For the last couple of years, I have been captivated by the prophet Isaiah.
It’s not just an academic interest, or an artistic appreciation of Isaiah’s words, which are generally believed to be some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known.
What has captured me about Isaiah is just how deeply and astonishingly relevant his writings are to the world we’re living in today.
In the coming months, I’m hoping to write a series of blog posts expositing some of the key Isaiah passages that speak to our contemporary society.
(Being realistic, this blog series will probably take me a while alongside all the other demands on my time… ministry, two young children, etc!!… But if I don’t start somewhere, I never will! And I believe the message is crucial).
Isaiah was writing during a period of total and utter chaos. His whole society was in a mess. The politicians didn’t know what they were dong. The religious leaders just preached what the people wanted to hear. The weakest and poorest members of the community were trodden down and abused.
Does this picture look familiar?
To top it all, the military threat to Israel and Judah posed by other nations was absolutely terrifying.
In the first half of Isaiah, Assyria loomed large in the background. This world superpower had already eaten up countless smaller kingdoms and now it had its sights on Israel and Judah. (Israel was the northern kingdom, made up of 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, and Judah was the southern kingdom, made up of two tribes).
Both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel made a series of reckless and catastrophic foreign policy decisions based on fear that ultimately led to both their downfalls.
The northern kingdom of Israel struck a deal with the King of Syria, agreeing they would fight together against the Assyrians. They were so desperate for the southern kingdom of Judah to join their pact that, when the King of Judah refused, they went to war against him!
Blinded by fear, the southern Kingdom of Judah turned to Assyria for help against Israel and Syria. Assyria agreed to defend Judah, but in return, stripped the southern kingdom of its independence and turned Judah into an Assyrian vassal state.
As the Book of Isaiah progresses, the downward spiral gets deeper and darker. Society becomes more corrupt and drifts further and further away from God.
Eventually the Kingdom of Israel is decimated by Assyria. Then, the Babylonians rise up, destroy Judah and take the Jewish people into captivity. It’s a bleak picture of what happens when a nation turns away from God.
If we can move beyond the foreign-sounding names of people and places, and put aside the fact that the events described in Isaiah happened thousands of years ago, it’s amazing how many parallels there are to world we’re living in today.
The breakdown of society. The confusion about what is right and wrong. The leaders leading the people astray. The church neglecting its prophetic call to speak uncompromising truth. The terrifying threats posed by other nations.
When we step back and take an honest look at the world around us today, it can be a scary and overwhelming picture. This is just how the citizens of Ancient Israel and Judah must have felt.
But this is exactly why Isaiah’s message was so important. Although his words were painful to hear and he made no attempt to sugar-coat the seriousness of sin, he did offer hope and a vision of a glorious future beyond all the chaos and destruction.
What was astonishing about Isaiah was just how far into the future and just how clearly he was able to see. Even as the armies raged around him, he perceived a baby who would be born hundreds of years later who would be the Saviour of the world. Even further than that, he saw beyond the impending collapse and exile of Israel to a day far in the future when Israel would step into its calling as a holy nation, a light to the gentiles. A day when the nations would stream to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem to learn about the God of Israel.
We haven’t yet seen all of Isaiah’s prophecies come to pass. But the ones that have been fulfilled with breath-taking accuracy give us confidence that God will bring all of these visions forth in His perfect timing.
For now, we can take courage from the message of Isaiah. Even as the world around us contends with trials and challenges that threaten the very foundation of our lives, we can ask God to show us His glory. Even in the midst of our world-wide storms, we can trust that God will ultimately bring forth redemption.