Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Isaiah 55:8-9 is a pretty popular verse, and it speaks volumes to our understanding of the Lord; it reads,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,”
Declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I don’t think truer words have ever been written. Today, let’s focus on what the Holy Spirit showed me about God’s way of reaching out to us. It’s unlike anything we could ever have thought of.
Imagine if you will that you are God. You led Israel out of the desert through miracles and signs, but they refused to trust in you or follow your ways. This is the position the Lord had been in through most of Israel’s history. Scripture records,
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
And honor me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
Is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).
God had a stiff-necked, rebellious, ungrateful people on his hands after giving them an amazing and plentiful land. What would you do? How would you react? Would you punish them until they fell back in line? Would you destroy them and the whole world too? Or…would you find a new way to love them?
God gets a bad image from how he appears in the Old Testament. He uses strong language and seems at times to be genocidal (especially early on). But really, the Lord chose to love his rebellious nation (and ultimately the world) more. In Isaiah 54, God lets his feelings show and he speaks to his awful and difficult people. We read,
“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
And remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband-
The Lord Almighty is his name-
The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
He is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
As if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit-
A wife who married young,
Only to be rejected,” says your God (Isaiah 54:4-6).
In this passage, the Lord tells Israel not to worry, that he still sees loves them like a husband loves his wife, and that he’ll always be by their side. But he keeps going though; he even apologizes for any punishment they had been facing at that point,
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
But with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
But with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
Says the Lord your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7-8).
This sort of writing is unprecedented for God. Remember, everything the Lord does is perfect, his plan is perfect and his love his perfect. “Well hold on here, if God didn’t do anything wrong- perfect as he is- then why does he have to apologize?” The Lord understands us. You think he doesn’t know his Old Testament image is bad? He does. You think he doesn’t know that everyone questions why evil is allowed to remain in the world? He knows. As our maker, the Lord knows everything about us, and he constantly is reading our hearts. That’s why God is so patient with us; and it’s also why, even though he didn’t do anything wrong, he felt compelled to apologize to the Israelites. But he takes it a step further, after all the rebellion and evil that had worked its way into Israel and the world at whole, the Lord steps down off his throne, apologizes, and makes a new covenant with Israel. Isaiah transcribes,
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
When I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
Never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
And the hills be removed,
Yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
Nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:9-10).
Yes, the Lord of the Old Testament is powerful, he is supreme, and he makes his presence known and he wipes out evil when he see is. But he is not above lowering himself for our sake, for the people he loves and calls.
Buuuuut, this prophecy actually has problems. First of all, there’s a horrible continuity error. After all this lovely talk of never hurting his people ever again, God sends them into exile in Babylon. Secondly, there’s an issue involving the Law. God promises to forgive his people, but the Law establishes that there can be no forgiveness without a blood sacrifice. It’s even noted in the New Testament, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The continuity issue is easily rectified though; Isaiah was a prophet, so it is likely that God was speaking through him of things to come. After all, God knows everything right now since he is not constrained by time. This feature of the Lord is touched on in Isaiah 48:4-5,
For I knew how stubborn you were;
The sinews of your neck were iron,
Your forehead was bronze.
Therefore I told you these things long ago;
Before they happened I announced them to you
So that you could not say,
“My idols did them;
My wooden image and metal god ordained them.”
So although it’s a bit of a cop-out, God’s promise never to hurt Israel again very well could be attached to some future event and intended for a future audience. This would eliminate the supposed continuity error. However, the Law is a bit trickier. God can’t go against his own Word. The Law required that there be a blood sacrifice for any forgiveness to be made. How then can the Lord suddenly wipe the slate clean without a pile of dead animals?
Enter Jesus. Isaiah, writing of the future, explains,
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him
The iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
There are not people who are righteous while living separated from God. Since all of us are born with a bent away from the Lord, we find then that in the natural none of us are able to be right with God- rather we have turned to our own devices and interests. Therefore, God put all of our sins on one man, Jesus. Christ took all of the punishment that was intended for the sins of the world. For it is written,
Surely he took up our infirmities
And carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Not only did Jesus take on all of our punishments, but he also took the death that was waiting for us. Paul reminds us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We all are condemned to die; forever separated from the Lord, the moment we first sin. But Christ stepped in and took that for us too,
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgression of my people he was stricken (Isaiah 53:8).
Because we sinned, the man who never broke the laws of God and man died the death of a criminal. Isaiah’s prophecy continues,
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And with the rich in his death,
Though he had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9).
Jesus did die the death of criminals, crucifixion. And indeed he was laid in a rich man’s grave. For it is written,
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away (Matthew 27:57-60).
However, Christ was rewarded greatly for his sacrifice. This too was predicted by Isaiah,
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
And though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring and prolong his days,
And the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
And he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
And he will divide the spoils with the strong,
Because poured out his life unto death,
And was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:10-12).
Actually, this prophecy just makes it sound like Jesus got a great earthly-level reward. However, Christ was elevated to the greatest place in heaven. Of Jesus, Paul writes,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And become obedient to death-
Even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).
Jesus Christ was born, lived an impossible life without sin, and sacrificed himself for us all. For this the Lord elevated him above himself, giving Jesus the name above every name. Of course this was only made possible because Christ wasn’t just any normal human. He was the son of God, and as the son of God, he was also God in earthly form. Paul reminds us,
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God
Something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:5-7).
If this is the first time you’ve come into contact with Christianity, this stuff might be a bit confusing. Just know that Jesus was God. Therefore it can be said that God executed his own insane strategy of salvation for the world by himself.
The Lord circumvented his own Law in order to bring us to him. This is how he responded to an evil and rebellious world. When speaking through Isaiah, God spoke of what would happen in the future,
Shake off your dust;
Rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
O captive Daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed” (Isaiah 52:2-3).
This is a really cool prophetic message. First the Lord says that Jerusalem should free itself, this suggest that humanity should be able to get themselves out of their own troubles- basically meaning that they could earn their own salvation. However, no human is able to do that as we are all tarnished by the sin that inhabits our genetic makeup. Therefore God made himself human; being born of a woman through the Holy Spirit and fulfilled his own prophecy and brought us redemption from death at no cost to us. God, as Jesus, took everything on himself, asking nothing but for us to trust in him. So, just as he fulfilled his own Law through the sacrifice of himself on a cross, God also fulfilled his own prophecies through Christ Jesus’ life and death. But the Lord didn’t stop working after Christ’s death on the cross. Rather, he still continues to look after us and protect us. Scripture states,
“In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
You will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
It will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
Whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
See, it is I who created the blacksmith
Who fans the coals into flame
And forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;
No weapon forged against you will prevail,
And you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And this is their vindication from me,”
Declares the Lord (Isaiah 54:14-17).
God watches over us for the good. This is an important scripture to take note of because before we were wondering how God could say he’d never lash out again even though bad things still happen. Notice here that the Lord acknowledges that things may come against us. But for those who are considered righteous before God through acknowledging the sacrifice of Jesus, evil will not prevail. For the Lord created all things, even the devil himself finds his origins in the Lord- and answers to him. Therefore, in a believer’s life, no matter how a situation may look, God is working it towards the good. This is why Paul was able to write, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). What an amazing promise!
After all of these prophecies and promises, the Lord opens his arms and sends you the invitation:
Come, all you who are thirsty,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
And your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
And your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
Hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
My faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Salvation is open to all who seek it. It is not confined to any nations, genders, people-types, income levels or any other way that we find to divide people. Christ is for all and is willing to indwell all who call on him. Jesus died for our sins; but rather than force his will upon us, he allows us to choose salvation or to live how we want to live without God. For it is written,
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
Call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Through the death of his Son, Jesus, God is willing to forgive anyone who comes to Christ for forgiveness. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve screwed up in the past, the Lord is willing to give you a new life and a new start. He even makes examples of this through Moses (an ex-murderer) and Paul (a former persecutor of the Church). If you seek forgiveness through Christ, that forgiveness will be granted to you. The Lord backs this up when he writes,
Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And not let any eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree” (Isaiah 56:3).
God doesn’t exclude people from the body of Christ. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done to others (or yourself), God has a new plan and a new life ready for you upon coming to him through Christ. And ultimately, this is the Lord’s goal, that as many people as possible can find a new life in him. We read,
The Sovereign Lord declares-
He who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
Besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:8).
And until God’s appointed hour to bring the curtain down, he will do all he can to save as many as possible from the flames. Jesus freely admitted his purpose on earth when he stated, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Even today the Lord is hard at work on this mission. So we’ve seen that the Lord laid down the Law, then sacrificed himself in order to bring salvation to a rebellious people within the confines of that law, protects those who are saved, and continues to seek out more souls to free from sin and death. Our Lord does this all- and all of it is done for a world that doesn’t even want to acknowledge his existence.
In Isaiah 65:1-5, the Lord speaks on this subject,
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, “Here am I, here am I.”
All day long I have held out my hands
To an obstinate people,
Who walk in ways not good,
Pursuing their own imaginations-
A people who continually provoke me
To my very face,
Offering sacrifices in gardens
And burning incense on altars of brick;
Who sit among the graves
And spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
Who eat the flesh of pigs,
And whose pots hold brother of unclean meat;
Who say, “Keep away; don’t come near me,
For I am too sacred for you!”
Such people are smoke in my nostrils,
A fire that keeps burning all day.
The world at large wants nothing to do with Christ. But as much as the Lord hates what we do and how we act, he continues to stand with his arms open wide; ready to forgive, and ready to save. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But god demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died, knowing the life you’d live until you found him- the mistakes, the mess-ups, the willful sin and rebellion. The Bible reminds us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for your sins” (1 John 4:10). So please, if you haven’t already, accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, find a new life through him and be a part of God’s insane plan of redemption.