The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Welcome to the study of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is a large book consisting of 66 chapters. Yet at the outset of the book it handily gives out what this book is all about, that is, the "vision" of the Prophet Isaiah. This then raises a few questions, such as: "Why did the Lord God find it necessary to share the vision" to the people of Isaiah’s day?; "What are the contents of the vision?"; "Is the vision applicable to people living in the 21st Century?"; or “If it is applicable, what are the ways to apply it?” Close reading of the Scriptures indicates that these questions have direct bearing on the well-being of all peoples of all generations, so we would like to cover the book of Isaiah by attempting to find answers to these questions.
Part I. Why is the vision necessary?
God is the God of economy. He does not do anything that is not needed. Why then did the Lord bother to reveal this vision to the people of the day of Isaiah? We find the answer to this question in the first verse of the book. "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." The time period in the history of the Israelites when these four kings ruled represents the moment when Judah, the Southern Kingdom, went irrecoverably corrupt, as a chosen people. Figuratively speaking, Judah as a nation became like a cancer patient; the condition of the cancer has gone so bad, that no medical treatments would work.
Let us ponder the spiritual condition of Judah a little more by considering the time of Isaiah’s calling. When did the Lord call him? Isaiah 6:1 answers the question: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." Why did the Lord time the calling of Isaiah with the death of Uzziah? In what respect was his death significant? For an answer we better think about how Uzziah died. How did he die? Second Chronicles 26:16-19 answers the question. Let us all read this passage together: he died of leprosy for he became so proud as to think that he can violate God's holiness, and still thrive. Did he thrive? No. He could not even survive. The Lord himself zapped him. According to Joseph Flavius, a Jewish historian, no sooner had Azariah the high priest rebuked him than a great earthquake shook the ground, a rent was made in the temple, the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king's face, whereupon the leprosy seized upon the king.It was the moment when the Jewish royalty turned to leprosy; this dramatic turn depicts the spiritual condition of the Israelites. It constituted the demarcation line when the Lord could no longer tolerate his people.
Concerning the level of the corruption of the nation Judah, Isaiah 1:4 states: "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. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness--only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil."
This observation indicates that by the time the Lord commissioned Isaiah as his prophet the condition of the Israelites went so hopeless that only fearful judgment loomed large on them. Yet, it was at such a low point of the Israelites that the Lord started out sharing with them a truly grand vision.
Why did the Lord do this? The reason is obvious: the Lord wants them to not lose hope: the Lord wants to let the light of vision shine upon them, the vision for them to overcome their corruption so they could bounce back to the original purpose of calling.
The Lord's vision given to the people of Judah even as they were going downhill real fast is truly inspiring. One inspiring message we learn is that no matter how things go bad with any individual, society, or nation, one should never despair with the visible reality. In order to overcome the reality and even reverse the course of the despairing reality back to the way of God’s glory one must hold on to the vision that is from the Lord. We cannot emphasize this point too much, for in Proverbs 29:18, it is written: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law."
Part II. What are the contents of the vision?
What then did the Lord reveal to the people of Judah?To answer the question we need to prayerfully read through the entire book of Isaiah. Thankfully though at the outset of the book the Lord summarily describes the contents of the vision, that is, the vision the prophet “Isaiah” saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Consider the meaning of the name Isaiah, for in Hebrew, Isaiah means, “Yaweh is my salvation". Indeed any sincere Bible student will soon discover that the heart of the vision is the Lord himself who alone is the Savior of the world.The book abounds with verses testifying to the same point. For example, in the book we see the Lord asking his children questions like: "Who is my equal" (40:25) or "Who is like me?" (44:7). Then the Lord himself answers the questions saying, "I am the Lord your God" (43:3), or "There is no other god [or Rock]" (44:8; 15:14), or "There is none like me." (46:9)
In what respect then is the Lord different from other gods? In what sense is the Lord not like all others? Repeatedly the Lord says that he alone is the Creator, the maker of the universe and everything in it. He alone is the cause of all causes. He alone causes all to come into existence or go out of existence. Without his approval nothing happens that ever happens. Everything, either good or bad, is all due to him causing the way it is.
This vision (the Lord as the only Savior) is geared to address the problems the Israelites (as well as all the descendants of Adam) had (and may have in the days to come). Throughout the book Isaiah set forth the specifications for the remedy to the problems, that is, the Savior who is to come and indeed came in a human body. In Isaiah 9:6 for example, it is written: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." It goes beyond the scope of our study tonight to go into the details of the meanings of the passage. Tonight we are not going to go into the details of the spec, except to say that the Savior to be born has four distinct titles which again are geared to address the problems of fallen men. For example the title "Wonderful Counselor" suggests that we have an access to all the information, advice, counseling, wisdom, insight, or knowledge that are helpful to solve the problems we have in life. In addition the title "counselor" indicates that we can avail ourselves to the Lord's service on a "personal" level.
The vision addresses the problems of fallen men, not only individually but also collectively, not just for the people of generations of the past but for the people of generations to come. Speaking of the Lord's universal plan of redemption for mankind, Isaiah continues to say in 9:7, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."
It is greatly comforting to know that there is a remedy to all the problems we have. This knowledge motivates us to fight the hard reality, because again as King Solomon mentioned, "Where there is no revelation the people cast off restraint". One of the meanings of the expression "the people cast off restraint" is that but for the vision (which offers a viable solution to a problem) in sight people are left with no choice but to despair, fall victim to the philosophy saying, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”. Then they indulge in pleasure seeking lifestyles only to go from bad to worse.
In our generation we see the same need for the revelation from the Lord. In many ways the condition of the U.S. now resembles the condition of the Judah in the day of Isaiah. While the four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) ruled, Israelites became strong at least militarily. Like Judah of the day when Uzziah ruled, the U.S. still occupies the position of a superpower nation at least militarily. But man’s security built on what is physical such as tanks or missiles, stocks or bonds is nothing but sinking sand; these things cannot secure the well-being of human existence in the way they should. Because they are all physical they cannot address the spiritual needs, such as the need to solve the problem of sin. Because of this, we truly give thanks to God who sent us Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
Part III. How can we apply the vision of Isaiah [to our practical life]?
No matter how wonderful a revelation one might have received, when one does not apply it to one's practical life, the vision becomes of no use. This is particularly true with the vision from the Lord. Practically then how can we apply the vision? Again the key verse sheds light on this question: "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah."
In the first place the vision concerns Judah and Jerusalem. The two words “Judah” and “Jerusalem” are related to the Savior to come, particularly the way in which the Lord would come into this world and save people. Last Monday we studied the Song of Solomon where we learned that we are truly happy when we build a unity of love with the Lord. The Prophet Isaiah introduces to us the Lord saying, “Here is your God.” Therefore we need to concentrate our efforts to maintain a deep love relationship with the Lord. This (a relationship based on the love God demonstrated in and through Jesus) is very important, for just as a love relationship between a husband and a wife works to build a good house church producing and nurturing godly offspring, so also the relationship between the Lord and a believer produces the fruit that lasts forever.
Secondly, after seeing the vision how Isaiah became a different person. Let us open the Bible to Isaiah 6:1-13. Let us read this passage together. This passage describes Isaiah's calling. Before he saw the Lord's vision he used to live as a sinner with "unclean lips". But at the Lord's temple he had a personal encounter with the Lord. While he tarried at the Lord’s temple the Lord forgave him of his sins. The Lord then cleansed him of his sins. The Lord then commissioned him as the Lord's servant. In the course of serving the Lord, Isaiah came to know the Lord better. He then not only got his problems completely resolved, but was able to help many to turn to the Lord. Although absolute majority of people went unbelieving, the Lord used him to not just save his family but also preserve "remnants" as holy seed. Isaiah's example indicates that when we rely on the Lord, all sinners with unclean lips can receive God's grace of forgiveness, and be used as God's servants. As one serves God's purpose of calling, the Lord can help him produce good fruit.
Thirdly we saw that that Lord gave the people of Judah to help them not to despair with the visible realty but work on the hope to bounce back to the original purpose of calling. Likewise, by holding onto the vision from the Lord we can overcome the visible reality and walk in the hope of God’s perfect redemption. When we lose sight of the Lord’s vision, we are bound to despair; even without ourselves knowing, we become fatalistic; quickly wesuffer from anxiety attacks. In this way people lose the power and strength to fight the visible reality. But when one keeps his eyes away from the visible reality and focuses on the Lord the Lord surely provides him with all means necessary, such as wisdom, to distinguish between right and wrong, the courage and strength to choose what is right, and much more.
In conclusion, we learned that the Book of Isaiah shows us the vision of the Lord, the Savior of the world. We also saw that in order to ensure the vision to come true in our practical life, we must take our eyes off the visible reality, lift our eyes to the Lord, commit ourselves to the Lord, and serve him faithfully.
At the outset of Isaiah, the Prophet Isaiah says that the vision he saw concerns "Judah and Jerusalem". Primarily the word "Judah" refers to the source of revelation, for it was out of [the tribe of] Judah [it was prophesied] that the Savior is to come, whereas "Jerusalem" denotes the location of the revelation, for it was in Jerusalem that Jesus fulfilled the gospel. Even today when one goes to Jerusalem, one can track the way to the cross by walking through the route called “Via Dolorosa”. The secondary meaning of the word Judah concerns the other details such as the downfall of the Southern Kingdom called Judah, the Babylonian exile, the Lord’s promise to restore the fallen tent of David, the destruction of Jerusalem temple, and the restoration of the glory to Zion etc.
Similar expressions are found in different places of the book of Isaiah (44:8; 45:5,6,14,18,22; 46:9).