Trust in the Lord, the Promises of God Incarnate (A Sermon on Isaiah 28–35)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas Carols upon us, the holiday season is now here. And with the holidays comes the making of many lists.

Santa has his list. And I am sure many readers of this blog have theirs. Whether it is a list of things to get done for Christmas or a list of this to wrap up before the new year comes, lists are a part of life. And lists can be all sorts of things.

They can be harmful, if your list is filled with grudges. Or, they can be helpful, if they help you remember all that your need to do. And they can even be misunderstood, if they are intercepted and read out of context.

Recently, my daughter found a list of family names with corresponding items under each. Still learning how to read, she thought it was surely a list of Christmas presents. But actually, when examined, this list contained all the school work to be done before Christmas. Such are the ways of lists. They can help, but they can also mislead.

In fact, lists can have negative consequences when we read the Bible. If you haven’t noticed, Scripture is not written in list form. Oh, it has lists. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain two of them; they are called genealogies. Likewise, throughout the Bible, you can find lists of names, places, treasures, and laws. In short, the Bible is not against lists; it’s just that, on the whole, the Bible is not a list.

Resultantly, when we grind the Bible into list form, as many sermon-makers are quick to do, we run the risk of missing its message. Even more, when we turn the Bible into lists, we often miss the Messiah!

That said, there are times when it is helpful to put the truths of Scripture in list form. Systematic theologies do that, as do many sermons. And though I think the listicle sermon often misses the shape of the text, there are times for it. And this Sunday was one of them.

After riding an airboat through Isaiah 1–12 and a helicopter over Isaiah 13–27, I offered a sermon with four encouraging truths from Isaiah 28–35. Without abandoning the literary structure of the text, I focused on the applications that came from these eight chapter. To find those applications of the gospel, you can listen to the sermon here. You can also find the literary structure of Isaiah 28-35 here.

So far, preaching Isaiah 1–35 has been a challenge, but it has been a happy challenge, as it has forced us to see how the whole book fits together and leads us to Christ. Truly, Isaiah is glorious book, so let’s keeping reading it. And as you do, I pray these sermons may help you as you read.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia: An International Comedy (A Sermon on Isaiah 13–27)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024

Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia:
An International Comedy (Sermon Audio for Isaiah 13–27)

Sermon Handout: Isaiah 13-27 PDF Slides

Has the Bible ever made you mad? Have you ever stopped reading the Bible because you couldn’t understand it? Are there parts of the Bible that you have avoided because they are too difficult to comprehend? To each of these questions, I can offer an affirmative response, with illustrations to prove it.

For instance, a number of years ago Isaiah 13–27 was one of those places. Or rather, it was somewhere in Isaiah 13-19. Reading those chapters, with their endless judgments against ancient foreign powers, I got frustrated and put the Bible away. Looking for a word of encouragement, the endless oracles made no sense.  After all, what do Philistines and Moabites have to do with me? As it turns out, there are lots of ways that God’s judgment on these nations applies today (see Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but it took some time to see it.

Fast forward two decades from the time I closed the book on Isaiah 13–19, and I can say that these chapters are some of the most exhilarating in the Bible. But such exhilaration requires learning how to read them on their own terms. And on Sunday, that’s what I attempted to do as I preached Isaiah 13–27.

Based on literary clues in the text, we find that Isaiah 13–27 is a single unit, broken into three main sections, maybe four (13-19 / 20 / 21-23 + 24-27). Accordingly, to hear the message of this section (1 of 7 in the book), requires listening to the whole thing. Just as understanding The Count of Monte Cristo requires reading beyond the imprisonment of Edmond Dantès, so too these chapters must be read from beginning to end—-just as the whole book of Isaiah must be read to understand its good news.

Indeed, while stretching for the preacher and the listener, I attempted on Sunday to show how this whole section hangs together and offers an international comedy. Moving from the bad news of God’s judgment on wicked nations to the good news of salvation offered to a remnant from all nations, I showed how these 15 chapters work together to bring us hope for a glorious future.

If you are interested in hearing how this all goes, I would encourage you to begin with last week’s sermon on Isaiah 1–12 here. (Don’t miss the Isaiah 1-12_Handout). And then with another set of Isaiah 13-27 notes in hand, you can listen to this week’s sermon on Isaiah 13–27 here. All told, it is my hope to preach Isaiah in 7 sermons. So stay tuned for an ongoing overview of this glorious book.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 Pressing Deeper into Isaiah 1–12: Seven Chiasms in Seven Sections

julia-kadel-YmULswIbc3I-unsplashIn so many ways, the book of Isaiah is like a set of Russian Stacking Dolls. You know, the ones pictured above that share the same shape but not the same size. Similarly, the book of Isaiah is composed of countless chiastic structures that fit within one another. Already, we have something of this in the way that the chiastic structure of Isaiah 1–12 anticipates the whole book.

Adding to this first post, I am going to focus in this post on the first twelve chapters themselves. And what we find in each section is a chiastic structure, which reveals the main point of each section. Again, what follows depends heavily on the exegetical work of David Dorsey (The Literary Structure of the Old Testament). In outline form, I will give a summary of each section, combined with a textual outline that is adapted is from Dorsey’s book (pp. 218–19). After putting forward this outline, I will draw our three interpretive conclusions that help us understand Isaiah and marvel at Isaiah’s God.

N.B. The following outlines should be understood as incomplete and written in pencil. In other words, you can find other plausible and helpful outlines from scholars like J. Alec Motyer. Exegetical outlines are always subordinate to the text of Scripture itself. But they are helpful, especially in larger books, because they help provide a grid for reading. To that end, I offer these seven chiastic structures. Continue reading

The Dramatic Arc of Isaiah 1–12: How Seeing Literary Structure Unveils the Glory of God

landscape photo of the view of city with rainbow above

“This is an unusual and fascinating book.”

One might think this commendation describes the Bible, or at least the book of Revelation. But in fact, these words come from Richard Averbeck’s endorsement of David Dorsey’s book about the Bible, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Baker, 1999). Indeed, his full endorsement reads as follows,

This is an unusual and fascinating book. It is the first comprehensive treatment of the inherent structure of the Old Testament books and its significance for understanding their meaning and message. Expositors will find it of inestimable value for looking at the books in a way that is true to the literary nature of the Old Testament itself and the theological significance of that structure. (From the back cover)

Dorsey’s book is unlike any other book I have read. For in 39 chapters—surely that was on purpose—he introduces his method (ch. 1–5), outlines every book in the Old Testament (ch. 6–38), and offers some final reflections (ch. 39). In all, his book provides students of Scripture with a comprehensive reading plan for seeing the literary structures of every book in the Old Testament. With careful attention to literary details, his book, though it came out in the year of Y2K fears, is not flight of fancy into Bible coding. Rather, it offers a well-argued case for reading Scripture on its own terms.

For readers of this blog, you know how much value this approach to Scripture. Following the persuasive argument of David Helm, I believe every inspired text has an inspired structure. Accordingly, the faithful reader (or preacher) must discern the “inherent structure” in the text, in order to uncover the meaning of the original author.

I have often shared the literary structures I have seen in the Scripture. And in our church, this care for literary structure is the starting place with our teachers. (For those with ears to hear, you know this is a shameless plug for Simeon Trust). Surely, getting the structure is not the end of our study, but it is a necessary step. Good exposition depends on rightly dividing the word of God, and discerning the biblical structures helps the disciple cut with and not against the grain of Scripture.

To that end, as I preach through Isaiah over the next few weeks, I will share some of Dorsey’s work. In doing so, I hope it will help those who are following our Advent Reading of Isaiah. And more, I hope it will persuade you to begin looking for these structures in Scripture. So, without any more prolegomena, let me offer an outline of Isaiah 1–12, which in turn prepares us for the whole book of Isaiah. Continue reading

The Story of Isaiah’s Immanuel: An Advent Reading Plan

pink pencil on open bible page and pink

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or at least, the stores are beginning to roll out their Christmas wares. Merchants and suppliers are setting their sights on the holidays, and starting next week, we will too.

On Sunday, November 13, our church will begin a six week series on the book of Isaiah. You know, the one that is 66 chapters long and contains some of the most memorable verses in the Bible.

Isaiah 6:1–3. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 7:14.  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6–7. 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. 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.

If you are familiar with Isaiah, I suspect you are most familiar with parts and portions, famous passages and key persons—Uzziah dying (ch. 6), Hezekiah ailing (ch. 38), and the Suffering Servant saving (ch. 53). Until a few years ago, this is how I read Isaiah too. I knew the key theological passages and the Christmas verses. But I did not know the book of Isaiah or its overall message.

Accordingly, I didn’t understand why Isaiah has four birth narratives in Isaiah 7, 8, 9, 11 or  more than a dozen chapters dedicated to judging the nations (Isaiah 13–27). Moreover, I was aware of four servant songs in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 53 which point to Christ (Acts 8), but I didn’t see how the four Spirit songs of Isaiah 60–62 also anticipated the Holy Spirit. Long story short, I had read Isaiah for years, but only in the last couple did the message begin to come together.

Seeing the message of Isaiah has been a glorious joy, as it tells the story of salvation and judgment, where God redeems a people immersed in sin, so that he can forever dwell with his redeemed on his holy mountain. That’s a simplified version of Isaiah’s message, and for the next six weeks, that’s what we are going to consider. Continue reading

Isaiah’s Search for Godly Offspring: A Storyline for the Son(s) of God

josue-michel-eCZ24v-sQyM-unsplashAnd 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

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan: January Resources for Genesis, Isaiah, and Matthew

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

This month the Via Emmaus Reading Plan is looking at Genesis, Isaiah, and/or Matthew. (See below for the tracks). If you are following this plan, or looking for a new reading plan, you can find helpful resources on the following pages. 

Track 1: Genesis

Track 2: Isaiah

Track 3: Matthew

If you have other resources on these books, please feel free to share.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as you draw near to him in his Word.

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

Tracks[1] Old Testament 1

Law + Prophets

Old Testament 2

Prophets + Writings

New Testament
January Genesis Isaiah Matthew
February Exodus Jeremiah Mark
March Leviticus

Psalms

Ezekiel Luke

Psalms

April Numbers The Twelve[2] John
May Deuteronomy Psalms Acts
June John Proverbs Romans
July Joshua

Judges

Job 1–2 Corinthians
August 1–2 Samuel The Five Scrolls[3] Galatians–

2 Thessalonians

September 1–2 Kings

Proverbs

Daniel Pastorals

Proverbs

October Ezra-Nehemiah 1–2 Chronicles Hebrews
November Psalms Mark General Epistles[4]
December[5] Matthew Luke Revelation

As I have explained before

The idea of this plan is simple. Read, re-read, listen, study, memorize, and meditate on one (or two or three) books per month. If you do multiple tracks, you could read them sequentially, together, or at different times of the week (e.g., morning and evening, or week and weekend, etc.). However you plan your reading—and you should have a plan for reading that includes a place and time(s) to read—these tracks can guide you as you swim in the Bible. Then, over the course of 1, 2, or 3 years (depending on how many tracks you do), you will have read the whole Bible once, the Gospels twice, and the Psalms and Proverbs three times.

Let me know how this approach is going and if you have any feedback.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Judgment Then Salvation: Seeing the Good News in Isaiah 13–27

jon-tyson-XmMsdtiGSfo-unsplashIsaiah 13–27 is perhaps the most challenging portion of Isaiah to read and understand. Yet, it plays a significant role in impressing the weight of God’s glory on the reader. Jim Hamilton has rightly argued that God’s glory is found salvation and judgment, and no book confirms that argument better than Isaiah.

Indeed, to feel the weight (N.B. In Hebrew, the word glory, kavod, comes from the word heavy, kavēd) of God’s glorious salvation, we need to come to grips with God’s holy judgment. And no part of Isaiah presses us down into God’s judgment like Isaiah 13–27. That may be one of the reasons why these chapters are difficult, but I would suggest there are others too.

In what follows I want to look at why this section is hard to understand. Then I want to show how these chapters fit together and what we can gain from them. May these reflections help us to read Isaiah and see the glory of God in his salvation and judgment. Continue reading

The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? How Names in the Bible Reveal Meaning and Lead Us to Trust in the Name above All Names

namesFor 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.  
— Isaiah 9:6 —

What’s in a name? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, we find a helpful introduction to the way names are used in the Old Testament. Here’s what it says,

In the OT names not only looked to the circumstances of a birth (e.g., Jonathan means “Yahweh has given [a son] ”; Reuben means “Look! A son”) but could also wish a blessing (e.g., Isaiah means “Yahweh’s salvation”; Immanuel means “God be/is with us”). Royal names could change when a person attained the throne. Several Israelite kings had their names changed by their overlords, showing that they were under authority of an outside power (e.g., the name of Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim by the Egyptians, 2Ki 23:34). Others seem to have adopted their own throne name, as some have suggested for Azzariya/Azariah (meaning “Yahweh aided”) adopting the name Uzziah (meaning “Yahweh is my strength”). King David was identified at his death by four titles: son of Jesse, man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God, Israel’s favorite singer (2Sa 23:1).

Sentence names in the ancient Near East. Most names in the ancient world make statements, i.e., they are self-contained sentences. Many of the statements are about a deity. One can easily recognize the deity name in names such as Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, or Rameses. Anyone even casually familiar with the Bible has noticed how many Israelite names end in -iah or -el, or start with Jeho- or El-. All of these represent Israel’s God. This type of name is called a theophoric name, and affirms the nature of the deity, proclaims the attributes of the deity or requests the blessing of the deity. One way to interret the titulary of this verse [Isaiah 9:7] is to understand it as reflecting important theophoric affirmations: The Divine Warrior is a Supernatural Planner, The Sovereign of Time is a Prince of Peace. (Note: the word “is” is not used in such constructions, as all names demonstrate). Continue reading