The last time you and I talked, we learned that kings of old were to rule with “justice and righteousness” and how the kings of Israel failed miserably at that.
They were supposed to order their kingdom God’s good way, giving everyone what God said they were due without favoritism or discrimination. If they’d done that, everyone would be at peace with one another and with God, believing their neighbor and God could be trusted to provide and protect them.
But the kings failed. The people were not at peace with one another and they turned away from God to worship other gods. The poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners were not just neglected but oppressed.
So, how will God respond to all this?
God’s Warning & Promise
The job of a prophet was to carry God’s message to Israel’s religious and political leaders. God sent many prophets to Israel at this troubled time in her history, but let’s focus our attention on Isaiah’s message as a good representation of the rest.
In Isaiah 1 and 2, God speaks a terrifying warning to Israel’s leaders. God sees their failure to rule with “justice and righteousness” as an act of rebellion against God, who will now allow Jerusalem to be destroyed by fire and carried into exile by her enemies. But it’s not too late! God is willing to change course if Israel will change hers:
Wash and make yourselves clean.Isaiah 1:16,17
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah says the fire and exile will not last forever! One day God will take a faithful remnant of Israel and build a new nation out of it that will bring justice and righteousness, plenty and peace, to all nations.
Then Isaiah switches metaphors from a nation to a tree. In Isaiah 6 the prophet says God will allow Israel to be cut down and burned. A smoldering stump will remain and from it, God will bring a “holy seed.”
Later, in Isaiah 7-11, we discover that this “holy seed” is a future king named “Immanuel” – God with us – who will be empowered by God’s Spirit to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and peace to people from all nations.
God Does Something New
In the middle of the book of Isaiah, the purifying fire is lit: God’s people do not learn to do what is right and just ans so they are carried off into exile. When they come back home generations later, they once again rebel against God and fail to do what is right and just. They worship other gods, order their lives and their nation their way, and the most vulnerable suffer because of it. Since exile didn’t teach them a lesson, Isaiah says, God will do something new.
In Isaiah 49-55 this new thing is a person called the “Servant”. We discover the Servant and “Immanuel” and the “holy seed” are all the same person! And then things get really confusing: God also calls the servant “Israel” (Isaiah 49:3).
Isaiah says the Servant-Israel will build a new nation to show all the nations what God is like. He’ll be empowered by the Spirit of God to rule God’s way on earth. Scarcity and fear will be banished and people all over the world will experience justice and righteousness, plenty and peace.
The Servant Will Suffer & Save
But then Isaiah explains how the Servant-Israel is going to do all this, and it’s very strange: He’ll be killed by our rebellion and sacrificed to cover our guilt. And somehow – Isaiah isn’t very specific about this – the killed King will live again and bring peace, healing, and life to many!
He will receive what God says we’re due and we’ll be in right relationship with God after that! Justice and righteousness!
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions (rebellion),
he was crushed for our iniquities (guilt);
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
…After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,Isaiah 53:4-7, 11,12
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Two Responses To The Servant
Isaiah says some will stop rebelling against God when the Servant comes and will do what is right and just. He calls them “the servants” of the Servant. They’ll be given understanding, strength, and a close relationship with God. God will listen when they speak, protect and provide for them.
But others, he says, will continue to rebel against God. Some of them will be very religious – fasting and whatnot – but they won’t do what is right and just and so their religion will be just a show. These are called “the wicked.” God won’t listen to them or protect and provide for them.
[God says,] “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,Isaiah 58:6-11
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
When The King Comes
Isaiah promises one day the new Servant-King will rule on earth as Adam and Eve and Israel’s kings failed to. He’ll be empowered by God’s Spirit to order the world God’s good way and his servants will join him in that work. The vulnerable will no longer be forgotten. They’ll be the lead headline when he announces his arrival!
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,Isaiah 61:1,2
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor