 28). The only remedy is that God would “return” with renewing mercies. The ups and downs of church history sadly prove how worldly God’s people can be (vv. 18–19; cf. Deut 4:25–31).

Longing for the presence of God to be dramatically revealed (64:1–5a).

God is able to make his presence in this world an overwhelming reality with historic impact (vv. 1–2). That strong word Oh! in verse 1 expresses a longing for his felt presence. Wonderfully, the One who has surprised us before will keep on surprising us with his history-changing power (v. 3; cf. Exod 15:11; 19:16–20; 34:10; 2Sam 7:23; Ps 66:3–5; Isa 42:16). Only the true God truly intervenes for those who look truly to him (vv. 4–5a; cf. 1Kgs 18:21–39; Isa 45:22).

Lament that we are stuck in long-standing sins (64:5b–7).

The people of God admit, without excuses, how extremely sinful they are and have been for a long time (v. 5b). They know they cannot work their own way out. God’s penitent people confess their low condition with three images. Even their best performances are infectious like an unclean leper, disgusting like a menstrual rag, powerless like a fallen leaf driven along by the wind (v. 6). And, at times, they do not even care (v. 7). Surely, this is the judgment of God: “you have hidden your face from us.”

Longing for the touch of God to be personally felt (64:8–9).

For sinners caught in the web of their own follies, the power of God is their only hope. To God, therefore, his people look, asking him, like a potter, to reshape them into vessels useful for his purposes (v. 8). After all, it was he who chose them as his own (v. 9; cf. Phil 1:6).

For sinners caught in the web of their own follies, the power of God is their only hope.

Final appeal for the intervention of God to be displayed (64:10–12).

Everything God’s people revered had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders (vv. 10–11), and now there is nothing they can do about it. But God is always able to step in and change the course of history (v. 12). Surely, he will—with all his mighty heart (cf. Deut 30:1–10; Jer 32:36–41; Eph 3:20–21).

Though the People of God Are Mixed Now–the True and the False Blended Together–God Is Eagerly Bringing His True People into Their Glorious Eternal Inheritance (65:1–25)

God declares that he is always eager to bless, but he refuses those who refuse him and instead delight in evil (vv. 1–12).

God humbly made himself available to his old covenant people (v. 1; cf. John 1:14–18; Rom 10:20). Patiently and persistently, he offered himself to those who proudly thought their own ideas were better (v. 2; cf. John 1:11; Rom 10:21). Some of his people even indulged in bizarre pagan rituals (vv. 3–4; cf. Isa 1:9). They believed that their made-up worship elevated them above others, but it degraded them in the sight of God (v. 5). He has deeply resolved to confront all such “worship” (vv. 6–7). But still, in judgment, he carefully preserves his true people (vv. 8–10; cf. Matt 13:24–30; Rom 9:27–29; 11:1–5). Isaiah 33:9 and 35:2 suggest Sharon as a scene of desolation, now restored to abundance. Joshua 7:22–26 makes the Valley of Achor a place of trouble, now restored to peace. But all who reject the holy worship of the true God and turn to false gods to bolster their “luck” will experience the opposite: those very gods will become their ruin (vv. 11–12).

Looking far into the future, beyond the second coming of Christ, Isaiah describes a great parting of the ways forever, as hypocrites suffer hell and God’s true servants enjoy heaven (vv. 13–25).

God himself will bring to a final end all hypocrisy (vv. 13–16). “My servants” here are Christ’s flawed but faithful followers, from both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Matt 3:7–12; 8:5–13; Acts 28:23–28; Rom 9:27–33; 11:25–32). The promised destiny of God’s true people is nothing less than “all things new” (vv. 17–25; cf. Rev 21:1, 5). “The former things” of verse 17—that is, the painful existence we endure now—will leave no emotional scars but “shall not be remembered or come into mind.” The joy of our Lord will flow over into our own hearts forever (vv. 18–19). The images of human experience in verses 19b–23 describe our eternal joys with contrasts taken from this temporal life, telling us what heaven will not be like (cf. 1Cor 2:9). It will not be merely an improved version of the present but a glorious newness of life forever. God will be immediately present (v. 24). The whole of nature itself will be at peace, with all evil subdued and every fear removed (v. 25; cf. Gen 3:14–15; Isa 11:6–9; Rom 16:20).

The Worship Of God Is Corrupted by Some Now, but God Will Both Judge His Enemies and Gather His True People for True Worship Forever (66:1–24)

Isaiah concludes his great book by raising a question: What is the object of our heart’s worship? Our eternal destiny is at stake in this searching question.

All who corrupt their worship are making themselves God’s enemies (vv. 1–6). God is so great that we should never be impressed with our sacrifices for him (v. 1; cf. Luke 18:9–14). He does not need our worship, but his heart is drawn to the one who receives his Word with humble awe. Holy Communion is a miracle every time (v. 2; cf. Ps 51:16–17; Isa 57:17). For the one who worships strictly, according to the laws of Moses, and the one who worships sincerely, according to their own feelings—such worship is, to God, no different from the worst of sins when it conceals a heart set against God (vv. 3–4; cf. Matt 23:27). Those who truly love the Lord will be rejected and mistreated by some who say they worship Christ (v. 5; cf. Luke 6:22; John 16:1–4), but the moment is coming when the Lord will dramatically confront his enemies who corrupt their worship (v. 6).

But all who suffer for the honor of the Lord will be miraculously preserved, multiplied, and comforted (vv. 7–14). God promises that his true people will increase surprisingly, and he cannot fail (vv. 7–9; cf. Acts 2:41). Now, therefore, we can rejoice by faith in the richness of our future joys (vv. 10–11). The sorrows of the present will be fully relieved by the comforts of our future glories, the way a baby in its mother’s arms hasn’t a care in the world (vv. 12–14).

The mention of the Lord’s enemies at the end of verse 14 raises the question What will become of them? What is the future for those who do not tremble at his word (v. 2) but choose their own ways (v. 3) and do not listen to him (v. 4) but mistreat those who do love him (v. 5)? The Lord will come, like a warrior, with dramatic judgment against them (vv. 15–17; cf. 2Thes 1:5–10). Their false religions will be exposed as disgusting and will cease forever (v. 17; cf. Gal 6:7).

But for now, dismissing all false religion, the Lord is gathering in his true people from all the nations to offer him true and pure worship (vv. 18–21; cf. Rev 7:9–10). These verses summarize, with images familiar to Isaiah’s generation, the story of worldwide gospel expansion from the days of Acts to our own day and on until the Second Coming of Christ. This vast pilgrimage of new converts from distant foreign places will rally around “a sign” (v. 19) as their focal point of devotion—the cross of Christ. The false “brothers” of verse 5 will be replaced by “your brothers from all the nations” (v. 20). Christ’s merit will make their worship acceptable to God, with new dignity put upon them (vv. 20–21; cf. Acts 10:28–48; Rom 15:15–16; 1Pet 2:4–5, 9).

Finally, the promised joys of the new creation will abound forever (vv. 22–23). The heavens and earth that bore witness to Israel’s failure (cf. 1:2) will become the new heavens and the new earth, where God’s true people will enjoy him in endless rest. Surprisingly and solemnly, outside the heavenly city of God, hell will be like the Valley of Hinnom, the cemetery near Jerusalem of old (cf. Jer 7:30–34). The people of God will see his final judgments upon all who persisted in rebelling against him (cf. Isa 1:2), and they will see what their own sins deserved. The ongoing judgments in hell will not be an arbitrary addition to evil but the energy of evil itself churning on and on, without the softening mercies of God (cf. Matt 25:41; Mark 9:48).

With this disturbing vision of the only two final human destinies, eternal life or eternal death, Isaiah closes his book, leaving us to make up our minds. The only way to escape hell is to go to heaven. The cross of Christ was where he experienced our hell for our sins. He cares that much. We can go to his heaven, but only by his grace received with the empty hands of faith. Heaven will be filled with happy people who are convinced they deserved hell, and hell will be filled with angry people who are convinced they deserved heaven. Do we mind going to heaven on such terms? Is humility too great a sacrifice for us?


Kidner, Derek. “Isaiah,” in New Bible Commentary, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994.

Miscall, Peter D. Isaiah. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.

Motyer, J. Alec. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993.

Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Wheaton: Crossway, 2005.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

­­–––. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Ridderbos, J. Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-18. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

–––. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 19-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969.

–––. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.


The text of Isaiah, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition.  The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language.  If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language.  All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016.   All rights reserved.  The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language.  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A

Isaiah 1


1:1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

The Wickedness of Judah

  Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the LORD has spoken:
  “Children1 have I reared and brought up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
  The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib,
  but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

  Ah, sinful nation,
    a people laden with iniquity,
  offspring of evildoers,
    children who deal corruptly!
  They have forsaken the LORD,
    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    they are utterly estranged.

  Why will you still be struck down?
    Why will you continue to rebel?
  The whole head is sick,
    and the whole heart faint.
  From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
  but bruises and sores
    and raw wounds;
  they are not pressed out or bound up
    or softened with oil.

  Your country lies desolate;
    your cities are burned with fire;
  in your very presence
    foreigners devour your land;
    it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
  And the daughter of Zion is left
    like a booth in a vineyard,
  like a lodge in a cucumber field,
    like a besieged city.

  If the LORD of hosts
    had not left us a few survivors,
  we should have been like Sodom,
    and become like Gomorrah.

10   Hear the word of the LORD,
    you rulers of Sodom!
  Give ear to the teaching2 of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11   “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the LORD;
  I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts;
  I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.

12   “When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
13   Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14   Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
  they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15   When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
  even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16   Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
  cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
  seek justice,
    correct oppression;
  bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

18   “Come now, let us reason3 together, says the LORD:
  though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
  though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19   If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20   but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

The Unfaithful City

21   How the faithful city
    has become a whore,4
    she who was full of justice!
  Righteousness lodged in her,
    but now murderers.
22   Your silver has become dross,
    your best wine mixed with water.
23   Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
  Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
  They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
    and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

24   Therefore the Lord declares,
    the LORD of hosts,
    the Mighty One of Israel:
  “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
    and avenge myself on my foes.
25   I will turn my hand against you
    and will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.
26   And I will restore your judges as at the first,
    and your counselors as at the beginning.
  Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
    the faithful city.”

27   Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28   But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
    and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
29   For they5 shall be ashamed of the oaks
    that you desired;
  and you shall blush for the gardens
    that you have chosen.
30   For you shall be like an oak
    whose leaf withers,
    and like a garden without water.
31   And the strong shall become tinder,
    and his work a spark,
  and both of them shall burn together,
    with none to quench them.


[1] 1:2 Or Sons; also verse 4

[2] 1:10 Or law

[3] 1:18 Or dispute

[4] 1:21 Or become unchaste

[5] 1:29 Some Hebrew manuscripts you