Archive for November, 2011

Isaiah 1 (Day 680) 11 November 2011

       1: We come now to the second longest book in the Bible, and to the first of the purely prophetic books. The book of Isaiah covers a long period of time. The chronology presented in verse 1 has him prophesying in the southern kingdom of Judah for better than 60 years. King Uzziah’s rule began about 792 B.C. and King Hezekiah’s rule ended around 686 B.C. We have, of course, met Isaiah before. His relationship with Hezekiah was well chronicled (see 2 Kings 19-20 and 2 Chronicles 32:20, 32). He was mentioned only once in the record of Uzziah’s reign (2 Chronicles 26:22) and not at all in the records of the reigns of Jotham (ruled 750-732 B.C.) and Ahaz (ruled 732-716 B.C. – there is some overlap in the records and the exact dates of their reigns are a matter of considerable debate).

       It is instructive to go back and read 2 Chronicles 26 for the record of Uzziah’s reign.

       2-10: The words God speaks through Isaiah are not words of affirmation or encouragement but rather words of disappointment and judgment. The nation is sinful; that is why they are in such a quandary and have been ravaged by neighboring enemies. That situation described here is consonant with what we read in 2 Kings about the decline of Judah during that period.

       11-17: God no longer accepts their sacrifices and wants them to cease because their behavior is not in keeping with the spirit of worship. Before God will acknowledge their offerings they must stop doing evil and treat the underprivileged with compassion. “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”

       18-20: If they would only begin to show compassion to those who are cast off, then their transgressions would be forgiven and forgotten. If not, God is going to turn his back while the nations devour them.

       21-26: Jerusalem has become a completely degenerate city, and God intends to let his anger pour over them. Notice that now it is not just other nations that will punish them, but God says “I will turn my hand against you.”

       27-31: Still, God has no notion of allowing Jerusalem and Mt. Zion to be totally destroyed. Justice and righteousness will ultimately prevail, but those who have worshiped wooden idols (“the oaks in which you delighted”) will be to God no more than logs thrown on the fire.

 

Isaiah 2 (Day 681) 12 November 2011

       1-4: Isaiah “sees” a word, that is, a pronouncement. He describes a vision of the rise of Mt. Zion as the world’s religious center where people come from all over to learn of God’s ways. When that time comes, when every nation seeks God’s ways, then peace will reign supreme.

       5-9: God invites Jacob (Israel) for a “walk”, and explains where they’ve gone wrong. They have forgotten their covenant with God and have been influenced by the religions of the peoples around them, particularly the Philistines, and have been enamored of foreign soothsayers. They have admired the silver and gold idols and longed after the wealth their neighbors possess.

       10-18: Isaiah tells the people to hide, for God is going to come and punish their pride and haughtiness. The pronouncement against the cedars and oaks, the high hills and towers deals with pagan practices that used idols carved from tree trunks and altars of sacrifice on hilltops and mountains. The high towers and fortified walls and merchant ships are seen as symbols of godless cultures against which God will pronounce judgment.

       19-22: He tells them to hide in caves and holes to escape the “terror of the LORD” (verse 21). They will throw away their idols to the moles (if they hide in a hole) and to the bats (if they hide in a cave) because they will finally see that their idols are worthless. Verse 22 adds that, when it comes to God’s judgment, human beings are just as worthless as idols for they have only the breath that God gave them in the first place.

 

Isaiah 3 (Day 682) 13 November 2011

       1-5: Because of their unfaithfulness, the fabric of society will begin to unravel. Their elders will not be respected. There will be shortages of food and water. The implication is that this will result from their arrogance and sinfulness rather than from drought or famine; in other words, their system of supply will break down. Having no respect for God, people will no longer respect one another. The reference to “boys as princes” may indicate Uzziah (also known as Azariah), who came to the throne at age 16 (2 Kings 15:1-2), and was king when Isaiah began his career as a prophet. The conditions described in this paragraph may well be the very things Isaiah is observing as he goes about Jerusalem.

       6-8: The city will become so pitiful nobody will want to take responsibility, and they will be in such a state not because of natural disasters or enemies but because of their faithlessness.

       9-12: The judgment on the city and the nation becomes in verse 12 a lament over “my people” who are being misled and confused by their leaders.

       13-15: Isaiah imagines a courtroom setting where God levels the charge against the elders and princes. They are supposed to lead and protect, but they have mismanaged affairs and hurt the people, especially the poor.

       16-17: Suddenly the condemnation is levied upon the “daughters of Zion,” for their wanton promenading in the streets. They will be humiliated, says the prophet. Note that “daughters of Zion,” a term mentioned here and in 4:4, is used in an insulting way. Compare Song of Songs 3:11 for the only other occurrence of the term in the Bible.

       18-26: When the day of the LORD comes, all the jewelry and finery and other things the “daughters of Zion” are using in order to arouse the desire of the men they meet in the streets will be taken away. Verse 25 puts the picture in the setting of a battle, and we note that the description of their fate is precisely what will happen to them when Nebuchadnezzar’s troops enter the city a century and a half later.

 

Isaiah 4 (Day 683) 14 November 2011

       1: This verse would fit better as the last verse of the previous chapter. The description of the fate of the wanton women of Jerusalem is completed; now they are willing to give anything to be married and thus have their disgrace taken away. Earlier, of course, they had no notion their behavior was disgraceful.

       2-6: Suddenly the prophet paints a totally different picture, and in fact many scholars think these verses are later additions, or perhaps displaced from some other part of the book. Once the terrible things have passed, whoever is left will be called holy. The phrase “recorded for life” is probably meant to refer to a census of the survivors. God will once again be present with his people, as signified by the cloud by day and the fire by night (see Exodus 13:21).

 

Isaiah 5 (Day 684) 15 November 2011

       1-7: Verse7 reveals that the vineyard is Israel, and “my beloved” is God. God established Israel with great expectations, only to have them turn away from the covenant.  God asks the people for a verdict in verse 3, but without waiting for a reply determines that the vineyard will be made a waste.

       8-15: Statements of punishment are levied against those who accumulate wealth at the expense of others (8-10), those who live only to party (11-13), and the ruling class who have overburdened the people (14-15).

       16-17: God the just will see that the country is returned to nature.

       18-24: The diatribe against the wicked continues. They are condemned for taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude towards God’s pronouncements through the prophets.

       25: This verse is written in the past tense, as if the prophet is now looking back on the outcome of the curses of verses 8-24.

       26-30: God will summon a nation far away to carry out the sentence of destruction. Not long after Isaiah’s time the Assyrians invaded Israel, but Judah lasted until the Babylonians came a century after Israel’s fall.

 

Isaiah 6 (Day 685) 16 November 2011

       1-5: It is helpful to know something about the setting in which Isaiah prophesied. Uzziah, king of Judah, died about 740 B.C. A victim of leprosy, he was actually succeeded by his son Jotham around 750 B.C., and Jotham ruled for sixteen years. During Uzziah’s reign Judah was strong, but toward the end of Jotham’s reign the kingdom began to be threatened by powerful enemies (2 Kings 15:37). The fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria, came in 723-722 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians.

       After Uzziah’s death Isaiah sees a frightening vision of God on a throne above the temple, his robes filling it. Seraphs are strange winged beings that show up in the prophetic imagination, though only here are they called seraphs. Ezekiel sees them with four wings instead of six (Ezekiel 1:6-9) and refers to them simply as “living creatures.” They serve as God’s heralds. The vision stuns Isaiah; he is not worthy to see such things.

       6-8: The vision continues with a seraph touching his lips with a live coal from the altar, symbolizing that his lips have been cleansed of all sin. He hears God call for a volunteer, and answers “Here I am!”

       9-13: He learns that he has volunteered to be God’s prophet of doom. His job is to utterly fail at preaching, to be so ineffective that the people will not repent and turn to the LORD. He is to persist in this hapless task until the land lies waste and the people are dispossessed.

       Now, this is an extraordinary revelation: sometimes God wants us to try so that we will fail!

 

Isaiah 7 (Day 686) 17 November 2011

1-2: At least half a dozen years have passed. Ahaz (ruled from about 732 to 716 B.C.) is on the throne. He was judged to be a wicked king (2 Kings 16), taking part in worship at the hilltop pagan shrines and altars that had become so popular among the people. During his reign the country quickly declined. King Pekah of Israel and King Resin of Damascus became allies and attacked Judah unsuccessfully, but psychologically the people of Jerusalem were shaken.

3-9: The LORD tells Isaiah to encounter Ahaz at a certain place and tell him to have faith because Rezin and Pekah will not prevail. There is a curious parenthetic remark in verse 8 about Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) being shattered with 65 years. The overthrow of Samaria actually happened about 12 years later. The reference to the “heads” of Damascus and Samaria is intended to be an assurance to Ahaz, who is in fact a descendant of David, and David’s line was to rule forever, you know.

10-17: God speaks directly to Ahaz, inviting him to demand a sign, presumably to assure him that what Isaiah has told him is truly of God. Ahaz self-righteously refuses to demand a sign, upon which Isaiah makes a pointed pronouncement: by the time a pregnant woman can have a child and raise the child to the age of accountability (about age 12), the king of Assyria will have wiped out Damascus and Samaria. The child will be named Immanuel, which means “God with us,” an assurance that God will thwart the current plans Samaria and Damascus have against Jerusalem.

In the Greek translations of the text the pregnant young woman is referred to as a virgin and this verse became a proof text for Matthew 1:23, for the early Christian evangelists understood Jesus, born of a virgin, to be the incarnation of the very presence of God.

18-21: These four pronouncements, each beginning with “on that day,” flesh out the destiny of the northern kingdom. The countryside will suffer the kind of devastation visited on Egypt during the time of Moses. Assyria will be like a razor in God’s hands, “shaving” the countryside. Though there will be a scarcity of cattle, because the land has reverted back to nature the cattle will be well fed and able to provide an “abundance of milk.” Finally, as the land becomes more and more overgrown, cattle will graze freely and hunters will roam the briar-covered hills in search of game.

 

Isaiah 8 (Day 687) 18 November 2011

       1-4: These verses are a follow-up to the passage in the last chapter about the young woman bearing the child Immanuel. Here, however, the young woman is “the prophetess,” and the name of the child is to be “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens,” a description of unfolding events that will result in the despoiling of both Samaria and Damascus by the Assyrians. The tablet is inscribed and attested before the birth occurs to prove that Isaiah knew beforehand what was going to happen, and therefore demonstrate that he is indeed a prophet of God. The time-frame is narrower now: the Assyrian conquest will take place by the time the child is able to say “Mama” and “Daddy.” The “prophetess” is understood by most commentators to be Isaiah’s wife or consort, and the child is Isaiah’s child. The paragraph shows that Isaiah knew what was going to happen in the war with Syria, and is a word of hope to Judah that Assyria will be their instrument of rescue from the designs of their northern neighbors.

       5-10: However, here we have a second description of the advance of Assyria which now is continued into Judah, allowed by God because of the apostasy of the people of Jerusalem. Shiloah was a small stream of potable water that flowed out of a spring known as Gihon in the city of Jerusalem. Here it is used to refer to the line of David, and Isaiah is saying the people have refused to rally behind the king, a descendant of David, and instead have cowered in fear before Rezin king of Damascus and Pekah king of Samaria, the son of Remaliah. In contrast to the little stream that represents David’s line is the mighty River Euphrates, symbolizing the power of Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

       11-15: The basic point of these verses is that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are in fear and dread of the wrong thing; they should fear God above all.

       16-22: Isaiah is speaking here. Verse 16 reveals that he is the leader of a group of disciples, a statement that has scholars speculating that a school headed by Isaiah was responsible for preserving his sayings and perhaps for the final version of the book we are reading. In verse 18 “the children whom the LORD has given me” is a reference to Shear-jashub (7:3 – “a remnant shall return”) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:2-3 – “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens”). He denounces those who depend on seers to contact dead spirits and on pagan gods to teach them.

 

Isaiah 9 (Day 688) 19 November 2011

       1-7: Now, however, Isaiah sees a light at the end of a long tunnel of troubles. Zebulun and Naphtali are references to the northern kingdom that will fall to the Assyrians, and Galilee is also an area in the north. These territories will be reclaimed. The “great light” is perhaps a reference to the coronation of Hezekiah in 727 B. C., or to the birth of a crown prince, which occasion Isaiah sees as God’s promise to restore the kingdom to its Davidic splendor. Curiously, translators typically translate the names given to the child of promise – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace – whereas the children born earlier – Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz – are left in their Hebrew guise. The Hebrew for the name in verse 6 is Peleh yo’hen el nibor av’ad ar shalom. Maybe that’s why it’s always translated. Of course, the English form of this name is picked up by Christians later to represent the Christ, perhaps most notably in Handel’s Messiah.

       8-12: A bit of history. God sent his word of warning but was ignored. Instead they said in arrogance that they could rebuild or replace anything God destroyed. So God allowed them to be punished by the Arameans and by the Philistines. But that did not assuage God’s anger.

       13-17: The second round: the people still did not turn to God, so God removed “head and tail,” – the dignitaries and rulers are the head, the lying prophets the tail – and had no pity even on children or widows or orphans. But that did not assuage God’s anger.

       18-21: God’s people fought against each other – Israel against Judah – a situation presented by Isaiah as a kind of cannibalism. Still, God’s anger was not assuaged.

 

Isaiah 10 (Day 689) 20 November 2011

       1-4: This paragraph continues (and completes) the section that began at 9:8. God’s judgment is visited on his people in 4 movements, each ending with “for all this his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still.” This word is for the courts and the judges and their unjust treatment of the poor, the widow and the orphan.

       5-11: Now attention is turned to Assyria. Isaiah says that though it was God’s intent that Assyria would be the instrument by which Damascus (“a godless nation”) and Samaria (“the people of my wrath) would be punished, the Assyrians will over achieve and have designs on Jerusalem, too. After all, they’ll think the idols of the other kingdoms over which they have prevailed are more impressive than anything related to the God of Israel.

       12-14: Their haughtiness will be their downfall. The king of Assyria thinks he is gathering up nations like a forager gathers birds’ eggs.

       15-19: Assyria, says Isaiah, is nothing more than a tool in God’s hands. God will send a “wasting sickness” among the Assyrian soldiers and they will be defeated. The Assyrian king Sennacherib did besiege Jerusalem, but his army was decimated by a plague and was forced to withdraw (see 2 Kings 19:35-37).

       20-23: The aftermath of Assyria’s failure to capture Jerusalem: they will no longer lean on Assyria (King Ahaz had actually petitioned Assyria to come to Judah’s aid – see 2 Chronicles 28:16-21) but on God. A handful of refugees will return and resettle Jerusalem.

       24-27: Therefore, Isaiah assures them that when the Assyrians attack the people of Jerusalem need not be afraid.

       28-32: Some of the place references here are obscure, but seem to refer to locations north of Jerusalem. We know from sources outside the Bible that the Assyrian attack was launched from the south. Some scholars think these verses, appearing as they do to be an interruption of the narrative, were originally meant to refer to the earlier invasion of Judah by the alliance of Samaria and Damascus.

       33-34: The image of God lopping off the tops of the trees is intended to present a picture of God removing the leaders of the enemy army. Surely Isaiah’s hearers would have been encouraged by this metaphor.

 

Isaiah 11 (Day 690) 21 November 2011

       1-3: Following on the imagery of the last chapter that had God cutting off kings and generals as an ax chopping down trees, now the prophet pictures a shoot growing out of “the stump that was Jesse,” a clear reference to the Davidic line of kings in Judah – Jesse was the father of David.

       2-5: This new ruler (Christians see this as a description of the coming Messiah) will have the spirit of the LORD with divine wisdom and understanding that can only come from the fear of the LORD (see Proverbs 1:7). He will exercise righteousness and justice, championing the cause of the poor and doing away with the wicked.

       6-9: Perhaps the most beautiful description to this point in the Bible of the way God wants people to live in harmony with creation.

       10: This new king will rule from Jerusalem, but all the nations of the world will prosper from his rule.

       11-16: The vision continues, describing a mass return of exiles from Judah and Israel from around the world. The two kingdoms will be reunited and their traditional enemies in Philistia, Edom, Ammon and Moab will be subdued. The barrier between Egypt and Israel will be destroyed, the River Euphrates will be divided so that it can be crossed on foot, and a highway will be made from Assyria to Israel for the exiles to return. In other words, easy access from both directions will be available.

 

Isaiah 12 (Day 691) 22 November 2011

       1-6: This chapter reads more like a psalm of thanksgiving than a prophetic utterance. Given the description in the previous chapter about the future God envisions for Jerusalem, Isaiah imagines that at last the people will erupt in spontaneous gratitude and praise to God, a gratitude so complete that every punishment and affliction they suffered along the way will have been justified, and an attitude of praise that was missing in years past when God first claimed them as his people.

 

Isaiah 13 (Day 692) 23 November 2011

       1: This chapter is styled “an oracle concerning Babylon.” It consists of pronouncements made by God, interspersed with an on-looker’s descriptions of the calamity as it is occurring.

       2-3: Although we were told this is an oracle concerning Babylon, the name doesn’t actually occur until verse 19. It begins with this announcement from God that the holy army has been summoned.

       4-5: Now another voice echoes the announcement – the speaker imagines the sound of a great army being mustered.

       6-9: The “day of the LORD” is announced. It will be a cruel day of destruction.

       10-22: God speaks again, describing the awful plan of battle. Although the oracle concerns Babylon, verses 11-12 indicate a broader battlefield, as if the punishment of Babylon represents God’s judgment on the whole world. Verses 15-18 give a vivid description of soldiers torturing their hapless victims, and in verse 17 we learn that the Medes will be the actual instrument God uses to punish Babylon. Compare verses 16 and 18 with Psalm 137:8-9. Verses 19-22 give a description of a once glorious city reverting to nature.

 

Isaiah 14 (day 693) 24 November 2011

       1-2: Once Babylon is gone, Isaiah envisions the renewal of Israel as a place where everyone wants to live, and Israel’s former enemies become their slaves.

       3-11: He imagines them taunting the Babylonians. He sees the whole earth at peace, and the nations conquered by Babylon waiting in Sheol to receive them.

       12-20: The reference to Day Star son of Dawn is a taunt aimed at the king of Babylon, and at the religion of the Babylonians who worshiped the sun, moon and stars of heaven.  The “heights of Zaphon” can be translated “the far north.” The tyrant is imagined dreaming of becoming divine. But when God gets finished with him people will wonder if this could possibly be the same man who “made the earth tremble.” His fate will be utter rejection, even by those who preceded him to Sheol.

       21: A wish is expressed that the sons of the tyrant, heirs to his throne, may never come to power.

       22-23: Babylon is fallen, never to rise.

       24-27: The Assyrians came before the Babylonians. They conquered Samaria more than a hundred years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. However, the oracles – curses, really – about the enemies of God’s people seems in this part of the book to be going back in time from the Babylonians through the Assyrians all the way back to the peoples with whom the Hebrews tussled when they first inhabited the land.

       28-32: Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah. Unlike his son, he was a wicked king who introduced idol worship in a big way (see 2 Kings 16). There is no record of Ahaz defeating the Philistines, but Isaiah seems to think they will be happy that he is now dead. They have no cause to rejoice, he says, because the son of Ahaz (“the root of the snake”) will be even more dangerous to them.

 

Isaiah 15 (day 694) 25 November 2011

       1-9: Now the prophet turns his attention to Moab, the country to the east of Judah, across the Jordan. This, however, is a lament over the destruction of Moab, not a taunt as was the oracle concerning Babylon. Judah and Moab generally had good relations. For example, Ruth, grandmother of David, was a Moabite woman (Ruth 1:4). The oracle imagines the residents of Moab shaking in fear as they receive news of the fall of neighboring places; Ai, Kir, Nebo, Medeba, Heshbon and Elealeh. Refugees flee to Zoar and to Eglath and to Horonaim and Eglaim. Dibon is another name for Moab.

Isaiah 16 (day 695) 26 November 2011

       1-4a: The prophet imagines representatives being sent from Moab (Sela) to “the ruler of the land,” that is, Zion/Jerusalem, to ask for permission to settle refugees from Moab.

       4b-5: He envisions a “faithful ruler” to rise to the throne once occupied by David.

       6-11: The reason given for Moab’s desperate state is its arrogance and pride. The rest of this section seems to imply that a natural calamity such as a drought or famine has caused the devastation, and not warfare or the invasion of an enemy.

       12-14: We know that there were migrations back and forth between Moab and Judah as conditions changed from year to year. It was a famine in Judah that drove Elimelech and Naomi to seek better conditions in Moab (Ruth 1:1-2). Verses 13-14 imply that everything said in chapters 15 and 16 are about things that have happened in the past, and that God is angry that the Moabites called on their gods to save them(verse 12). As result, in a few years Moab will suffer more disasters.

 

Isaiah 17 (day 696) 27 November 2011

       1-2: Damascus, primary city of Aram, is the enemy spoken of back in chapter 7. There, King Resin of Aram at Damascus had allied with King Pekah of Israel at Samaria and the two were a threat to King Ahaz of Judah at Jerusalem. So now, in the midst of pronouncements against the enemies of Jerusalem, Isaiah comes to Damascus (verse 1) and Ephraim (verse 3), a poetic name for Israel – Ephraim was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the largest of the northern tribes.

       4-6: Jacob is another poetic reference to the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet imagines that land under invasion, being stripped as ears of grain in the Valley of Rephaim, a fertile valley leading from Jerusalem down to the coastal plains.

       7-9: When that destruction comes, says Isaiah, the people will finally turn to God (“the Holy One of Israel”), and finally turn away from the idols they have been worshiping.

       10-11: The charge that they “have forgotten the God of your salvation” is the primary complaint the people of Jerusalem have had  against the people of Samaria ever since Jeroboam set up places of worship in the north and encouraged the people not to go to Jerusalem to worship (see 1 Kings 13:33-34).

       12-14: The prophet describes the ravaging of Samaria and the Israelite people in the northern kingdom. Note, however, that he gives a sign of hope that their suffering will not last forever.

 

Isaiah 18 (day 697) 28 November 2011

       1-2: Nubia, now called Ethiopia, was never as powerful as Egypt but at times was powerful enough to threaten the lands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.

       3-6: The oracle is obscurely worded, but the gist of it is that the armies of Ethiopia, spreading like branches over the land, will be cut off and their ambitions thwarted.

       7: He foresees a time when the Ethiopians will worship the LORD on Mt. Zion along with all the nations.

 

Isaiah 19 (day 698) 29 November 2011

       1-4: The first twelve chapters of Isaiah dealt with God’s judgment on Judah and God’s plan for their eventual restoration and the establishment of Mt. Zion as an international religious center. Beginning with chapter 13 we have had a progression of pronouncements against Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus and Ethiopia. Now the prophet turns to Egypt, a perennial power in that part of the world. Egypt is condemned for worshiping idols. He sees God sweeping into Egypt like a storm, and prophesies civil war in that country. The war will result in their being ruled by a “hard master, a fierce king.” War between factions in Egypt was not an uncommon occurrence, making it difficult for scholars to pin down a specific event to which the prophecy might correspond.

       5-10: He pictures a drought so severe that the Nile is dried up. The economy of Egypt was directly tied to the regular flood stages of the Nile. When those floods did not materialize the canals dried up, the flax crop failed and the country was thrown into crisis.

       11-15: Zoan (also called Tanis) and Memphis (also called Noph) wereboth Egyptian throne cities. Zoan was located in the Nile delta region in the north and Memphis was further up the Nile a little south of modern Cairo. The reference to civil war in verse 2 may be related to the rivalry between these two cities.

       16-17: These verses begin a section of five pronouncements about Egypt, each beginning with the phrase “on that day.” Isaiah imagines that the Egyptians will cower like frightened women at the mention of Judah. Quite an imagination, I’d say.

       18: There is evidence that Canaanite dialects were indeed spoken in certain parts of Egypt around 500 B. C. and likely much earlier. We also know that the Jews had pockets of converts scattered through Egypt.

       19-22: He imagines the Egyptians turning whole-heartedly to the worship of Israel’s God.

       23: Isaiah foresees a remarkable reign of peace and cooperation between the two great powers of the day, Assyria and Egypt.

       24-25: Israel, located between Egypt and Assyria, is envisioned as co-equals with them. So far as we know, such a situation never came to pass.

 

Isaiah 20 (day 699) 30 November 2011

       1-6: We revisit the oracles about Ethiopia and Egypt that were presented in chapters 18 and 19. Isaiah hears God telling him to walk about naked and barefoot to illustrate how the people of Ethiopia and Egypt would be treated as exiles and prisoners of war. As commentator Gene M. Tucker says, “The behavior is bizarre, but that is what prophets do.” Ashdod was a Philistine city on the Mediterranean coast, about 35 miles due west of Jerusalem. Assyria was pressing onward towards Egypt, and Isaiah prophesied that they would be successful in toppling the Egyptian and Ethiopian regimes.

 

Isaiah 21 (day 700) 1 December 2011

       1-10: This first section concerns Babylon, although that is not revealed until verse 9 in a cry that reappears in Revelation 18:2. The poetry here is quite confusing, and scholars differ widely in their explanations. Elam and Media were empires to the east of Babylon, so the prophecy seems to indicate a coming incursion from that part of the world. Verses 3 and 4 imply that the prophet is mourning the destruction of Babylon, but scholars cannot understand why that should be. Perhaps those two verses are meant to be a representation of the feelings of the residents of Babylon suffering the invasion. Verses 5-10 describe the action taking place as Babylon is attacked.

       11-12: The problem here is that Dumah was located in Arabia some 200-250 miles from Judah but Seir was in Edom, directly across from the Dead Sea at the southern end of the Jordan River. Between 740 and 700 B.C. Dumah was allied with Babylon in some attacks against Assyria. Then, in 690-689 B.C. the Assyrians under Sennacherib destroyed Dumah. These two verses are enigmatic to say the least, but a possible way of understanding the conversation between the inquirer in Seir and the sentinel (presumably in Dumah) is like this: “One is calling to me from Seir, ‘Sentinel, what is happening in the night? What is happening in the night?’ The sentinel says, ‘Morning came (the Hebrew is in the past tense), and the night also. If you’re interested in what is happening, come and inquire again tonight.’” The conversation implies a presumption that an attack is about to take place.

       13-17: The Dedanites, an Arabian Desert tribe, have fled to “the scrub of the desert plain” to escape the sword. The Temanites, another desert tribe, are begged to bring water and bread for them. Yet a third desert tribe, Kedar, is also prophesied to be under the sword.

 

Isaiah 22 (day 701) 2 December 2011

       1-4: Having foretold the fate of the neighboring peoples and empires, Isaiah turns again to Jerusalem. He has skipped over Tyre, but don’t worry, he will get to them in the next chapter. These verses are a little unusual in that they are referring to a future event as though it were past. The leaders have fled, leaving the people exposed. The leaders were captured, however, and the people became captives as well. The “valley of vision” is obscure; perhaps a reference to one of the valleys around the city. Parts of this chapter seem to relate to the attack by the Assyrians in the time of King Hezekiah (see 2 Kings 18 and 19), but these opening verses don’t fit the story of that battle.

       5-8: Elam was an ancient power away to the east of Babylon. The mention of Elam here does not mean the Elamites are the invading enemy but rather that they are an example of a mighty army with a cavalry of chariots. Kir is unknown, though mentioned here and in 2 Kings 18:9 and Amos 1:5 and 9:7. It was apparently a place to which exiles were taken by the Assyrians. The imagery of verse 6 is repeated in 7 and 8. Jerusalem’s valleys will be filled with chariots like those of Elam and Judah’s “covering” will be taken away like the shields of Kir being removed. The “House of the Forest” was an armory built by Solomon (see 1 Kings 7:2, 10:17-21, also 2 Chronicles 9:16, 20.)

       9-11: When Jerusalem is besieged, he says, they will tear down the houses to fortify the walls and will try to collect enough water to outlast the siege. But they will have no regard for “him who did it” – God.

       12-14: Perhaps the opening words should be rendered, “because of that day.” Because of that day the people should be repentant, but instead they’re in party mode. God will never forgive them for not heeding the prophets, says the prophet.

       15-19: Shebna was the royal secretary during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18:26-37) when the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem unsuccessfully. Isaiah accuses him of misusing his office to enrich himself and that he is carving out an elaborate tomb for himself in a prominent place where he doesn’t belong. We are not told Shebna’s fate, but here Isaiah says he will be banished and disgraced.

       20-25: Eliakim was the son of Jerusalem’s most prominent high priest, Hilkiah, and was Hezekiah’s chief administrator alongside Shebna (see again 2 Kings 18, 19). Isaiah says that he will be elevated when Shebna is deposed. However, he will fall and ultimately bring his whole heritage into disgrace.

 

Isaiah 23 (day 702) 3 December 2011

       1-12: You were wondering what would happen to Tyre, weren’t you? Tyre and Sidon were cities on the Mediterranean Sea just north of Israel. They were seafarers and merchants of renown. David and Solomon were allied with the king of Tyre and contracted with the Tyreans for cedar to use in building projects. The “ships of Tarshish” were ocean-going vessels capable of making the long trip the length of the Mediterranean. Tarshish is believed to have been on the western coast of Spain, so these ships actually navigated part of the Atlantic Ocean. They were indeed the “merchant of the nations” (verse 3). Isaiah foresees the destruction of Tyre and Sidon and pictures trading vessels from Tarshish and Egypt coming to trade and finding no port. He insists that the LORD is sovereign of the seas as well as of Canaan and all the other nations and peoples of the world.

       13-18: This section is suddenly cast in the past tense, as if the destruction of Tyre was already a fait accompli. It is the Chaldeans, Babylon, and not the Assyrians who are responsible for the fall of Tyre. The Babylonians displaced Assyria as the world power of that era. The destruction of Tyre will not be permanent, however. Isaiah sees a restoration taking place after 70 years have passed. Tyre’s trade with the world will be re-established, but they will be under the sway of Jerusalem, her profits to provide food and clothing for “those who live in the presence of the LORD.”

 

Isaiah 24 (day 703) 4 December 2011

       1-3: Chapters 24-27 have been called “the Isaiah apocalypse.” If you think it reads a bit like the book of Revelation it’s because they both concern the end of days. The section opens with the earth’s surface buckling and laid waste. Everyone will be affected. The first three pairs – people/priest, slave/master, and maid/mistress – are social distinctions. The last three pairs – buyer/seller, lender/borrower, and creditor/debtor – are opposites in the marketplace.

       4-6: The calamity, though brought about by God’s decree, is caused by the pollution of the earth’s unfaithful inhabitants.

       7-13: Relentlessly he describes the deteriorating lot of the people.

       14-16: Unexpectedly, voices from the far corners of the earth, west and east, are heard in joyful song, but the prophet still is in despair. I have no explanation for this unless the idea is that people far away have revered God more than God’s own people. Still, the earth is folding up!

       17-20: The earth is pictured staggering in death throes. The prophet imagines the destruction will be as complete as in the time of the Great Flood when “the windows of heaven are opened” (compare Genesis 7:11).

       21-23: This time, though, the destruction is extended beyond the earth into the heavens. The sun and moon are ashamed for no good reason that I can see while God begins to reign on Mt. Zion and now inexplicably the elders have survived the destruction of the world and are there to see the glory of God. This is pretty weird stuff. I find myself wishing I could interview Isaiah. I have some questions I’d like to ask.

 

Isaiah 25 (day 704) 5 December 2011

       1-5: Chapter 25 is an abrupt change in tone. This first section is a psalm of praise to God for “making the city a heap” and for being “a refuge to the poor.” The city mentioned in verse 2 is unnamed. It could perhaps be Jerusalem, though why Jerusalem should be called a “palace of aliens” is problematic. It could be Dibon, capital of Moab (see verse 10 and 12), in which case this chapter is more properly in the group of oracles against the nations a few chapters back.

       6-10a: The prophet sees Jerusalem restored and become the world’s spiritual center, one of the primary themes of Isaiah.

       10b-12: Chapter 15 was an oracle against Moab, and this section would be more at home there.

 

Isaiah 26 (day 705) 6 December 2011

       1-6: The coming deliverance foretold in the last chapter evokes a song of victory, but God’s victory, not Israel’s.

       7-15: The song continues, now resembling some of the psalms, now taking the tact of the wisdom narratives in Proverbs. The righteous benefit from God’s rule, the wicked do not.

       16-19: All their suffering has been but the process of giving birth to something new, an idea that Paul picks up on in his letter to the Romans (see Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”) Notice that verse 19 reverses verse 14.

       20-21: Therefore, given the promise of such a glorious future, he pleads with the people to hold on a little longer.

 

Isaiah 27 (day 706) 7 December 2011

       1: Leviathan, remember, is the ancient symbol of the watery chaos out of which God brought forth creation.

2-6: The metaphor of Israel as God’s vineyard is again evoked (see 5:1-7).

7-11: The prophecy seems to be going backwards at this point: now we have God striking down sinful Jacob. A period of exile is foreseen, and Jerusalem is deserted. They have lost God’s favor.

12-13: But suddenly the prophet returns to their restoration. God’s people will be gathered in from Egypt where Jacob and his sons fled to escape the famine and from the Euphrates where Abraham was born.

 

Isaiah 28 (day 707) 8 December 2011

       1-4: We return now to the events that were shaping up in Isaiah’s lifetime. He prophesies the demise of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel with Samaria as its capital) by the hand of God. 

       5-6: The various parts of this chapter are not clearly connected. This brief aside is a flashback to the prophecy of the coming day of the LORD.

       7-8: These verses continue the circumstances described in verses 1-4.
       9-10: It would seem that the “he” in verse 9 is the drunken prophet or the drunken priest from verse 7. Verse 10 cannot be translated, and is made up of meaningless sounds probably intended to represent the babble of someone who is inebriated.

       11-13: Because of their (Ephraim’s) intransigence God’s words spoken to them seem to be drunken babble as well.

       14-22: Now he turns to Jerusalem. The government officials in Jerusalem have “made a covenant with death,” he says. We would say they have “made a pact with the devil.” They rely on lies to protect them. The lies are their fealty to foreign gods and to idols worshiped by the people. In response to their gods carved of wood and stone, God will lay a cornerstone. The foundation on which it rests is trust in God. This covenant with God will annul their covenant with Sheol and the land will be devastated by God’s wrath.

       23-28: The prophet uses a simile from the fields surrounding Jerusalem. The farmer knows when it is time to stop plowing and start planting, and how to harvest the crop when it is ripe. Bread is made from crushed grain, but the farmer knows that you’ll never get bread if you keep on crushing. In the same way the LORD of hosts will not go on crushing his sinful people forever because God is making bread so to speak. Get it?

 

Isaiah 29 (day 708) 9 December 2011

       1-2: Most scholars agree that “Ariel” is Jerusalem. It is related to the word for “altar hearth,” and Jerusalem is the site for the altar on which the people of Judah made their sacrifices, thus tying the beginning of verse 1 with the end of verse 2. This chapter is a prophecy of the siege of Jerusalem.

       3-4: God will lay siege to the city (using foreign troops, of course) and the city will become a ghost of a place.

       5-8: The enemy will come, but the LORD will then intercede and in the aftermath the people will think they have been dreaming. The outcome of the siege will seem unreal.

       9-12: The people will be stupefied as if drunk. So strange will be the entire episode that they simply cannot understand or “read” the prophecy.

       13-14: The people have been practicing the form of their religion but not the substance, and God will therefore once again “do amazing things with this people.” The wisest among them will be dumbfounded by what takes place.

       15-16: The siege of Jerusalem is described in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. Isaiah says here that there were those who were counseling the king in ways that God would not approve. Who are they, he asks, to think they can hide a plan from God? The clay can’t become the potter!

       17-21: These verses describe the reversal of fortune that only the intervention of God can bring about in human community. The reference to Lebanon reflects the reality that in those days Judah’s primary enemies – Samaria, Damascus and Assyria – approached from that general direction. Lebanon’s restoration represents an end to that corridor of invasion. Verse 18 reverses the situation of verses 11 and 12. Next, the “unimportant” people are given cause to rejoice (verse 19). The “tyrant” is perhaps a reference to Sennacherib, and the “scoffer” to his front man, the Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:28-35). Verse 21 addresses the “important” citizens of Jerusalem who were cheating their unfortunate brethren.

       22-24: The purpose of God’s intervention in Jerusalem’s troubles is to turn them back to what the author of Proverbs might call “the fear of the LORD.” Indeed, the purpose of all God’s interventions is to restore the people to a proper relationship with him.

 

 

Isaiah 30 (day 709) 10 December 2011

       1-5: It is natural for nations to seek alliances with other nations to increase their security. At the time of the Assyrian encroachment, Hezekiah sought protection from Egypt (see 2 Kings 18:21, Isaiah 36:6). Unfortunately for Judah, Egypt was not the power it had once been and Egypt’s help would prove to be unprofitable. Isaiah saw this, or we might say God saw this and told him to warn the leaders in Jerusalem to eschew any overtures to or from Egypt.

       6-7: The Negeb is the desert region south of Jerusalem through which caravans traveled back and forth between Egypt and the Middle East. The prophet sees that Hezekiah is sending the wealth of Jerusalem to Egypt needlessly.

       8-14: Yet, Isaiah also sees that it is not entirely Hezekiah’s fault. It is the fault of the people who are tired of hearing about the Holy One of Israel (verse 11). Because of their unwillingness to keep their covenant with God, they will be broken like a potter’s vessel.

       15-17: God entreated them to stay and trust, but they are determined to take matters into their own hands.

       18-22: God is waiting to restore them if only they will turn back to him. God may be letting them suffer now but he is still willing to show them the way. They must, however, surrender their silver and gold-plated idols. Amazing, isn’t it, that foreign gods still plague God’s people? Do you remember the scene where Joshua challenged the people to put away the foreign gods (Joshua 24:23-24)? The people swore to serve the LORD but they never swore to get rid of the idols!

       23-26: If only they will turn back to God and put away those other gods God would bless them and their land with peace and prosperity and they would see a glorious new day dawning.

       27-33: To encourage their loyalty Isaiah points them toward another image; that of God doing battle against the Assyrians, who will be terror-stricken at the punishment God inflicts upon them.

 

Isaiah 31 (day 710) 11 December 2011

       1-3: Isaiah declares that reliance on Egypt is not only futile, but ill-considered. God is stronger than horses and chariots, he says.

       4-5: God will be no more terrified by the Assyrians than a lion is by a few shepherds. God will protect Jerusalem.

       6-9: Throw away your little artificial gods, he says, and turn back to God. God will defeat the Assyrians, but not by the sword. We learn in 2 Kings 19:35 (repeated at Isaiah 37:36) that indeed the Assyrians had to break off the attack on Jerusalem because God struck them down in the field. God’s action is in response to Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 18:13-19 and Isaiah 37:14-20) in which he acknowledges that there is only one God.

 

Isaiah 32 (day 711) 12 December 2011

       1: Isaiah imparts his vision of the ideal society, marked by righteousness and justice.

       2: The royal authorities, king and princes, will rule with refreshing equity.

       3-4: Eyes, ears and minds represent three ways of gaining understanding and wisdom. Even those who stammer will empowered to communicate effectively.

       4-8: Fools and villains will not be able to gain a noble place in this new society. Only those who are upright will be recognized.

       9-15: Before that can happen, though, there will be a time of disaster. Isaiah prophesies that within a year and a half blight will overtake the fields and orchards and the city will be forsaken and overrun by wild animals. He addresses this awful prophesy to the “women who are at ease,” likely a reference to the wealthy class. The dire conditions that are coming will last until “a spirit from on high” is poured out on the land and it begins to prosper again.

       16-20: An idyllic setting is described. Righteousness and justice will rule, resulting in peace, quietness and trust (in God). The people will live in serene dwellings, going about their daily lives in peace. Sufficient crops will be produced from sowing in naturally fertile and well-watered places. They will think nothing of letting their animals roam freely, assured that they will not be stolen or lost.

       19: This verse seems completely out of place. Perhaps it was displaced through centuries of copying scrolls by hand. It reads more naturally if it follows directly on verse 13.

 

Isaiah 33 (day 712) 13 December 2011
       1: The Assyrians were marching around the world pretty much unstoppably. Isaiah insists that their pre-eminence is not a permanent situation.

       2-6: Isaiah’s constant refrain is that God will deliver Jerusalem if only they will trust in God alone.

       7-9: He describes the panic created by the advancing army. Lebanon, Sharon (the coastal plain below Mt. Carmel), Bashan (the Golan Heights) and Carmel are all immediately to the north of Israel, in the path of the approaching Assyrians.

       10: But Isaiah believes God will step in when the time is right.

       11-12: Assyria’s advance is tenuous. Their conquests are nothing but chaff that their own breath will consume. Perhaps the meaning here is that Assyria will eventually outrun its ability to maintain its holdings.

       13-16: Isaiah also never wavers in his belief that Assyria is serving as a divine instrument through which the “sinners in Zion” will be punished and the righteous will be spared.

       17-19: Look, he says, on the mighty king of Assyria and the great expanse of his territories. You will wonder what happened to him; those foreigners, “the people of an obscure speech,” will disappear from your sight.

       20-22: Now look on Zion, he continues. It is like a tent that will never be moved. Jerusalem has no river like the Tigris that flows past Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, but it has God, and God is for them the broad rivers and streams, although not the kind boats can travel.

       23a: These words are addressed to the Assyrians. Their advance will collapse like a fallen mast on a sailing ship.

       23b-24: The tables will be turned and the Assyrians will be plundered even by those who are not physically able to repel an enemy.

 

Isaiah 34 (day 713) 14 December 2011

       Chapters 34 and 35 seem out of place, dealing as they do with issues dating to the Babylonian exile more than 100 years after the Assyrian invasion. Chapter 36 will pick up again with the story of king Sennacherib of Assyria besieging Jerusalem. How and why these two chapters got placed here is a subject of much debate among scholars.

       1-4: God’s anger results in destruction on a cosmic scale.

       5-7: The graphic description of the violence God wants done to Edom is disturbing. Edom (present-day Jordan) had a love-hate relationship with Israel and Judah. After the Babylonian exile bands of Edomites ravaged what was left of Jerusalem, and the memory of that atrocity lasted for generations. Bozrah, present-day Busaira in southern Jordan, was the capital of Edom.

       8-17: Edom’s devastation is complete, and the land returns to its natural state.

 

Isaiah 35 (day 714) 15 December 2011

       1-2: As he has in previous sections Isaiah follows dire predictions with promised restoration.

       3-4: The despondent refugees are assured of God’s imminent intervention.

       5-10: A three-fold restoration is prophesied: 1) Eyes, ears, legs and tongues will be healed. 2) The land itself will be healed. 3) The refugees will return to Zion on a Holy Highway prepared for them on which only God’s people can travel without fear of getting lost or being attacked by wild animals. The last line, “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” surely influenced Revelation 21:3-4.

 

Isaiah 36 (day 715) 16 December 2011

       Chapters 36 and 37 tell the story of the foiled Assyrian attempt to conquer Jerusalem. They repeat the tale told in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 with some differences. Which account is based on the other is a matter of unresolved conjecture.

       1-3: These verses repeat 2 Kings 18:13, 17-18 with one significant omission. About five years after the fall of Samaria the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invaded Judah and sent an army to the walls of Jerusalem. The Assyrian envoys summoned Hezekiah and he sent his own envoys – Eliakim, Shebnah and Joah – out to talk to them.Isaiah does not include verses 14-16 from the 2 Kings account that have Hezekiah capitulating and sending Sennacherib all the silver and gold from the temple and the royal treasure trove.

       4-10: An almost word-for-word copy of 2 Kings 18:19-25. The Rabshakeh (chief of the princes of Assyria) speaks to them in Hebrew. He belittles their attempts to resist. He charges that they have made a worthless alliance with Egypt and even claims to have come at the behest of the LORD, the God of Israel.

       11-12: Repeats 2 Kings 18:26-27 with few differences. They beg the Rabshakeh to negotiate in Aramaic but he is interested in intimidating the people listening from the walls. After all, they need to know they are doomed, he says.

       13-20: 2 Kings 2 18:28-35, with some minor omissions. The Rabshakeh now calls out to the people of Jerusalem, warning them not to let Hezekiah persuade them that they can somehow defeat Sennacherib. He invites them to surrender and says he will leave them in peace until they can be deported to a wonderful land where they will live happily ever after. He makes a convincing argument: how can they expect their God to rescue them when none of the other gods have helped their lands against the king of Assyria?

       21-22: 2 Kings 18:36-37, almost verbatim. The people remain silent. Eliakim, Shebnah and Joah return to Hezekiah to relay the Rabshakeh’s message. They are not at all optimistic about the future.

 

Isaiah 37 (day 716) 17 December 2011

       This chapter is almost identical to 2 Kings 19. There are only a few inconsequential differences.

       1-7: Hezekiah is distressed over the situation and sends for the prophet Isaiah. They ask for his prayers, and he tells them to report to Hezekiah that the siege will be lifted because Sennacherib will be recalled to his country and there he will be killed.

       8-13: The chief prince of the Assyrians, the Rabshakeh, finds Sennacherib happily besieging Libnah, having succeeded against Lachish. Sennacherib has received intelligence telling him of the plans of King Tirhakah of Ethiopia to attempt an advance against Assyria, so he redoubles his effort to overthrow Jerusalem quickly. He sends the Rabshakeh back with a letter outlining all his conquests in an effort to impress Hezekiah enough that he will surrender.

       14-20: Hezekiah takes the letter into the temple and spreads it out for God to see. He acknowledges God to be the creator of the world, and the gods of the nations Sennacherib has conquered to be mere carvings of wood and stone, and he begs God to rescue them from the Assyrians.

       21-22: God answers his prayer through Isaiah who sends a letter to Hezekiah which he says is God’s response. Assyria has taunted you, he says.

       23-25: This time, however, Sennacherib is not toying with a weaker kingdom, but taunting the Holy One of Israel, he says. Sennacherib thinks he is invincible because he has defeated other nations from Lebanon to Egypt.

       26-27: Sennacherib doesn’t realize that his victories have all come about because the Holy One of Israel allowed him to be victorious.

       28-29: God promises to punish Sennacherib’s arrogance by forcing him to return to Nineveh.

       30-32: Isaiah tells Hezekiah that things are about to return to normal after nearly three years of being under siege and unable to plant or harvest the crops and vineyards.

       33-35: God promises that Sennacherib will not breach the walls nor ever enter Jerusalem.

       36-38: That very night a plague strikes the Assyrian camp and decimates their army. Sennacherib is forced to withdraw. He returns to Nineveh where he is assassinated by two of his sons. A third son, Esar-haddon, becomes the next Assyrian king. He is a somewhat less ambitious king. The death of Sennacherib marks the end of the Assyrian threat to Judah. Another more powerful empire will arise, however, with its capital at Babylon, about which we will learn more in chapter 39.

 

Isaiah 38 (day 717) 18 December 2011

       1-8: These verses repeat the story told in 2 Kings 20:1-11, but is an abbreviated version of it.Hezekiah is stricken with an illness (a boil, according to the earlier account). Isaiah, never one to break bad news gently, comes and tells him that God says he is going to die, then turns and leaves, not bothering to offer condolences to the poor man. Hezekiah prays that God will remember him for good, and grieves his plight deeply. Isaiah, on his way out, receives another word from the LORD that Hezekiah’s prayer has been heard and he will not die but will live fifteen years more and that Assyria will not again threaten Jerusalem. There is in the king’s quarters a sun dial his father, King Ahaz, had apparently installed. Ahaz had worshiped pagan gods, likely including the sun and moon and planets (see 2 Kings 16). Although Hezekiah had undertaken sweeping religious reforms (2 Kings 18:3-6) he apparently left the sun dial in place. Isaiah announces that the LORD will cause the shadow on the sundial to retreat ten steps, and the shadow indeed goes backward by ten steps, although we do not know what passage of time the ten steps represents. Isaiah curiously skips the detail about the poultice of figs that he prescribed to apply to the boil causing Hezekiah’s distress, but will add it later.

       9-13: The text departs at this point from the 2 Kings account and inserts new material, a psalm written by King Hezekiah after the confrontation with Isaiah. It is a rather typical psalm of lament over dire circumstances and prayer for deliverance. He begins by describing his plight, using familiar images – a shepherd’s tent being taken down, a bolt of cloth on a weaver’s loom, and a lion devouring its prey.

       14-15: He is jittery as a sparrow, mournful as a dove, but accepts that God has brought him to this pitiful state.

       16-20: He prays to be restored. If God has brought him this suffering it must be for his own good, but so far he is alive. The grave cannot yet rejoice. He gives thanks for God’s faithfulness and is confident that God will save him.

       21-22: Now the text returns to the story of Isaiah’s visit to Hezekiah and fills in two details left out of the account in verses 1-8.

Isaiah 39 (day 718) 19 December 2011

       1-8: Isaiah now returns to the earlier account, and this chapter is almost identical to 2 Kings 20:12-19. Envoys from a new empire called Babylon arrive with gifts from the emperor for Hezekiah upon his recovery. Hezekiah, eager to show these foreigners that he is a player on the world stage, shows off everything he thinks might impress them. The prophet Isaiah, who has really taken a keen interest in national affairs lately, comes to the king and asks him all about those visitors and their visit. Hezekiah brags that he has shown them everything. Isaiah tells him that those Babylonians will one day carry off all the stuff Hezekiah showed them, and that his sons will be castrated and forced to serve in the palace of the king of Babylon. Hezekiah is callously unconcerned, since he assumes it will happen after he is gone. (Note that Isaiah has not actually said it would happen after the days of Hezekiah.)

 

Isaiah 40 (day 719) 20 December 2011

       Most readers will readily recognize that with chapter 40 we have entered different territory. For the last hundred years or more scholars have generally designated Isaiah 40-66 “Second Isaiah,” concluding that these chapters address the return from the exile to Babylon, which occurred more than 150 years after the time of King Hezekiah, and therefore cannot be part of the collection of writings of the prophet at the beginning of the book. After all, Isaiah 1:1 states plainly that the reign of Hezekiah was the end of the prophet’s time. Recently, however, a number of scholars have begun to question such a division of the book and a renewed debate has been taking shape. The purpose of this guide is to give the reader a simple supplement to assist in daily Bible reading, a chapter at a time. It is not the purpose of this guide to involve the reader in scholarly debates. It is helpful to point out, however, that with chapter 40 we are apparently dealing with a time in history 150 years later than with chapter 39.

       1-2: Handel’s “Messiah” has made these verses among the most familiar passages in the Bible. Jerusalem has completed the sentence for her sins, which are well documented elsewhere in the book.

       3-5: Now God is approaching and the LORD’s glory will once again be evident in Zion. The Gospels cite verse 3 as a prophecy related to the appearance of John the Baptizer (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4). However, in the New Testament the phrase “in the wilderness” is the location of the voice that is calling out. In Isaiah the wilderness is the location of the preparations to be made for the LORD’s coming. A great construction project is called for. It is unimaginable that such a project would be undertaken unless the coming of the LORD was an absolute certainty. In other words, the construction of the highway in the desert is an act of faith that God will indeed appear.

       6-11: “All people are grass” is a common sentiment in the Bible (see, for example, 2 Kings 19:26[repeated in Isaiah 37:27];Job 5:25; Psalm 58:7, 72:16, 90:5, 129:6; and Isaiah 37:27). The point here is that people come and go but God’s word is the one constant in creation. The LORD’s return to Jerusalem is a certainty. God’s entry into the city is like the entry of a king victorious in battle, but the imagery changes suddenly in verse 11: there God arrives like a shepherd tenderly caring for the flock. The days of warfare will be ended, the days of succor begun.

       12-17: But now the poetry takes a decidedly Jobian turn – “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” (Job 38:4). God is God. There is no one to challenge what God has planned, and God has no counselor. The statements here remind us of God’s response to Job in Job 38-39.

       18-20: We are on more familiar ground here. The problem of idol worship we have seen often in Isaiah (2:8, 2:18, 2:20, 10:11, 30:22, and 31:7). The idiocy of worshiping such silly things is the theme here.

       21-22: In contrast to idols made by human hands is God the Almighty who “sits above the circle of the earth.”

       23-24: In the nations around Israel, the King decides who the people should worship. To God, however, earthly rulers come and go like grass.

       25-26: Look up at the stars and see that God has no equal. (“The heavens are telling the glory of God” – Psalm 19:1.)

       27-31: You can never say God doesn’t know what’s going on. God is the ruler of the universe and God never becomes tired or weary. People may tire out, even youths, but God can renew the strength of the weary. Verse 31 is one of the best known and often quoted statements in the Bible.

 

Isaiah 41 (day 720) 21 December 2011

       1: God convenes a court to announce his decisions regarding Jerusalem. The coastlands represent the witnesses, and are called to come forward and state their case against the accused.

       2-10: God renders the judgment: a “victor from the east” (Babylon) is summoned. The coastlands tremble but God is for Israel, and tells his people not to fear. Verse 10 is the basis for a verse of a familiar hymn: “How Firm a Foundation.” “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen and help thee and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

       11-13: The enemies of Jerusalem will threaten, but God is holding the city’s hand and says, “Do no fear, I will help you.”

       14-16: Jacob (poetic name for Israel) will be made into a threshing sledge to thresh the mountains and hills – thrusting back their enemies – and winnow them. Winnowing is the process of tossing grain into the air to separate the good from the bad. The wind blows away the worthless husk, letting the grain fall back to the ground. This is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit “blowing” away their enemies.

       17-20: The “poor and needy” are the Israelites. God will respond to their need so that “all may see and know” that God has done it.

       21-24: The gods of the other nations are challenged to present their case and show how things in the past have led to what is happening in the present. Of course, these gods can lay no claim on anything that is happening. Only the LORD can show how the promises made in the past have been kept. These other “gods” are nothing, and their work is nothing, and whoever worships them is abominable.

       25-29: The “one from the north” is Cyrus the Persian who conquered Babylon and let the exiles return home. Not only are the other “gods” unable to answer the charges against them, God even controls this pagan king, one who should be under their influence. That he is not proves again that they are “a delusion.”

Isaiah 42 (day 721) 22 December 2011

       1-4: Now Isaiah imagines God introducing to the court the person he has summoned to bring justice “to the nations.” The text simply calls this person “my servant.” Isaiah likely meant the servant to be Israel but early Christians saw in the description of the servant images of Christ, especially verse 2 ( see, for example, Matthew 27:14). The servant is to bring justice to the earth.

       5-7: Again God challenges the idols. God created the earth, gives breath and spirit to its inhabitants, and claims Israel as his covenant people for the purpose of being “a light to the nations.” God, unlike those false gods, has revealed through the prophets things that are yet to come “before they spring forth.”

       8-13: We interrupt this trial to bring you a hymn of praise.

       14-16: Now God goes into labor, so to speak, to give birth to things to come. Israel (“the blind”) will be led down a new path.

       17: The coastland peoples who claim idols as their gods will be turned back (from their designs on Israel).

       18-20: Israel has been the deaf and the blind; the charge has often been made that they have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear.

       21-25: Now the prophet’s voice summarizes the proceedings so far. Israel has been conquered by a pagan nation, but only because the LORD gave them up.

 

Isaiah 43 (day 722) 23 December 2011

       1-7: But Israel has suffered enough, and now God is going to begin the work of restoration. Verse 2 influenced the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation:” “When through the deep waters I cause thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow. The flames will not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” Exiles from east and west will return.

       8-13: The “people who are blind” and the “people who are deaf” are references to Israel. They are brought forth along with all the nations. The other nations are challenged to render evidence that any of their gods has “foretold to us the former things.” Israel, on the other hand, can give such testimony. There is no other god.

       14-21: God declares that Babylon will be defeated and Israel will be restored. God will “do a new thing,” something that the pagan “gods” could not do: declare God’s praise.

       22-24: Israel stopped calling on the LORD. They have stopped bringing sacrifices or burning incense. Instead, because of their sin they became a burden to God.

       25-28: God says that their sins are now disregarded. So he invites the trial to begin. Give it your best shot, he says.

Isaiah 44 (day 723) 24 December 2011

       1-5: Isaiah is certain that God is going to restore Israel, and in his prophetic vision hears God tenderly comforting them, claiming them from birth, promising refreshing blessing so pronounced that everyone will want to claim to be part of God’s people. Jeshurun is a poetic name for Israel. Possibly related to the word for “upright,” it occurs only here and in Deuteronomy in the last addresses of Moses to the people (Deuteronomy 32:15, 33:5, 33:26).

       6-8: This is the first occurrence of the title “his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts,” and through the centuries has inspired much speculation. Could it be a reference to the future Christ? Many Christian commentators have so concluded. It is likely the Isaiah understood it as a reference to the coming David-like king mentioned earlier. Note that once again an emphasis is placed on God’s having announced all these things “from of old,” one of the primary differences Isaiah sees between the Holy One of Israel and the other popular gods and idols worshiped by people in that part of the world.

       9-11: These verses begin an aside in prose. God summons the makers of idols to take the stand.

       12-17: The idol maker’s trade is mocked. Part of the tree that is used to make the idol is also used to provide fuel for the fire that cooks his food. The fire also provides warmth. The idol is worthless, and that part of the tree is wasted. At the least it could have warmed his hands!

       18-20: The idol maker is incapable to seeing that what he is doing makes no sense whatsoever.

       21-22: The poem that left off at verse 8 is continued. Israel is forgiven and not forgotten.

       23: A spontaneous bursting forth of praise for the redemption God will give, but in the past tense as if it were already given.

       24-28: The theme of God’s sovereignty is picked up again, and an emphasis is placed on fulfilling what has been said through God’s servants. Idols can’t do that, you know. The mention of Cyrus comes as a surprise, since he hasn’t been mentioned since the book of Ezra. Cyrus is styled here as God’s “shepherd.” The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, accomplished with a grant from King Cyrus, is, of course, the major theme of Ezra.

 

Isaiah 45 (day 724) 25 December 2011

       1-7: Cyrus is the LORD’s anointed. This is an extraordinary thing, for a prophet of Israel to call a foreign king God’s anointed one. God claims Cyrus as his instrument by which Israel will be restored, even though Cyrus “does not know me.”

       8: God summons the skies to rain down righteousness, a character trait sadly missing in Israel to this point.

       9-17: The metaphor of the clay rebelling against the potter has been used before (see 29:16). The point is that God is in charge and God will decide what will happen and what won’t happen. God will summon Cyrus to be the catalyst for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The day will come when Egyptians and Ethiopians and Sabeans will recognize Israel’s God and realize the error of idol worship. The Sabean kingdom was at the extreme southern end of the Arabian Peninsula; on the southern border of what is today Saudi Arabia. They are only mentioned a few times in the Bible (Job 1:15, Joel 3:8), and did not seem to have very much direct contact with Israel. Their mention here is a bit puzzling.

       18-19: God continues, through the prophet, to underscore his sovereignty and might.

       20-21: Once again the idols are challenged to present their case. They did not foretell any of the things that have happened, but God did.

       22-25: The day will come when all peoples will acknowledge Israel’s God as the LORD. Compare vs. 23b (“To me every knee shall bow…”) with Romans 14:11; St. Paul was obviously familiar with the passages we are reading!

 

Isaiah 46 (day 725) 26 December 2011

       1-4: Idols are denigrated again as worthless, helpless, lifeless things that have to be carried around. By contrast, God has “carried” Israel from their birth.

       5-7: None of the idols the people have worshiped has ever helped anyone with anything. They simply are not comparable to the LORD.

       8-11: God, however, can and will make things happen. God has called “a bird of prey from the east,” Cyrus, and God will make it happen, in contrast to false gods who can do nothing.

       12-13: God demands that they listen. Salvation is coming soon, even though it appears to be far away.

 

Isaiah 47 (day 726) 27 December 2011

       1-4: Babylon’s fate was foretold in chapter 14, and is addressed again here with different imagery. Here Babylon is pictured as a slave girl forced to grind meal at the millstone, publicly stripped and humiliated. “Our Redeemer” is an acknowledgement that the tables have been turned, for Israel was the slave that longed for redemption.

       5-7: It was not the might of Babylon that conquered Israel. God gave Israel into their hands as punishment.

       8-11: Babylon has become haughty because of their power, but all Babylon’s gods (beliefs behind their practices of sorcery and incantations) will not keep them from suffering the same fate God had allowed Israel to suffer.

       12-15: The astrologers and magicians are challenged to predict what will happen, but they will not be able to provide any comfort.

 

Isaiah 48 (day 727) 28 December 2011

       1-2: The prophet addresses Israel (the house of Jacob), particularly the tribe of Judah which became a nation in its own right after the time of Solomon.

       3-5: They are a stubborn people, he says, but God compensated for that by announcing (through the prophets) ahead of time what he would do, so they can’t claim some idol has done it.

       6-8: God is announcing a new thing, something they couldn’t possibly guess. (What God is announcing will come in verse 20.)

       9-11: God refrained from destroying them for God’s own sake, not for theirs.

       12-13: God’s “credentials” are given once again. The one speaking is the very creator of the earth’s foundations.

       14-16: Scholars have long debated the identity of who is speaking in these verses and who is being spoken of. It seems clear that Cyrus, summoned by God to be the instrument by which Babylon will get its comeuppance (see 45:1), is intended in verses 14 and 15, but verse 16 then appears to be the prophet speaking, because he is the one being sent to announce these things.  He seems to be saying, “From the moment God informed me of what he was planning I have been speaking out. God has sent me to tell you these things.”

       17-19: If you had listened to the LORD in the first place, he says, none of this (the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon) would have happened.

       20-21: Isaiah encourages them (once Cyrus has conquered Babylon) to flee from there and return to Jerusalem, for that is the meaning of “he has redeemed his servant Jacob.” This is the “new thing” mentioned in verses 6-8. He tells them not to be concerned about the journey. God will take care of them. Clearly Isaiah sees the return from exile as a second “Exodus,” giving Israel a new start.

       22: “The wicked” is likely a reference to Babylon, it seems to me.

 

Isaiah 49 (day 728) 29 December 2011

       1-7: God is the one who has been speaking about what the future holds for Jacob, but now it is the servant whom God has called doing the speaking. God says that the servant is being called not just for the restoration of Israel but to be a “light to the nations” (see 42:6). The “one deeply despised” in verse 7 is Israel.

       8-12: The servant repeats what God will do for his people. An idealistic scene is painted of an easy trek from exile, of the hills and valleys and even the roads bursting with rich grazing grounds.

       13: We interrupt this message to bring you a spontaneous hymn of praise for the God who does such wonderful things.

       14-18: While the people left in Jerusalem wait longingly for restoration, though, they are prone to doubt the servant’s message. God has forgotten them, they say. He responds beautifully by saying that God can no more forget them than a nursing mother can forget a child at her breast; no more than a pregnant woman can ignore the baby growing in her womb. These feminine images of God’s protective care are more common in the Bible than most people realize. The walls that were destroyed will be rebuilt. The exiles will be gathered to them and adorn the city like jewelry.

       19-21: The population, devastated by the loss of most of the people, many exiled to Babylon and many others fled to Egypt and elsewhere will suddenly be so large that room will need to be found for them.

       22-23: The people who remained in Jerusalem will be revered not only by the returning exiles but also by the nations that have been the enemies of Zion.

       24-26: The oppressors of God’s people will be punished. The mightiest nation is not powerful enough to resist the will of God.

 

Isaiah 50 (day 729) 30 December 2011            

       1-3: We return to God as the speaker. These are rhetorical questions; there is no bill of divorce and God has no creditors. They were punished because of their sin, but they were not utterly forsaken. Their “mother” in verse one is Jerusalem. God tried to warn them but they wouldn’t listen. Now God is going to restore them; surely they believe that God who controls the seas and the heavens has the power to do that!

       4-6: The third “servant song” begins. We return to the enigmatic personage referred to simply as the servant, and he lists his credentials: a divinely given tongue to speak, an ear to listen, courage to suffer. It is easy to understand why the gospel writers saw in these verses so much that reminded them of the ministry and suffering of Jesus.

       7-9: The servant declares that no matter what happens to him – even being whipped and having his beard pulled out – he is not disgraced because God is his helper and will vindicate him. Whoever stands against him is standing against God.

       10-11: Those enemies are dismissed because they do not fear or obey the LORD. He depicts Israel’s enemies as “kindlers of fire,” a nuisance, nothing more. They will “lie down in torment” because of their opposition to God.

 

Isaiah 51 (day 730) 31 December 2011

       1-3: “Listen to me” is a frequent injunction in Isaiah (41:1, 46:3, 46:12, 48:12, 49:1) that reaches a crescendo in Chapter 51 (verses 1, 4, and 7). Isaiah is insisting, demanding that that they pay attention. Listen, Abraham and Sara are a good example of what the LORD is capable of doing. Restoration is coming!

       4-6: “Listen to me” is repeated, but notice the change in speaker from prophet’s voice in verses 1-3 to God’s voice in verses 4-8. Isaiah goes from speaking for God to letting God speak through him. Salvation for God’s people is on the way. Verse 6 sounds apocalyptic, but is instead simple poetic exaggeration in an attempt to describe the unforeseeable and impossible-sounding changes that God is planning to bring about.

       7-8: “Listen to me.” What God is going to do is hard to believe, but believe it even though others will ridicule you. They (and their attitude) will soon be gone but God’s salvation will remain.

       9-11: Now the prophet resumes speaking, begging God to act, remembering how God defeated Rahab the dragon (an ancient image of the chaos that was thought to rule existence before God brought about creation) and divided the (Red) sea so the people could cross over into freedom. A God who can do those things can surely be depended on to bring about new life for his people.

       12-16: God again is the voice, telling them they need not fear mere mortals (like Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar and their ilk, for example), but to rely on God. Remember, he is saying, that I, the LORD, created the heavens and the earth, and that I, the LORD called you to be my own people.

       17-20: Isaiah speaks now, trying to rouse the people. They have “drunk to the dregs” the cup of God’s wrath, suffering the full extent of the punishment God ordained for them. They have suffered as much as they can suffer, as much as they will suffer.

       21-23: Now the prophet again allows God’s voice to speak through him. God says that they have suffered as much as they need to suffer, and now it is the turn of their enemies to experience God’s wrath.

       I confess that I have difficulties with this idea that God would summon another nation to punish Israel and then, once the punishment is complete, turn on the very instrument he had summoned for doing exactly what he summoned them to do.

 

Isaiah 52 (day 731) 1 January 2012

       1-2: At 51:9 the prophet exhorted God to awake; now he exhorts the city folk to awake and get dressed, for their foreign oppressors (the “uncircumcised”) will oppress them no more.

       3-6: Scholars don’t know what to do with these verses. Most see them as an intrusion of material from somewhere else. I, however, am not considered a scholar, so I offer this observation: The preceding sections have poetically described God’s plan of redemption for Jerusalem. The following sections will poetically describe the unfolding of that redemption. These four verses allow the reader to see what is happening in the light of God’s overall relationship with Israel from their slavery in Egypt to their oppression at the hands of the Assyrians to the time foretold when the rulers of those foreign powers are defaming the name of the LORD. God is determined that the people he brought out from Egypt will see that their fate is and always has been in God’s hands. How’s that?

       7-10: From the walls of Jerusalem the sentinels see the messenger approaching to bring news of God’s reinstituted rule.

       11-12: Now the scene shifts to Babylon, the place of exile, and we see the people leaving Babylon for Jerusalem, some of them with the sacred temple vessels in their care. This is a new exodus: the conveying of the sacred vessels is parallel to the priests carrying the tabernacle through the wilderness as Moses led them to the Promised Land.

       13-15: The fourth “servant song” has the servant (probably intended by Isaiah to represent Israel), marred and disfigured by long suffering, lifted up and restored to a place of honor among the nations. Christians, of course, have seen here a description Christ, brutalized and then lifted up. The story of Jesus in the gospels is not unlike the story of Israel in the Old Testament.

 

Isaiah 53 (day 732) 2 January 2012

       1-3: This is the fullest description of the one Isaiah calls “the servant.” Again, it is likely that Isaiah thought he was giving a poetic description of Israel, or at least that portion of Israel that was sent into exile, but no Christian who reads these words can escape the impression that what is said here describes the Christ whose story is told in the Gospels.

       4-9: Much of what Christians believe about the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus is contained in these 6 verses.

       10-12: What Isaiah says here can certainly be applied to Jesus, although the first reader of the Isaiah scrolls probably saw here a reference to the exiles and the suffering they endured on behalf of the nation.

 

Isaiah 54 (day 733) 3 January 2012

1-3: The people of Israel traced their ancestry to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of them had wives (Sarah, Rebekah and Rachael) who initially were barren. When Isaiah says “the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married,” he is hearkening back to the time of God’s initial covenant and blessing for Abraham and his descendants. That relationship is going to be restored, he is saying, and there is going to be a population explosion.

4-8: God’s relationship with Israel is described as that of a husband who had temporarily abandoned the wife of his youth but now returns with compassion and love.

9-17: God’s promise to Israel is as dependable as was his promise of never again destroying the earth with a flood. God’s blessings will rest upon the people and they will enjoy a time of renewed prosperity and security.

 

Isaiah 55 (day 734) 4 January 2012

       1-5: The price of redemption having been already paid through the suffering they have had to endure, the coming blessings are given without further cost.

       6-9: The invitation is extended to all. Those who have been disobedient have an opportunity to return to the LORD. This is an expression of grace that only God, whose thoughts and ways are beyond understanding, can offer.

       10-11: In Genesis 1 God’s words effected the creation of the universe. God’s word is once again going forth to effect the restoration of Israel that God is promising through the words of the prophet.

       12-13: The promised restoration will engulf not only the people but the land as well. Remember that, when Israel entered the Promised Land, they were told that the land’s productivity would rise and fall according to their faithfulness (or faithlessness!) to their covenant with God.

 

Isaiah 56 (day 735) 5 January 2012

       1-8: There is a subtle shift taking place: the great restoration that God will bring about is now being tied to the people’s obedience. Those who get to participate in the glorious renewal are those who “keep the Sabbaths” and “hold fast the covenant.” However, the umbrella under which God’s people stand is being enlarged to include eunuchs (who were excluded before because they were seen as physically blemished) and foreigners, as long as they keep the Sabbaths and hold fast the covenant. Verse 7 is quoted by Jesus at Mark 11:17.

       9-12: Most of the blame for what Israel will suffer at the hands of the Babylonians et al is laid at the feet of their leaders, who are referred to as dogs (secular rulers) and shepherds (priests).

 

Isaiah 57 (day 736) 6 January 2012

       1-10: The prophet reverts to his earlier diatribes against the idol worshipers of Jerusalem. He says that those who are taken into exile are the fortunate ones. Those who remain behind are the ones who will suffer the most. He castigates them for engaging in sexual rituals and for taking part in the child sacrifice practiced by other religions. They are also condemned for attempting to form alliances with foreign kings who worship other gods.

       11-13: Worshipers of idols are condemned to their idols: let their idols rescue them, he says.

       14-21: God stands ready to forgive and heal those who have sinned, but “the wicked,” that is, those who persist in sinfulness, will never enjoy peace.

 

Isaiah 58 (day 737) 7 January 2012

       1-5: Isaiah denounces the way in which the people seek God’s forgiveness. They practice the outer forms of religion – bowing, praying, fasting and lying in sackcloth and ashes – but neglect the character that proves faith by serving their own interests, oppressing their workers, quarreling and fighting.

       6-9a: The fast that God recognizes is to refrain from injustice and oppression and to share with the poor and those in need. Then, he says, the LORD will hurry to your defense.

       9b-12: If they will stop taking advantage of one another and start taking care of one another then God will restore them.

       13-14: Keeping the Sabbath holy is upheld as the primary act of obedience for God’s people: a law that we modern people treat so casually is the most important law of all.

 

Isaiah 59 (day 738) 8 January 2012

       1-8: Charges are leveled against those who have ignored the covenant with God. Notice the change in who is being addressed: in verses 1-3 it is the transgressors, but in verses 4-8 it is an unnamed third party and the transgressors are “they.” Deceitfulness and a dishonest system of jurisprudence are specifically denounced.

       9-15: Now the speaker becomes one of the accused, and makes a confession on behalf of them all.

       16-19: And now God’s part is represented. Isaiah tries to show the reader what is going on in God’s mind as he witnessed the mounting transgressions of the people.

       20-21: God, says Isaiah, will redeem those who turn from transgression. And then God speaks directly: once they have been redeemed there will be a fundamental change in their relationship with God. God’s word will become part of who they are so that they will never again turn away from God.

 

Isaiah 60 (day 739) 9 January 2011

       1-3: The sinfulness of the people is described as a great darkness that has settled over the land; the redemption God is planning for Jerusalem is described as a light shining in the darkness.

       4-7: The scattered tribes of Israel will begin to return. Trade will be reestablished across the known world, with caravans from Midian, Ephah, Sheba, Kedar and Nebaioth – all of which are Arabian tribes mentioned in the genealogical records of Abraham. Perhaps the prophet is drawing a parallel between the unfolding of God’s redemption of Israel and the initial covenant made with Abraham.

       8-16: Isaiah goes on to describe the changing fortunes of Israel once God’s redemption has taken place. The city will prosper with international connections, and become the foremost city in the world.

       17-18: Peace and prosperity will rule when that time comes.

       19-22: God will be so revered that the city will never see darkness. The people will be righteous, and God’s plans for Jerusalem will be fulfilled in full measure.

 

Isaiah 61 (day 740) 10 January 2012

       1-4: The book marches on now to its happy conclusion, an observation which may be surprising to you given all that has gone before.  But, other than a brief excursion into Edom’s fate, Isaiah will be content to draw all the strings together into the ultimate glad outcome of God’s often terrible acts. You will recognize the opening words as the scripture Jesus boldly read to the congregation at Nazareth as he was beginning his public ministry. They nearly lynched him for proclaiming himself to be the fulfillment of the prophecy (Luke 4: 16-30). Isaiah, of course, intended these verses as a word of comfort, assuring the remnant in Jerusalem that God has great plans for them.

       5-9: Not only will their suffering be ended, but they will become the spiritual center honored by all the nations.

       10-11: Notice the change from third to first person singular. The prophet himself rejoices that God has allowed him to be the bearer of God’s plans for God’s people.

Isaiah 62 (day 741) 11 January 2012

       1-5: The restoration and laudation of Jerusalem continues with a symbolic renaming. The nations now think of Jerusalem as Forsaken (Hebrew “Azubah”) and Desolate (“Shemamah”), but because of what God will do for them they will come to be known as My Delight Is in Her (“Hephzibah”). The land itself will be called Married (“Beulah”), symbolically linking God and his people in a new covenant that is very like the covenant of marriage. In verse 5 the word “builder” is sometimes rendered “sons;” it depends on how one applies vowel markings to the four consonants in the Hebrew word. I agree with the NRSV translating it “builder,” because that makes the second half of the verse a parallel expression of the first half of the verse (that is, “… so shall your builder marry you” is then echoed in “… so shall your God rejoice over you”).

       6-9: Divine guardians overlook the city from its walls. The subjection the people have known that required them to labor for foreign powers will be removed, and they will enjoy the labor of their own hands for their own good.

       10-12: A picture is drawn of the road being repaired that leads into the city, allowing the exiles to return rejoicing. The renaming is completed with the exiles being called “The Holy People,” and “The Redeemed of the LORD,” and the remnant population of the city being called “Sought Out,” and “A City Not Forsaken.”

 

Isaiah 63 (day 742) 12 January 2012

       1-6: During the days after the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar the Edomites, Israel’s neighbor to the east, raided and looted at will. Isaiah can’t seem to resist taking one last parting shot at them. These verses are presented as a confrontation between a sentinel guarding the border between Israel and Edom and an approaching figure. The guard calls out, “Who are you?” The response is simply, “It is I,” and there should be no doubt in the readers mind that this is the “I am” of the Torah. God explains that he has come from “trampling the grapes,” so to speak, meaning that he has been about the ravaging of Edom. The explanation begins with the metaphor of the wine press and ends with a graphic description of the bloodletting.

       7-14: Isaiah recites the history of his people with God. God claimed them for his very own and “carried them in the days of old,” but they rebelled and became God’s enemies. Then they remembered their history, how God brought them across the Red Sea, and how God accompanied them with Moses through the wilderness.

       15-19: Isaiah makes confession for his people and pleads with God for forgiveness. There is a hint (a rather typical Oriental way of thinking) that God is somewhat responsible for their troubles – God hardened their hearts so they would not turn back to him.

 

Isaiah 64 (day 743) 13 January 2012

       1-12: Isaiah’s plea continues. He begs God to come down as he did in ages past. He confesses that they are “unclean,” that even their good deeds are unworthy of consideration. The situation is described as a terminal loop: they sin, God turns away, and because God has turned away they no longer call on God, and since they no longer call on God they sin more grievously, making God forsake them, causing them to ignore the covenant even more, and on it goes. As a result, their cities are destroyed and God’s house is burned down. Now, he asks, is this enough for you, God?

Isaiah 65 (day 744) 14 January 2012

       1-10: We have God’s response. In a plaintive voice God says that he kept on saying, “Here I am,” but the people continued to ignore him and turn to pagan gods and pagan practices (verses 3-5). But there is hope: as the vintner sees the blessing in the untrod grapes, God will send a blessing in the form of generations to come. The land will thrive again in the hands of “my people who have sought me.”

       11-16: Those who have turned away from the covenant will be punished; those who are faithful will prosper.

       17-25: God now describes a glorious new world that he is about to create, a world in which there is no weeping or distress or shortened lives or enemies who take away their accomplishments. God will answer their prayers before they pray. Even in nature peace will rule the day, except for the serpent upon whom fell God’s curse in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14).

 

Isaiah 66 (day 745) 15 January 2012

       1-2: God reiterates his intended order of the universe: heaven is God’s throne and the earth is God’s footstool. God is the sovereign ruler of all. What God wants from mortals is humility, a contrite spirit, and the proper regard/respect/awe/fear for him.

       3-4: An indictment of the religious establishment.

       5-9: All of the terrible things that have happened were, as St. Paul says so eloquently (Romans 8:22-23), just birthing pains for the new order God has planned.

       10-13: Jerusalem, in the new creation, will be like a nursing mother for all her children.

       14-17: The faithful will rejoice. The unfaithful, especially those who engage in pagan rituals, will suffer the fire of God. I suppose these verses contributed to Dante’s vision of hell.

       18-21: God’s ultimate plan is to draw all the nations to himself. The places mentioned – Tarshish, Put, etc. – represent the farthest points of the known inhabited world at the time.

       22-23: In the new creation everyone will acknowledge God.

       24: But the awful carnage that must take place before that ideal is reached will be in evidence to future generations for all time.

       Congratulations! You have finished the second longest book in the Bible. The third longest book is next.

The Song of Songs 1 (Day 672) 3 November 2011

            1: Solomon is said to have composed 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). The Song of Songs is a lyrical romantic poem which tells the story of a love affair between a man and a woman, consisting of several encounters described unabashedly. God is never mentioned in the book, a troubling fact it shares with the book of Esther. But while in Esther God is standing just off stage, in the Song of Songs God’s presence is not as readily sensed. Still, God, the author of life and creator of human beings, male and female, looks out from between the lines.

            There is no escaping the fact that the Song of Songs is a rather erotic poem, and the edification of the believer is not uppermost in the mind of the author. It is a frank presentation of human romantic imagination. Erotic as it may be, it is unarguably and thoroughly grounded in an understanding of how God made us. As such, it is a welcome antidote to the cynicism of Ecclesiastes.

            2-4: Some have interpreted the Song of Songs as an allegory celebrating the love affair between God and Israel; or, as in medieval times, between Christ and the Church.  Others have noted that there are more verses for the woman’s voice than for the man, leading them to ponder whether the poem could be the composition of a woman, or perhaps a collaborative effort. Verse 4 puts the setting of the encounter within the king’s chambers, identifying the couple as a royal pair.

            5-8: On the other hand, she is presented as a dark-skinned keeper of vineyards and he a shepherd rather than a king. Perhaps in their culture everyone perceived their lover to be a king or queen much as our own culture speaks of a “knight in shining armor.” In any case the plot is quickly established; she is seeking to arrange a tryst.

            9-11: He compares his lover to a mare in Pharaoh’s service, meaning a very fine horse indeed, but hardly flattering to a modern girl. He plies her with jewelry, an approach as ancient as men and women.

            12-14: Using highly suggestive and inviting language she describes their meeting. En-gedi could be a number of places, but the name itself simply means a spring or perhaps an oasis and is likely to be intended as a reference to such a spot in the southern desert not too far from Jerusalem. Nard and myrrh were used in perfumes. Myrrh is specifically mentioned as part of the ritual of a woman preparing for lovemaking with her husband (Esther 2:12).

            15-17: He in turn compliments her beauty. It seems they are in an outdoor setting, upon a couch of green grass with cedar and pine boughs above them.

 

The Song of Songs 2 (Day 673) 4 November 2011

            1-7: At first it appears that this is a dialogue between the two lovers, but it is rather a poetic rendering of their thoughts for and about one another. Verse 1 describes what she wants to be for him – a rose (actually a crocus) of Sharon. Sharon was a lovely grazing land in the rolling hills near Mt. Carmel. Verse 2 is how he sees her, as a lily among brambles. In other words, all the other girls are unattractive next to her. Verses 3 to 7 record her thoughts and desires for him. Verse 7 affirms that all her love affairs before now were a waste of time.

            8-17: Her fantasy of love is described in the kind of language we might expect from within an agrarian culture, with many references to animals and places in the wild. She imagines that her beloved sneaks into her quarters and spirits her away to the countryside.

 

The Song of Songs 3 (Day 674) 5 November 2011

            1-5: Another fantasy: Unable to sleep for thoughts of love she leaves her chamber and goes out into the streets to search for him. After an encounter with sentinels in the street she finds him and clings to him, and brings him to her mother’s bed for a night of love.

            6-11: Now we have a description of King Solomon approaching the city with his entourage. The girls are all aflutter at the sight of him. He is wearing the crown his mother gave him as a wedding gift. The scene seems to be unrelated to the fantasy described in the previous verses, but some commentators believe the girl is flattering her lover by “mistaking” him for the king – sort of like a more modern girl saying something like, “he’s my Romeo.”

The Song of Songs 4 (Day 675) 6 November 2011

            1-7: Now it is his turn to flatter her and he does so in language that makes the casual reader blush. She is described in the terms common to an agrarian culture, with parts of her body compared to doves, goats, shorn ewes, pomegranates, and gazelles.

            8: Is she Lebanese? The color of her skin notwithstanding (see 1:5) that seems to be the case. The mountainous region of Lebanon is aptly described as a place of lions and leopards, which it was in Biblical times.

            9-15: He is obviously head-over-heels. While the previous paragraph used mostly animal imagery, now he relies primarily on things found in the fields, orchards and vineyards. She is, to him, a veritable garden of delights.

            16: And she accepts the imagery, inviting him to enjoy.

 

The Song of Songs 5 (Day 676) 7 November 2011

            1: So he does just that.

            2-7: She engages in another romantic fantasy: her lover comes to her chamber while she sleeps. She longs for him and arises to open the door but finds that he is gone. She searches for him in the city and is beaten by guards, although no explanation is given as to why she should be so punished – but again, this is a fantasy or a dream. Her suffering at the hands of the sentinels is perhaps a subconscious admission that the affair she is imagining is somewhat taboo.

            8-9: In her fantasy she asks the women of the city to help her find him, and they want to know what’s so special about him.

            10-16: She describes him with the same kind of excessive imagery that he used in describing her. His attributes are compared to ravens, doves, lilies and cedars. Much of her image of him, though, involves precious metals and jewels: gold, ivory, sapphires (or lapis lazuli), and alabaster. Frankly, I wouldn’t care to have my eyes compared to doves or my lips to lilies, but whatever turns you on.

 

Song of Songs 6 (Day 677) 8 November 2011

            1-3: Her friends, having heard her description of him, want to know where he is, and her response is that he is tending his flock. Verse 3 may be intended to refer back to the imagery in 4:5.

            4-10: Once again we have his fanciful description of her. She is almost too beautiful to look upon; lots of hair, no missing teeth. If you should line up countless other girls she would be the only one. Her beauty is as threatening to them as an army on the march.

            11-13: She goes out to the orchard (in 1:6 she is a keeper of vineyards) and imagines she is with her lover. The other girls call for her to return, but she rebuffs them. Verse 13 is the only place where she is referred to as a Shulammite, and the word is a puzzle. Some scholars think it is the feminine form of Solomon. Others see in it a reference to an unidentified location. The “dance before two armies” (NRSV) is in other translations rendered “the dance of Mahanaim.” Mahanaim literally means “two camps,” and is the name Jacob gave to the place where he encountered angels after separating from Laban (see Genesis 32:2). Perhaps the sense of verse 13b is something like, “Why should you stare at Solomon’s lady as though she were some sort of camp-side entertainment?”

 

Song of Songs 7 (Day 678) 9 November 2011

            1-5: The suitor gives yet another description of her, from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. She’s really something, isn’t she?

            6-9: He makes a rather forward overture, making no bones about his intentions; they are entirely dishonorable and refreshingly honest.

            10-13: She gives an encouraging response, promising a night of love-making in a village apparently known to them both. Mandrakes are mentioned twice in the Bible: here and at Genesis 30:14-16. A variety of nightshade, mandrakes have some hallucenogenic qualities. The roots were (and still are among some cultures) thought to enhance sexual desire. The Hebrew word is “dudaim,” which literally means “love plant.”

 

Song of Songs 8 (Day 679) 10 November 2011

            1-4: She expresses the wish that they were close enough kin that they could engage in public displays of affection. Her fantasy is that, were they like brother and sister (which in that culture could mean what we would call “kissing cousins”) they could enter the privacy of her mother’s house without raising eyebrows, and there freely engage in lovemaking. Once again, the expression about not awakening love until it is ready is a way of saying she has found her true love and that makes all her previous relationships meaningless by comparison.

            5-7: The poem plunges again into obscure images that seem disconnected from one another as well as from the preceding scene. The apple tree reference is impossible to explain and the reference to his mother in labor is just as troublesome. But verses 6 and 7 seem to be a summary of their affair. Love is indeed more valuable than all the wealth one might possess.

            8-10: Again it is hard to find any connection between these verses and the rest of the book. It seems to me that the “daughters of Jerusalem” are reflecting on girlhood, puberty and emerging womanhood.

            11-14: The book ends with an invitation to young lovers everywhere to enter into the delightful twists and turns of romantic love.

            You may be wondering, having read the book, why it is in the Bible to begin with. The best answer I can offer is that the Song of Songs is an exuberant celebration of Genesis 2:18-25.