The Literary Structure of Isaiah: Five Tour Guides to Help You Stay the Course

pexels-photo-697662.jpegThe book of Isaiah is sixty-six books, just like the Bible. And it is divided into 39 chapters and 27 chapters, just like the two Testaments–old and new. Therefore, we should organize Isaiah around this bipartite division, right?

Well, maybe . . . not.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard this line of thinking. And for years, I operated with this basic understanding that there is one seismic break between Isaiah 39 and 40, making the one book two. Add to this a number of well-worn proof texts for systematic theology—e.g., verses about Christ’s virgin birth (7:14 and 9:6–7), his sacrifice (52:13–53:12), and the grossness of sin (64:6)—and I accumulated a lot of disconnected knowledge about this glorious book.

It was not until I began reading Isaiah as whole book, however, that the message of Isaiah began to come to life. I am still learning that message, but having a mental map of the whole book has been a game-changer. And thankfully, that map has been aided by a number of tour guides—books and teachers that have helped me find my way in Isaiah.

The Need for Teachers . . . According to the Bible

This is how it should be. God gives teachers to the church to instruct in God’s Word (Eph. 4:11–12). And we would be fools to ignore them.

With the wisdom of ages past and those who have devoted themselves to the study of the Bible in the present, we can and should gain a better understanding of Scripture. Indeed, whenever we enter a new book of the Bible, one we do not know well, our best course of action is not to hide ourselves away in our room until we determine its meaning. We should seek the assistance of those who have gone before us. Such dependence on faithful teachers does not put human wisdom above the Bible, it listens to the Bible, acknowledges the gifts of God, the goodness of reading the Bible in community, and seeks to know God’s word with the help of others.

With that in mind, here are five scholars, tour guides, who have provided an outline of Isaiah. While each organizes the book differently, their collective witness gives us insight into things we should be looking for when we read. At present, I am persuaded Barry Webb’s outline is the most persuasive, but I am still learning. Continue reading

Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66

motyer

Perhaps you are familiar with the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. They are found in Isaiah 40, 49, 50, and 53. And I would contend, they are deeply important for understanding who Christ is and how God promised to save his people.

But do you know there are also four “Spirit” songs in Isaiah? Or better, as Alec Motyer puts it, there are four songs in Isaiah 56–66 that identify the Spirit-anointed Savior who will also come to be identified with Christ? Until, reading Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah 56–66, I had not seen that.

Sure, I had often wondered why Christian tradition stops counting the Servant songs at Isaiah 53, when Isaiah 61 is clearly another song extolling the glories of a Spirit-anointed Servant. But until preparing for this current sermon series, I had not put together the reality of four songs in Isaiah 59, 60, 61, and 63. Nor did I make the connection of these chapters with the previous four Servant songs in any specific way.

But after reading Motyer’s observations, it’s hard to miss the way in which these four ‘songs’ balance and apply the previous four songs. In what follows, let me share Motyer’s illuminating insights. I’ll add a few (work in progress) observations at the end. Continue reading

Christ, Our Willing Sacrifice

Hebrews 10:4 states that the blood of bulls and goats cannot atone for sin. To those familiar with the argument of Hebrews or the typology of sacrifice in the Bible, it will come as no surprise that an animal cannot atone for the sins of a human. The Old Testament sacrifice can only purify the flesh, and only for a time. The value of an animal is insufficient for ransoming men made in the image of God. Only another man can do that, but then only if that man is unblemished in body and will.

Writing about the mind of Christ in Philippians 2, Alec Motyer makes this point extremely well (see his commentary, The Message of Philippians, 117). Continue reading