Isaiah is a book about who God is. This theme begins in the opening words of Isaiah and continues throughout its chapters. God sent Isaiah to Judah, “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers” (1:4). The reason for this corruption is indicated in the previous verses: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (1:2-3). The people of Judah did not acknowledge God for who He is, and Isaiah calls them to repentance by reminding them of the awesome nature of the Creator they had betrayed.
When Isaiah says that God’s people did not “know,” he does not mean that they were ignorant of God’s existence and of His will. The word “know” is explained by the parallel word “consider.” The people of Judah knew that God existed, but they did not know Him in the sense of considering Him as they should. They did not fear, honor, and acknowledge God for who He is. They were not mindful of their Creator; they deliberately pushed God out of their thoughts as well as their lives. This same idea occurs in Hosea’s often misapplied words, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). “Lack of knowledge” in this passage is not ignorance. It is the intentional refusal to be mindfulof God; Hosea’s usage of the term knowledge clearly means a reverent consciousness of God resulting in obedience (Hos. 4:1, 6; 6:6). As Paul said of the Gentiles, they “knew God” but “glorified him not as God” and refused to “retain God in their knowledge” (Rom. 1:21, 28). In a wicked man’s soul, “God is not in all his thoughts” (Ps. 11:4). The people of Judah tried to remove the very thought of God from their minds. Is this not what all sinners must do? They shun any awareness of God because it hinders their free-thinking and free-living. Isaiah challenges Judah to consider the nature of God by setting forth His greatness in several powerful ways.
A climactic point in Isaiah’s message is the vision of the Lord in chapter six. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on His throne and heard the seraphim cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (6:3). These angelic words capture the essence of Isaiah’s message. The vision stresses the perfect holiness of God in contrast with the sinfulness of man. This majestic scene reminds Isaiah of his own unworthiness and of the sinfulness of God’s people. Isaiah is humbled and offers to preach to the people of Judah. Before he went to preach to others, the glorious power of God was first impressed upon his own heart.
In the first 35 chapters Isaiah draws attention to the wrath and justice of God. He rebukes the people of Judah for their sins in the first 5 chapters, likening them to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:10; 3:9). He then addresses the sins of Gentile nations and pronounces God’s judgment upon them (chs. 13-23). Like Jeremiah (chs. 46-51), Ezekiel (chs. 25-32, 38-39), Daniel, Amos (ch. 1:3-2:3), and Jonah, Isaiah shows that even the Gentiles knew enough about God and about right and wrong to be accountable. The existence and nature of God are revealed in the creation (Ps. 19:1-4; Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:18-20); this revelation itself left the heathen with sufficient understanding of right and wrong to be responsible (Rom. 1:21-32; 2:14-15). He then rebukes the sins of Israel (ch. 28), resumes his rebuke of Judah (chs. 29-33), and pronounces a comprehensive judgment on the whole earth (ch. 34).
God is both good and severe (Rom. 11:22), and Isaiah accordingly emphasizes the mercy as well as the wrath of God. Even in the first 35 chapters, where His justice is the overarching focus, the mercy of God is interspersed. The people of Judah will find deliverance if they turn to the Lord: “And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me” (12:1). Isaiah presents the compassion of God in two ways. First, he calls attention to divine providence in their present and near future situation. God will protect Judah from her enemies (chs. 7-12) and will preserve His chosen people. Second, Isaiah stresses the mercy of God through numerous prophecies of the Messiah and His kingdom. The Messiah will be a descendant of Jesse but will embody the very essence of God (7:14; 9:6; 11:1-4). Spiritual peace will characterize His Kingdom (9:7; 11:5-10).
This attribute of God is even more evident in chapters 40 thorugh 66. The servant theme takes front stage; Judah is referred to as God’s servant 17 times in this section. In spite of Judah’s sins, God will be merciful to the people because He has chosen them. This idea culminates in the fascinating prophecy of Jesus in chapter 52:13-53:12, where He is pictured as the suffering servant who triumphs over afflication, bears our sins, and paves a way for us to obtain the mercy of God.
Isaiah highlights the nature of God by contrasting Him with idols. “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (44:6; cf. v. 8). “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? (46:6). “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare to him?” (40:18; cf. v. 25). Isaiah emphasizes the power and eternity of God to expose the foolishness of trusting in idols (40:18-31; 41:17, 23; 44:6-20; 45:5-25; 46:5-10). He also renounces the stupidity of idols and stresses that God is all-knowing, especially in regard to the future. Idols know nothiing, but God knows everything, “declaring the end the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (46:10). In addition to being demonstrated by the numerous prophecies in this book, this attribute of God is often mentioned explicitly (40:13-14, 28; 41:26; 42:9; 43:19; 44:7-8; 45:21; 48:3, 5-7).
Isaiah shows how great God is by reminding us how little man is. “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket. . .All nations before him are as nothing…it is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers” (40:15, 17, 22).
For good reason we call Isaiah the gospel prophet. Perhaps for equally good reason we can call him the God prophet.
-Kerry Duke