Isaiah 40-66 – The Babylonian Crisis: Trust God for Exodus

Introduction

1. Summary

• Isaiah predicted the Babylonian judgment of exile.

• Isaiah assured the exiles that God would deliver them by a great leader and return them to the Promised Land.

2. Structure

-God’s power to restore (Is.40:1-44:23)
-God’s instruments of restoration (Is.44:24-55:13)
-Israel’s response and restoration (Is.56:1-66:24)[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]
There are occasional references to current realities (sins of people, threats of judgment) and therefore to the present audience. But the section largely refers to future realities (the troubles of exile and glories of restoration)
Archer proposes a division along the lines of:

  • Purpose of peace (Is.40:1–48:22)
    God’s mighty power will release Israel from captivity
  • Prince of peace (Is.49:1–57:21)
    The servant of the Lord is the Saviour of Israel
  • Program of peace (Is.58:1–66:24)
    Zion restored becomes a blessing to the world

 

I. God’s Power to Restore (40:1-44:23)

A. General Analysis

-Can God restore Israel? (Is.40:1-42:17)
-Will God restore Israel? (Is.42:18-44:23)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Historical background

Critical scholars argue that the Babylonian exile is here assumed and that, therefore, it was written in exile or post-exile. However, when Isaiah addresses the sins of the people he is preaching to, it is the sins of pre-exilic Israel he mentions.

In fact, the religious conditions described in “Isaiah II” are precisely those of the historical Isaiah’s time. The low profile of the righteous (Is.57:1; 59:2–8), profanation of the Sabbath (Is.58:13; compare Amos 8:5), pagan cultic rites (Is.57:4–10; 66:17), and the practice of idolatry (Is.40:18–20; 41:21–24; 44:9–17; 45:16, 20; 46:5–7; 57:13) characterized the eighth and early seventh centuries. In the case of the last item, the Exile seemed to have cured Israel of idolatry. It would then be surprising to find that it was such a troublesome problem in the Exile and the post-exilic period. Further, Isaiah’s concern for the disadvantaged (Is.41:17; 57:1–10; 58:7; 59:2–8, 14; 61:1–3), the call to repentance (Is.44:22; 45:22; 55:6–7; 56:1), and the operation of the Jerusalem Temple and sacrificial system (Is.43:23–24, 28; 55:6–7; 58:2; 66:3) point to an eighth- or early seventh-century date. The Neo-Assyrian world is certainly in evidence in these twenty-seven chapters.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

 

2. Can God restore Israel? (Is.40:1-42:17)

-God’s power to restore (Is.40:1-42:9)
-Israel’s praise for restoration (Is.42:10-17)
If chapter 39 hinted at the prospect of future exile in Babylon, Isaiah 40 assumes it, and the tone of Isaiah’s ministry changes from threatening exile (1-39) to offering hope of a second exodus (Is.42:16; 43:16, 19; 49:9, 11; 51:10; etc.), this time from Babylon, and restoration to the Promised Land.
One question the future exiles might be expected to ask was: “Can God deliver us? Does God have the power to restore us?” The message of chapter 40, repeated in subsequent chapters, is the power of God and His divine word to effect this great deliverance.

The emphatic tone of hope at the beginning of Isaiah 40 is maintained throughout chapters 40-55. The communication from what seems to be a divine council is that punishment is now over for Jerusalem, and she is now acknowledged, in tender language, as “my people” and is extended comfort from “her God.” In this way, the relationships of the Sinai covenant are vividly recalled (“my people … your God”) and are now to be re-inaugurated.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 116.[/footnote]

Isaiah could see on the distant horizon a great deliverance from exile, and beyond that, an even greater deliverance from sin.

The polemic against idolatry that Isaiah carries through those nine chapters capitalizes on Yahweh’s ability to predict the future as over against the idols that cannot even speak, much less predict the future. In 41:21–24 Isaiah challenges the idols to declare the things that are coming hereafter if they are really gods (v. 23). In contrast, Yahweh has announced them from the beginning (Is.41:25–29; also Is.46:10–11). The former things have come to pass, so now He is announcing new things (Is.42:9; 48:6–8). The same challenge is flung at the idols in Is.44:6–8 to declare “the events that are going to take place” (v. 7). The polemical narrative against idolatry follows that challenge (Is.44:9–20). The Lord’s predictive ability again becomes the critical difference between Him and the idols in Is.45:20–21.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s message: God has the power to overcome enemies and to restore Israel.
 

3. Will God restore Israel? (Is.42:18-44:23)

-God’s justice in exiling Israel and calling them back (Is.42:18-25)
-Israel’s praise for restoration (Is.44:21-23)
Isaiah had predicted God’s deliverance in the days of Hezekiah. He had predicted the Babylonian exile. He could therefore be trusted when he declared God’s intention to deliver God’s people from Babylonian exile.
Isaiah’s message: God has treated Israel fairly and can be trusted to restore Israel.
 

4. Alternating Judgment and Salvation

The prophecies alternate between courtroom addresses against God’s enemies (idols, the nations, etc) and salvation for Israel.

  • Courtroom speech against the nations (Is.41:1-7)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.41:8-20)

  • Courtroom speech against idols (Is.41:21-29)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.42:1-17)

  • Disputation over God’s blindness and deafness (Is.42:18-25)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.43:1-7)

  • A courtroom speech against nations and idols (Is.43:8-13)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.43:14-21)

  • Disputation over God’s righteousness (Is.43:22-28)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.44:1-5)

  • Courtroom speech against nations and idols (Is.44:6-20)

-Salvation for Israel (Is.44:21-23)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1072.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: Salvation for Israel involves condemnation of Israel’s enemies
 

5. Servant of the Lord

The dominant figure and leader of Israel in this new Exodus and return to Jerusalem is the “servant of the Lord.”
The servant of Isaiah 40-66 has been variously identified as a collective group or as an individual. Collective interpretations identify the servant as the nation Israel or as the faithful remnant or as some other ideal representation of the nation. Individual interpretations have identified the servant as a particular person (Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin, Moses, Uzziah, Ezekiel, the prophet himself, Cyrus) or an eschatological figure (the Messiah or Jesus as Messiah).

The servant theme appears in several places in Isaiah and the servant carries a number of identities. The word “servant” may denote an individual Israelite (Is.22:20), the nation of Israel (Is.41:8), the remnant (Is.49:3), and even the Messiah (Is.52:13).[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 373.[/footnote]

As Delitzsch put it, the Servant may be symbolized by a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid is the Hebrew nation as a whole (as in Is.41:8 and Is.42:19). Israel is regarded as God’s uniquely chosen people charged with the responsibility of witnessing to the true God before the heathen nations, and serving as custodians of His Word. At the middle level (Is.43:10), the remnant of true believers in Israel will constitute the redeemed people of God and serve as witnesses to their unspiritual countrymen.

There can be little question that Isaiah’s servant is at least to be identified as Israel; the servant is specifically called “my servant Israel/Jacob” (Is.41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 4&20; 49:3-6). It is because the faithful remnant arises from a period of judgment that surviving Israel could be called the “suffering servant.” God had been with them through the fire and through the deep (Is.43:1-2), and now he will make “little Israel” strong again (Is.41:8-14). His servant would be righteous and would bring justice to the nations (Is.42:1-9). God would bring his people from the ends of the earth to be his witnesses, his servants (Is.43:5-13). He will pour out his Spirit on the offspring of the servant of the Lord, and they will flourish like grass in a meadow (Is.44:1-4). Though the nation had sinned, this surviving remnant-servant would be faithful.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 278-279.[/footnote]

As neither Israel nor even the remnant of Israel attained this goal, we are led to look for another. So, at the apex of the pyramid stands a single individual, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is set forth as the true Israel (for apart from Him there could not be a covenant nation of Israel, and from Him the nation derives all its standing before God). It is this Servant who will arise as Redeemer and Deliverer from sin by bearing in His own person the death penalty in the place of sinners.

Isaiah’s servant also points beyond the nation Israel. Isaiah had already made a distinction between Israel as a nation and Israel as a faithful remnant/servant (Is.49:5-6). Isaiah also individualized this servant: he is born of a woman and he comes as one who is distinct from the nation, one who will restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back Israel (Is.44:24; 46:3; 49:1).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 278-279.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s message: God’s power over the nations + God’s power over idols + God’s royal servant = Song of praise to God

C. New Testament Analysis

Isaiah Event New Testament
Is.40:2-3 John the Baptist as forerunner Mat.3:3; Jn.1:23
Is.40:10 The Lord’s return Rev.22:7,12
Is.42:1-4 Gentile ministry Mat.12:13-21

 

II. God’s Instruments of Restoration (44:24-55:13)

A. General Analysis

-God appoints Cyrus to destroy Babylon (Is.44:24-48:22)
-God appoints His Servant to restore Israel (Is.49:1-56:8)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. God appoints Cyrus to destroy Babylon (Is.44:24-48:22)

  • Appointment of Cyrus to release Israel from Babylon (Is.44:24-48:20)
  • Call to praise for release from Babylon (Is.48:20-22)

God had announced three times thus far his intention to raise up a Gentile deliverer for his people (Is.41:2–5; 42:2; 43:14). In one of the most amazing predictions in the Bible, Isaiah now named that emancipator 150 years before he appeared on the scene of history.

It is usual in this connection to urge that the Scripture seldom predicts a future historical figure by name. Yet it should be pointed out that where the occasion calls for it, the Bible does not hesitate to specify the names of men and places even centuries in advance. For example, the name of King Josiah was, according to 1 Kings 13:2, foretold by a prophet of Judah back in the time of Jeroboam I (930–910), a full three centuries before he appeared in Bethel to destroy the golden calf and idolatrous sanctuary which Jeroboam had erected. This of course may be explained away as a late interpolation in 1 Kings; but there are other instances which cannot be so neatly disposed of. Thus Bethlehem is named by Micah (Micah 5:2) as the birthplace of the coming Messiah, seven centuries before the birth of the Lord Jesus. This was a fact well known to the Jewish scribes in the time of Herod the Great.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Cyrus would be God’s shepherd for His people (Is.44:28), God’s anointed one (Is.45:10), the one whom God raised up (Is.45:13), a bird of prey from the east to do God’s purpose (Is.46:11) and God’s chosen ally against Babylon (Is.48:14).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1152.[/footnote]

The affirmation of God’s ability to carry through with his plan for Cyrus led to an oracle assuring Babylon’s fall (Is.47:1-15). Israel are to listen and believe God’s word of promise, and to demonstrate their faith by leaving Babylon in the confidence that God would restore His people (Is.48:1-22).
God is clearly displayed as the Creator and Lord of history (Is.44:24; 45:12) as he raises up, supports and directs Cyrus to redeem and restore His people to the Land.

…Once a people had been carried off into exile in a distant land, there was virtually no hope that they would ever return to their ancestral soil. Such a thing had never happened before in history, and humanly speaking, there was no prospect that the dispersed Judah of a future generation would ever return to the land of promise. It was therefore altogether appropriate for God to furnish a very definite token or sign to which exiled believers might look as an indication of their coming deliverance and restoration to Palestine. This sign was furnished in the specifying of the very name of their future deliverer.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: The God who prophesied and raised up Cyrus to deliver His people can be trusted to deliver His people.
 

2. God appoints His servant to restore Israel (Is.49:1-55:13)

  • Appointment of God’s Servant (Is.49:1-53:12)
  • Hymn of praise and restoration oracles (Is.54:1-55:13)

Or alternatively:
-God’s servant announced (Is.49:1-52:12)
God will restore Israel and reach the nations through His special Servant.

-God’s servant suffers (Is.52:13-53:12)
The Servant will vicariously suffer but be exalted.

-God’s servant praised (Is.54:1-55:13)
Rejoice because God will restore and redeem Israel and foreigners through His Servant

God’s second instrument to restore blessing to Israel was David’s greatest son, here called the Servant (cf. Is.42:1-4). The four servant songs (Is.42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) connect the Servant with Judah.

The book of Isaiah presents four Servant Songs (Is.42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9), which reach their conclusion in the final song of the Suffering Servant (Is.52:13–53:12). This description of the Suffering Servant occupies a central place in the consolation section (chs. 40–66) and is presented in five stanzas, each of which provides a picture of the saving work of the Servant: His humiliation and exaltation (Is.52:13–15); His experience of rejection (Is.53:1–3); His vicarious suffering (Is.53:4–6); His sacrificial death (Is.53:7–9); His reconciling atonement and resurrection (Is.53:10–12). It is sometimes argued that the Suffering Servant song presents an ideal portrait of the people of Israel as a whole. The subject of the song cannot be reduced to such an ideal depiction, however, because it presents a concrete person who mediates between God and sinful human beings. Furthermore, the many correspondences between the Suffering Servant and the Person and work of Christ cannot be ignored.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts : Old and New Testaments. 1997, c1996 (electronic ed.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: The God who raised up Israel’s political deliverer can be trusted to raise up Israel’s spiritual deliverer.
 

3. Two Geometric Lines

The two geometric lines of Cyrus and the Servant meet in the Suffering Servant. Both lie in the distant future, one more distant than the other. And as Isaiah was projected by the Holy Spirit into the exilic age to comfort the exiles and assure them that Cyrus would set them free, he simultaneously gave them hope on a different plane, that of forgiveness of sins purchased by the death of One who would suffer in their behalf, quite a contrast to the political redemption that Cyrus gained by military conquest. However, the fulfilment of the nearer prophecy should encourage Israel to believe in the more distant one also.

The Israelites could easily conceive of military conquest, even though freedom given by a king who did not know Yahweh might stretch the imagination. But that an innocent Israelite (not an animal sacrifice!) should atone for their sins by suffering and death (Is.53:8) and rise to life again (Is.53:10b) was as inconceivable as a virgin having a child. As indicated in our discussion of the Immanuel prophecy, the more immediate fulfillment of the Maher-shalal-hashbaz prophecy boosted confidence in the reliability of the remote prophecy of Immanuel. Seeing Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus fulfilled before their eyes, the exiles might have believed anything the prophet foretold, regardless of how spectacular or inconsonant with reality. The Cyrus prophecy, so explicit, as over against the inexplicit Servant prophecies, likely served the same function for the exilic community that the prophecy of Isaiah’s son served for the people of Ahaz’ day. Not only did Cyrus restore the exiles to their home, but he indirectly renewed messianic hope in Israel.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: If God can raise up and use a heathen King to effect a second exodus for Israel, then he can raise up an Israelite to effect a spiritual exodus for Israel.
 

4. Messianic Banquet

As a result of the suffering servant’s work the faithful are invited to a messianic banquet on Mt Zion (Is.55:1-2), an invitation based on the covenant with David (Is.55:3-5).

The sure mercies of David are not David’s faithful acts but Yahweh’s fidelity to the Davidic covenant. The life offered is proximity to the deity’s shrine and, thus, participation in the presence of the deity…..The logic of the placement of Isaiah 54 and 55 suggests that all has been achieved by the suffering and death of Yahweh’s Servant (Isa.53). He will do nothing less than usher in the new era, the new creation. The restoration of Jerusalem, prominent in the prophecy of Isaiah 40-55 and with which the ministry of the Servant has been so closely bound up, triggers the advent of the new age, the everlasting rule of God.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 126.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: The sufferings of God’s servants will bring untold comfort and blessings to God’s people

C. New Testament Analysis

In seeing Jesus as the suffering servant, the New Testament writers were following Isaiah’s lead.

In their eyes, Jesus had become a remnant of one. He was the embodiment of faithful Israel, the truly righteous and suffering servant. Unlike the remnant of the restoration period, he committed no sin (Is.53:9; 1 Peter 2:22). As the embodiment of the faithful remnant, he would undergo divine judgment for sin (on the cross), endure an exile (three days forsaken by God in the grave), and experience a restoration (resurrection) to life as the foundation of a new Israel, inheriting the promises of God afresh. As the remnant restored to life, he becomes the focus of the hopes for the continued existence of the people of God in a new kingdom, a new Israel of Jew and Gentile alike.[footnote]Ibid., 278-279.[/footnote]

The New Testament confirms that the suffering servant is Jesus Christ. This is the most frequently cited Old Testament passage in the New Testament.

Isaiah Event New Testament
Is.50:6 Messiah spat on and struck Matt.26:67
Is.52:13 Messiah exalted Phil.2:9-10
Is.52:14 Messiah disfigured by suffering Mark 15:15-19
Is.53:5 Messiah will make a blood atonement 1 Pet.1:2
Is.53:1, 3 Messiah will be widely rejected Jn.12:37-38
Is.53:4-5 Messiah will bear sin and sorrow Rom.4:25; 1 Pet.2:24-25
Is.53:6,8 Messiah will be our substitute Rom.5:6,8; 2 Cor.5:21
Is.53:7-8 Messiah will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment Mk.15:4-5; Jn.10:11
Is.53:9 Messiah will be buried in a rich man’s tomb Mat.27:57-60
Is.53:10-11 Messiah will save those who believe in him Jn.3:16; Acts 16:31
Is.53:12 Messiah will die with sinners Mk.15:27

 

III. Israel’s Response and Restoration (56:1-66:24)

A. General Analysis

-God will judge rebels but restore the repentant (Is.56:1-63:6)
-God promises restoration to lamenting exiles (Is.63:7-66:24)
The prophet closed his book with messages he had given during different periods of his ministry, all focusing on Israel

B. Detailed Analysis

1. God will judge rebels but restore repentant (Is.56:1-63:6)

  • Warnings against wickedness (Is.56:1-59:21)
  • Restoration Oracles (Is.60:1-63:6)

These words summarise the prophet’s message to the exiles: repent for restoration. Isaiah called them to true righteousness (Is.58:1-14) and promised a redemption and final victory outstripping anything they could imagine. Zion would serve as God’s instrument of blessing to the nations (Is.60:1-22). In a beautiful picture of God’s love for His church, He is depicted as marrying Zion (Is.62:1-12) and judging her enemies once and for all (Is.63:1-6).
Isaiah’s message: All who hear Isaiah’s words should fear God, and repent of sins in hope of future restoration.
 

2. God promises restoration to lamenting exiles (Is.63:7-66:24)

  • Lament (Is.63:7-64:12)
    Israel laments over exile and prays for restoration
  • Restoration oracles (Is.65:1-66:24)
    Restoration promised in a new creation

Isaiah provided an exemplary lament to guide the exiles towards repentance. He then conveyed the manner in which God would respond to the cry for help from repentant exiles. God promised to deliver his people and to destroy all who opposed him from all over the world.

In Isaiah the universe is addressed. The scope of the book extends beyond the usual covenant relationship of God and his people to the rest of humanity and all of nature. At the very start, heaven and earth are called upon as witnesses, and, at the end, the new heavens and new earth celebrate the restoration of the divine-human relationship (Isa.1:2; 65:17-25; 66:22-24). Not only God, his messengers, and his people, but all nations of the earth (chs. 13-20), all animals and plants, are brought into the conversation. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and lie down with the lamb (Is.11:6-9). Instead of the thorn and thistle there shall be the myrtle tree and the fir tree (Is.55:13); even the desert shall be filled with water and blossom like the rose (Is.35:1-7).[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 310.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: Sorrow over sin will restore joy in God and His creation.
 

3. Past success and future promises

The question may be asked: Why should we hope for a return and why should we believe that we should return? Isaiah pointed to fulfillment of past predictions.

Only through the powerful encouragement of fulfilled prediction would the future generation of exiles summon up the courage to return to Palestine, even after the permission of the new Persian government had been granted. In order to sustain the faith of Israel through all these overwhelming reverses – the complete devastation of cities and family lands, and the destruction of the temple – it was necessary to furnish an absolutely decisive proof that these events had taken place by the permission and plan of the God of Israel, rather than because He was a puny god overcome by the more powerful deities of the Chaldean empire (a conclusion which all heathendom would inevitably draw after the fall of Jerusalem).[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Isaiah’s Message: My prophecies concerning Syro-Ephraimite coalition and the Sennacherib invasion came true. Therefore, my threat of Babylonian exile and my promises of release will also take place.

C. New Testament Analysis

Isaiah Event New Testament
Is.61:1-3 God’s anointed messenger Lk.4:14-21
Is.65:1; 66:19-23 Gentile salvation Rom.15:12; 10:20
Is.60:19-22 New Jerusalem Gal.4:26; Rev.21:1-27
Is.65:17-66:24 Renewal of creation Rom.8:18-25; Rev.21-22

 

IV. The Message

Original Meaning: God’s Servant (Davidic King) will bring about the exodus, deliverance, and full restoration of God’s people and blessings to the nations through his vicarious sufferings and exaltation.
Present Meaning: God’s Servant (Christ) will bring about the full exodus, deliverance, and restoration of God’s people and blessings to the nations through his vicarious sufferings and exaltation.