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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 4

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 25, 26: Songs of Praise

Chapter 14: Waiting for God

Isaiah 26:7-9 says,

7 The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level. 8 Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O Lord, we have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls. 9 At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

In a time when there was little or no roadbuilding equipment, the dirt roads were always full of ruts and rocks. This could even make it difficult to walk upright. It was customary to fix the roads when an important official was coming to a town, so that his chariot would ride smoothly or so that his horse would not stumble. So we read in Isaiah 40:3, 4,

3 … Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Let every valley [rut] be lifted up, and every mountain and hill [bump] be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley.

A “righteous” highway was a smooth road where one could travel quickly and easily. So also was “the path of the righteous” that was free of sin (obstacles). The prophet expressed his desire to follow “the way of Your judgments,” that is, the path or highway of true justice. Loving God and his neighbors as himself was his “way” of life.

Remembering God’s Name and Nature

Seeing the law as the expression of God’s nature, it was bound up in His “name,” because a name was also seen as an expression of nature or character. Hence, “God is love” is a way of saying that Love is God’s name. The tendency for men to forget a man’s name is like forgetting his nature, no longer remembering what he is like, or who he is.

So the prophet spoke of “Your name, even Your memory,” a word that goes back to the law of offerings. In Lev. 2:2 we see that frankincense was to be added to a grain offering as a “memorial,” that is, to remember the nature of God.

To “know” His name was to know and understand His nature and thus also to understand how each law revealed some aspect of His “name.” The prophet revealed his longing to know God better. Every night his spirit sought God diligently. It is not that the prophet thought God had departed from him but that he wanted to know God’s nature more intimately and clearly.

The nightly revelations the prophet saw and understood were then tested during the day as he walked upon his own highway of life. Every revelation is put into the crucible to test it by experience to see if it was a genuine revelation or just a passing thought from one’s own mind. Isaiah knew that God’s judgments (that is, God’s just nature applied to correct the hearts of men) would have a positive result.

9 … for when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

This is a concise statement revealing the purpose of divine judgment. It is not to destroy sinners but to teach them righteousness. The law is not about condemnation but about correction, so that the entire earth may conform to the image of Christ by the end of history. Most people will learn righteousness only at the Great White Throne, where the entire earth (other than the overcomers) will experience His judgments. When they are arrested, raised from the dead, and summoned to His throne, every knee will bow and every tongue will “swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:23) to Christ.

This Day of Judgment will begin a whole new era, where the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. That is the purpose of the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15), which is formed by the “river of fire” (Dan. 7:10). The river of fire proceeds out of the fiery throne (Dan. 7:9) and represents the judgments of the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV).

Isaiah tells us that when the inhabitants of the earth experience the judgments of the fiery law, they will learn righteousness. That era of divine judgment will be long, but not “everlasting.” It will end with the Jubilee, which is the prime law of grace, where God cancels all remaining debt whether a man deserves it or not.

Hence, the Hebrew word olam, usually translated “everlasting,” actually means an indefinite period of time. Its root word is alam, “to hide.” So olam means “hidden,” and when applied to time, it means a hidden, unknown, or unspecified period of time. It is indefinite, not infinite, and this preserves the law of Jubilee, along with God’s nature (Love) and plan for the earth.

Isaiah 26:10 then speaks of the wicked in the days of the prophet,

10 Though the wicked is shown favor [grace], he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness and does not perceive the majesty of the Lord.

This appears to contradict his statement in the previous verse until we realize that he is referring to the wicked who were living in his own time. Those wicked men had not yet experienced the judgment of God. They had not yet gone into captivity, nor had they been summoned to the Great White Throne in the day when God judges the entire earth.

Wicked people do not yet know the loving nature of God, for if they did, they would be completely undone and would fall to their knees. If they saw Him face to face, they would not be able to refrain from confessing Him and swearing allegiance to Him. Present day sinners have no revelation of His name/nature, but the day will come when all will be given this revelation of “the majesty of the Lord.”

The Majesty of the Lord

There are many wicked people in the world who do not “perceive the majesty of the Lord” (Isaiah 26:10). This, in fact, is the reason why they do not “learn righteousness,” for if the veil were removed from their eyes so that they could see God clearly, they would instantly fall to their knees and acknowledge Him.

The veil, the prophet says (Isaiah 25:7), is the earth’s big problem, and it must be removed in order to change the hearts of men. Paul adds (2 Cor. 3:16-18) that when the veil is removed, men are able to see Him face to face and are then changed into His image. Yet for the veil to be removed, men must turn to Christ.

Hence, the prophet Jeremiah prayed, “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned” (Lam. 5:21, KJV). He acknowledged the sovereignty of God, knowing that the New Covenant was based upon the promise of God to save us and upon His determination to turn our hearts. We “turn” because He turns us.

Likewise, Psalm 80:19 tells us,

19 O Lord God of hosts, restore [shuwb, “turn”] us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

In other words, when God’s “face” (paniym, “face, presence”) shines upon us in all of His majesty, “we will be saved.” Only God can do this, and indeed He will do so at the Great White Throne judgment, when all men see the glory of His majesty.

In this present age God has hidden His face to all but a few, and the result is that the majority do not “learn righteousness” nor are their hearts turned to conform to the image of Christ.

The Zeal of God

Isaiah 26:11 continues,

11 O Lord, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal [cana] for the people and are put to shame; indeed, fire will devour Your enemies.

God’s “hand is lifted up” to judge the people, “yet they do not see it.” When God judges the nations, they see only disaster and think it is “natural” or “man-made.” They have no understanding of the Scriptures, and they are ignorant of the laws of God, where God promised to bring “curses” upon the disobedient for sin. In their pride, they think God ought to indulge their sin and bless their right to live according to their own will and desire.

All they see, the prophet says, is “Your zeal for the people.” Here “zeal” refers to the works of God that spring from His “zeal” (cana). The zeal of God is an interesting concept, especially when it is set forth in the second chapter of John’s gospel.

Jesus performed His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana (“zeal”). John’s commentary on this miraculous “sign” was set forth in the manner in which Jesus cleansed the temple. We read in John 2:17,

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

The zeal (cana) of Christ is thus expressed in terms of cleansing the temple of its merchandising. The Hebrew word for Canaanite is a merchant banker. Hence, the entire scenario was built upon the Hebrew word cana, which is also the root word for a Canaanite (canaaniy). Yet when Jesus’ hand was lifted up against these merchants in the temple, they did not see or understand it as divine judgment. They were only shamed or embarrassed by Jesus’ “zeal,” as Isaiah says.

The result of His “zeal” is “fire will devour Your enemies.” Jesus did not burn down the temple or even their tables, yet He brought judgment upon them according to the “fiery law.” The law’s “fire” is manifested in all of its judgments, whether it is a beating, restitution, or even the death penalty. The fire is not literal but metaphorical, because the law was given at Sinai out of the midst of the fire and because God Himself is pictured as a consuming fire.

The Sovereignty of God

Isaiah 26:12 says,

12 Lord, You will establish peace [shalom] for us, since You have also performed for us all our works.

The prophet confesses that God is the only One who can “establish peace for us.” In Paul’s writings, the apostle saw this as God’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. Both Paul and Isaiah understood the sovereignty of God. Isaiah says clearly that God is the One who is working through us. He has “performed for us all our works,” and we cannot take credit for it.

The Emphasized Bible  (Rotherham) renders it, “For even all our works hast thou wrought for us.” Paul agrees with the prophet, saying in Gal. 2:20, 21,

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

Thus Paul sets forth his understanding of the sovereignty of God. Not only does Christ work His will through Paul’s body, but Paul says, “I do not nullify the grace of God.” God’s grace is rooted in His sovereign acts apart from the will of man. Hence, he writes in Rom. 9:11, 12,

11 for though the twins [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”

In expounding further on God’s choices in Rom. 11:5, 6,

5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

That which man does by his own will or choice is not grace. What man wills to do “comes through the Law,” because one’s so-called “righteousness” is established by his own will. However, God’s choices are based on grace, because He does it apart from the will of man. Hence, if salvation is obtained by the will of man—man’s decisions, and his own good intentions—then his salvation is “no longer grace.” It is instead an attempt to be saved through the Old Covenant, which is man’s vow or promise to God.

For this reason, we must understand that whatever we do in life is Christ living through us and exercising His sovereign will through those that He has chosen at this present time. This is what Isaiah meant by saying, “You have also performed for us all our works.” Our works are actually His works operating in us and through us.

Other Masters

Isaiah 26:13 says,

13 O Lord our God, other masters [adonim] besides You have ruled us; but through You alone we confess Your name.

The prophet was probably speaking generally of the nation of Judah that was being ruled by kings who had essentially usurped the throne by ruling according to their own will and laws. The statement also extends to all false gods (and their priests), whose laws inevitably put men into bondage to sin. False gods confuse licentiousness with freedom. By promising the people freedom, they enslave the people (2 Peter 2:19) by the power of sin. So it is to this day.

The prophet had confessed his allegiance to the true God of Israel, but even then, he set forth his confession within the parameters of the sovereignty of God, saying, “through You alone we confess Your name.” In saying this, he recognized that if God had not removed the veil from his eyes, he would have remained among the majority whose eyes were yet veiled.

Raising the Dead

Isaiah 26:14 (NASB) continues,

14 The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them.

The Emphasized Bible reads this way:

14 The dead come not to life again, the shades do not arise—therefore thou hast visited and destroyed them and caused to perish every memorial of them.

This verse is sometimes used to prove the Annihilationist view, which claims that the unsaved simply remain dead and cease to exist. But the fact is that the dead do indeed come back to life, because, as Jesus said in John 5:28, “an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice.” The next verse includes both the righteous and the wicked.

This is confirmed in Rev. 20:12, where the apostle “saw the dead, the great and the small standing before the throne.” This obviously includes the unbelievers, because they must be raised for judgment.

So Isaiah was not speaking of the great day of resurrection and judgment when he says, “the dead will not live.” The context shows that he was speaking of a more local situation. When divine judgment hits, these wicked “masters” (ungodly rulers who enslave men)  are destroyed and no man can reverse this by raising them up again. In time of war, the massive slaughter often meant that the dead remained unburied and forgotten with no tomb to memorialize their name for future generations.

We cannot apply Isaiah’s statement to the final resurrection of the dead, where the dead are indeed raised and summoned to the throne of God to give account for their deeds which they have done during their lifetime. The only way to interpret it correctly is to see the prophet’s statement in a more restricted sense.