Summary: God is the Holy One who expects his people to be holy just as he is holy, but at the same time he’s the God of irresistible grace who forgives us and promises to defend us and protect us from all the attacks of the evil one. But we have to remain faithful
A King Forgotten
It’s a tragic story isn’t it? A nation chosen, indeed created, by God to be his special possession. A nation nurtured and helped along at every point. Rescued from captivity in Egypt, given the law to direct their daily lives, given priests and kings to guide them; and it’s all been for nothing. They’ve failed so badly that it seems there’s no longer any help for them. In a mere 400 years they’ve gone from being a flourishing nation to being under siege, about to be abandoned by God.
Or is it the other way around? Has God abandoned them or have they abandoned God? You see this book isn’t primarily about Israel. It’s really a book about God. And the problem with Israel is that they’ve forgotten who God really is.
You see it there in v4. God is the “Holy One of Israel”. In fact Isaiah uses this expression 25 times to reinforce how bad is their predicament. It’s an expression that encapsulates God’s majesty - he’s the king above all kings - his purity - he rejects all unrighteousness - and his transcendence - he stands above and beyond all sinful behaviour of evil men and women. And if you thought this wasn’t important we’ll see in a couple of weeks time how that word holy is repeated three times for emphasis. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. We might say infinitely holy is the Lord God Almighty.
Yet at the same time he’s also the Holy One of Israel: he’s brought himself into a close relationship with this particular nation. And that’s the root of their failure. Their rebellion against him is like the rebellion of ungrateful children towards their parents, indeed of a creature against its maker.
So Isaiah begins with what sounds like the reading of the charges in a court case: God has reared his children, brought them up but they’ve rebelled against him. Even a brief consideration of nature shows that this is an unnatural response.
God has chosen them yet Israel doesn’t know him or understand him (v3). They’ve forsaken him, despised him (v4). And as a result they’re estranged from him.
Still, God hasn’t given them up. He’s disciplined them (v5) but even then they’ve ignored him. And as a result their life as a nation is in tatters.
Look at how it’s described in ch.1. They’ve rebelled against him (v2) and as a result they’ve suffered a national calamity - (vs5-8). Their religious life is a farce, mere tokenism, unrelated to their behaviour outside the Temple (vs10-15).
Their infidelity towards God has led to social collapse, corruption at the top and impending judgement (vs21-25).
Yet even as this list of crimes and punishment are being read out, we discover there’s hope for the future.
A King Foretold
Here’s one of the amazing things abut this prophecy of Isaiah. Always, juxtaposed with God’s judgement we find God’s grace coming to the fore. God’s discipline is that of a loving father, not a vengeful despot. Like the prodigal’s father, at every point God is longing for them to repent, to come back to him. So we find in v18, in amongst the list of their failures, these words: “18Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” God in his unsurpassing grace extends the offer of forgiveness to those who’ll repent, who’ll return to him in obedience.
And then a few verses later we find the promise of restoration. God’s judgement, as severe as it is, is meant not to destroy but to cleanse, to refine. Afterwards, the judges will return, Jerusalem will be redeemed by justice, its inhabitants who repent, by righteousness (26-27), while rebels and sinners are destroyed together.
At the start of ch2 we see the first of many promises of the restoration of Jerusalem as the seat of God’s rule.
Jerusalem will be raised up as the highest of the mountains (2:2-3). Here is the promise of a new regime established in justice, with God as king, providing justice and peace. (4)
And his kingdom will no longer be just over Israel. When it says Jerusalem will be raised up as the highest of the mountains, this isn’t just a matter of its preeminence, though that is certainly part of it. It’s also that it can be seen from the far ends of the earth. It’s raised up so people can find their way to it. We’re told all the nations shall stream into the restored Jerusalem. And why will they come? To learn the Lord’s ways. God will become the Holy One of all peoples, not just Israel. All nations will seek to learn from his law how he wants them to live.