Posts Tagged 'Major Prophets'

Panic Podcast: The Story of the Old Testament, Part 6

Good morning, folks!  Thanks for stopping by today to study the Bible with me.  Lord knows, we need it, don’t we?  In a world falling apart,  God’s Word will hold us together.  We will be looking a some of the prophets today.  Their writings make up a large chunk of the Old Testament, so it’s important to know what they wrote about.  May the Lord bless you as we look to His Word.



Birth of the King, Matthew, Part One

Matthew 1:18—2:23

This might very well be the most famous Bible story ever.  Even people who have absolutely no relationship with God know “the Christmas story.”  Over the years, there have been dozens of motion pictures made about this singular event, some very good, many not.  During the month of December, this is the passage of Scripture most often preached; most Christians think they know the story well.  Let’s find out how well you know it.

1.  Matthew and the Jewish Messiah

Though Matthew’s Gospel is placed first in our Bibles, it was probably not written first.  Most scholars tell us that Mark was written long before any of the others Gospels, and while Luke gives us many additional details, Matthew gives us a unique perspective on the birth of Jesus:  the Jewish perspective.  Matthew uses three devices to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus:

First, Matthew chooses his opening words carefully.  He begins his Gospel like this—

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The word “genealogy” comes from the Greek word genesis, which is the title of the first book of our Bible and the first book of the Jewish Bible.  There are other wording parallels in the opening verses of Matthew which would point the Jewish reader back to the Old Testament.

Next, Matthew uses Old Testament scripture liberally to support and validate the fact that this Baby, Jesus, was in reality the long awaited Messiah.  For example, Jesus’ lineage is traced all the way back to Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation!   Furthermore, to stress Jesus’ legitimacy, Matthew makes it plain that Mary and Joseph were both descendants of King David.  If any Jewish boy had a claim to the throne of David, it was the boy named Jesus born on Christmas!

Finally, at the close of his summary of Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew abruptly changes his pattern of describing the long family line.  According to Matthew, Joseph was not the father of Jesus; he was merely the husband of Mary!

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16)

Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, skillfully uses his natural talents as a writer to implicitly underscore what was so important to the Jewish readers of his day:  this Jesus, Son of Mary and Joseph, is the Messiah prophesied centuries ago by their very own prophets.

2.  Birth of the Messiah, 1:18—25

This group of verses (1:18—2:23) actually has a name among Bible scholars:  the Infancy Narratives and it is paralleled in Luke 1:5—2:52.  While Matthew and Luke tell the same story, their versions couldn’t be more different, yet they don’t contradict each other.  There are five areas of complete agreement:

  • Jesus’ birth was miraculous; He was virgin-born;
  • Mary and Joseph were “espoused” to each other when God’s will was made known to them;
  • Christ was to be called “Jesus”;
  • He was born in Bethlehem;
  • He was raised in Nazareth.

A tricky situation, verses 18, 19

Matthew begins the story of Jesus with His “birth.”  The word translated “birth” in the tNIV and most modern translations is the same word translated “genealogy” in 1:1.  What Matthew is beginning at in verse 18 is really the “history of Jesus Christ” on earth.

Mary was “espoused” or “betrothed” to Joseph, and while we traditionally view this situation as their “engagement,” the Jewish tradition of “espousal” was much more serious and binding than our tradition of “engagement.”  In a sense, Mary and Joseph were already married at this time, even though the formal wedding ceremony was yet to come.  Notice that during this period of “espousal,” Joseph is called Mary’s husband (v. 19) and Mary is referred to as his wife (v. 20).  The Old Testament Law made it clear that unfaithfulness in an “espoused” woman was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:23—24).

What made Mary’s pregnancy so ticklish a situation to deal with was that even though considered married, the couple was not living together and they were not having any kind of physical relationship; so how was Mary’s pregnancy going to be explained?   Mary knew the truth about her condition because the angel Gabriel told her (Luke 1:26—35).  But for Joseph, this was a problem.  He was a good man, and because of his beliefs he felt that he could not go through with the marriage.  Joseph was also a man of mercy, and he obviously loved Mary deeply, so he did not want her to be humiliated or embarrassed in any way.  Joseph’s practical solution was to “divorce” her quietly, which meant presenting his pregnant wife with a bill of divorcement in front of only two witnesses, as opposed to dragging her to court and suing her for divorce.  Remember, Joseph was not yet privy to the divine plan.

God’s solution, verses 20—23

Poor Joseph; we can only imagine how many nights he paced the floor, trying to figure out what to do!  Finally, God intervened with a dream.  During this dream, an unnamed angel from God comes to Joseph and gives him the same information Mary was given (Luke 1:35).  Joseph now knew what Mary knew:  it was by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit that Mary had conceived.   Notice how the angel addresses Joseph—

Joseph son of David. (verse 1:20)

This is what gave Jesus the legal right to the throne of David and it also served to encourage and strengthen Joseph.  Even though Mary was given a great honor, it would be through Joseph’s connection to the House of David that the Messianic right to the throne would be transmitted to Jesus.  Mary was important, but in order for Jesus to be recognized as the legitimate heir to the Davidic promise, Joseph, husband to Mary and father to Jesus, was indispensable!

Joseph, described by Matthew as “righteous,” was also a man of faith.  The angel told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” which indicates that Joseph had already decided to do just that before God intervened.   Poor Joseph!  He didn’t know what was going on, but he loved Mary and the private divorce was out of the question.  Perhaps that’s why God waited so long before filling Joseph in on His divine plan; the Lord was testing Joseph, waiting for him to arrive at the right decision, then blessing him with a supernatural visitation.

There is a real lesson for all who would live by faith:  sometimes living by faith means stepping out in faith, maybe without clear direction, trusting that the clear direction needed will be forthcoming.

With this reassurance from the angel, Joseph must have been greatly relieved.  God never leaves His faithful followers in the dark.  Mary needed to know God’s will to save her from the terrifying confusion and fear surrounding her mysterious pregnancy.  Joseph needed to know to save  him from thinking Mary had been unfaithful to him.

With verse 21, the angel focuses on the baby.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.   (verse 21)

The awesome power of this verse is often overlooked because it is so simple.  A lot of people had (and continue to have) an interest in the birth of this child:

  • The Holy Spirit, for it was by His power the child was conceived;
  • Mary, who because of her willing obedience became “blessed among women”;
  • Joseph, who along with Mary, was going to raise this child to adulthood;
  • The Jews, for the child would be named “Jesus,” for He would save “His people” from their sins.  “His people” refers to Jewish people.

Though to Joseph and to the readers of Matthew’s Gospel the phrase “His people” most definitely referred to Jews, it would not be long before it became apparent that both Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, viewed the divine mission as including all people; the phrase “His people” came to refer not only to Jews, but to all who by faith believed in Jesus as the Messiah.  So “His people” are the Messiah’s people.  We know from Paul’s writings later on that salvation came first to the Jews, then to the everyone else.

What does it mean to be “saved from sins?”  It was so important that Joseph name the Baby “Jesus” that he was not only given the name, as Mary was, but he was given the reason.  The angel told Joseph this in a very strange way in the Greek, where literally it reads like this:

You will call his name Jesus.

It’s an odd construction that is seen only here in the New Testament; a phrase that is not only a Semitism (written the way a Jew might say it,) but one written in the future indicative with imperative force.  It was as though Joseph was told:  “You will call the Baby by His name, which is Jesus.”

The name “Jesus” is an unremarkable name; there were many boys and men in Israel with that name, it is a variant of the name “Joshua,” and actually means “God is salvation.”  But the angel embellishes the literal name by adding:  “from their sins.”  The Messiah’s primary mission did not include social, political, or even physical salvation, but rather moral and spiritual salvation.  Jesus came to do away with sin once and for all time (Hebrews 9:26); He came to save man from sin, not in sin (Ralph Earle).   Salvation includes the following:

  • Freedom from the greatest evil that has ever plagued man:  the guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin;
  • To be given the greatest blessings a man can ever receive:  peace, love, joy, contentment, unspeakable happiness, answered prayer, etc.

To be saved from something implies being saved for something else.  No wonder this Baby needed to called Jesus!  Anyone who has experienced salvation through His grace knows how precious the name “Jesus” is.

Fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, v. 23

Matthew’s Gospel was written mainly with the Jewish reader in mind, and so Matthew quotes frequently from the Old Testament.  One such quotation is from the famous Christmas prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  Volumes have been written about this single verse, but the Holy Spirit gives us the final fulfillment and context here in the Gospel:  Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel.  Of course, Jesus was never called “Immanuel” as far as we know, so what did Isaiah mean when he wrote his prophecy?   There is no greater blessing for a human being than the knowledge that God is with them; that His presence in their midst is a reality.  Jesus is the only one who could have been called “God with us” because Jesus was not just a Baby, but God Himself in the flesh.  The mystery into which Mary and Joseph had been drawn is the mystery we all struggle to grasp:  the Incarnation; the day God became a man so as to affect man’s salvation.   But notice the exact wording of Matthew 1:25 and compare it to the exact wording of Isaiah 7:14—

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  (Matt. 1:25)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa. 7:14)

The difference is subtle but perhaps very meaningful.  In Isaiah 7:14, it is the virgin who will call her baby “Immanuel.”  In Matthew, it is not the virgin; it is “they.”  Who is “they?”  Perhaps Matthew is referring to Mary and Joseph, but could “they” not refer to all believers who have experienced the Messiah’s forgiveness of sins?  For all of us who have reached out in faith and claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Messiah, we can say with certainty “God is with us” because we experience His presence every day in our lives!   We cling to what Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20—

Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd


Responding to God’s Call

Isaiah 6

General Introduction

The “prophetic” books of the Bible, especially the “Major Prophets,” are chock full of both theology and practical aspects of living righteous lives.  Most Christians assume that the “prophetic” books are all about predicting the future, specifically our future.  While large portions of all the prophetic books concern the future, they most often foretell the future of either Israel or Judah, not the future of America or the Christian church.  In fact, many of the prophecies recorded in Scripture have already come to pass, being fulfilled in the history of the Jewish people and the surrounding nations.  However, that being said, there are some astounding passages of prophecy yet to be fulfilled.

The role of the prophet in ancient Israel and Judah must be understood if their works are to be appreciated.  The prophet was more often than not a preacher of righteousness—a forthteller of the Word of God, not a foreteller of future events.   It is unfortunate that this side of their writing gets overlooked, because there is much to learn from their writing about the kind of life that pleases God.

Introduction to Isaiah

The book that bears Isaiah’s name is massive; it is the third longest book in the Bible.  Only Jeremiah and Psalms are longer, although Psalms is not considered a single literary entity but rather a collection of separate, shorter units.

Isaiah is somewhat of an anomaly; it is both very familiar yet neglected at the same time.  Some chapters and verses are among the most familiar passages of the Old Testament; the calling of Isaiah, the “Christmas” prophecies, and the “suffering servant” chapters, for example, are parts most of us know well.  But there are large portions of the book that are unknown and unread and seemingly mysterious.

The prophet Isaiah is regarded as the foremost “Major Prophet.”  Of all of Israel’s inspired messengers, he is viewed as most significant.  He was a skilled writer and speaker; his long ministry was timely and far-reaching in its influence.  His name properly means “the Eternal One is Salvation,” that was the frequent theme of his teachings and sermons.

The historical context of Isaiah is to be found in 2 Kings 15—20 and 2 Chronicles 26—32.  He prophesied in Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Johtham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  Tradition, not history, suggests that he the vile king Manassah had the prophet killed.

A native of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom, Isaiah was born around 760 BC into a fairly influential family of some rank.  Again, tradition tells us that he was a cousin of King Uzziah, although he seems to have been very familiar with and a close confidant to many of the nation’s leaders.  Isaiah’s ministry lasted a lifetime, beginning in his early youth and ending his old age.  He lived and ministered within miles of his birthplace and is considered to be a statesman without equal among the prophets.

Because of Isaiah’s tact and wisdom, Kings were saved from implementing suicidal policies because of his timely intervention and discernment.  His faith alone was a major source of encouragement to the population of his hometown of Jerusalem and the salvation of Judah.

1.  Standing in awe of God’s majesty, 6:1—4

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Isaiah 6 is not necessarily the beginning of Isaiah’s work as a prophet.  Note the very beginning of his book—

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  (1:1)

Clearly, the man had a prophetic ministry that spanned Uzziah’s lifetime.  This is highly suggestive; here was Isaiah, doing the work of the Lord faithfully, when a vision of God in all His splendor and majesty completely transformed him, opening the door to an even greater and deeper spiritual life and ministry.  There is never a time in a believer’s life when “they have arrived!”  We never stop learning about and growing in our faith.  The greatest Bible scholar can never plumb the depths of the majesty of God.  No matter how much we think we know about God or how much fellowship we have with Him, there is always so much more about Himself God desires to reveal to us.

(a)  The context

Uzziah was under a death sentence.  His whole story is recounted in 2 Chronicles 26 and 2 Kings 14:1—22 where he is known by another name, Azariah.  King Uzziah, early in his life and career, was close to the Lord, influenced greatly by another prophet, Zechariah.  God blessed the King with prosperity and success, but as is so often the case, those things became more important to the King than God.  In his pride, and defying the priests, Uzziah barged into the Temple of God to burn incense, and as a result of this presumptuous action, he was struck with leprosy, that ultimately separated him from the rest of his family.  In fact,  his condition got so bad toward the end of his life that his son became the real power behind the throne while he lived in exile.

It was a time of great crisis and transition in Judah; the people, and especially the prophet were very disillusioned; all the hopes they had for Judah seemed to be dissipating, despite the outward prosperity of the nation, inwardly it was seething with corruption.  The future of the nation was in question and a horrific earthquake that occurred at this time only served to drive home the possibility of divine judgment in the mind of the young prophet.

Against this backdrop, Isaiah experiences his life-changing vision.

(b)  Jaw-dropping holiness

We have no idea how many seraphs Isaiah saw.  “Seraphim” means “burning ones,” as opposed to “cherubim,” meaning “shining ones.”  Curiously, this is the only time seraphs are mentioned in the Old Testament.  Unworthy to look upon God, these angels covered their faces and their feet in His presence.  In addition to these acts of reverence, they voiced the trisagion, the three-fold ascription of holiness to God.  Some commentators see “holy, holy, holy” as applying to the Trinity.  In light of the New Testament, the repetition of “holy” seems only to emphasize the theme of God’s complete holiness, a vitally important aspect in the writing of Isaiah.  The young prophet would never forget what he saw in this vision.

What is frequently missed in these verses is that God’s transcendent holiness does not separate Him from the rest of Creation or make Him aloof and remote.  His holiness was experienced in His presence, not from a distance.  Some time later, Isaiah would collect his thoughts and write this stunning verse—

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.  (12:6)

God’s holiness may be awesome, frightening, it may inspire feelings of unworthiness, but it does not keep God from His children and it does not exclude them from living in His presence.

2.  Made right for service, 6:5—7

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”   Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Some Christians mistakenly think that anybody who sees God dies.  This is not at all what the Bible teaches.  Only the holy see God and live—

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  (Matthew 5:8)

Before Isaiah could preach against the sin of his people, he first had to be brought face-to-face with the sin in his own life.  Any person who is in God’s presence cannot help but become deeply aware of their own shortcomings.  This is not a bad thing, however; it is the first necessary step of cleansing and empowerment for service, as Isaiah found out.

(a)  Seeing himself as God sees him

Isaiah was a product of both his people and his time.  A man in the presence of God is made aware of his own nothingness, but a man with “unclean lips” is literally “struck dumb” (literal Hebrew).  He was unworthy to say to God, “holy, holy, holy” just as his people were, for the prophet was representative of his society.  The power of verse 5 is so simple that is lost in the grandeur its setting.  In order to be effective in serving God, the Word of God must not only be on our lips but in our hearts.

Was Isaiah a foul-mouthed man?  Probably not, but he was tainted by the sins of his people, just as all men are tainted by sin by virtue of living in a sinful world.  Every one of us should desire this kind of life-changing encounter with the Almighty.  Remember, Isaiah was already well into his prophetic ministry by this time.  He was a man of God, devoted to the Lord in every way.  Yet he needed this experience to move him into deeper realms of spirituality.  If Isaiah needed this, how much more does the average Christian?

(b)  God’s cleansing solution

God demands purity of life and holiness in those who serve Him.  He makes this impossible demand achievable by doing it for us, as he did for the prophet.  God provided cleansing from the sacrificial altar in the form of a fiery hot coal.  The symbolism cannot be missed; it was on the sacrificial altar of the Cross that the Son of God not only secured our salvation, but made a way for us to live pure and holy lives through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within us.

When the Holy Spirit initially filled the Church, He appeared, not as a dove as He did when He filled Jesus, but rather in the form of tongues of fire.  It is not until a person has received their own “baptism by fire” that they can join in with the “burning ones,” the seraphs, in praise and worship of God.

3.  Commissioned to serve, 6:8—13

This group of verses is interesting because it presents a controversial Biblical doctrine in a very balanced way.  For God to redeem His people, He needed an instrument, and only one of their own would do.  In verse 8, the prophet is permitted a rare privilege; to listen in on the deliberative counsel of the Godhead—

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (8a)

Verses 9 and 10 are strongly predestinarian and yet in verse 8 we see Isaiah’s part in the plan.  God’s pre-ordained plan and man’s responsibility work hand-in-glove!  The prophet was not forced into service; his willingness to serve was based on his reaction to God’s forgiving grace.

(a)  A bad message

If we read what Isaiah is to tell his people, it’s amazing he still wanted the job!  Imagine being told that the very people you are to talk to would not only disregard your message but that message would harden their hearts!

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. (verse 10)

The Word of God, which Isaiah will deliver, must be received and loved by those who hear it in order for it to be understood.  God’s description of the people denotes those who are spiritually insensitive; those who do not love the Word of the Lord.  These very words find a NT application; they were quoted by in each of the Gospels in relation to the rejection of Christ.  Interestingly, each reference is made in connection with the parable of the Sower, which teaches the general failure of people to accept and respond to the Word of God in the proper fashion.  It is not the Word of God that hardens their hearts, it is the continual response of the people that hardens their hearts.

Isaiah, sensing perhaps that his commission may be more than he bargained for, does what most of us would:  he asks a question—

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” (verse 11a)

That is surely an appropriate question to ask!  God’s answer, however, is startling.  Isaiah’s people will, essentially, never respond to the Word of God.  Isaiah’s commission would last as long as the people’s rejection of God would last:  until Jerusalem is destroyed.

These verses speak of an event yet to occur in Isaiah’s time, but it has already passed into Hebrew history.  Historically, this judgment is seen in the devastation wreaked on Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire.  On three separate occasions, he invaded, plundered, destroyed the city, and deported the citizens.  With the last wave of invasion, the annihilation of Jerusalem was complete, bringing Isaiah’s words to fruition.  The reward for their insensitivity to the Word of God was a 70-year captivity.

With verse 13, Isaiah injects a glimmer of hope—

But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

Even if a tiny part of the nation remains, it too would have to be burnt out, like the stump of a terebinth tree when it is chopped down.  Though seemingly wiped out by their enemies as punishment for their sins, God’s people will survive; there will always be a Messianic hope.  Out of the stump would come forth a holy aftergrowth; a remnant of believers referred to here as “the holy seed.”  And from the remnant, God’s promise to David will be fulfilled—

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.  (Isaiah 11:1—5).

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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