God Our Defense
Introduction: The book of Isaiah has been called the gospel according to Isaiah. Isaiah himself has been called the evangelical prophet, the prince of prophets, and the fifth evangelist. The book of Isaiah is a treasure trove of history, doctrine, and prophecy. The book sets forth every aspect of the glory and ministry of Christ: His incarnation, His youth, His mild manner, His obedience, His message, His miracles, His sufferings, rejection, and vicarious death, and His exaltation. Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet. Of all the OT books, only Psalms contains a larger number of messianic prophecies.
Matthew Henry writes, “It is transcendently excellent and useful; it was so the church of God then, serving for conviction of sin, direction in duty, and consolation in trouble.”
Yet when is the last time you heard a series preached on the book of Isaiah? Because it’s so obscure to so many, let’s do our work first of all, and set the context.
• Isaiah means “The LORD is salvation.”
- similar to the names Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus.
• Son of Amoz, tribe unknown.
• Ministered in and around Jerusalem from 739 – 686 BC (53 years).
- during the reign of Uzziah (Azariah in 2 Kings), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.
- knew from the beginning that his ministry would be one of fruitless warning and exhortation.
• Married, with 2 sons who were given prophetic names – Shearjashub (“a remnant shall return”) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“hasting to the spoil”).
• Skillful author and orator – range of 2,186 different words (even more than Psalms, with its multiple authors!) His writing style has no match for versatility, expressiveness, brilliance of imagery, and richness of language.
• According to tradition, he was martyred under King Manasseh, who had him sawn in half.
a) Of the book
• About 50 years after Elisha’s ministry. Contemporaries were Micah in Judah, and Hosea, Jonah, and Amos in Israel.
• In the Northern Kingdom, there was a time of great struggle. Israel deteriorated politically, militarily, and spiritually, until it finally fell to Assyria in 722 BC.
- It looked as though Judah might fall to Assyria as well, but it withstood the attack.
• In the Southern Kingdom, Judah was experiencing its greatest period of prosperity since the “Golden Age” under David and Solomon. Prosperity, agricultural and commercial success, and military dominance were accompanied by immorality, excessive drinking, idolatry, oppression of the poor, greed, and the presence of false prophets who pandered to the desires of the people.
• Isaiah ministered during the last days of the Northern Kingdom, but he ministered to the Southern Kingdom.
• In response to this situation, Isaiah stressed:
1. salvation by faith
2. the holiness of god and the need for ethical living
3. the offense of human sin and the certainty of divine judgment
4. the assurance of redemption for a repentant remnant
b) Of the chapter
• The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are prophecies of condemnation; the last 27 chapters are prophecies of consolation.
• The first part of Isaiah, the prophecies of condemnation, can be broken into distinct sections:
1. Chapters 1-12 are prophecies against Judah.
2. Chapters 13-23 are prophecies against other nations. (Babylon, Philistia, Egypt, Assyria, etc.)
3. Chapters 24-27 are prophecies of the Day of the Lord.
4. Chapters 28-35 are miscellaneous prophecies of judgment and blessing.
5. Chapters 36-39 are prophecies regarding Hezekiah.
• The prophecies of consolation emphasize more than just redemption from sin. They are about more than just Israel’s being freed from bondage in Babylon. They speak of a change in the cosmos—of the Lord’s restoration of His created order.
• These break down into 3 parts:
1. The prophecies of Israel’s deliverance, chs. 40-48
2. The prophecies of Israel’s deliverer, chs. 49-57
3. The prophecies of Israel’s glorious future, 58-66
• Chapter 52 falls in the middle of the prophecies about Messiah, Israel’s Deliverer.
Chapter 49 = The Messiah’s Mission 49:1-3
Chapter 50 = The Messiah’s Obedience 50:5-6
Chapter 51 The Messiah’s Encouragement to Israel 51:1-3
Chapter 52 The Messiah’s Redeems Jerusalem 52:1-2
• Our text, 52:1-12, is written with two things in mind: first, the immediate redemption of Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity; and second, the ultimate redemption of Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom.
• Isaiah follows the pattern of Deuteronomy. Chapters 1-39 tell of the punishment for their disobedience. You’ve broken the law, now you must pay. But after punishment, if you repent, God will restore you. That’s what we’re looking at now.
- Isaiah is prophesying that because Judah broke the law, they will have to suffer the Babylonian captivity; but God will one day deliver them. When that happens, it will be like God says, “Awake, awake!”
c) Of the verse
• v. 1: God says, “Get up! You’ve been crushed by oppressors – now, get up and put on beautiful garments.” Jerusalem’s pagan oppressors, the uncircumcised and the unclean, will no longer enter the city. It was time to put on priestly robes and once more shine as the holy city.
• v. 2: Shake off the dust of mourning. Rise up and sit down – get off the ground where you’ve sat in mourning, and seat yourself on the throne. Cast off the chains of slavery, and be free!
• v. 3: You have, by your sins, sold yourself into slavery. And you sold out cheap. But now, you will be redeemed – bought back from the slave market of sin! And you will be redeemed without money – you won’t have to pay a thing!
• vs. 4-5: Israel had been in slave in Egypt. The Northern Kingdom had just been carried away by Assyria. Israel was a mockery. Israel’s God was mocked. But not for long.
Illus: Midget (the toy dachsund) & Khan (the rottweiler). The only thing holding him back is my hand on the leash. Just like lost people mocking God.
• vs. 6-9: The message would go out far and wide that salvation was come to Zion! God had wondrously delivered His people!
• v. 10: “The LORD hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations”. This is a reference to war. One Bible historian writes, “The loose sleeve of the Arab shirt, as well as of the outer garment, leaves the arm so completely free, that in an instant the left hand, passing up the right arm, makes it bare; and this is done when a person, a soldier for example, about to strike with his sword, intends to give the arm full play.”
• v. 11: The immediate manifestation of God’s mighty deliverance will be Judah leaving Babylon. It’s a holy procession – touch no unclean thing, just go.
• v. 12: Don’t flee in haste. You won’t be leaving like you did from Egypt, with the army on your heels. This is to be a stately, victorious procession. You are perfectly safe, because “the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward."
• So, what does this mean to us today?
Gal. 3:8-9, 29, 6:16; Rom. 2:28-29, Rom. 15:4-13; Phil. 3:3
• There is that about Israel which is literal, historical, or prophetic, and applies specifically to Israel. All of the promises of the Bible are not for me. God is not through with Israel. Don’t blur your eschatology – literal Israel will literally be restored!
~ • But there is about Israel that which prefigures the church, and was written and done for our learning.
Illus: Israel leaving Egypt into Canaan = the Christian leaving the world and journeying to the victorious Christian life.
• Just as there was a triumphant procession marching to victory from Babylon, there is a triumphant procession on the march today – God’s Church!
* The church is the church militant! Fear and shun any preacher who tells you that the church can be made appealing to the world!
* The LORD goes before His church. Yahweh, the self-existent One, goes before His church.
• He went before Israel in the pillar – guiding and securing the way for them. And it is He whom the church must follow!
• He went before Israel in providence – preparing Canaan while they were still in Egypt!
• God does not hastily erect a tent over you when He wants to comfort you – He goes before you, building an inn of comfort!
• Jesus has gone before His church, so that every persecution that has arisen has failed. It has only spread the gospel and strengthened the church!
• And the God of Israel is her rereward. The most vulnerable part of any army is the rear. In ancient times, that is where the weary, the stragglers are. Amalek knew this, and used it to attack Israel. Enemies could cut off supply lines, penetrate into the main body, divide the force, and overthrow the entire army!
• And that is exactly what Satan tries to do today. He attacks the weak – those not grounded in the Word. He tries to pick them off one by one. He seeks to divide and conquer. But the Church still stands today, because God is our rereward!
• There are times, however, when the Church has been mightily oppressed by these attacks, when through disobedience the Church seeks to remove herself from God’s protection – when she strikes out on her own. We need God, or we are lost!
• But what about you, as an individual? What is ahead of you?
- has the doctor brought you test results that fill you with dread? God has gone before you, and there is nothing in that disease which holds any power!
- does it look like you might not have a job tomorrow? God has gone before you! He has already prepared something for you, that you could never have manufactured with your pitiful schemes!
- is the end of your life closer than the beginning? Our LORD has been through death, He has removed its sting!
- is there some area of service to which He is calling you? He has gone before to prepare the way! Indeed, if He has not gone before to prepare the way, all of your teaching, preaching, and witnessing is vain!
- what is ahead of you to fear? The LORD is in the vanguard!
- and what if suffering awaits? Would you question His providence? If God came to you and asked you to draw the map of the rest of your life, would you dare do it?
“The Servant in Battle” (a Puritan prayer)
I bless thee that the issue of the battle between thyself and Satan has never been uncertain, and will end in victory.
Calvary broke the dragon’s head, and I contend with a vanquished foe, who with all his subtlety and strength has already been overcome.
When I feel the serpent at my heel may I remember Him whose heel was bruised, but who, when bruised, broke the devil’s head.
My soul with inward joy extols the mighty conqueror.
Heal me of any wounds received in the great conflict;
If I have gathered defilement,
If my faith has suffered damage,
If my hope is less than bright,
If my love is not fervent,
If some creature-comfort occupies my heart,
O thou whose every promise is balm, every touch life, draw near to thy weary warrior, refresh me, that I may rise again to wage the strife, and never tire until my enemy is trodden down.
Give me such fellowship with thee that I may defy Satan, unbelief, the flesh, the world, with delight that comes not from a creature, and which a creature cannot mar.
Give me a draught of the eternal fountain that lieth in thy immutable, everlasting love and decree.
Then shall my hand never weaken, my feet never stumble, my sword never rest, my shield never rust, my helmet never shatter, my breastplate never fall, as my strength rests in the power of Thy might.
• And then, what is behind you?
* Well, before I was saved, I had a terrible temper. Before I was saved, I cursed and swore. Before I was saved, I drank. Before I was saved, I indulged in pleasures of the flesh.
Are you saved? Then look again! What’s behind you?
I cursed and swore. Cursing and swearing is back there. No, it’s not!
I drank. Alcohol and all of its humiliations are back there. No, they’re not!
I caroused and partied. Adultery, fornication, and lust are back there. No, they’re not!
The God of Israel is your rereward! He is back there to keep you safe from all attacks from behind!
** Away with preaching that says “my sins are under the blood!” “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sins!” My sins are not “under the blood” any more than dirt after a shower is “under the soap!”
They’re gone! Look behind you! What’s there? God, your rereward!
* Satan may say, “You cannot serve God. You’ve done this.” But you are safe from that attack, because God is your rereward!
“No,” you say, “those sins keep coming back and tempting me until I give in.” No sin can overcome our rear guard, for He is God Almighty! You are surrendering to a defeated foe!
* Who is behind you? “The God of Israel” The covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. The God who speaks, and it is so.
* Once President Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and returned to the Union of the United States. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”
*Christian, you have been justified – just as if I’d never sinned. What’s behind you? Only God, your rereward.
CONCLUSION: So the Church marches triumphantly on, from victory unto victory. And so we march – with the LORD going before us, and the God of Israel as our rereward.