Isaiah’s Call: The Idolater’s Curse and Effect

In Rikk Watts’ Isaiah class, he says that chapter 6 of Isaiah is the theological hinge to the book.

Outline

  • 1.1-2.5: Introduction to Isaiah. A lawsuit is inaugurated on the basis of the Deuteronomy covenant/law code.
  • 2.6-5.30: On the basis of Israel’s present condition, a sentence is given. Judgment and salvation leads to…
  • 6.1-13: Yahweh’s appearing as the great King and Judge in his Temple. Isaiah is called to effect the sentence of ultimate sanction (with salvation for a remnant).
  • 7.1-9.7: The sanction inaugurated:
    • Syro-Ephraimite War
    • Judgment is brought on faithless Ahaz and salvation is brought through Yahweh’s Davidic prince – a contrast between kingships.

So Isaiah 6 is the commissioning call of the one who will implement the sentence of judgment on Israel. The blinding, deafening, and burning are all related to judgment on idolatry. Since Judah worships idols she will become as blind as they are, “hence she too will be burned in the fires of judgment, just as they are” (pdf handout, 55).

Structure of Isaiah 6

1. Vision (6.1-7):

The inescapable conflict between Yahweh’s “glory” and Israel’s “heavy” iniquity issues in Israel’s judgment.

  • Setting (vv1-4)
  • Purification (vv5-7)

2. Commission (6.8-13):

Isaiah’s purging with fire is to become Israel’s experience.

  • Commission (vv8-10)
  • Outcome (vv11-13)

Setting (vv1-4)

Isaiah 6 has been a famous Call to Christian Service” for many. Yet, as Watts rightly points out, this is not everybody’s call. Isaiah was called to preach, but nobody would listen. This is not the kind of call people dream of having. “I love it when nobody listens to me,” said by nobody.

This vision takes place in the year that Uzziah died. He has been the best king since Solomon, and there is plenty of uncertainty as to who will rule over Judah now. But Isaiah receives a vision of the true King of Heaven, and his heavenly council (see 1 Kings 22.19-28 where, like here, judgment is soon to be announced).

In contrast to “the haughtiness and self-examination of men” (2.11-14, p56), here it is YHWH, not Israel, who is high and lifted up. The attitude of the seraphim is one of reverence in God’s presence, covering their faces and feet and crying “Holy, holy, holy.” In contrast, Israel couldn’t care less about their sin. What Isaiah alone knows will soon be known by all.

Purification (vv5-7)

Isaiah identifies himself with Israel. Watts says the ‘unclean lips’ may be crucial because it indicates false confession (Exod 20.7). Perhaps Isaiah hasn’t grasped both the enormity of what it means to serve holy Yahweh and the enormity of Israel’s sin. It may be a metaphor for covenant unfaithfulness, that of Israel’s unclean confession (Isa 8.13).

The heated coal/stone is put on Isaiah’s lips, thus purifying his lips and rendering righteous confession. Isaiah’s purification is by fire. Israel too will be purified by the fires of trial and judgment.

Commission (vv8-10)

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed (6.9-10).

Other translations soften the Hebrew text.

LXX

And he said, Go, and say to this people, Ye shall hear indeed, hut ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

Qumram

“Seeing you will understand and your eyes will be appalled at the idolatry surrounding idolatry.”

Though we see they do give at least one interpretive clue as to Israel’s problem: idolatry. G. K. Beale says that Israel’s blindness and deafness is connected to their following of idols, and this is seen is Psalms 115 and 135.

Ps 115.2-11

Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
10  O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
11  You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

Psalms 135

This psalm speaks of how the Lord does as he pleases. He has chosen Israel as his own possession. He is above all gods. He does what he pleases to do. In that we see his strength. He brings clouds, lightning, and rain. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt. He sent signs and wonder against Egypt. He struck down nations and kings and gave the land as a heritage to his possession Israel.

Yahweh deserves praise for he is good. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.

He is unlike the idols of silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have eyes, ears, noses, and mouths, but they do not see, hear, breath, or speak. Those who make and trust them become like them.

De-creation

Israel has rejected God for so long that it is as if God says, “You want to follow after your idols? So be it. I’ll give you what you want then. I will make you to be like your idols… blind, deaf, dumb, and heard-hearted.” So Yahweh ‘creates’ Israel in the image of the gods they worship. “The people will become like the very idols they worship – blind and deaf” (57).

There is a back-and-forth debate in Isaiah about the wisdom of trusting Yahweh. Israel thinks they can see. They think they have wisdom, but it’s based on “idolatrous catagories.” They think they are clever and wise to partner with Assyria, but God gives them over to their own wisdom. God here, in his judgment, gives Israel up (Rom 1.24) to their own wants and desires, their own idolatries (the nation’s chief sin, 1.29-31; 2.6ff).

In Deuteronomy 4.15-28 the “primary sin against the covenant is… idolatry” (57). The result is “utter destruction and exile among the nations” (Deut 29.22ff; 31.16-18).

Outcome (vv11-13)

Isaiah asks how long this will happen. Yahweh responds that the cities will be laid wate, and if there is a tenth remaining they will be burned again. Again? When was the first?

Isaiah 1.29-31

For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.

For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.

And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.

They shall be burned by their idolatries and by Yahweh’s judgments, just like their idolatrous trees. There is a stump that remains, and this might be a remnant, a holy seed. That might be the tenth (or ‘stump’) that remains. As this is already too long, in my next post we’ll look a bit at how Is 6.9-10 is brought over the the NT. If there is a remnant spoken of here in Isaiah, the NT Israel is it, and they are still idolatrous.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

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In my last post we looked at some of the original context of Isaiah 7-9 in dealing with the prophecy of the “virgin birth.” According to Rikk Watts, the “virgin” here is not a virgin giving birth, but a young maiden who will give birth, and this birth would point to God being with (or against) King Ahaz and all of Judah.

But What’s Going On in Matthew?

Matt 1.20-23 says, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Though this isn’t as difficult as Matthew’s use of Hosea 11.1 in 2.15 of his Gospel, even still Matthew isn’t prooftexting here. He’s telling us who truly fulfills this statement. How does Matthew know Jesus is the true ‘Immanuel’? Because God raised Jesus from the dead. In essence Matthew is saying, “You want to see the Davidic Prince? You want God to be with us? Here he is. Jesus is Immanuel, and you must believe in him.”

But what happens if the people don’t believe? What if their hearts are hardened and they are deaf and blind like their idols? Matthew has some of the strongest language toward those who refuse to believe in Jesus:

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8.11-12; cf. 22.13; 25.30).

Matthew expects the reader to see Israel’s story in the name “Immanuel.” King Herod hardens his heart when he hears about the birth of Christ. Even the scribes, the Pharisees, and Israel herself reject Jesus. They are imitating the hardened kings (like Ahaz) and forefathers from years before. Once Israel responds to Jesus with rejection, Jesus begins to speak in parables in Matthew 13 (and quotes Isa 6.9-10). As a result, Israel’s heart is hardened all the more, just like in the book of Isaiah.

Immanuel, who will save Israel from their sins, is the final and ultimate expression of God’s judgment on an unbelieving nation. And the disaster that occurred on Israel in 586 BC under Babylon would be reseen under the Romans in 70 AD (Matt 24).

Isaiah 9.6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

What About the Virgin Birth?

Neither Matthew nor Luke give much explanation about the virgin birth because it’s not as important as the rest of the story. How do we know Jesus is God among us? By his birth? No, because of the way He lived.

In the Greek religion, many gods and demi-gods were born from virgins. Perhaps Matthew and Luke don’t pursue the conversation because they don’t want to associate Jesus with the Greek pantheon. Jesus was born differently than everyone else, and he lives differently than everyone else. He perfectly upholds the kingdom  of God on his shoulders with justice and righteousness.

Watts’ point is that there is a historical context to what is going on in Isaiah 7-9. But, typologically speaking, there is a child who will come and will bring a greater judgment if he is rejected. He is Immanuel who is God among us, and to reject him is to bring God’s judgment upon yourself. It is only fitting that Mary was a young, unmarried (though betrothed), woman who would give birth to a child while still a virgin.

Conclusion

I think Watts provides a compelling case in reading Isaiah’s prophecy through Matthew’s eyes. Many commentators have spent more time looking at the role of the virgin plays between Isaiah and Matthew rather than the role of Immanuel. I think Watts does a good job at keeping his eye on what was important to Matthew. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this. Does this seem to be a better interpretation? Or do you think Isaiah was prophesying about the coming Messiah? Watts’ conclusions are compelling, but perhaps you have a better perspective?

The Virgin Birth in Isaiah

isaiah-6-chagall

This is part one of a two part set of posts on the virgin birth in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1. It’s not going to be some kind of detailed exegesis on the chapters, but more so the thoughts of Rikk Watts taken from his Isaiah lectures. The usual question goes something like this, “Does the Old Testament really predict a virgin birth?” Watts says no, it doesn’t. In fact, he says it makes no such prediction, but rather, it points to Someone greater. So what I’ll do this time is cover the original context and then consider if the woman in Isaiah 7 is a virgin.

Original Context

While Ahaz is the king of Judah, Rezin (king of Syria) and Pekah (king of Israel) go to Jerusalem to make war. Yahweh sends Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to listen to these two puffs of smoke. He is told that if he is not firm in faith (if he does listen to them and fears them), then he “will not be firm at all.” In fearing them Ahaz is tempted to renounce his sonship under Yahweh (Ps 2.7) and become a son-servant to the King of Assyria (which he does in 2 Kgs 16.7).

Next, the Lord asks Ahaz to request a sign, but Ahaz refuses to “test” the Lord. But now Yahweh will give a sign of His choosing, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria (Is 7.14-17).

At first, Ephraim (Israel, a.k.a. “not Judah”) would have been destroyed in 65 years. Now, before this child can grow to the age of knowing right and wrong, the Lord will bring Assyria onto Ahaz. In fact, by chapter 8, Assyria will come before the boy even knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother.” Things are only getting worse for Ahaz, the hardened king of Judah who is fulfilling Isaiah 6.9-10, “And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’””

Things will be doom-and-gloom for some time, but eventually “the people who walked in darkness” will see “a great light” (9.2). Verses 6 and 7 famously tell the readers that a greater king is coming, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

We know this hope to be Jesus, as Matthew 1.23 and 4.16 quote Isaiah 7.14 and 9.1-2. Ahaz is not the final authority. Jesus will be The Davidic King, the true Son of God.

The Meaning of the Sign of the “Virgin”

Is the sign intended to point to a future virgin birth? Some say it is, but Watts disagrees. He says it’s about a timeframe, one that centers around the age of the child. Isaiah’s saying, “If you don’t change your ways, within x number of years, you’re going to experience deadly trouble from the Assyrians.“ Before this “Immanuel” (meaning ‘God is with us’) becomes of age, Israel will know what it means for God to be with them, and it will be a visit in judgment.

Who is this Virgin Woman?

While I don’t have the resources on hand to go over this, nor the proper linguistical knowledge, according to Watts, this word for virgin in the Hebrew (‘almah) means an unmarried woman. “Any woman of marital age would be a virgin” (Watts, Lecture #4). If a girl was unmarried, then she was likely a virgin. While many read “the virgin will conceive” and think it points to a virgin conception, “no one in Jewish literature read this statement as a virgin conception” (Watts, Lecture #4).

(As for Matthew’s use of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, Craig Keener says, “[T]he earlier Greek version’s term for young woman usually (albeit) not always meant virgin, as in Matthew.” However, I do not have the finesse to go into these kinds of Greek and Hebrew discussions. I can merely provide Watts’ discussion and some clarifying comments).

To reiterate,, if this word doesn’t mean “virgin,” but, instead, “young woman,” then what we have is a young, unmarried woman who will give birth to a child, one who will be a sign to Ahaz of God’s promised judgment on his and the people’s rebellious hearts (Is 6.9-10). It would make sense that this “woman” isn’t Mary, and that this soon-to-be-born “child” wouldn’t be Jesus for how would Jesus be a sign to Ahaz? How could he be a sign to Ahaz when Ahaz would have been dead for roughly 700 years by the time Jesus was born? There must be more to this story.

What then is Matthew’s purpose? Well, you’ll have to wait for part two.

Hate the sin, love the sinner?

IVPDoBT
I’m working through the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology right now on my own time (and not as a review). It views the themes of the biblical canon as a whole (a theology of the whole Bible on a particular subject). Here, Carson writes on the topic of Love. I won’t comment on the majority of his post except for this one sub-section titled The thesis that God hates sin but loves sinners.

Whether spoken to extinguish the fires of heated judgment or to evade the guilt of one’s own sin, this is a popular saying among Christians. Yet what are we to think about those psalms which speak of God hating the sinner? Phrases like that, though few, are biblical (for an example, read on). Whereas the assumption that “God hates the sin, yet loves the sinner” is never explicitly stated in the Scripture (but, in some way, by Augustine and, more explicitly, Ghandi). How does God really feel toward the sinner?

There is a small element of truth in this thesis. God always hates sin; he is invariably and implacably opposed to it. And it is true that God loves sinners: God ‘demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 3:16). Nevertheless the thesis, with its simplistic antithesis between the personal sinner and sin in the abstract, is mistaken. The same apostle who declares that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against ‘all the godlessness and wickedness of men’ (Rom. 1:18) also speaks of God’s wrath against individuals (2:5); indeed we are all ‘by nature children of wrath’ (nrsv). The first fifty Psalms repeatedly describe the kinds of people on whom God’s wrath rests, not just the kinds of sin. Indeed, the language can move from God’s wrath to God’s hate and abhorrence: ‘The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors’ (Ps. 5:5–6, niv).

None of this means that God’s wrath is arbitrary or whimsical. In Scripture, God’s wrath, however affective, is the willed and righteous response of his holiness to sin. God’s holiness, like God’s love, is intrinsic to the very being of God; his wrath is not. To put the point another way: God has always been holy, as he has always been love; he has not always been wrathful. But where his holiness confronts the rebellion of his creatures, he must be wrathful (and the entire sweep of the Bible’s storyline insists he is), or his holiness is anaemic. Yet for all that he is no less the God of love.

Yes, God did love the world so much that He sent His only Son, but, alternatively, in the end, sin must be judged. God holds wrath against the sinner because of their sin. Whereas, for the believer, the wrath of God toward our sin was revealed against Christ at the cross. Because of this, knowing God in Christ, we are to strive for holiness. To look like our Father who graciously adopted us into His holy family through the death of His Son.


In the coming weeks I plan to write up a few posts (no promises on length nor consistency), but there are a number of topics here that interest me, especially as I become increasingly interested in biblical theology. Being that the term Biblical Theology is not as widely known as one would hope, and since one could study the biblical theology of pretty much every subject in the Bible, there’s enough to keep anyone’s hands full.

Norway3-The-carefree-Traveler

Besides that, I’m in Norway now. (This is not my backyard, but I will find it). Mari, her family, and I are gearing up for our wedding celebration in June. Among setting up for that, having family and friends over, and painting a few houses, I’ll have a set of summer reading to go on about, some reviews, some I already own and really need to work through. I looking forward to the reading, the relaxing, the painting, and the mountains.

Jesus: the Passover Lamb, No Bones About It

Jim Hamilton’s What Is Biblical Theology? has been eye-opening. It was an easy read with little technical lingo, yet the overall connections he shows have far-reaching meaning to them. He shows how prophecy is fulfilled in patterns, not just by “prophetic utterances.” Hamilton examines key symbols, patterns and themes that are found throughout Scripture. One of the texts I’ll focus on is John 19:36, These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’
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Many of us have probably heard that the Passover Lamb pointed to Jesus, and that He represents what the Passover Lamb does. Yet John 19:36 is a fulfillment of Exodus 12:46 where Moses tells the people, It [the lamb] shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.”
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That doesn’t sound like a “prediction” of an unbroken Messiah to me. I don’t imagine anyone was thinking, “Oh, that means the Messiah will have no broken bones!” How then is there a fulfillment of what isn’t prophecy?

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Let’s diverge for a second. In Psalm 18 David tells how the Lord rescued him from the hands of his enemies, including Saul. He professes his love for the Lord (18:1-3), then uses metaphors to describe his difficulties (18:4-5) and how he called upon Yahweh [the Lord] (18:6). The Lord answers his prayers and David tells us how using Mt. Sinai imagery (Ps. 18:7-15, cf. Ex. 19:16-20). He goes on to liken the Lord’s saving hand to the parting of the Red Sea (Ps 18:15; cf. Ex. 15:8), to his being dawn out of the waters as Moses was (Ps. 18:16; cf. Ex. 2:10), and to the Lord taking him into a broad place like the Land of Promise (Ps. 18:19). 
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David uses the events of the exodus and the conquest of the land as a form of interpretive schema to show how the Lord saved him from his distress. 

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What does this have to do with Jesus? David used the exodus events as a template to shows God’s salvation. The exodus was the paradigm of God’s saving hand to the Hebrews. In fact, Isaiah speaks of a second exodus, and Jesus would actually be the one to come and usher it in (Lk 9:31; NKJV says His decease; ESV says his departure). The exodus was the archetype, the template, the motif, the paradigm to be used, and David’s deliverance is another “installment in the typological pattern of the exodus” (p. 85).

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John doesn’t say that Exodus 12:46 predicts that the Messiah will not have any broken bones. He makes the claim that Jesus equals the typological fulfillment of the Passover lamb. “The death of Jesus fulfills the death of the lamb” (p. 85) to wipe away the sins of not just Israel, but the whole world.

“What Is Biblical Theology?” Table of Contents

To give you an idea of the book, here’s a look at the Table of Contents:

1. A Better World Breaks Through
2. What Is Biblical Theology?

Part 1: The Bible’s Big Story
3. The Narrative
4. Plot: Conflict, Episodes, and Theme
5. The Mystery

Part 2: The Bible’s Symbolic Universe
6. What Do Symbols Do?
7. Imagery
8. Typology
9. Patterns

Part 3: The Bible’s Love Story
10. A Song for the Lady in Waiting: The Bride of Christ in Biblical Theology
11. The Church’s Identity in the Story
12. The Church’s Setting in the Story
13. The Church’s Plot Tension and Its Resolution

The 3 main sections of this book can be simplified into 3 words:
Story, Symbol, and Church.

I’ve made it up to Chapter 11: The Church’s Identity in the Story, and so far I’m really enjoying this book. It’s simple, yet good. Basic, but deep. I’ve read of a lot of what he’s saying from one of his other books (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment), but this is still great stuff. There are new insights that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a quick and fairly easy read for anyone and everyone.

More on this book soon.