Explore the Bible Series
May 21, 2006
Background Passage: Isaiah 58:1-66:24 and Micah 6:6-8
Lesson Passage: Isaiah 58:3-14 and Micah 6:8
Introduction: With this week・s lesson we conclude our current study of the Prophecy of the Isaiah. These rich chapters have led us on a worthy journey to greater understanding of the character and ways of Jehovah as he deals with his people. Again and again the prophet has confronted us with the problem of human sin. Consequently, these passages should have convicted our hearts and led us to more profound awareness of the utter holiness of God. Thankfully, the text has not left us in despair about our defiled and guilty condition; instead, the prophet has gloriously displayed the boundless, persistent mercy of God. Furthermore, this demonstration of grace has repeatedly brought us to the Promised One who stands as the only hope of the world.
Please pardon a personal word at this point. Previous studies of the Book of Isaiah have always blessed me, but this particular study has been the occasion of great, profound changes in my life. God has used Isaiah to deepen my awareness of my sin, and he has also led me to clearer understanding of the sinner・s complete dependence on the Lord Jesus as the only hope for the guilty soul. He seems more wonderful to me than ever before, and I bless God for his patient pursuance of sinners, through the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the ancient people of Judah, modern transgressors find themselves captive to their sinful passions; nevertheless, Christ・s love proves more persistent, in the lives of his elect, than the enslaving power of sin. He invites the sinner to find reconciliation and the free pardon of sin. I trust, like me, these lessons have brought youagain to the cross where we see displayed the redemptive love of Christ. Find your delight and satisfaction in him alone. That, I believe, is the central theme of the Book of Isaiah. Mine the riches of these last few chapters of Isaiah, and you will discover the Precious Stone that is the Lord Jesus.
This lesson will introduce us, briefly, to the Prophet Micah. This native of Judah lived and preached during the time of Isaiah. He focused his attention on the spiritual needs of Judah, but his prophecy, much like Isaiah・s, addressed the people of the Northern Kingdom as well. He devoted much of his material to the oppressive economic and social conditions of his day. The overbearing rich people, cruel and unjust, felt the sting of Micah・s words. The religious leaders and practices of Judah also did not escape Micah・s attention. Perfunctory temple worship and the scandalous moral compromise of Jewish political and religious leaders troubled the prophet, and he anticipated a day when Jehovah would grow weary of the watered-down spiritual lives of the people and would bring judgment upon the nation.
(Note: This is a very long lesson, nine chapters); therefore, the outline will only cover the general contours of the text.)
Outline of the Background Passage:
I. The Right and Wrong Use of Religious Rituals (58:1-14)
A. The abuse of fasting (vv. 1-5): God compelled the prophet to cry out to Judah concerning the improper approach to fasting. They practiced this ancient ritual, but, at the same time they fasted, they oppressed their employees, quarreled with their neighbors, and engaged in acts of repressive violence. God would not hear their prayers while they engaged in such unholy activities, and they fasted in vain.
B. The nature of God-honoring fasting (vv. 6-12): Compassion and generosity must accompany the fasting of God・s people; then, God will answer the prayers of his people and take note of their religious practices.
C. The proper use of the Sabbath (vv. 13-14): God pledged to bless his people when they honored him by appropriately observing his Sabbath.
II. The Sinner・s Separation from God (59:1-21)
A. The reason for the sinner・s separation from God (vv. 1-2): God has not lost his power to save his people or hear their prayers; instead, the sins of the people have estranged them from Jehovah.
B. The nature of Judah・s sins (vv. 3-8)
1. hands defiled with blood
2. lips that have spoken lies
3. a dishonest court system
4. a society that condones and promotes violence
5. a people who pursue sin and follow a crooked path
C. Additional consequences of Judah・s sins (vv. 9-15)
1. they behold darkness
2. they grope like blind men
3. salvation is far away from them
4. their transgressions argue against them
5. ：truth； stumbles in the public squares
D. Judgment and redemption (vv. 16-21): In the context of the dismal failures of the people of God, no one could stand as an intercessor for them, no one, that is, except the Lord Jesus. Isaiah promised that One would come to uphold righteousness and bring vindication for his elect. A Redeemer will come to Zion, and the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.
III. God・s Merciful Goodness to His People (60:1-62:12): John Oswalt observes that common thematic threads connect these three chapters. These themes interweave through the chapters, and students should look for these topics while studying the text. The following list will help identify the threads.
A. God alone will save his people. They cannot, in their own strength, extricate themselves from the patterns of sin that have enslaved them; instead, they must trust Jehovah, in his matchless mercy, to break the bonds of their awful circumstances.
B. God will give light to his people. They grope in stygian darkness like a blind man; yet, God・s mercy will shed light on their gloomy prospects.
C. God will share his glory with his people. They seem, during the captivity, to be disinherited, but God will give them a name, his name. Sometimes this aspect of God・s grace appears in the analogy of marriage; other times, it manifests itself under the image of the fatherhood of God.
D. God will draw the nations to grace through his work with Israel. This, of course, is one of the great themes of the Book of Isaiah. Several times we have encountered indication of God・s gracious designs for the nations.
E. The nations will restore Judah・s children to her. God・s judgment had scattered the children if Israel, but God promised to restore and reunite his dispersed people.
F. The nations will give their wealth to God・s people. This promise, in part, was fulfilled in the blessings and generosity of Cyrus toward the returning refugees under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
G. Judah will be exalted over her former oppressors. God will, in his time and way, vindicate his people.
H. Judah will exemplify the righteousness of God. They will, as a result of God・s life-changing grace, become a new people.
IV. The Lord・s Vengeance and Mercy (63:1-64:12)
A. The Lord・s vengeance on his enemies (63:1-6): this passage returns to the ：Victorious Warrior； model discovered earlier in the prophecy. This text probably has messianic implications, and, therefore, the passage predicts Messiah・s victory over the enemies of the Lord.
B. The Lord・s mercy toward his people (63:7-14): The Lord・s steadfast love sustained and preserved his elect. He provided for and nurtured them because he took pity on their weakness. He remained faithful to them just as he did the children of Israel in the days of Moses.
C. A prayer for mercy (63:15-64:12): Isaiah pleads for God・s mercy. The prophet recognized the judicial hardening of the hearts of Judah, and he asked God to return to his people. Isaiah・s prayer continues in Chapter Sixty-four, and the prophet・s supplications become more pointed. He prayed that God might do a surprising work among his people (See v. 3). Ardent confession of sin characterizes this prayer (See vv. 5 f). Above all, the prayer acknowledges God・s sovereignty over his people (See vv.8-9).
V. God Stretched Out His Hand of Mercy to Judah (65:1-25)
A. Judah insulted God by her abominable sins (vv. 1-7): She provoked the Lord by her idolatry and sacrilege. Like the irritant of smoke in the nostrils, Judah had incited Jehovah to wrath.
B. God promised to save a remnant of his people (vv. 8-16): Isaiah provided a lengthy contrast of God・s ways with the wicked and his mercy on the repentant.
C. The New Heavens and the New Earth (vv. 17-24): This passage, in all probability, has eschatological implications.
VI. The Lord・s Mercy on the Humble and Contrite of Heart (66:1-24)
A. The vain worship of the religious hypocrites brought the indignation of the Lord, and the guilty people will be put to shame (vv. 1-6).
B. The future blessings of Jerusalem (vv. 7-14): God promised to bless, prosper, comfort, and glorify his returning people. Peace will flow to them like a great river, and God will attend to her as a mother does a small child.
C. A final statement of God・s wrath on the sinful nations (vv. 15-24): God will remember mercy in his wrath.
Discussion Questions Concerning the Lesson Passage:
1. In regard to fasting and Lord・s Day observance, what modern application does this passage have for Christians? Why did God not heed the prayers of the people? What are the differences between ardent worship of God and meaningless observance of religious ritual?
2. (Micah 6:8): What does Micah mean by ：walk humbly with your God；? Why does the Bible so often use the analogy of ：walking； describe the Christian life? How does this analogy fittingly reflect godliness?