May 28, 2022 - Latter-day Prophecy in Isaiah

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Today we’re going to take a look at Latter-day Prophecy in Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied from 740 BC (the year King Uzziah died) all the way down to the 680’s BC, into the time of Manasseh. Isaiah gives us prophecies about the Assyrian invasion of Judah that would happen in his day (prophecies that were fulfilled). Isaiah also gives us major prophecies about the Messiah who would come hundreds of years later, predictions that would also be fulfilled. But Isaiah also gives us prophecies about the latter days, prophecies that are still in our future. Isaiah also talks a lot about Zion. Sometimes he obviously means the Jerusalem of his day. But sometimes he’s talking about a future Zion. We’ll take a look at what Isaiah means.

 

Isaiah tells us about his call to ministry in chapter 6 of his book. When King Uzziah dies, Isaiah gets to see who’s really on the throne. Isaiah has a vision of God, whom he says was “high and lifted up,” and the train of his robe fills the Temple. (To wear a robe that big tells me that God is no exalted human.) Fiery angels called seraphim surround God, crying, “Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!” The Temple foundations shake, and Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! I am undone! My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” When he sees God, Isaiah becomes brutally self-aware. Isaiah finds that both he and his nation are woefully character deficient. Then an angel takes away Isaiah’s guilt problem.

 

Then Isaiah hears God ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah volunteers: “Here I am. Send me.” Then God warns Isaiah that God is sending him to a nation that will not listen to him, and he must stay on the job “until cities lie in ruins without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.” Isaiah’s supposed to keep going until his predictions come true, until the Assyrians come and wipe most of his country off the map.

 

A large part of Isaiah’s ministry is warning his people about what the Assyrians will do to their land. Isaiah’s predictions come true; the invasion was brutal. But when the Assyrians come and conquer 46 cities of Judah, God promises Isaiah that Jerusalem shall be spared, and the Assyrian king will go home and be killed in his own land. Miraculously, that prediction comes true as well: the Assyrian army falls down dead overnight outside Jerusalem (probably from disease), and the Assyrian king ends up getting murdered by 2 of his sons in the temple of his god!

 

While Isaiah 1 is a summary of God’s coming judgment at the hands of the Assyrians on the earthly Zion of Isaiah’s day (Iron Age Jerusalem), chapter 2 is a prophecy about Zion in the “latter days.” We are not sure whether it originally came from Isaiah, or from Micah (who also has verses 2-4 virtually word for word), or how it originated. Isaiah and Micah both tell us that “in the latter days, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted over the hills, and all nations shall stream to it” [literally – the verb is a verb form of the word “river”]. Not even Isaiah can grasp the staggering flow of people here. Many non-Jewish nations shall urge each other to join the pilgrimage to Zion. Why? So that they may learn the ways of the God of Israel, and so that they may walk in God’s paths.

No longer will the rest of the world be deprived of the timeless wisdom contained in God’s law. “For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The mountain of the house of the Lord will become “Magnetic North”, the place to which the whole world turns for direction. In that day, instead of resorting to armed conflict, the nations of the world will look to the God of Israel to arbitrate their international disputes. God will “judge” between nations, and “reprove, set right, or decide between” many peoples.

 

God will settle issues that the United Nations could never hope to resolve. The United Nations has done much good, but they are not God. Conflicts like the war in Ukraine require someone to intervene who has no economic interests or ethnic pride at stake, someone who can be free from human conflicts of interest.

Human diplomacy has its limits. Only God can make tough decisions that all of us can respect. We can try to approximate God’s results, but in our human frailty, we will see only limited success. Sometimes negotiation will never work. Sometimes it takes power. We look forward to the day when God will step in and exercise that power.

Isaiah sees the day when God will settle all disputes that fuel the fires of war. No longer will nations have any reason to take up arms against their neighbors. No longer will there be grabs for land, power, or resources. No longer will there be unresolved injustice or oppression. No longer will disagreements be settled by the raw use of force.

Instead, nations will convert their military technology to peacetime use. Think how many hundreds of billions of dollars are spent around the world on guns, bombs, and armies. Think how many hundreds of millions of people we could feed, clothe, house, and give medical care with all those resources we could free up. Think of all the research and all the brainpower we could focus on how to improve the quality of life for us all. Think of how the swords and spears of computer and chemical technology could be hammered into tools for medical and environmental breakthroughs! Imagine the day when we can replace our dependence on oil and natural gas. Imagine the ability to conquer HIV, the ability to transplant unwanted pregnancies into the wombs of women who want them, or the ability to repair hopeless spinal cord injuries. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

“Neither shall they learn war anymore.” Imagine a world where we can close West Point, a world where we can shut down Basic Training camps, a world where we can forget how to build better weapons, a place where “desensitization” training will take its place on the trash pile of history. Even the textbooks on military history, leadership, and strategy will gather dust in a world where they are no longer needed.

In chapter 11, Isaiah also sees a day far in the future when a leader with superior wisdom will come, one who is guided by deep moral principles, a leader who will not be beholden to special interests, a leader who will always be on the side of justice.

 

Isaiah predicts that a descendant of David will come who will be God’s chosen King. Isaiah calls him “a shoot from the stump of Jesse”, another name for the Messiah. The term “Messiah” means “anointed one.” At first, the “anointed one” used to mean whoever happened to be on the throne of David at the time. The problem was that a lot of guys who sat on the throne of David turned out to be real creeps. Wicked kings can hardly be the ones God has chosen to rule God’s people. God tells us there’s a much better candidate for the throne out there, someone who truly deserves the title “Messiah”. Here’s what to look for.

 

First, we are told that the Spirit of the Lord will rest on this coming king, and that he will have superior wisdom and understanding. His delight will be in the fear of the Lord. Wisdom includes the ability to choose superior courses of action, the ability to foresee consequences. Wisdom includes a deep understanding of human nature. Wisdom includes knowing whom to trust for advice. Wisdom includes knowing what’s important and what’s not. It involves a proper sense of values. The coming King here in Isaiah 11 will know what makes for a truly peaceful and prosperous society.

 

The coming Descendant of David will be guided by deep moral principles. Also, this coming King “will not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.” He will not judge by appearances. He will go beyond easy answers and well-meaning but mistaken intentions. He will not draw simplistic conclusions. Why? Because this King will have the whole story. It sounds like this king will be super-human.

 

Instead, Isaiah says, “With righteousness he will judge the poor, and with fairness he will make decisions for the afflicted of the earth.” The coming King will give the poor and the weak a fair chance at justice. The poor and the powerless are the ones most likely to be stuck in jail for crimes they did not commit. They are the ones least able to influence public policy when it comes to where to put that toxic waste dump, or how to resist urban renewal that leaves the poor with no place to live. Justice is usually for those who are best able to afford it, or those who have the most influence and muscle. The coming King will change all that. He will bring fairness to the poor and defenseless.

 

The coming Descendant of David will also rule without favoritism. Think of how vulnerable we all are to favoritism, how hard it is not to play favorites when making decisions on the job or in the community. It is hard to grasp how blinded we all are by bias. We are blinded by family ties, economic interests, and other forms of self-interest. We have bias in the media, bias on the jury, partisan bias, and bias paid for by the political lobbyist. Money shouts as loud as it ever did to influence public policy. How can you judge the poor, how can you correct abuses in the system, unless you’re beholden to nobody?

 

If a king’s throne rests on the favor of the rich and powerful, justice will never become a reality. The future Descendant of David will not be jerked by anybody’s chain. He will be able to make decisions of justice with no concern for the political fallout.

 

Isaiah says that he “will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth.” John Oswalt says that this verse “expresses the moral force possessed by a leader who owes allegiance to no earthly pressure groups. He can say what needs to be said in a given circumstance and the force of his truth is undeniable. The word itself becomes his weapon.”

 

The coming King will rule with righteousness as his girdle underneath his royal robes, and faithfulness as his belt. Righteousness is the opposite of crookedness. Faithfulness means dependability and consistency. The coming King will be morally upright and dependable to the core. He will combine these 2 attributes of God with a human presence.

 

Isaiah’s vision appears to be for the end of time, but oh, how we need such a ruler today! And only Jesus Christ can be that ruler. He is the future perfect King of whom Isaiah 11 speaks. The coming of this future Descendant of David will usher in a return to Paradise. The wolf will lie down with the lamb. Cattle, children, and cobras will all live in harmony. They will do no harm or destruction, because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

 

Isaiah 24 predicts the end of the entire “land” or “earth” (the same word can mean either). Isaiah speaks of destruction so total that it seems to be still in our future. Verse 1 says “the Lord makes the earth empty, and makes it waste, and turns it upside down.” In verse 5, he says the earth is “polluted” or “defiled.” Verses 19-20 say, “The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved…The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.” Sounds like the end!

 

But in Isaiah 65, we find another latter-day prophecy. God announces that someday, “I’m gonna create new heavens and a new earth.” (The verb “create” God uses here is the same word from Genesis 1: “create out of nothing.”) God’s gonna totally replace the old corrupted heaven and earth with new and improved models. God’s gonna give us new bodies and a new environment, free from the curse that our earliest ancestors brought upon God’s good creation.

 

Isaiah says that the new creation will be so wonderful, that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Isaiah is not saying that God will forcibly erase our memories or make us forget what we loved. It sounds like the world to come will make our old joys and excitements down here look like childish toys by comparison (like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13). Memories of what we once used to treasure will be overwhelmed by a flood of new joys beyond our wildest dreams, while our pain will be forgotten for good.

 

God is positively excited about what God has planned. God will rejoice, because creation will be restored to its full original beauty and goodness. God will also rejoice because God’s heart will no longer be torn at the sight of human suffering. No longer will there be the sound of weeping or the cry of distress. The ancient curse on our planet will finally be broken forever.

 

No longer will lives be cut tragically short. Isaiah predicts that in the new universe, long life will be the rule. Verse 22 says, “For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,” like the bristlecone pine. To live only to be 100 years old will be considered a curse. Such large ages sound like echoes of Genesis 5. But Isaiah may not be talking about longer lives for our present bodies. Isaiah may be talking about eternal life, life that will never die again. Isaiah may be using a time-bound description for a world that can’t be measured in years or centuries.

 

To folks living in exile who were tired of getting uprooted and displaced, Isaiah proclaims that no longer will they build homes, only to see someone else end up living in them. They shall not plant vineyards, only to see someone else get all the fruit. What a pain, to invest so much labor in building a house or business, and never enjoy the results! How terrible to go through the pain of childbirth, only to see those children swept away by exile! Isaiah proclaims that God will put an end to the bewildering upheaval that has plagued them for so long. God’s people shall not labor in vain, nor shall they bear children destined for sudden tragedy. God says people will “long enjoy” the works of their hands. “Long enjoy” means totally wear out (like putting 500K miles on a car). Isaiah 65:24 says God will hear and answer before they can put their needs into words; unanswered prayer will be a thing of the past.

 

Isaiah’s prophecy of new heavens and a new earth also includes a totally recreated Jerusalem, with no more weeping found in her. Likewise, in chapter 60, we find a Zion whose gates “shall be open continually” and “shall not be shut day nor night” (verse 11). It says that the kings of the nations shall bring their wealth into it. It says, “Violence shall no longer be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders.” “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” All these are applied to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22.

 

Out of the 46 times that Isaiah uses the name Zion, all but a few are about the earthly Zion known by the people of ancient Judah. The rest, in chapters 2 and 60, clearly refer to a heavenly Zion. But nowhere can we find any convincing reason to believe that Zion in God’s word refers to any latter-day city or social order we will build on earth.

 

In the last 10 verses of Isaiah, we find words of end-times judgment on God’s enemies: “For by fire and by his sword will the Lord execute judgment with all flesh, and those slain by the Lord shall be many.” At that time, God says, “all flesh shall come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of those who have transgressed against me, for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence unto all flesh.”

 

Isaiah is well-known as the prophet who delivers major fulfilled predictions about the Messiah: the Virgin Birth, the Suffering Servant on whom God has laid the iniquity of us all. Both the Dead Sea Scroll community and John the Baptist saw themselves as Isaiah’s “voice crying in the wilderness.” But as we have seen today, Isaiah also gives us predictions that point us to the latter days, to the very end of time, particularly in chapters 2, 11, 24, 60, and 65.

 

On our next program, we’re going to be taking a look at Latter-day Prophecy in Ezekiel. Ezekiel talks about a mysterious nation from north of the Black Sea who will invade Israel in the latter days, in a war that Revelation puts right before Judgment Day. Who could that nation be from north of the Black Sea? Find out! Join us next time on Biblical Words and World!

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