Lesson 37: “Thou Hast Done Wonderful Things”
The numerous Isaiah lessons (nos. 36-40, more than are devoted to any other prophet and any single book other than Genesis) in this year’s manual address specific prophecies or doctrinal ideas found in Isaiah. Other recent Old Testament manuals (since the late 1970s) also take a doctrinal approach, but this is a departure from earlier decades where manual after manual addresses Isaiah – if at all – chiefly in the historical context of what was happening to the Kingdom of Judah. This pair of lessons from Ezra C. Dalby’s seminary text Land and Leaders of Israel (Salt Lake City: Department of Education, 1933) is typical of that approach. Even while taking the historical and biographical perspective, none of these lessons consider the possibility that our book of Isaiah may be a composite of the lives and ministries of two or more prophets (the acknowledgment in one of these lessons that the chronology of Isaiah is “very difficult to follow” is as close as it comes).
Isaiah, the Patriot Prophet
Lesson Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; 5:1-12.
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 5:13-24.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: ”Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” – Isaiah 6:87.
THE MESSAGE OF THE LESSON
One difficulty we shall have in studying the prophets is their remoteness. Nothing is recorded of their everyday lives, and they do not seem like human beings. We read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and others of that far-off time and feel that they were men like ourselves; but it is not so with most of the prophets. They are mere shadows beyond our ken, unreal figures far removed from our daily interests. Why should this be so? Isaiah lived more than fifteen hundred years after Abraham, and yet we know far less about him. his everyday life has been withdrawn from common observation. We know nothing of his home life, his daily activities, his likes and dislikes. Among his many admirers, not one took the trouble to reveal his face, or give us a glimpse of his humanity. Perhaps they thought his message would be more effective if we knew nothing of his personal circumstances. They let us hear his voice, but hid the man lest we should think him commonplace. And this they did to nearly all the prophets.
It seems a great mistake. what would Washington or Lincoln or Franklin mean to this generation, if we had nothing left of them except their written words? We think none the less of them because they had faults like other men. The daily acts of men give color to their message. We admire Isaiah, of course, and are willing to grant that he was the greatest of the prophets; but he does not interest us as much as he might have done, if we knew him better.
We are told a few facts concerning him that should be mentioned. he lived in Jerusalem all his life, and loved that city better than anything else on earth. His life covered the reigns of at least four and perhaps five kings of Judah. He spent about forty years in the ministry as preacher, teacher, and counselor, not only to the common people, but to kings and nobles. Mention is made of his two sons to whom he gave names that emphasized both his message of doom and that of hope for a remnant. While nothing is said directly of his social rank, we infer from his close association with the kings and nobility that he was of noble birth; and, from his writings, we know that he was well educated. Nothing in the Old Testament is superior to his lofty eloquence and keen insight into and analysis of the great world movem43nts of his day.
Isaiah grew up during the long and prosperous reign of Uzziah, who was one of the most able and energetic kings of Judah. His reign was practically contemporaneous with that of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and the same evils developed simultaneously in the two kingdoms. When Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, told Amos to go and prophesy in Judah, he was advising something that was sorely needed. Prosperity was a snare to both countries. But so far as we know, no warning was sounded until the year that king Uzziah died, in 740 B.C.
Isaiah, a young man of twenty, was at the temple worship. No doubt the grave problems which resulted from the king’s death were in his mind. Suddenly he saw, instead of the symbols of God’s presence, the Ark and cherubim, the Lord himself, vast and glorious, dominating the whole temple with his presence, and seraphims, one crying to another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” It was a wonderful spiritual vision of the Lord’s true character. In the light of what he saw, his own guilt and the vileness of the nation were made clear. A cry of horror escaped him, and he made quick confession of his sins. Then one of the seraphims placed a live coal on his lips, and he received the assurance that his sins had been forgiven, and that he was morally clean in the sight of God.
Isaiah was transformed into a newness of life. he saw the need of service as he had never seen it before; and when God asked for volunteers, he promptly answered: ‘Here am I; send me.” His commission was similar to that of Amos and Hosea; he was to warn his countrymen, as they were warning Israel. The same sins were rampant in both countries, and the same judgment awaited each nation, unless there was genuine repentance. Calamity after calamity was to come to Judah, until destruction overtook the nation, and only a small remnant should survive.
It took courage to deliver a message like that, for Judah had the same self-righteous attitude as Israel. The people were blinded by the fatal delusion that nothing could happen to God’s people. He would care for his own, no matter what their conduct might be. But Isaiah, in the glory of his vision, had seen the holiness of God, and he knew that unless there was speedy repentance the end of his nation was at hand; and with unbounded energy and unflagging zeal he set himself to the task of saving Judah. His patriotism was of a character so lofty that he was ready to make any personal sacrifice, even to walk half-naked and barefoot for three years through the cold Judean winters and the blistering, burning heat of the summers, as an illustration of the slavery that awaited his people, unless they changed the fatal policy they were pursuing. A man must have tremendous convictions before he will suffer and humiliate himself, as Isaiah did to teach his lesson. Such faith, however, knows no limits.
Amos taught the righteousness and justice of God; Hosea, his love; and Isaiah proclaimed his holiness and glory. All of them bore witness to his universal dominion over all the nations of the earth. He was omnipotent, and every land and people were subject to his rule and the instruments he used to bring about his purposes. He was King of kings, and beside him there was no other. That was the great contribution which these men made to true religion.
We call attention especially to the fact that each of these men received a great personal religious experience – Amos as he followed his sheep over the sterile Judean hills, Hosea in the terrible tragedy of his domestic affliction, and Isaiah in the house of God in Jerusalem. Every true witness for God must have a similar experience. No one can sincerely say, “Here am I; send me,” unless he has a personal revelation of God. he must know whereof he speaks, or his words will be “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” he must see the holiness of God and the hideousness of sin as Isaiah did, and know that he is forgiven, before he can proclaim God’s word to an indifferent world and dare all suffering to deliver his message. We cannot even hear the call for service until our souls are cleansed. God cannot use a man steeped in sin. Only a Sir Galahad, “whose strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure,” can serve. This is the price we must pay for religious leadership.
Many young people say that they do not care for church. Let them remember that Isaiah found god there. He is always there, waiting for those who come to seek him. What place is so fit to find him as in his own home? In that sacred place the call comes to us as clearly, and to the same immortal honors, as it did in that far-off day to the young Jerusalem aristocrat. In every generation God needs choice young men and women for service. What a glorious day it is to work for God! he is not impressing people into service. But he is calling for volunteers, who, like Isaiah, are prepared to answer: “Lord, here am I; send me.”
Hearing the Call of God
Be of good cheer, brave spirit; steadfastly
Serve the low whisper thou hast served; for know,
God hath a select family of sons
Now scattered wide thro’ earth, and each alone,
Who are thy spiritual kindred, and each one
By constant service to that inward law,
Is weaving the sublime proportions
Of a true monarch’s soul.
– Ralph W. Emerson.
Questions and Problems
1. Name the kings of Judah that were contemporary with Isaiah.
2. Mention the facts that are known of Isaiah.
3. Why do you think so little of his personal life has been recorded
4. Tell all you can about the reign of Uzziah. What finally happened to him? (2 Chron. 26)
5. Give an account of Isaiah’s call.
6. What effect did his vision produce on Isaiah?
7. What is the true function of a prophet?
8. Why, in your opinion, has so little been recorded concerning the everyday lives of Israel’s great prophets?
9. Discuss this statement: “god’s call is an’s opportunity, not his obligation.”
10. Why is religious leadership especially needed today?
11. Discuss the Memory Gem.
SUGGESTIVE CLOSING PRAYER
Our Heavenly Father, we feel thy presence here today, and thy call upon us for the highest service that men and women can know. But we are weak. Our limitations and handicaps are many. Wilt thou give us strength, and pardon our imperfections. Cleanse our lips and purify our hearts. Give unto us a vision of thy glory, and may we hear the cry of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”; that we may have courage to answer the heavenly call with Isaiah’s words: “here am I; send me.”
Isaiah, the Statesman
Lesson Text: Isaiah 36:13-21; 37.
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 36:6-7.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” – Isaiah 37:35.
THE MESSAGE OF THE LESSON
Faith and Prayer
The chronology of Isaiah is very difficult to follow. Certainly Hezekiah’s sickness and the promise of fifteen years that should be added to his life came long before the events recorded in this lesson, but in the text that incident is mentioned in the next chapter. His call, an account of which is given in the sixth chapter, ought to have come in the first. And so it is all through the book. Just why the editors, in making the arrangement of his prophecies and sermons, should have done it in this unsatisfactory manner, we are at a loss to understand.
Another difficulty that we shall encounter in our study, not only of Isaiah but of all the prophets, is our lack of knowledge concerning the political and historical movements of the time in which they lived. They were not colorless faces from the dead to their contemporaries, as they are to us. The truths they announced were not presented in abstract form, but had some relation to the age in which they lived; and they were adapted to the special circumstances of the persons or nations to whom they were addressed. What they said and wrote grew out of problems that confronted them at the tie. The message of Isaiah was for the men and women of the Judah and Jerusalem of his own day. Of course, the message is also to us, if we are guilty of the same sins which he denounced. In some matters he was a prophet to all the ages, but his chief purpose was to save the city of Jerusalem in 690 B.C. A great danger threatened his city and nation. Assyria had taken captive the people of Samaria, and were knocking at the gates of Jerusalem. His problem in this lesson was to save the city, and to that end he directed his efforts.
We are confronted with another difficulty: Was there one siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, or two? Dr. Kent maintains that the incidents connected with our lesson today did not occur until 690 B.C., and that a previous siege took place in 701; in which Hezekiah had disregarded the advice of Isaiah, and had been compelled to pay the Assyrian king an enormous indemnity to save the city. For our purpose, however, it is not a question of great importance. The facts recorded in our text are admitted in either case. What we desire to emphasize is the supreme faith manifested by Isaiah, and the power with God of Hezekiah’s earnest prayer for deliverance of the city.
Consider the situation. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, by the mouth of his representative, Rabshakeh, demanded the unconditional surrender of Jerusalem. And he gave good reasons to show that it would be to the best interest of the people to comply with his request, by calling attention to the fact that not a single nation, not even Israel, had been able to hold out against Assyria. He pleaded with the people not to let Hezekiah deceive them into believing that the Lord would save them, for no power could deliver them out of the hands of the king of Assyria. Then he named the nations that had fallen, warned the elders of the city to beware of what would happen to them also, if they were foolish enough to trust in their king and their God. So deep was the impression that Rabshakeh made that Hezekiah’s messengers held their peace, and they answered him not a word.
We may be sure that there was consternation in Jerusalem that night. The king rent his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. Then he sent representatives, also covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah with the word: “This day is a day fo trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy. * * * It may be the Lord thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.”
Isaiah sent word to Hezekiah to have no fear of the words spoken by the insolent messenger of Sennacherib, that no harm would come to the city. Shortly after this, Rabshakeh again sent messengers to Hezekiah, warning him not to hold out against his king. Again he repaired to the temple, and offered one of the most fervent prayers recorded in the Old Testament. He reminded the Lord that Sennacherib had reproached the living God, and had boasted the laying waste of all nations and countries and of casting down their gods, and concluded by saying: “Now, therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.”
Isaiah immediately sent word to Hezekiah that the Lord would punish the Assyrians for their presumption in challenging the God of Israel, and he closed a long statement with this remarkable promise: “He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord.” It took a degree of faith to issue such a statement in the face of a threat made by a man who had subdued all nations and kingdoms. What could little Jerusalem do against the hosts of an empire that covered the known world? Judging by all that had happened, Rabshakeh was justified in making the boast that he did. But as we have seen so many times in these lessons, when God was with his servants, they were invincible. This is what happened: “Then the angel fo the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and four score and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” Isaiah, speaking for God, had no misgivings.
It has been said of Isaiah that he died with the Gospel on his lips, and no greater tribute could be paid to a man who lived 700 years before Christ was born. His counsel was based on the principle of impartial justice. He was hampered by no racial prejudice, for his faith was in a God of righteousness, who ruled not only Judah but the world. Some of his contemporaries no doubt accused him of inconsistency when, having advised Ahaz to form no alliance with Assyria, eh later counseled Hezekiah to remain loyal to Assyria. But Isaiah saw clearly that the little petty kingdoms that were trying to get Judah to join them in throwing off the yoke of Sennacherib were unable to free themselves. During most of his life Isaiah stood out against public opinion, in what he considered to be for the best interests of the nation. But time vindicated his position. He constantly courted opposition and hatred by condemning the mistakes of the ruling classes, and also the crimes which were destroying the nation. He challenged corruption and injustice in high places; not even the king himself was exempt from his attacks. One great thought dominated his life – Jerusalem must be saved. The busy life of the holy city was part of his life; its sacred shrines were dear to him; and he gave himself unreservedly to the task of cleansing it from iniquity. How bitterly he scourged the rulers who “grind the faces of the poor,” the religious leaders “who stagger with strong drink,” the pious frauds who pray while their “hands are full of blood,” and the landlords “that join house to house.” Neither did he spare the women who ‘with stretched forth necks, and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and make a tinkling with their feet.” How modern it all sounds!
“Cease to do evil and learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” was the burden of his cry. He dreamed of a Messianic king who should make the name of Jerusalem glorious: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”
The Angel of Death
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,’That host with their banners at sunset were seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathede on the face of the foe as he pass’d;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still! – Byron
Questions and Problems
1. Why are the prophets difficult to understand?
2. What can you say about the arrangements of the chapters in Isaiah?
3. What relation did the prophets have to their own time? To a future time?
4. What challenge did Rabshakeh make to the people of Jerusalem?
5. What did Hezekiah do about it?
Y6. What counsel did Isaiah give the king?
7. Tell about Hezekiah’s prayer.
8. What final statement did Isaiah make concerning Sennacherib?
9. What happened to his army?
10. What danger is there in quoting the prophets to prove modern theories?
11. Why was Rabshakeh justified in boasting of what the king of Assyria could do?
12. What did Isaiah advise Hezekiah to remain loyal to Assyria?
13. Discuss the quotations from Isaiah in the last part of the lesson.
SUGGESTIVE CLOSING PRAYER
Oh Lord our God, when dark days come to us, and the enemy, encompassing our stronghold, summons us to surrender, and blasphemes thy holy name, saying that they who put their trust int hee shall perish, give unto us a faith that knows no wavering. Let no word of doubt or fear escape our lips, but like Isaiah, in besieged Jerusalem, help us to declare boldly: “he shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it.” So may we live from day to day with a faith that is immovable, and a trust in thee that is as unshaken as the everlasting hills.