Isaiah should be read relationally, as God’s heartfelt gift to us. His self-disclosure. His invitation. A resource from his heart meant to awaken our hearts.
Three chapters are especially powerful. Read them and see for yourself: 52, 53, and 54.
In chapter 52 the LORD speaks to his people in their captivity. First the slavery of Egypt, then the exile to Assyria and, ultimately, the slavery of personal sin. It is this last slavery that is most devastating because it is the heart that has been captured . . . by unclean living . . . by impurity . . . by brokenness. It was this last slavery that led to the other enslavements.
In their captivity God comes to his people, assuring them that it is through their physical exile that he has, once again, caught their attention: “Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speaks: ‘Here I am!'”
More often than not it takes hard times for us to listen! But God knows us and “brings good news of happiness” no matter how slow we might be in our responses.
His message is this: “Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing!” Leave the captivity behind. And follow your escort, the LORD, “for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” This is God’s “servant.” The one who “shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Jesus would later explain this promise by linking it to the cross where he was “lifted up” for us, once and for all!
We discover how he is exalted as we go on to chapter 53. The servant offers the ultimate service of self-giving: “he has borne our griefs . . . smitten by God . . . wounded for our transgressions . . . crushed for our iniquities.”
We, his “sheep,” had all gone astray. Every one of us. Separated from him by our disaffection. Separated from him because our our stubborn belief that our own wisdom is better than his, and alien to him because we see our selves as individuals who can negotiate with him, rather than as creatures made by him and for him, made as those meant to respond to his love.
God sent him to receive our blows. To become a sin-offering adequate for disaffected slaves to sin. Here is the infinite Person coming down to our form in order to swallow our death in order that the many can be “accounted righteous.”
The servant’s suffering is profound both in its expense–the death of God, the man–and in its appealing invitation to us, calling for us to become his eternal companions in shared affection.
Many readers know Isaiah 53 from the Easter season, but we must not quit there! Isaiah 53 is much more than a judicial resolve, as some would take it, but a resolution on God’s part to remove a painful barrier that blocks that love. How? By both confronting and calling us. The invitation comes in chapter 54.
The imagery of Isaiah 54 is that of a forsaken bride, a bride dismissed for her promiscuity. Isaiah, however, is too delicate to make the charge so blunt. But Ezekiel’s prophecy makes the issue of whoredom explicit. Yet God’s confrontation was never meant to drive away his beloved bride, but to chasten her. He refuses to abandon the one he loves. Instead he sent the servant Son to capture her heart . . . to restore her affections. God’s compassion comes to the fore: “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name.
He then speaks directly to his bride: “‘In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your redeemer.”
Our captivity has been broken by the suffering of the servant, offered at an unimaginable price! Yet that price also exposed our value to God. He treasures us and calls out our love.
Isaiah 52, 53, and 54 are a love story within a love story. A beautiful bride is stolen. Though enslaved she is recaptured. Her beauty had been degraded, reduced to an ugly coarseness. A rescuer was sent by the one who never lost his vision of her beauty. It is in that persistence that the gospel blossoms: beauty is remade and the bond of love restored. Three great chapters!