In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel, why does God not show up in a grand display until Isaiah 6? What does this say about Isaiah’s historical setting? Its literary placement? What does it tell us about God’s kingship, his kingdom, and his people?
As the fifth longest book in the OT, and having been written by an Israelite almost 3,000 years ago, it might be redundant to say that Isaiah is a difficult book to read. The way a book is organized is just as important as what a book says, but for most of us—Isaiah is just too long, and it’s difficult to get a grasp on the entire story and on each section.
Andrew Abernethy, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, while not refraining from the historical details of Isaiah, focuses on the final literary form to show the reader what the book of Isaiah teaches us today. In doing so, he gives a thematic-theological approach to Isaiah’s varied portraits of God as King in each of the three sections of Isaiah (1–39, 40–55, 56–66), with each of those sections incorporating different aspects of God.
In Chapter 1, he is seen in poetry, narrative, and prose. He is the God who judges (Is 6; 24) and the one who saves (25; 33; 36–37). The book of Isaiah bears a message of judgment and hope from the beginning (1–6) to the end (66). Isaiah 1–12 focuses on how God will judge Israel and Judah through Assyria, while “Isaiah 24–27 looks to an eschatological time when the heavenly king establishes his rule in Zion” (31). In Isaiah 33, God’s reign has implications for his people: they can gaze on the beauty of their Lord and be protected from their enemies. Isaiah 36–37 present a snapshot of the unrivaled King who stands against the mighty Assyrian army. This is the unrivaled king of all ages who is more than able able to stand against all mighty armies.
Chapters 2–3 present God as a saving warring, international, and compassionate King. In Isaiah 40–55 Israel has been led out into the wilderness (40.1), which “symbolizes Zion’s desolation” (57). The “good news” is that God will be the great shepherd King who carries his people close to him in his bosom (40.11).
Chapter 3 covers Isaiah 56–66, represented in by a chiasm. Zion’s glory is the centerpiece of that chiasm (E), and it can only be understood in light of Yahweh’s coming as the warrior king (D/D’) who sees the injustice in Israel and will come to take action. Because of his just and righteous actions, the nations will flock to him and give gifts to him, and he will show compassion on all of his people.
In Chapter 4, Abernethy points us to the “lead agents” in each of the three sections, though he is not certain that these agents (of Yahweh) are understood to be the same individual. “Instead of forcing all of these lead agents into one mould, it is better to allow the uniqueness of each figure to emerge” (120). He examines the Davidic ruler (1–39), the Servant(s) of the Lord (40–55), and God’s messenger (56–66). This does not mean Abernethy doesn’t find these figures fulfilled in Jesus. He says, “The claim here does not undermine the New Testament’s application of all three of Isaiah’s figures to Jesus; instead, it displays the grandeur of Jesus and the surprise of recognizing how one person, Jesus Christ, can take on the role of all three figures, while also being the very God of these agent figures” (169). If Isaiah didn’t express these three figures as being one figure, this helps explain the Second Temple period’s emphasis on the coming Davidic Messiah, their lack of emphasis on a suffering servant, and the Pharisees confusion over Jesus.
Chapter 5 seeks to answer to questions, “Where is God’s kingdom? And, who are the people of God’s kingdom? . . . God’s kingdom is ‘placed,’ if you will, with people in the midst of it” (171). In this reality, God rules the entire cosmos, but he will also rule from Zion. God’s people are a purified, redeemed, obedient, just, national and international community which trusts God.
After each section in each chapter, Abernethy gives a summary and some canonical reflections of the content. The canonical reflections always look forward to Jesus, which is especially helpful when it comes to preaching and teaching through the book of Isaiah. Abernethy draws our eyes from the King who sits above the heavens in Isaiah to Yahweh in the flesh, who preached the kingdom of God, lived the kingdom of God, and was the Davidic king who suffered and died for the people of God. He created the world, commands destinies, and builds his temple brick by brick, person by person. He is the servant king whose glory Isaiah saw (Jn 12.41; Isa 6).
There is so much more that could be said about these five chapters, and even more to be said about God’s kingship in Isaiah. He is the ruling, judging, warrior, loving, compassionate, caring, shepherd King who is watching out for his people, who will return and care for them, and will dine with them on his great mountain (Is 25.6–8; Rev 21.1–5). Abernethy’s book is recommended for all sorts, especially pastors and teachers. Be warned, this is not light reading. Abernethy’s work is mighty detailed and is best read with your Bible open and a pen in your hand (unless you don’t want to remember pivotal details). Abernethy has written an excellent resource on grasping on of the main themes of Isaiah (if not the main theme), and even provides two preaching outlines in an appendix at the end. You would be well-served in reading this book. Highly recommended.
- Author: Andrew T. Abernethy
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (November 19, 2016)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.