A massive book, and a mighty, holy and saving God. Isaiah’s ministry blows up our puny little view of God, and replaces it with the Living God, and His righteous plans to bring justice and salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. This book is not for the faint-hearted. It is, though, for people who are struggling with faith, and as we discover Isaiah’s message, and His God, faith will grow, and worship will come.
The book begins in the courtroom, God’s courtroom. The universe (‘O heavens! O earth!, v.1) is called to witness God’s charge against His people. These covenant children, who should be obeying their Lord with joy and gladness, have been rebellious, more stubborn than donkeys, and are guilty and heartless (vv.2-3). They’ve been chastened under God’s hand. Isaiah looks around at a land under God’s anger, stripped and wasted, while the people are closer to belonging to Sodom than to God’s true city (vv.5-9). They are condemned, and helpless.
As God prosecutes His people, He knows that there is a kind of rebellion that is very religious. These people push religion at God, with sacrifices and prayers, but all the while are pushing their own godless agenda. Hands open in prayer are hands full of blood (v.15). God’s soul hates this hypocrisy (v.14). He cannot bear any more show of religion in His temple, but He longs to see justice and compassion on the streets (v.17). God’s longing for them to live in line with His Word is further brought out, from v.21 right through to v.26. He is looking for a just society, protection of the vulnerable (v.23), a city shining out His love and His Law (v.26). At the moment she is facing shame and barrenness, and if she persists she must face the fire of destruction (vv.29-31).
But shining out in this darkness is the hope of grace. God longs to minister a grace which will bring dazzling forgiveness (v.18), and for all who are broken at their sin there is the promise of redemption (v.27). Chapter 2 starts with a gorgeous picture of the nations streaming up to Jerusalem to seek the knowledge of God (vv.2-3), and their journey is joined by the flow of grace from out of the city, to a needy world (v.3). God’s heart is to fill the world of war with peace, and to bring a straying people to the light of living in His ways (v.5).
The remainder of ch. 2 is the ongoing pursuit of this wayward people. They live just like the pagans around them (vv.6-8). The best they can do is to hide from God’s anger, since none will escape it (vv.9-20). The proud and arrogant will all be brought low, and none will escape God’s judgment.
The church today needs Isaiah’s message as much as the world does. We have airbrushed out the message of wrath and judgement, and so we shouldn’t wonder if the world thinks that it is some left-behind relic from an earlier age. The simple, stark truth of the Bible, however, is that wrath is real. Gentle and saving Jesus is also furious and judging Jesus. The image John sees in the Revelation is straight from Isaiah 2, and is terrifying:
“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”” (Revelation 6.15-17).
There is a Day of Wrath. Believe it, and be ready for it. And be ready for grace. Today is a Day of Grace: “now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6.2). All of Isaiah’s hearers met Jesus. All of Isaiah’s readers will meet Jesus. All humanity will meet Jesus. Which Jesus will you meet; Judge, or Rescuer? Choose well.