Judgment and Hope, Trust and Rebellion in Isaiah

Outline of Isaiah by John Oswalt.

Figures of speech
. These repeated figures of speech in Isaiah crop up throughout the book, giving the careful reader a sense of discovery and delight in recognizing the author's craft in recalling an earlier figure and using it in a related, but amplified way:
  • trees (Isa 1:29-30; 2:13; 6:13; 10:33-34; 29:17; 32:15, 19; 37:24; 44:14, 23; 55:12; 57:5; 60:13; 61:3).
  • highways (Isa 2:3; 7:3; 11:16; 19:23; 35:8; 40:3; 49:9, 11; 57:10, 14; 59:7-8; 62:10).
  • banners (Isa 5:26; 11:10-12; 13:2; 18:3; 30:17; 49:22; 62:10).
  • deserts (Isa 5:6; 6:11-12; 32:14; 34:13-17; 41:18-19; 43:20; 48:21; 50:2; 64:10).
  • gardens and fertile fields (Isa 29:17; 32:15; 35:1-7; 41:18-19; 51:3; 65:3, 10; 66:17).
  • children (Isa 1:4; 3:12; 9:6; 11:8; 26:17; 37:3; 49:19-21; 54:1-3; 66:7-12).
  • light and darkness (Isa 2:5; 5:20, 30; 8:22; 9:2; 26:19; 29:18; 30:26; 42:6-7, 16; 45:7; 49:9; 51:10; 58:8, 10; 59:9-10; 60:1-3, 19-20).
Central themes. A recurring feature is the paring of opposites, such as:
  • Judgment and Hope.
  • Servanthood and Kingdom.
  • Trust and Rebellion.
  • Arrogance and Humiliation.
  • The Uniqueness of Yahweh.
  • Righteousness.
  • The Nations.
The two themes of judgment and hope are interchanged.
  • 1:1-31 - primarily an announcement of judgment.
    • 1:1-15 - accusations.
    • 1:16-20 - a promise of restoration if there is genuine repentance.
    • 1:21-24 - perversion of the leaders.
    • 1:25-27 - destruction is for the purpose of purification.
    • 1:28-31 - accusation.
  • 2:1-5 - a promise of hope.
  • 2:6-4:1 - an announcement of judgment.
  • 4:2-6 - a promise of hope.
  • 5:1-30 - an announcement of imminent judgment.
  • chapters 7-39 gives primary emphasis to judgment and a minor emphasis on hope (while the major emphasis of chapters 40-66 is hope with a secondary emphasis on judgment).
Hope and blessing comes through judgment. Isaiah's point seems to be that if there is to be hope for the nation (through whom the nations could be blessed as per the promise to Abraham, and in 2:1-5), it is only through judgment. The promise of God would only be realized through fire. Just as Isaiah's unclean lips had to be purged with fire (Isa 6:5-7), so the unclean nation had to be purged with the cleansing fires of judgment before they could ever proclaim those promises of God to the nations of the world. The people needed to believe that there was hope beyond judgment before the exile (1-39), and especially after being exiled when all hope of blessing seems lost, and beyond to the postexilic period (40-66).

Trust and Rebellion: Isaiah 7-39 develop the theme of trust. In Isaiah 1, the people are identified as rebels (Isa 1:2, 5, 20, 23, 28). They are told the contrasting results of these two behaviors (Isa 1:19-20). After ch.1 specific occurences of terms for rebelliousness are scattered (Isa 3:8; 24:20; 30:1; 31:6; 36:5), with 36:5 being most telling. In ch.7 Isaiah challenges Ahaz to trust God instead of the nations. Ahaz refuses, choosing instead to trust his worst enemy, Assyria. Isaiah 13-35 explore whether it is God or the nations who is supreme. In various ways they assert the lordship of Yahweh over the nations, concluding in ch.34-35 that if we trust the nations, we will end up living in a desert, but if we turn to God even then, God can make that desert blossom like a rose. After those lessons Ahaz's son Hezekiah is put to the test and passes where his father failed. So also where he is fatally ill, he turns to God and is delivered. But in the much more subtle crisis when Babylonian ambassadors came to congratulate him after his recovery (ch.39), he fails, parading his wealth and armaments instead of giving glory to God. The Ahaz units begins in no trust and ends in joy, whereas the Hezekiah unit begins in trust and ends in grief, with Isaiah predicting the Babylonian conquest.

Trust is a way of life, not a one-time panacea. At various points the people of Judah turned back to God, yet those moments of trust did not become the settled pattern of their lives. Ch.7=39 taught the truth theologically. All that needs to be said has been said and its truth demonstrated. Yet the lesson has not been applied in an ongoing practical way. Hezekiah illustrates both of these points.

How do God's people make trust a way of life, laying aside pride and self-interest in a life-changing trust? When God delivers his people from the justly deserved consequences of their sin, turn to him in trust (Isa 12:1-3). Or will they persist in rebellion? This is the burden of ch.40-66. God forgives rebellion and continues to forgive those who turn away from rebellion to trust in him. But will we turn away? The sin problem is not merely wrong acts but a way of thinking about and relating to the supreme Lord of the universe. If we will relate to him in submission and trust, all the treasures of heaven are ours. But if we will not, then the day will come when those who do not trust him will see destruction (Isa 66:24). Thus, Isaiah ends on the same note with which it began: Surrendering to the Creator-Redeemer in trust is the height of wisdom, whereas rebellion against him is the height of folly.