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Explore the Bible Series

May 14, 2006

 

Background Passage: Isaiah 54:1-57:21

Lesson Passage: Isaiah 55:1-13

 

Introduction: This section of the Prophecy of Isaiah has a wonderful coherence and progression of thought.  One chapter builds on the other to construct an encouraging and gracious message.  Our previous lesson ended with Chapter Fifty-three, a marvelous prediction of the sacrifice of the Servant for the sins of his people.  It pleased the Lord to send his Son into the world in the form of a humble servant, without form or comeliness. Furthermore, the Father laid the iniquity of us all on the Servant and struck him with the scourge of wrath, all for our iniquities.  The Servant bore these sufferings without complaint or defense. The anguish of the Servant, however, will bear great fruit, and, in due time, he will see his seed and justify many.  God was satisfied with the sacrifice of his soul. Most importantly, the Lord pledged to exalt the Suffering Servant and grant him a portion with the great.  This chapter portrays the Lord Jesus as glorious Priest and King. 

 

Chapter Fifty-four builds on the message concerning the Suffering Servant; that is, it describes the effects of the Servant’s death and intercession for his people.  Isaiah compared Israel to a forsaken woman: sinful, barren, shameful, and grieved.  Nevertheless, Jehovah will pursue the desperate woman and take her for his beloved wife.  He promised to restore and provide for her, and his love, he said, would never depart from her.

 

In turn, Chapter Fifty-five contains an invitation to grace. Isaiah anticipated the desperate condition of the people, and he assured them that God would satisfy their deepest longings. Jehovah invites sinners to come to the waters and drink, buy bread without price, and seek the Lord while he may be found.  O, blessed gospel invitations.  A sinful and unremorseful people still find God pursuing them!  His purpose of grace will not be frustrated.

 

Chapter Fifty-six outlines Israel’s gospel responsibilities.  Grace transforms the heart and moves its recipients to careful observance of the things of the Lord.  As you read this chapter, look for the marks of grace.  What effect does God’s saving mercy have on those who receive it?

 

The last chapter in our study, Chapter Fifty-seven, gives solemn warning concerning the previous sins of the people.  Isaiah cautioned the people about the dangers of oppression and idolatry.  Those things had no more claim on the Lord’s elect.  The chapter also provides a somber condemnation of those who continued in sinful patterns of life.  Their conduct stands in stark contrast to that of the righteous.

 

 

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                    The Redemption of a Forsaken Woman (54:1-17)

A.    A call to joyous worship (vv. 1-8): Isaiah compared Israel to an abandoned, barren woman. In the ancient Near East, societies viewed childlessness as a great disgrace.  The family of Judah, decimated by the Captivity, bore the disgrace of a barren household. However, in his boundless mercy, God invited the forsaken “woman” to rejoice.  He pledged to remove Judah’s shame by multiplying their numbers.  He told her to expand the curtains of her tent to make room for the blessings of Jehovah.  Furthermore, God will be her husband, and he will give her offspring the nations for an inheritance.  She will bear the name of Jehovah, and he will give to her everlasting kindness.

B.     The analogy of God’s Covenant with Noah (vv. 9-10): Reader, as you recall, God made a covenant with Noah that the earth would never experience another judgment by flood (See Genesis 8: 20-22).  Here, the prophet compared Noah’s Covenant with the commitment of God to treat his people with merciful kindness.  This covenant will last longer than the mountains and the hills.

C.    God’s promise to comfort and protect his children (vv. 11-17):  The prophet acknowledged the desperate condition of the people (See v. 11), but he also promised the establishment and security of the Lord’s elect.

1.      The blessing of God will rest on Judah and her descendants (vv. 11-13).

2.      God will protect his children from their enemies (vv. 14-17):  These verses contain some of the most precious promises in the Word of God.  God’s people have many enemies.  Some of these adversaries seem obvious; others, however, come disguised as angels of light.  Whatever the case, God will protect his elect, and they shall remain secure in his watch care.

 

II.                 An Invitation to Grace (55:1-13)

A.    Gospel invitations (vv. 1-6)

1.      “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (v. 1).  This verse is reminiscent of the opening passage in Psalm 42.  O reader, have you ever been desperate for God, like a ravished deer searching for water?  The quest consumes the heart, mind, and will.  Nothing will distract the pursuant heart.  Nothing else will satisfy the thirst except an encounter with God. 

2.      “Come, buy, and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”  The banquet is set, and the price has been paid.  Come to the Lord’s feast and find satisfaction for your soul (See Luke 14:15-24). 

3.      “Incline your ear and come to me.” Coming to grace involves more than the affections and the satisfaction of felt needs.  It also requires that sinners hear the word of the Lord.  Grace must convince the mind of the veracity of the gospel.  Saving mercies touch and transform the entire man.  The mind must embrace the Son of David in all his glorious offices and character.

4.      “Seek the Lord while he may be found”: The hour of grace has not passed.  He will still be found by sinners, and he will not hide from those who earnestly pursue him.

5.      “Call upon him while he is near.”  Jehovah has drawn near to sinners; indeed, the Father sent the Son to dwell among us, and his Holy Spirit moves around and among sinners.  His heralds stand nearby and proclaim the good news of the everlasting covenant.  Call unto the Lord, and he will answer.

6.      “Let the wicked man forsake his way and unrighteous man his thoughts.” Gospel faith must be wed to gospel repentance. Sinners will not find Christ in their sins.  To turn to Christ requires that the sinner turn from sin. The repentant man will find God’s abundant mercy and pardon.

B.     The mystery of the gospel (vv. 8-9):  Who could devise such wonderful offers of mercy? God’s ways of grace are mysterious and past finding out.  His thoughts and ways transcend the capacity of man to understand.  Sinful, prideful men chafe when God does something that doesn’t fit into neat, easily understood compartments.  Jehovah defies human categories.  He acts as pleases him, and he seeks neither man’s approval nor understanding.  A British theologian once observed, “Wicked men always despise what they cannot understand.” 

C.    God’s sovereignty in salvation (vv. 10-13): The instrument of grace is the Word of God.  He sends it forth, and it returns unto him to accomplish his purposes.  What consolation for gospel preachers!  Preach the word!  God shall accomplish his designs, and no force in the world can restrain his sovereign will. No proclamation of the good news is wasted.

 

 

III.               God’s Purpose of Grace for the Gentiles (56:1-12): Note that the prophet tied the promise of grace to the observance of the Sabbath. Those who find rest and refreshment for their souls will relish the observance of a day of worship and rest.

A.    The gospel invitation will come to the despised, oppressed, and disinherited (vv. 1-8):  Not only will the sons of Israel enjoy gracious privileges, but the eunuch, the foreigner, the outcast, and “others” may come to the Christ. 

B.     The unresponsiveness of the religious leaders (vv. 9-12):  Isaiah compared the religious leaders to ignorant, dumb, greedy dogs.  Please recall that the ancient Near East did not regard dogs as household companions. Instead, dogs were viewed as repulsive and unclean.

 

 

 

IV.              The Futility of Judah’s Former Manner of Life (57:1-21)

A.    The righteous will be saved from the evil men and find peace for their souls (vv. 1-2). 

B.     Judah compared to sorcerers and harlots (vv. 3-6): She is obstinate and riddled with falsehood.  Her sin inflamed her to vile passions and practices, and, in doing so, rendered her incapable of proper worship.  Sin-stained hands defiled their drink and grain offerings.

C.    Judah committed whoredoms in the high places (vv. 7-10: Her nakedness was uncovered, and shame attended all of her ways.

D.    Judah lived a lie and forgot the God of Israel (vv. 11-13)

E.     A final offer of grace (vv. 14-21): God promised to heal and restore even the vilest of sinners who repents of his transgressions.  He speaks peace to those who are afar and those who are near.

 

 

Questions for Discussion on the Lesson Passage:

1.      Why do men refuse God’s overtures of grace?  Do you observe any restrictions on these promises?  Are any excluded who will come to Christ?

2.      How many imperatives (commands) do you find in the chapter?  How do these commands relate to one another?

3.      What is the relationship between faith and repentance?  Why are both indispensable for the recipient of God’s saving mercy?

4.      Discuss the unsearchable nature of God’s ways with his people.  Take time for testimonies of God’s unexpected mercies in the lives of the persons in the class.