And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.
— Malachi 2:15 —
Maybe’s its odd to start of meditation on Isaiah by citing Malachi, but as I will show, Malachi 2:15 encapsulates a key theme that runs through the book of Isaiah—namely, the presence of godly offspring in the place of God’s dwelling (Zion). From the beginning to the end of Isaiah, the search for godly offspring is a central theme that holds the book together. And if we are going to understand the message of Isaiah—and not just verses from Isaiah—we need to see how it fits together.
The Search for Godly Offspring Begins
When Isaiah begins, he immediately brings us into God’s courtroom, where Yahweh, the sovereign ruler of the cosmos is bringing a judgment against his people Israel. Isaiah 1:2–4 reads,
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children [sons] have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring [seed/s] of evildoers, children [sons] who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Here is the problem: God had redeemed the seed of Abraham in order to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). Yet, by the eighth century B.C., during the reigns of “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1), the city of God had become corrupt. Jerusalem traded in iniquity, so that wickedness marked all their ways and evil impelled all their intentions. As Isaiah 1:1–18 makes clear, the godly offspring were absent. And as a result, Isaiah 1–5 recall God’s intentions to empty Zion of all wickedness, so that he could once again create sons and daughters who would bear fruit for his glory.
This vision is how Isaiah begins his prophecy, and it helps us to see how the whole book will proceed. That is to say, by paying attention to the overlapping themes of sons and seeds (i.e. offspring), mothers and daughters, childbirth that succeeds and childbirth that fails, we get a clear(er) picture of what God is expecting of Israel and what God is planning to do for his rebellious people.
In truth, anyone who has been around church on Christmas knows the famous verses of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6–7. But I suspect most don’t know how those verses fit into the structure of Isaiah and how the whole book anticipates the birth of Christ and the new birth promised by him (see John 3).
One way we misread Isaiah is to climb aboard the promise of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 and make it a connecting flight to Matthew 1:23. Positively, this approach may heighten our confidence in the predictive nature of the Old Testament—a truth I gladly affirm—but negatively, it fails to understand what Isaiah 7:14 means (in context) and how all of Isaiah is anticipating the virgin birth of God’s Son.
While direct flights are great when traveling from coast-to-coast, they are not advisable when seeking to understand the Bible cover-to-cover. And thus, in what follows I will trace the promise of seeds, sons, childbirth, and motherhood through Isaiah to show how the whole book anticipates the coming of Christ and all those children who will be born by the Spirit—the godly offspring that God has formed in his new covenant people.
Mother Zion: The Place Where God’s Children are Born
If the key text for understanding the birth of Christ is Isaiah 7:14, we need to see what preceded this verse in Isaiah 1:1–7:13. Already, we noted that sons and seeds (offspring) show up in Isaiah 1:2–4, but now we need to add to this imagery. In particular, we need to see the relationship between children and childbearing, as well as the connection between the daughters of Zion (plural) and the daughter of Zion (singular).
For starters, we find in Isaiah 1–7, four mentions of daughter(s) of Zion: Isaiah 1:8; 3:16, 17; 4:4. Let’s consider each.
In Isaiah 1:8 the prophet compares the “daughter of Zion” to a booth in a vineyard, and a lodge in cucumber field. This is what a besieged city looks like. From this text and others (Isa. 10:32), we discover that “daughter of Zion” is the way Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem, God’s earthly dwelling place. As Gary Smith puts it, “The Daughter of Zion is a theological reference to the inhabitants of the glorious city of Jerusalem (a political term) who lived on the sacred mountain where God dwelt in his holy temple” (Isaiah 1–39, 104). As I understand it, the daughter language also implies a mother. And that mother would be the heavenly Jerusalem, the place God dwells in heaven. More on that in a bit.
Next, Isaiah 3:16–17 and Isaiah 4:4 speak of the daughters of Zion. The language mirrors that of the city, but turns to the women who dwell in that city. Accordingly, Isaiah 3:16–4:1 excoriates the women of Jerusalem for the way their Kardashian-like dress covers their Jezebel-like hearts. Instead of bearing godly offspring, these women reek of licentiousness. In response, God will strike them with scabs, uncover their secret parts, and strip them of all outward beauty. This is the coming judgment upon the women of Zion.
Such severity is not without kindness, however. For as God’s judgment turns to future salvation (4:2–5), Isaiah 4:4 says of the future, the LORD “washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.” When God restores the daughter of Zion (his city), he will also restore the daughters of Zion (his daughters). In this way, we see a connection between God’s city and God’s people, and this connection points to the relationship between God’s heavenly Jerusalem and its earthly counterpart, Mount Zion.
All in all, by the time we get to Isaiah 7:14, we already have an idea of the problem (the daughters of Zion in the Daughter of Zion are not bearing godly offspring) and the solution (God is going to remove the unfaithful daughters in order to restore his Daughter). Set in this way, we are ready to hear the historical and prophetic promises of Isaiah 7–12.
The Gift of a Godly Offspring is Promised
After Isaiah 1:2–4, the language of sons (ben) and offspring (zera) do not repeat until Isaiah 6:13, when Yahweh promises judgment with salvation: “‘And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.’ The holy seed is its stump.” Importantly, this final verse of Isaiah’s throne room vision sets the stage for Isaiah 7–12, where the Lord explains how he will cut down the trees of Israel, devouring the land with fire. Historically speaking, this judgment will come by way Assyria, who will exile the Northern tribes of Israel, but will not destroy the city of Jerusalem.
Instead, Assyria will come to the neck of Israel, but this rod of God’s fury will not submerge the head. As Isaiah records the military campaign of Assyria (10:28–31), he concludes, “This very day he will halt at Nob; he will shake his fist at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.” In short, the Assyrian attack on Israel will successfully defeat the Northern tribes, but it will not destroy God’s dwelling place in Jerusalem. That day will come later, when the Lord raises up Babylon. For now, as Isaiah 6:10–13 indicates and Isaiah 7–12 detail, the Lord is going to reduce Israel to a remnant (Isa. 10:20–23), a stump as Isaiah 6:13 says. This is the judgment that is going to come on Israel in the days of Isaiah.
At the same time, there is the promise of salvation in a seed, a son, and a shoot. That is, while fire devours the nation of Israel and reduces the people to a remnant, God’s purposes will stand and he will bring from their midst a seed of the woman, who is a son of David, and a shoot of Jesse. This promise is found in three famous passages in Isaiah 7:14, 9:6–7, and 11:1–5.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
Without getting into the context of each passage, it will suffice to say that the promise of salvation for Israel is the promise of son, born of a virgin, who will come from David’s house. He will be filled with the Spirit and will establish a kingdom of righteousness that will never end. Such promises in Isaiah 7–12 culminate with the glorious vision of salvation in chapter 12. And ultimately such promises will find heir ultimate telos in Jesus Christ, as Matthew and the other Gospels apply these promises to Christ.
Still, it is important to see how these verse fit in context before jumping to Jesus. In the first instance, there is an immediate fulfillment of the promised son in Isaiah 8, when Isaiah’s wife gives birth to Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. The proximity and language of Isaiah 8 confirm this connection. Still, this fulfillment does not adequately “solve the problem” of Israel’s captivity—to Israel or to sin. Hence, the second two mentions of a son (Isaiah 9 and 11) go further into the future, promising God the Son, who will be born into the house of David. These promises certainly lead us to the coming of Christ. Just as the coming of Christ gives us information for understanding these verses.
These verses also carry forward Isaiah’s message that God is still seeking godly offspring, and critically, in his day, the Lord is not finding any. As Isaiah 9:17 declares, “Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” This is the context of Isaiah 7–12, and the historical context in which Isaiah lives. And thus, Israel is stripped down to a remnant, the forest of the Lord has been reduced to a few stumps, so few in number that a child could count them (10:19).
Still, in the midst of this, the promise of salvation remains—and just as critically, that promise depends on the birth of a child. And so, in these six chapters we are given the clue to pursue in the rest of Isaiah—namely, that the birth of a child is the mark of salvation. And in particular, it will be a child born in David’s house and a child whose origin does not proceed from earth but from heaven. And this is the final point to make from Isaiah 7–12.
In Isaiah 10:32 we discover by Hebrew parallelism that the “mount of the daughter of Zion [is] the hill in Jerusalem.” By necessity, a daughter has a mother. And if the daughter of Zion is hill of Jerusalem, then the mother of Jerusalem is Mount Zion in heaven. In the Old Testament, a city would have “daughters” (cf. Josh. 15:45, 47; 17:11). And those daughter-towns would be the towns and villages that radiated out from the city. Similarly, we have in the Old Testament language that speaks of the nations being born in Mount Zion (in heaven), even though their nationalities, and hence earthly origins of birth, are from Babylon and Philistia or elsewhere (see Psalm 87). Following this train of thought, there is good reason for seeing Zion as a Heavenly Mother, and the place where the people of God are born.
Now, this way of speaking is clearly metaphorical, but it is also eminently biblical. For instance, John 3 Jesus speaks of those who are born from above (“born again” can also be rendered “born from above”). Likewise, Galatians 4 makes a distinction between Jerusalem on earth and Jerusalem above. In fact, Paul even cites Isaiah 54 to explain how heavenly Jerusalem is better than earthly Jerusalem. And the corresponding comparison is between two mothers—Sarah and Hagar—who depict typologically two sources of life—i.e., the Spirit vs. the flesh.
While we cannot read the New Testament back into the Old, we must recognize that the New Testament understanding of new birth (life that comes from the Spirit, not the flesh) has Old Testament roots. This is why Jesus rebuked Nicodemus. And where do we find those roots? In the seed promises of Isaiah. So, with the promises of a son in place, let’s consider how the rest of Isaiah keeps an eye on pregnant women, childbirth, and the hope of godly seed.
The Drama of a Godly Offspring Intensifies
When we move into the next section of Isaiah (chs. 13–27), we find multiple mentions of childbirth (see 13:8, 16, 18; 14:20–22, 30; 21:3; 23:4). Yet, the overwhelming theme is negative, as Isaiah 13–24 describes the judgment of God upon the nations of the world. Accordingly, the dismay and pain of childbirth is mentioned with respect to Babylon in Isaiah 13:8 and 21:3. Similarly, the children of the wicked Babylonians are told they will be destroyed in Isaiah 13:16–18 and 14:20–22.
Yet, the fruitlessness of childbirth is not reserved for the nations, nor judgment upon the offspring of the wicked; Israel too suffers the pain of fruitless labor. As God promised barrenness to his covenant people if they sinned, so Isaiah 26:16–18 declares,
16 O Lord, in distress they sought you; they poured out a whispered prayer when your discipline was upon them. 17 Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; 18 we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
The pain of these words comes in the fact that the agonies of childbirth do not result in children. Whereas Jesus can speak of the joy that a mother has after she has delivered a child (John 16:21), Isaiah’s words remind the reader of Israel’s pain for fruitless labor. Such barrenness is closely connected to the barrenness of the vineyard described in Isaiah 5. Whereas God had planted his people so that they would produce godly offspring, no such fruit had been borne. Rather, they had given birth to wind and they experienced the same sorrows as the nations who stood against God. In short, the drama of Isaiah intensifies in the absence of godly offspring.
At the same time, a promise of godly offspring persists. And this promise is found in the same place as God’s announcement of Israel’s barrenness. In Isaiah 26:19, the Lord declares, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” The earth will give birth to the dead! Incredible!!
While this rendering of tappil (drop, fall, collapse) is idiomatic, more than literal (cp. the KJV), the meaning is plain: those long dead in the ground will come back to life. Whether the earth gives up its dead or gives birth to the dead, the point remains—resurrection is coming. And this coming resurrection gives us the solution to the problem of empty labor and barren wombs—God himself will create godly offspring, not by the flesh but by the Spirit. In other words. Isaiah gives us the first indication that godly offspring do not come from sinful parents—or “righteous” parents, for that matter. Instead, godly offspring come from the resurrection life procured by the Suffering Servant’s death and resurrection and granted to those who have received the Spirit.
Isaiah 26:19 doesn’t give us all that, but the rest of Isaiah does. So, let’s keep reading.
The Search for Godly Offspring is Painful
In the next section of Isaiah (ch. 28–35), seed (zera) is not used and son (ben) is only used to speak of Israel in rebellious terms (Isaiah 30:1, 9; 31:6). Likewise, childbirth is not presented in any positive way, but it is mentioned. In Isaiah 33:10–12, the prophet Isaiah records these words,
“Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted. 11 You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. 12 And the peoples will be as if burned to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
With vivid imagery, the Lord speaks of “the peoples” (v. 12) being burned “in the fire.” And this verse explains that the mention of conceiving chaff and birthing stubble in verse 11 is not pure metaphor. Instead, the Lord is declaring the fact that those children born in Israel will not enter into glory. Instead, their wickedness will bring them to the fires of God’s judgment. Without giving the full context, the message of Isaiah continues: God is still looking for godly offspring and none have been found.
This search continues in the history of David’s house. In Isaiah 36–39, the historical turn in Isaiah’s book, we find another instance of fruitless labor and seed decimation. First, in Isaiah 37, in response to the news that Sennacherib was threatening Jerusalem, Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (v. 3). While Hezekiah could have said many things to recruit Isaiah’s help, it is striking that he uses the imagery of childbirth. Once again, God’s (godly) offspring are under threat.
Moreover, in response to Hezekiah’s cry, the word of the Lord comes in terms of children going forth from Zion, fruit born in the holy city.
“And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
If we remember that Zion is a Mother, then the remnant of survivors found in Jerusalem approximates the children who will be born in her. Put historically, this remnant might be those already living who are not swept away by God’s judgment. But as we move closer to the outpouring of the Spirit and the new creation (see Isaiah 56–66), it will become clear that the survivors are those born from above. See the way Joel 2:32 employs the language of Isaiah 37:32.
Additionally, in the historical section of Isaiah, we find another reason why the hope of godly offspring awaits the coming of Christ. In Isaiah 39, we find the end of Hezekiah’s reign. And while his reign is remarkably positive, wherein his prayers are answered by God saving Jerusalem (ch. 36–37) and Hezekiah himself (ch. 38), the final word from Isaiah is one of utter devastation. Because Hezekiah foolishly revealed the temple treasures to an envoy from Babylon, his offspring would cut off. Here is what Isaiah says,
6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Wickedly, Hezekiah replies to this judgment with self-centered smugness. He states in v. 8: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”
Why were ungodly offspring impossible for Israel? Because even Hezekiah, one of the most faithful king’s in Jerusalem’s history, failed to understand the gravity of God’s Word. As an heir of David, if his heirs (sons of David), were castrated and made eunuchs, the kingdom of David would be cut off. And hence, the eternal throne promised to David’s son would be no more.
Of course, God had other plans, but in this historical event, we can see why the Lord had to raise up a son of David from a virgin. Sin permeated the hearts of David’s heirs and therefore, when the true David would come, he would need to be born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit. Such is the growing expectation in Isaiah, due in large measure to the painfulness of childbirth in Israel’s history.
The Search for Godly Offspring is Successful
If the drama intensifies in Isaiah 13–27, and sense of desperation widens in Isaiah 28–39, the hope of one godly offspring comes into view in Isaiah 40–53. Following the birth of this child, and his death and resurrection, we then see how many offspring come to life by the Spirit in Isaiah 54–66. For sake of time, we cannot address every facet of this theme in this gospel-rich chapters, but we can point to a few of them under the headings on One Godly Offspring and Many Godly Offspring.
One Godly Offspring
Beginning in Isaiah 40, we have the promise of a new exodus. Actually, there are two exoduses promised, based upon two servants—Cyrus and Jesus (as Acts 8 later confirms). In the first ‘new’ exodus, the people of Israel exiled in Babylon are returned to the land by the reign of Cyrus. Still, this return does not resolve the problem of sin. For while the punishment of seventy years accomplished the purpose of disciplining Israel for their sins and Sabbath-breaking, it did not change their hearts. In other words, the salvation brought by Cyrus did not produce godly offspring. That would require the work of the second servant, the Suffering Servant, who by his death and resurrection (see Isaiah 53) received his posterity.
Yet, before getting to Isaiah 53, there is a lot to consider in Isaiah 40–52. Here are a few relevant texts.
First, the good news proclaimed in Zion (40:9–11) is that God is present (v. 9) and that his word is going produce life (v. 8). And what is the result of this life? It is children, formed by the word, who will last forever. This is the good news, exclaimed in Isaiah 41:27: “I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.” Who is here? The lambs gathered by the Lord (40:11), who are the people created (birthed) for his glory (Isaiah 43:1–7). Here, we have the promise of godly offspring.
As the Lord says in Isaiah 42:14, “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” Clearly, the Lord is speaking (anthropomorphically) that he is going to bring children to life. Yet, the way he does that is described as salvation (Isa. 43:1–7) through judgment (42:15–25). That is to say, after speaking as though a woman in labor, the Lord speaks of his judgment on his rebellious people and his promise to create a new people. This is what we find in Isaiah 43:1–7, where salvation is depicted in the language of new birth. In particular, see vv. 1, 5, 7.
1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . . 5 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. . . . 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
How is God going find godly offspring? He is going to make them himself. Whereas Israel according to the flesh could not produce godly offspring. God will. And the way he will do that is by bringing one offspring—a truth that stands out in (1) the singularity of the Servant in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 53 and (2) the promises that a new people can come from one man (Isa. 51:2).
Considering this second point first, consider what Isaiah says about Abraham. Set in a context where God had given the mother of Israel a certificate of divorce (50:1ff.), Isaiah records the words of the Lord in Isaiah 51:2, “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.” With maternal imagery and Abraham typology, Isaiah explains how God was going to rebuild his people. As God chose one man, Abraham, to bless the earth with offspring, so now he was going to do that again.
And how would he do that? By way of a servant suffering unto death, such that in his resurrection, he would be proven a true Son and the father of many nations—a new Abraham! Or to put it differently, because this Son would be the Lord himself, we can read and understand Isaiah 53 as a fulfillment of Isaiah 45:25, “In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”
Indeed, by means of the Suffering Servant, who would the Lord (cp. Isaiah 9:6–7 with Isaiah 49:1-7), and who was conceived by the Lord (Isa. 49:5), we can see how God was going to create a justified people for himself. As Isaiah 53 puts it, the servant of the Lord, who is the Lord, died as one man for the many he was redeeming, but he rose from the grave accompanied by many. Listen to how Isaiah 53:10–12 says it,
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Critically, the “many” are the offspring for whom the Servant makes an “offering for guilt.” And by this offering of his own life, he receives the people for whom he died. And more, he continues to intercede for them. And as the rest of Isaiah makes plain, the Servant’s sacrifice is what brings about a new covenant, complete with a new people—people who are the godly offspring of God, because they are brought to life by the Servant’s death and the Spirit’s life. This is how the One godly offspring creates Many.
Many Godly Offspring
Immediately after the death and resurrection of Christ is prophesied in Isaiah 53, chapter 54 goes on to speak of the multitude of nations who will come and find shelter in Abraham’s seed. Employing the language of Sarah’s barrenness, we find the promise of a godly seed—only not one (as in Isa. 50:2) but many.
1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.
In these verses, we see what the entire book of Isaiah has been searching for—offspring who will possess the nations. And why will they possess the nations? Because, through the work of the Servant, they have been forgiven of sin, declared righteous, and given his life enabling them to obey God and walk justly. And how do we know they will walk in this way? That is what the rest of Isaiah explains.
Starting in Isaiah 56 and proceeding until the end of the book, Isaiah recounts the work of the Spirit to apply all the blessings of the covenant, which the Servant sealed with his blood. Indeed, just as we have four servant songs in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 53, we also find four “Spirit songs” in Isaiah 59:15–60:22; 61:1–9; 61:10–62:12; 63:1–6. Without getting into all the details, these songs detail the way in which God is going to gather his people from all the nations. Or to put it differently, they explain how God is going to bring to life godly offspring by means of the Holy Spirit. And where are these children of the Spirit going to be born? In Zion.
In Isaiah 56:5, God promises the eunuch that he will be a fruitful vine. Not only does this resolve the problem of Hezekiah’s sons, but it promises children formed by the Spirit, not the flesh. While the offspring of Israel have invited God’s judgment (Isa. 59:1–13), God promises to create offspring with whom the Spirit will dwell forever.
20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:20–21)
Even more, these Spirit-born children will be joined by others. In Isaiah 60–65, we find the following,
Isaiah 60:4, 9–10
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. . . .
9 For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful. 10 Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.
9 I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of my mountains; my chosen shall possess it, and my servants shall dwell there.
23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.
What a glorious reversal! The nation who once conceived chaff and bore stubble, now will have offspring blessed by the Lord. Because of the Son and the Spirit’s work, the barrenness of God’s people would be replaced by a new and fruitful bride (Isa. 62:4–5). Likewise, the judgment of God would be replaced by salvation, but salvation described in the terms of a maternity ward.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 12 And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. (Isaiah 62:11–12)
Clearly, the Lord has found is godly offspring. And he has found them, because he has created them. Thus, we come to the final chapter of Isaiah, where following the promise of God’s judgment (Isa. 66:1–6) and anticipating the new creation (Isa. 66:15–24) Isaiah 66:7–14 tells of the birth of God’s children.
7 “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. 8 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. 9 Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God. 10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11 that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” 12 For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.
As we have noted before, the place where God’s children are born is Jerusalem. And not just Jerusalem below, or Israel according to the flesh. Following the outpouring of the Spirit in Isaiah 56–66 (cf. Isa. 32:15ff.), the Jerusalem in view is the city of God above. Indeed, as Jesus will say in John 3, those who see the kingdom of God must be born from above (John 3:3–8). And here we find the Old Testament antecedent to that teaching.
In fact, the whole book of Isaiah leads us to see that the promises of a godly offspring in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6–7; and 11:1ff. resulted first in the birth of Christ, the one true son of God. But immediately following his death and resurrection, his Spirit brought to life (in the new birth) a multitude of children from all the nations. And these children are the godly offspring that God has always been pursuing.
Gloriously, the whole book of Isaiah hangs together by this pursuit of godly offspring. And by following this line of thought, we are brought into a trinitarian reading of the book, one that begins with God the Father’s promises, moves to God the Son’s finished work, and concludes with God the Spirit’s gift of regeneration to the children who were purchased by the Son and promised by the Father. I know I am importing revelation from the New Testament to make this point, but how else should a Christian read Isaiah? Indeed, the doctrine of the trinity and the doctrine of salvation are both dependent upon the book of Isaiah and the message that God is looking for a godly offspring. And of course, that begins when God the Son becomes a child.
A Post Script on God’s Search for Godly Offspring
All in all, reading Isaiah with a finger on God’s search for godly offspring helps us to see the message of the book and God’s ultimate goal for the cosmos. Such a reading also helps us to see why arguments for multiple authors of Isaiah fail. Likewise, reading the book in context protects us from reading verses like Isaiah 7:14 and 52:13–53:12 as disconnected prophecies about Jesus. Far better, by reading such verses in the context of the book, we find a far richer testimony to the virgin conception of Christ and the reality of the new birth brought about through the Son and the Spirit. And from this reading, we also see how filling the world with godly offspring has been, is now, and forever will be the goal of creation.
Conversely, when we see Isaiah’s testimony about the godly offspring, we also find reason to understand Jesus’s word about being born from above, Paul’s delineation between two kinds of Jerusalem’s, and why Hebrews is written with a vertical axis describing our access to God’s throne in heaven. Such access is granted because Christ is there, and because, for those who have born of the Spirit, that place is home.
Marvelously, the new birth is what creates godly offspring and why we should continue to preach that truth and show how books like Isaiah explain that reality.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds