Summary: An overview of Isaiah with the aim of putting the servant songs in context
‘I’d like to inform the congregation this morning that, from now on, we’ll no longer be having a Sunday sermon. I’ve noticed that my messages have been making so little difference that it really isn’t worth all the hours it takes for me to prepare them or for you to sit there and listen to them. Next week, we’ll go straight to the closing song and get home for lunch as soon as we can’.
The prophet Isaiah says to his people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of the people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes’ (Isaiah 6:9–10).
‘Most of you have failed to grasp the Christian life. You are self-centred and worldly in your thinking. You do not understand the glory of God. You do not understand church. You do not listen to my voice. You persistently rebel against me. You have forsaken the Lord. You oppress the innocent. You do not love justice. You are stubborn, proud and arrogant. You do not proclaim my name amongst the nations. Instead you have become like them’!
Israel were shaken to pieces by the shifting tectonic plates of sin and rebellion. And with a tsunami-like force the world was pouring into the church.
Israel forget the size of God. They forgot what they learnt in Theology IIA. So back to school they went! Come with me to Isaiah 40:18, ‘To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in’ (Isaiah 40:18–22).
And down to verse 25, ‘“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing’ (Isaiah 40:25–26).
Job received a similar lesson and he is brought to his knees, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42:5–6). At least Job was moved to repentance. That’s more than we can say for Israel.
Not only did they forget the size and power of God, Israel rejected the glory and holiness of God. By the sixth century B.C. they had a proven track record. They were neither a holy nation nor disciple-making disciples. This diagnosis confronts us in Isaiah 1 which sets the agenda for the whole book. Turn with me to chapter 1:
‘The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him’ (Isaiah 1:1–4).
Israel have breached the covenant (verses 2 and 3), they have refused to be God’s people (verses 4 to 9), they have perverted their worship (verses 10 to 20). Israel have forsaken the Lord, rejected the Holy One and turned their backs on the Creator of the universe. We’ve stumbled upon the lowest point in the history of Israel.
But before we pass judgment on worshippers in a bygone era, we should confess the sins of the ‘worshipping church’ today. Praise God that he has given us his Spirit and we have the assurance that ‘there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). Yet our obligation is to worship God in ways that please to him. As the ‘worship wars’ rage on, the most common feedback goes like this: ‘I don’t like this song’, ‘I don’t like this colour carpet’, ‘I don’t like this ways of doing communion’. As though worship is simply a matter of what I like! Good grief! What have we become?