Now look at chapter 35. All is joy because all is holy. Those redeemed by the Lord will come to Zion with singing. In a sense, the contrast between chapters 1 and 35 is the story of these chapters. The joy of holiness lies at the other end of the pain of chastisement. Chastisement hurts, but it works.
Now, as you read Isaiah 1-35, look for the words and phrases that I have bolded below.
Isaiah 1-6: A rebellious people
The vision of Isaiah opens with a sinful nation that needs more chastisement. Judah and Jerusalem have already been sorely chastised, but they have not yet turned from their rebellion against Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. Jerusalem must be humbled and emptied before it can be exalted and filled. Israel and Judah, for whom God has thoughtfully provided everything, has brought forth nothing except wild fruit (5:4). Isaiah himself, when he sees the thrice-holy Lord of hosts lifted up, confesses that he dwells among a people of unclean lips (6:5). Judgment is coming until only a stump remains (6:13), and Isaiah is God’s messenger to deliver that message. God’s ultimatum to Israel is clear: obey and eat from your land, or disobey and be devoured (1:20). God is still willing to cleanse their sin (1:18), but will they listen?
Isaiah 7-12: Assyria and Immanuel
They will not. So God brings chastisement in the person of the king of Assyria, who will shave Israel like a razor (8:20). The staff in Assyria’s hands is the rod of God’s anger (10:5). “In all this, His anger is not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still” (5:25; 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). In the midst of chastisement, Israel is not to trust in alliances or consult wizards for deliverance from Assyria (8:12, 19). God has a purifying work He is using the King of Assyria to accomplish in the hearts of His people, but when God is done with him, He will punish the king of Assyria (10:12). And His people will rejoice in His deliverance (ch. 12:2-3).
Even during chastisement, Israel is not devoid of hope, though, because God is with them (8:10). Their land is Immanuel’s (8:8), the son born of a virgin as a sign to stubborn King Ahaz (7:14). He will shatter Israel’s darkness (9:1-2), reign on David’s throne (9:6-7), and as the Shoot from the root of Jesse, stand as a banner for all peoples (11:10-12).
Isaiah 13-23: Ten oracles against the nations
Isaiah 13-23 speaks of more divine wrath, but this time for the nations. God is king over them too, and all the purposes of punishment and restoration that He has planned for them will come to pass (14:24, 26-27; 19:12, 17; 23:8-9). Occasionally hope is extended to the nations but such hope is only found in the Lord of hosts who dwells in Mount Zion (14:32; 16:1, 5; 18:7).
Isaiah 24-27: The world’s end
Ultimately, Yahweh will bring the whole earth to its knees as punishment for its iniquity (Isa. 24-27; see especially 26:21). The earth, like nothing more than a city to God, will be stripped bare, but at His city, Zion, He will reign and display His glory (24:23). Therefore, God’s people are to take cover until His wrath passes (26:20-21), take hold of His strength (27:5), and wait for the day that worship comes to God’s holy mountain Jerusalem (27:13).
Isaiah 28-33: Six coming woes
At the same time, judgment is coming to both Samaria and Jerusalem (chapters 28-29), but God’s purpose is to purge not destroy (27:7-9). Chastisement is God’s “unusual” work, but He carries it out with wisdom. Like a veteran farmer, God knows just the amount of breaking up and threshing His people need (28:21-29). God promises to protect Jerusalem from Assyria but in His way and in His timing. No amount of alliance-making or running to Egypt on their part will help. “In returning and rest you shall be saved and your strength shall be in quietness and trust” (30:15). At the right time, God will heal the wounds He has inflicted at the hands of the Assyrians (30:26). Assyria will be shattered by the voice of the Lord (as Isaiah 36-37 will reveal). God’s fire will be in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem (31:9) and it will burn against the enemies of His people. He will manifest Himself as Judah’s Judge, Lawgiver, and King, and save them (33:22)!
Isaiah 34-35: Edom’s doom and Zion’s joy
So all the nations better wake up and pay attention (34:1). No design of theirs against God’s people will ultimately succeed. Enemies like Edom will disappear forever, and their fortified cities become a dwelling for beasts (34:5-15).
But, oh!, how different the land of Israel and Judah, with the desert blossoming like a rose and a highway of holiness leading to Zion (35:1-8). Those redeemed by God will walk on the highway of holiness as they return to Zion, and all will be joy (35:10).
Let chastisement have its perfect work
Chastisement is necessary. Just as foolishness is bound in the heart of a child and the rod of correction drives it far from him, even so the foolishness of God’s people is sometimes only driven out by the rod of God’s chastisement. But God is a good Father and knows exactly how much chastisement is needed. Thus, it is foolish—here’s a key emphasis in these chapters—for us to evade His decreed chastisement, like Israel and the nations were so keen to do in the face of Assyrian invasion. All the politicking, international intrigue, and jockeying for national survival is in vain. God will deliver in His way and in His timing. His way is to deliver at Jerusalem—to remind His people and the world that He dwells there and all His Messianic purposes flow from there. His timing is just before Jerusalem falls (which will also be true at the end of the world). He feels no hurry and no panic (18:4-5). Assyria is merely a wooden stick in His hand.
So what God’s people need to do is trust, even rest, and take confidence in His purposes for the chastisement and His promises of deliverance from it (30:15). They are to let chastisement have its perfect work knowing that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11).
Holiness and the joy it brings is worth all the pain needed to produce it in our lives.
- Explain how comparing Isaiah 1 with Isaiah 35 serves as an overview of the entirety of today’s reading.
- What is the key name of God used in the book of Isaiah?
- What chapters in Isaiah 1-35 have the greatest concentration of messianic references? What is He called in 7:14?
- Are Judah and Jerusalem supposed to extricate themselves by their own efforts from Assyria’s invasion? Why?
- Where are the nations of the world to look if they want to be delivered from Assyria?
- To what ancient nation did Israel often look for help (see chs. 30-31)? What were God’s people supposed to do instead (see 30:15)?
- What important lessons should we learn from Isaiah 1-35 about chastisement in our lives?
- Explain how Hebrews 12:11 reiterates the lessons on chastisement from Isaiah 1-35 and apply it (Hebrews 12:11) to a situation in your life you are facing now.