Recognizing Godís Ways
Explore the Bible Series
May 7, 2006
Background Passage: Isaiah 49:1-53:12
Lesson Passage: Isaiah 53:1-12
Introduction: Hear the word of the Lord.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways,
And my thoughts than your thoughts.
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASV)
O, blessed and humbling words. People often think of God in constrained and inadequate ways; that is, they interpret Godís ways through the grid of their own thoughts and experiences.† Scripture and experience teach that God insists on being God.† He will not bend to a cramped understanding of him; indeed, he seems to delight in confounding human efforts to ďpigeon holeĒ him.† In fact, theologians must guard their hearts at this point.† Sometimes, the theological enterprise may degenerate into a kind of Christian rationalism, bent on fitting God into a prescribed interpretive framework.† Then, God does something unexpected, inexplicable, and, at that point, true theology begins.† Efforts to trace the hand of God must always lead to the fear and worship of the Lord.† O, that we might see him as glorious and free from the constraint of human categories. ďBless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me.Ē
The people of Judah had difficulty in discerning the Lordís hand.† Isaiahís prophecy anticipated a time, in the distant future, when God would gather his people again in Jerusalem.† By that time, of course, they would have experienced a severe trial during a lengthy captivity in Babylon.† They would, Isaiah predicted, interpret the Lordís ways through the grid of their experience, ďThe Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.Ē† God had not forgotten them at all.† He had good designs for his cherished people, and he promised great mercy in their return to Judah and, more importantly, in the coming of Godís Suffering Servant.
Even the prophet Isaiah had some difficulty in interpreting the Lordís providence.† Chapter Forty-nine records the dismay that Isaiah felt as he contemplated his own preaching experiences (See v. 4).† God had forewarned Isaiah of the difficulties of his mission (See 6:9), and the Lordís word proved true.† This dear man preached earnestly for years, and the people, Godís professing people, turned a deaf ear.† The weight of discouragement seemed to crush the poor man.† He believed that he had wasted his life by preaching without visible result.† The people who should have loved him most, despised the message and the messenger of the Lord.† The prophet, of course, interpreted Godís ways wrongly.† Matthew Henry believed that Isaiahís ministry was a type of Christ.† He came to do the Lordís work, and, instead of meeting with success and applause, he was despised and rejected of men.† This must have anguished the servant of the Lord.† Despite his lofty calling, Isaiah remained a man: weak, sinful, and lonely.† Jesus met with the same response that troubled Isaiah.† ďHe came unto his own, and his own received him not.Ē† Though he never sinned, Jesus experienced the same grief as any man when his own people rejected him.† Isaiah did not waste his life; rather, his ministry served a foreshadowing of the life and ministry of Jesus.
This section (Chapters 49-53) focuses the readerís attention on Godís insistence on reordering the thoughts of his people, to get them to view their circumstances from a divine perspective.† He gives them a new lens through which they might see his goodness and longsuffering. Mediate for a while, my dear readers, on the Lordís perspective of your life.† Godís word will bring you great comfort and engender wonderful joy as you contemplate the mercies of the Lord.
Background Passage Outline:
I. God Has Not Forgotten His People (49:1-26)
A. The dismay of the prophet (vv. 4): Isaiah complained that he had lived in vain.† Years of preparation and ministry had met with little success, and the prophet staggered under the awareness that his preaching had born little fruit.† God has warned him of the difficulty of ministering to these recalcitrant people (See 6:9), but the reality of unfruitful ministry, year after year, wore down the prophet.† His strength was spent; nevertheless, he had not lost all hope.† Reverence for the Lord kept Isaiah faithful to his task.† His hope of approbation rested in Jehovah alone (See Psalm 62:1-2).†
B. The despair of the people of God (v. 14): Like Isaiah, Godís people feared that God had forsaken and forgotten them.† The years of exile would bring extended spiritual trauma on the Jews.† In their distress they entertained unworthy views of the Lord.† God, they feared, had forgotten them.†
C. Godís answer to the insecurities of his people
1. (vv. 1-4) God called Isaiah (as a type of Christ) from the womb and had made him an effective weapon in Jehovahís hand (a sword and an arrow).† Furthermore, God concealed (protected) him and manifested divine glory through the instrument he had formed.
2. (vv. 5-7) God promised that he would raise up his Servant (again, Isaiah serves as type of Christ), and he will be a light and redeemer to all the nations (See v. 6). Though the Promised One will be despised by the nations, yet will God make him the Sovereign of kings and princes (See v. 7).†
3. (vv. 8-13) God promised to give his Servant as a covenant of the people.† Christ is the seal and substance of Godís redemptive covenant, and all good things come to the elect through Christ (See v. 8).† Notice, the language of the verse indicates that Jesus is the covenant, not merely the covenant maker. The Lord pledged many blessings through the covenant: the people will no longer hunger and thirst, God will lead them to places of peace and protection, and the way will be made straight for those who come from afar.†
II. Judahís Sin and the Servantís Ministry (50:1-11)
A. Judahís chastening for her sins (vv. 1-3): Like the husband of an unfaithful wife, God had sent away Judah for her transgressions.† She had turned to other ďloversĒ, and, when her husband returned, her ďloversĒ abandoned her.† These verses are reminiscent of the story of Hosea whose unfaithful wife abandoned her family for the pleasure of another manís arms.† Like Judah, Gomer was forsaken for a time; then, her husband redeemed her from the bondage of her iniquity.
B. The Servantís comfort to unfaithful Judah (vv. 4-11): Again, this passage, it seems, has a double reference to both Isaiah and Christ.† God gave Isaiah the ears of a disciple, quick to hear and obey.† Morning by morning the prophet arose to listen to the instructions of the Lord, and he obeyed them explicitly and without hesitation.† Verses six and seven describe the cost that faithful servants must pay for their careful obedience to the Lord.† Of course, the fullness of these words set our attention on the sufferings of Christ on the cross. The prophet expressed explicit confidence that God would protect him from contentious enemies.
III. Judah Must Seek the Lord and Not Fear Man (51:1-23)
A. A brief history lesson (vv. 1-3): Isaiah called upon the godly to remember their spiritual roots, Abraham and Sarah.† As God had blessed the ancient couple, so he would prosper his people in the day of promise.
B. Godís call to righteousness and faith (vv. 4-11): Isaiah pointed out the transitory nature of the world and the permanence of the Lordís word (See vv. (4-8). The earth and the sky will waste away, but the word of Jehovah stands forever; therefore, the no servant of the Lord should fear what men can do to them (v. 7).
C. The danger of the fear of man (vv. 12-23):† God, through his prophet, spoke words of comfort to his people.† Why should Godís servants fear men?† Men are made like the grass of the field.† The fear of man had driven Judah to forget her God. Jehovah stretched out the vault of heaven and laid the foundations of the earth; so, despite the fury of the oppressor, the Lord of heaven and earth will deliver his people. Verse twenty-two affirms the Lordís redemptive love.† His people had a chalice of wrath in their hands; yet, in his mercy, God removed the cup from their hands and they would never drink from it again.
IV. The Salvation of the Lord (52:1-53:12)
A. A call to awaken to the grace of God (52:1-6): God called to Judah like a sleeping man.† The drowsy people must rouse themselves and throw off the dust and chains of their oppression.† Godís name was blasphemed when the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians oppressed his people.† Now, however, God called Israel to shake off her bondage and turn to the Almighty.
B. Joyful tidings of deliverance (52:7-10): Heralds will announce the Lordís power and willingness to save.† Great comfort and joy will come to Godís people.†
C. An invitation to depart from oppression (52:11-15): God pledged to lead his people out of the tyranny of the kings of the earth, and he would serve as their leader and rear guard to protect them.
D. Salvation through the Suffering Servant (53:1-12):
1. The humility of the Servant (vv. 1-3): The Servant will not come with stately appearance or worldly attractiveness; instead, he will be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected of men.
2. The mission of the Servant (vv. 4-6): He will bear the grief and sorrow of his people. God struck and pierced him for the transgressions of his people, and he will bring healing through the sufferings of the Servant.
3. The manner of the Servantís suffering (vv. 7-9): He remained silent before his accusers, and his enemies led him as a sheep to the slaughter.† They treated him mercilessly; yet, he refused to speak in his own defense.
4. The result of the Servantís suffering (vv. 10-12):† Jehovah crushed the Servant, but, in doing so, he found satisfaction in the sacrifice of death.† The Servantís soul experienced anguish, and Jehovah observed his suffering and was satisfied with his holy sacrifice.† The Servantís death will affect the justification of many, and he will see his offspring.† Christ did not die in vain. His suffering and death achieved precisely the end for which God deigned it.
Discussion Questions for the Lesson Passage:
1. What role did the Father play in the sufferings of the Son?† Why did the Father ďcrushĒ (NASV) the Son?† How can a loving Father inflict such anguish upon his beloved Son?