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19th April

Isaiah 1-4, Psalm 109

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
19th April

Isaiah 1-4, Psalm 109

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


If we were reading the Bible cover to cover the next books, we’d look at would be 1-2 Chronicles. However, for our reading plan we’re going to save those for the end of the Old Testament, as they serve as a full recap of the story so far before moving onto the New Testament. Instead, we’re going to focus on some of the prophets, namely those speaking before the exile. With that said, there will be some prophets, like Isaiah, whose writings expand into the post-exilic era.

Isaiah can be split into two halves. The first half (Isaiah 1-39) is focused on Isaiah speaking to the people before the exile, warning them of what is to come and framing it in light of what God is doing. The second half (Isaiah 40-66) is speaking to a people after the exile and providing them with hope of what God will do. Isaiah wouldn’t have been alive after the exile, so what is most likely is that this second half of Isaiah was by disciples of Isaiah who have passed down Isaiah’s teachings and now repurpose them for a post-exilic people.

Isaiah 1-12 - Judgement and hope for Jerusalem

  • Isaiah 1-5 - Old Jerusalem will be purified with judgement to make way for a new Jerusalem

  • Isaiah 6 - Isaiah’s temple vision

  • Isaiah 7-12 - Isaiah rebukes Ahaz and prophesies a new king

Isaiah 13-27 - Judgement and hope for the nations

  • Isaiah 13-23 - Fall of Babylon and Israel’s neighbours

  • Isaiah 24-27 - A tale of two cities: the Lofty city destined for ruin and the New Jerusalem

Isaiah 28-39 - The Rise and Fall of Jerusalem

  • Isaiah 28-35 - Accusation of Jerusalem’s Leaders

  • Isaiah 36-38 - The Rise of Hezekiah

  • Isaiah 39 - Hezekiah’s fall

Isaiah 40-66 - Hope after Exile

  • Isaiah 40-48 - Hope is announced, but the people reject it

  • Isaiah 49-55 - The servant fulfils God’s mission

  • Isaiah 56-66 - The servants inherit God’s kingdom

Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem in the final period of Judah’s history before their exile. He spanned the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah.

His book is a collection of preaches and visions that Isaiah had, that have been reorganised, or repurposed and adapted by his later disciples. These have then been put into one book. Because of this, you may find that this book gets repetitive. That will be because originally these were individual, standalone preaches, that have later been collected together. Instead of thinking "oh, I've read this already" see if you can recognise these themes and how each vision or preach builds upon those themes and uses them.

His teachings have two key themes. First, to warn the people of the impending judgement, God is going to bring on them for their rebellion and for the injustice and oppression that are rife in their society.

Secondly, to encourage and provide hope that God will remain faithful to his covenant promises. Promises like a future king from the line of David (2 Samuel 7), to make the Israelites an obedient and priestly kingdom for himself (Exodus 19:5-6), and to use them to bless the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).

With the splitting of the kingdom into northern Israel and southern Judah, it becomes difficult to understand when someone is using Israel to refer to the northern kingdom, and when they are using Israel to refer to the nation as a whole. Each of the prophets has their own way of addressing this problem. For Isaiah, whenever he mentions Israel, he is referring to the nation as a whole. Sometimes he calls them by Jacob instead.

His favourite name for Jerusalem is Zion, and so that’s the primary name you’ll see through his writings.

Isaiah 1-4

In the first vision, Isaiah sees how the people have turned from God and been sinful. They no longer know who he is. He notes that they are rotten through and through. From the tops of their heads to the bottom of their feet. In the north, the cities have been burnt and foreign armies plunder the land. All that is left is Jerusalem, who is routinely besieged.

Even when the people do focus on God and offer him sacrifices, it has only been a token gesture. They're still living sinful lives day to day. God is not interested in their sacrifices. Instead, he wants them to change their ways. To stop sinning. To learn to do good. To seek justice, deal with oppression, and care for those in need.

God's plan is clear. If the people won't clean themselves from their sin and practice obedience, he we remove them and purge them with fire, so that only a pure Jerusalem remains.

In the second vision, Isaiah sees a future Zion, a new city on the top of a mountain. And that city will be a place where people live right, which spreads peace and helps the rest of the world deal with their disputes.

Instead, the house of Jacob (that is, the nation of Israel as a whole) is currently fat and greedy. It is filled with so much wealth, so many horses, and so many idols. It has put its trust in those things and not God. But there will come a day that God has prepared where he will come against all these things, and he will destroy them. The people of God will cast away all their idols on that day because they will fear God.

God will take his support away from his people. He will no longer provide for them, and they will be left with nothing. The situation is going to be so bad that if someone has a cloak, then they are worthy of being king, because no one else has a cloak. They will be desperate for good leadership because God is no longer leading them.

Then God will judge the elders, the kings and the leaders of the nation, for leading his people poorly and not protecting the weak. He is also judging his people for the promiscuity. Just in the same way as a woman might cheat on her husband and sleep around with whoever, the people have cheated on God by worshipping whatever foreign idols or gods pick their fancy.

But after all this judgement and destruction, there will come a branch from the Lord. This idea of a branch will come up a lot. This branch will be beautiful (good to look at) and will provide the land with much fruit. This is a call back to the garden of Eden where there were trees that were good to look at and bared fruit (Genesis 2:9). During that time, God will cleanse his people to make them holy and they will rest again in the city, free from anymore destruction and judgement.

These early chapters set up a key theme of the book. God will purify his people with judgement. It will be painful, much like silver passing through fire. But the end result is that God will have a city and a people who are loyal and faithful to him.

Psalm 109

This psalm is attributed to king David and falls into the category of lament psalm.

Psalm 109:1-5 - Cry to God and initial complaint

Psalm 109:6-19 - How the wicked talk about the psalmist

Psalm 109:20-31 - The psalmist asks for rescue, and for their enemies to get what they deserve

The psalmist opens with a cry to God. ‘Do not be silent, O God’. They then bring their complaint. The wicked have come against them. They lie about the psalmist, cursing them and attacking them. The psalmist tries to be good and loving and return they are accused and hated.

The psalmist then goes into a long section explaining what exactly their enemies are saying about them. They seek to falsely accuse the psalmist and to rig their trial to make sure they are found guilty. They seek the psalmist’s downfall, wanting to see the psalmist die, their wife become a widow and their children orphans. May the bailiffs come and take all that the psalmist had so that their children have nothing.

The psalmist’s enemies appeal to mistakes the psalmist’s parents made as justification for why the psalmist deserves death. They then make claims about the psalmist’s behaviour. The psalmist was unkind and oppressive to the poor and needy. They regularly cursed those around them.

Finishing explaining what their enemies had said, the psalmist asks that all of this be turned back onto their enemies. They then turn to the lord, asking for his support because of his steadfast love. They are weak and failing. So help O Lord. Let all that accuse the psalmist see that God is on their side. Let the accusers be filled with shame while the psalmist praises God for his goodness.

When reading this psalm, it can feel at odds with the New Testament calls to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). In fact, we’ve read many similar calls in the Old Testament (see Exodus 23:4-5 and Leviticus 19:17-18). One argument for this is the psalmist is concerned, primarily, for justice. They don’t want to see a society where wicked people are able to hound and oppress the innocent. So not only does the psalmist want to see themselves rescued by God, they want to make sure that no one else has to suffer at the hands of these wicked people.

In our own prayers, we have to balance these two things; loving our enemies and wanting to see injustice end.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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