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. Continue reading