Vision and Faith
At this point, the date of Isaiah’s writing becomes critical because of the nature of his visions. In Isaiah 6:1, the prophet wrote, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” King Uzziah died in 740 B.C. That date is important because Isaiah’s prophetic vision included the destruction of Jerusalem (39:5-7). Jerusalem was sacked by Assyria in 586 B.C., long after Isaiah was gone.
Isaiah’s Vision and Faith
Why are those dates significant? Isaiah predicted that due to Judah’s sin, Jerusalem was to be demolished and her people taken into captivity. Those events didn’t take place for about 150 years. Can’t you imagine how people might have ridiculed Isaiah and his vision when, decade after decade, what he prophesied failed to materialize? Cynics had plenty of time to make sport of his predictions. But there was plenty of time, too, for Israel to understand fully why God’s judgment was coming.
In chapter five, Isaiah laid out God’s case against Israel, explaining why they would be taken captive by another nation. Isaiah conveys God’s grief over Israel: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
“The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress” (5:4, 7). And what would be the consequence of rejecting God’s favor? “Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding . . . He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!” (5:13, 26). Years later, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Babylon invaded Israel, and Assyria invaded Judah.
However, that did not end Isaiah’s vision.
Faith in Restoration
Isaiah’s vision went beyond destruction. Restoration was also prophesied and promised. There was hope. God’s chosen people were not going to be forever abandoned. But did it make any sense for God to restore what He so recently had destroyed? Isaiah included both actions. He revealed that God completes what He begins.
“This is what the Lord says–your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord who made all things,
Who alone stretched out the heavens,
Who spread out the earth by myself . . .
Who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built’
and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them.’ ” (44:24, 26).
Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. Forty-eight years later, in 538 B.C., Cyrus king of Persia permitted the Jewish people in his kingdom to return to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem. A century and a half earlier, Isaiah accurately prophesied who would be God’s instrument to bring this all about. “I am the Lord . . . who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid” ’ ” (44:24, 28). Cyrus conquered Babylon in 538 B.C. At that point, he began allowing the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem with the intention of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 1:1-4).
Vision, Faith and God’s Word
What are some other features we notice about Isaiah’s writing? Two dimensions of his visions became apparent. While one outcome was immediate, the other had long-term fulfillment. We see the same in the suffering servant: One was individual, the other national. Restoration, too, was presented from two perspectives: One was local (Israel) and the other was international (global).
For the nation of Israel, great hope is anticipated. Likewise for the world, the hand of Divine acceptance is held out for all to receive. Another facet of Isaiah’s vision worth noting were the two levels of restoration: One was physical, the other spiritual.
As we stop for a moment to survey Isaiah’s vision of Judah and Jerusalem, let’s ask a critical question: Why was Isaiah given such accurate insight into the future history of Israel? Yes, he was speaking and writing to the Jewish nation of that time. Yet, something else is at stake: What he revealed was for our benefit. His prophetic and historical accuracy of near-term events built credibility for the rest of what he would write.
We don’t know for certain how Isaiah died. The traditional account is that he was cut in two by Manasseh (son of Hezekiah), king of Judah. Isaiah had not endeared himself to Judah’s kings. His stern warnings about their behavior and conditions in the southern kingdom collided with their corrupt customs. So we know he was not a high-priced consultant to the royal court. He was not on their payroll.
Isaiah Was God’s Man
Why, then, would such a man place himself in jeopardy by his stinging prophesy? What drove him? There is only one reason: Isaiah was God’s man. While he might have been in a valley, his vision extended above the walls of public opinion and over the mountains of religious and political correctness of his time. He trusted God’s perspective. Without wavering He believed what God showed him. That is why Isaiah is an example we can follow.
Regardless of external appearances or public opinion, whatever God revealed to him, he proclaimed to the nation and recorded on a scroll. He believed the visions that God gave him. He even called on creation to be his witness: “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’ ” (1:2, 3).
Absolute faith in God and trust in what God said validated the vision which eluded others during that time. Yes, it got Isaiah into trouble, but with whom? It may have cost him his life, but what about eternal life? He was much like President Abraham Lincoln who was overheard remarking during the dark days of the American Civil War, “I would rather fail in a cause that I know will ultimately prevail than be victorious in a cause that I know will ultimately fail.”
Yes, Isaiah was God’s man. Faith in God and His word allowed him to proclaim his vision in confidence, without equivocation. It was this faith which gave him the vision to see what others were unable to see. It was this faith which opened the door so God could reveal His plans for the future.
Faith Leads to Vision
Faith, you see, becomes the bridge between humankind and God. But traffic moves in both directions. As one writer put it, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).
As Isaiah marched boldly onto that bridge, God met him and gave him the vision and the assurance that his confidence was well placed. He was sure of his God and he was certain of God’s word, convinced enough to stake his life on what God said. As a subsequent prophet would write, his message was grounded in what God revealed and not on circumstantial evidence:
“Then the Lord replied:
‘Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits
an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.
See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright–
but the righteous will live by his faith.’ ” Habakkuk 2:2-4.
Many challenged what Isaiah was writing and preaching. The evidence appeared to support their side, not his. Isaiah was being confronted by both the royal and religious establishments as well as the court of public opinion. As we read what was going on in the land and what the conditions of his time were, we can understand why they opposed him and his message. They wanted no part of a holy God who called on them to repent.
Moral Condition of Isaiah’s Time
To get a clear picture of morality in Isaiah’s day, let’s read some of what he wrote about it. Isaiah describes Israel’s condition in poetic form. Get a feel for what was going on.
“Woe to those who rise early
in the morning
to run after their drinks,
who stay up late at night
till they are inflamed with wine.
They have harps and lyres
at their banquets,
tambourines and flutes and wine,
but they have no regard
for the deeds of the Lord
no respect for the work of his hands.”
“Woe to those who draw sin along
with cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with cart ropes,
to those who say, ‘Let God hurry,
let him hasten his work
so we may see it.
Let it approach,
let the plan of the Holy One of
so we may know it.’
“Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
“Woe to those who are wise in their
and clever in their own sight.
“Woe to those who are heroes at
and champions at mixing drinks,
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice for the innocent.”
Isaiah 5:11, 12, 18-23.
We see a society in which pleasure and entertainment, leisure and self-indulgence had replaced any regard for God’s will or work in their lives. They were much like the people of Noah’s time, confident in their sin and actually inviting God to bring on His judgment so they could be entertained by it. Values were reversed. The political correctness of their times labeled evil good and good evil. Justice was turned on its head. Man became the measure of himself. God’s word no longer mattered.
Isaiah’s Vision of God
As Isaiah surveyed the land and the people, he was appalled by what he saw. He didn’t know what to do. At that point, an even more dramatic event seized his attention. He had a vision. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple . . . And (the seraphs) were calling to one another:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
the whole earth is full
of his glory.’ ” Isaiah 6:1-3
Yes, Isaiah had seen God’s view of the land and the people. Then he saw a vision of the Lord. And how did he respond? “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5, 6). Realizing the condition of God’s people and of himself, he was terrified. He knew that God would not tolerate the continued open sin and rebellion by God’s people against His word and laws. He knew that judgment was certain.
Even today, we know there will come another day in which the terror of God will fill the hearts of people. An earthquake that will dislocate mountains and displace islands will strike the earth. Humankind will see the face of the Son of God whom they rejected. What will be mankind’s terrible cry? “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17.
“Who can stand?” Isaiah knew the answer. No one! Neither king nor servant, priest nor prophet, rich nor poor could stand. However, in Isaiah’s case God intervened. He provided Isaiah with special cleansing which enabled him to stand in the presence of God (see Isaiah 6:6, 7). His “guilt was taken away”, and his sin was atoned for. Without that provision, Isaiah knew he was a doomed man.
Our Vision of God
What is your vision of God? As we enter the 21st Century, when you think about the Son of God, what comes to mind? Perhaps you are in such a deep valley, or surrounded by such high walls that you can’t possibly see beyond your present condition. We can all think of circumstances that create these valleys and walls for us.
It may be the heart-wrenching loss of a friend or family member. That son or daughter who has not written or called for months, even years. That husband or wife who betrayed your love to go and live with another person. The bitterness of that desertion won’t let you get to sleep at night and awakens you before it’s morning. Or is it that spouse or child who hasn’t left but showers you with silence, daily, so pervasive that it squeezes bitter tears from the scars of your soul?
Is it cancer? Or, Parkinson’s? Or, that lifelong mate in the dreadful grip of Alzheimer’s? Or is it that special friend who ignores you now and won’t even return your phone calls? All this is happening to you or to that one person you love so much. Perhaps where you live, it may even be famine and war. Is this all that we have to look forward to? And where is God? Why doesn’t He intervene? What can Isaiah say to help us now? Does his vision carry over into my own personal calamity?
Yes! YES!! God gave Isaiah a vision for all the years of agonizing valleys into which humanity has fallen. To help us understand, God unveils the most profound mystery of the ages for us. God introduces us to His suffering Servant. Listen as God tells us about the suffering of His own soul.