Isaiah (Part 02): God’s Care (Ch 1:1-3)

09/30/2011 11:37


While sectional divides are debated for the book of Isaiah, few will argue against classifying the first five chapters as a sort of general summary preface of Isaiah’s message. Those first five books are what we will examine first, and from them acquaint ourselves with the prophetic framework and some of the imaging that Isaiah intends to deliver.

A very general outline of the first five books may look like this:

  1. Preface (chs 1-5): Judgment and Hope
    1. Level 1: General Terms (ch 1)
    2. Level 2: General Activity (ch 2)
    3. Level 3: Specific Activity (chs 3-4)
    4. Concluding Judgment Woes (ch 5)


The point in labeling these chapters in levels is to show the repeating judgment/hope message, yet with increasing specificity on the sin of God’s people and the care and rescue of God. Continuing with the outline, we can further breakdown chapter 1 as follows:

  1. Preface (chs 1-5): Judgment and Hope
    1. Level 1: General Terms (ch 1)
      1. Heading 1:1
      2. God’s Complaint concerning Judah 1:2-3
      3. God’s Lament over Judah 1:4-9
      4. God’s Disgust with Judah 1:10-15
      5. God’s Call to Judah 1:16-20
      6. God’s Lament over Jerusalem 1:21-23
      7. God’s Purging of Jerusalem 1:24-26
      8. God’s Judgment on Jerusalem 1:27-31


With that basic structure in mind, we can enter into the details. The Heading in 1:1 provides us with two items for discussion. The first is fairly straightforward. The verse identifies who (Isaiah as author of the book), when (during the reigns of the four kings mentioned), and where (Isaiah’s prophecy concerned Judah and Jerusalem).

The second item concerns the term “vision.” The Hebrew word translated vision is often used of those sights perceived in a dream or trancelike state. Ezekiel and Daniel mention these kinds of visions. John’s vision involving the book of Revelation was also similar to this understanding. But the word does not always mean the mind seeing a particular sight. For example, in Proverbs 29:18 we read: “Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy.” Here the Hebrew word is translated revelation. The contrast sets the absence of revelation against instruction. This is not a mind-generated image. A definition more closely fitting in this context would understand vision (revelation) as a heightened perception of truth.

This is actually what we should be thinking of when we understand the Bible to have been written by the inspiration of God. It is a God-induced heightened perception, the same type of Spirit-inspired basis for the New Testament gifts of prophecy and knowledge.

Our outline would then continue as follows:

  1. Preface (chs 1-5): Judgment and Hope
    1. Level 1: General Terms (ch 1)
      1. Heading 1:1
        1. Identifies who, when, where
        2. Vision
          1. Dream / sight (like John’s Revelation)
          2. Heightened perception of truth
            • Inspiration
            • Gifts: Prophecy and Knowledge


(From here on, I’ll save the outlining until the end.)

In verse 2 we read Isaiah calling on the heavens and earth to bear witness to his prophecy. This call to heaven and earth is not original with Isaiah. In fact, Isaiah could be intentionally mimicking the song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32 because that also begins with a call to heaven and earth to witness. And Moses speaks of judgment and hope in the same fashion as Isaiah. But why are heaven and earth being called as witnesses? A little review of what Isaiah (and God) have in mind here may be helpful in understanding some of the important themes that are repeated throughout Isaiah’s address.

Moses calls on heaven and earth to act as witness four times in his dissertation of Deuteronomy. Already mentioned was the reference in Deut. 32:1. Prior to that, in 31:24-29 Moses tells the Levites to keep this book of the Law with the ark, and that when Israel sins, they are to read Moses’ words to them and to “call heaven and earth as witnesses against them” (31:28). Just another chapter earlier, Moses had again appealed to heaven and earth: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (30:19). Notice here that it is no mere witness of judgment, but that it is a witness of care. Heaven and earth are to witness that Moses provided them with the choice of following God and receiving his care or turning away, which would result in death.

The last reference to heaven and earth as witnesses comes in Deuteronomy 4. Verse 26 records the call. But further on in verse 32, Moses says, “Indeed, ask about the earlier days that preceded you, from the day God created man on the earth and from one end of the heavens to the other: Has anything like this great event ever happened, or has anything like it been heard of?” Heaven and earth are here used to present boundaries for human existence. The time of earth bounds the time of human existence. “From one end of the heavens to the other” provides spatial constraint. In this passage also God speaks “from heaven to instruct” and shows “His great fire on earth, and you heard His words from the fire” (4:36). Additionally, Moses affirms again that “the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below” (4:39).

We’ve learned from these passages, then, that God’s call to the heavens and earth as witnesses involves the bounding domain (both time and space) of humanity, the instruction of God, and the care of God.

The rest of the Bible gives a few more hints at the use and importance God places on the heavens and earth in a pictorial manner to present truth to us. In 2 Samuel 22:8 and Isaiah 29:13, we see heaven and earth displaying the righteous emotion of God. In 1 Chronicles 21:16 and Revelation 10:5-7, God uses heaven and earth again as humanity’s bounding existence as judgment is presented. This bounding dimension of existence is also noted in the separation of heaven as God’s canopy-like omniscience/omnipresence from earth as humankind’s domain (Psalm 115:16; Matthew 6:10; 1 Corinthians 15:47).

While all the references we’ve looked at have an element of God’s care through the use of heaven and earth, some verses specifically show that care:

Psalm 85:11 “Truth will spring up from the earth, and righteousness will look down from heaven.”

Isaiah 55:10-11 “For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

Additionally, God uses cloud and fire as pictures of heaven and earth. God showed his power in the cloud and fire pillars that led the Israelites (Ex 14:24; Num 9:15). And God specifically showed his care through the cloud (heaven) and fire (earth) picture in Deut 1:32-33 and Isaiah 4:5-6. That last reference—Isaiah 4:5-6—is an excellent example of the picture God provides demonstrating his care. The verses are describing Zion’s glory. God says, “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion and over its assemblies. For there will be a canopy over all the glory, and there will be a booth for shade from heat by day, and a refuge and shelter from storm and rain.”

In all these passages, then, we are to understand God’s use of heaven and earth as a picture specifically of his watchfulness over our entire scope of existence; his care to those who recognize, acknowledge, and cling to him; and his judgment to those who disregard that watching care. This is how Isaiah begins. We must bear in mind that ever present watchfulness of God and the care he provides to the faithful and the judgment he delivers to those who spurn him.

The next part of Isaiah 1:2 and continuing through verse 3 also continues to emphasize the relationship to God and this care/faithfulness theme. The picture God presents here is in one sense a slave relationship. Through the analogy to the ox and donkey, God is pictured as owner and authority. But it is not only ownership and authority that we are meant to see. We should recognize obligation of service. The animals God uses to illustrate his point are not wild animals or those raised for food or even pets. These are animals designed for service.

But notice also the element of care in the depiction. The ox knows its owner. Why? Because it is from its owner that it receives care. With the donkey, God specifically draws attention to care by saying that the donkey knows—not just its master—but its master’s feeding trough.

Here then is God’s point. He, as Creator God, is owner and master of Judah. He provides them care. And he expects them to faithfully serve. Yet Judah does not even have the natural understanding that these animals do. They turn aside from their owner/master God, spurning his care and failing to serve.

Already in this brief two-verse introduction, we understand a significant point. This care-giving / faithfulness image is a primary picture principle of God throughout his Word. At the very beginning in the Garden, God established three great relational connections: (1) the relationship of God and humanity, (2) the relationship of humanity with the rest of creation, and (3) the relationship among humanity—specifically highlighted in the ultimate human relationship picture of husband and wife. In each of these relationships, we see an emphasis on care giving.

(By the way, the care giving pictured in the husband-wife relationship is not to be confused with authority, decision-making, or even leadership. While authority does include care, care does not always involve authority. For example, James 1:27 tells us that part of pure and undefiled religion is to look after orphans and widows. James certainly implies no authority concept in this care giving. Neither should we assume one in the care giving inherent because of structural distinctions within a husband-wife relationship. God’s intent over and over from the Garden, through the Law, into the Gospels, and into New Covenant living is a care giving of those greater suited to the more vulnerable. We see that in the 1 Corinthians 11:3 progression, the Romans 14 stronger and weaker consciences, the James 1:27 religion purity, the 1 Peter 3:7 concern for the weaker vessel, and in many more specific emphases.)

As we work our way through the book, we must bear in mind that at the time of Isaiah’s prophesying, God’s progressive revelation had not reached full expression. That’s why we recognize the master-slave (or servant) picture in 1:2-3 without hint of the New Covenant’s developing friend relationship. God’s ultimate intent was not the limited view of relationship at the beginning of Isaiah. Remember that God created us in his image. That image includes conceptual intelligence, conscious morality, perceptive aesthetic, spiritual wisdom, volitional faith, and relational love. To realize full satisfaction of all those imaging elements, our relationship with God would have to advance beyond the bounds of what we’ve seen so far in Isaiah.

And from this side of the cross, we may look back to see that it did. John 15:15 provides a great truth for that relationship development. Christ says, “I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.” The revealing principle here is that knowledge of purpose and intent raises one from mere servant status to that of friend. The fact that God remains God—Lord and Master—doesn’t change. We still serve him. But the development in friendship is a result of knowledge and understanding about who God is and what are his purpose and plan.

Some Christians have emphasized certain aspects of relationship with God above others (almost to the exclusion of others) and therefore harmed the complete picture (and intended comprehensive relationship with our God). For example, the following list may look reasonable and even biblical, but it becomes dangerous because of what it leaves out.

1. God’s mission: redemption

2. Our mission: Support God’s mission

3. Our motivation: Christ’s accomplished redemption

Obviously in this list, redemption is highlighted. Redemption is indeed absolutely necessary for any relationship with God. Without Christ’s work on the cross, we would all be dead in our sins, bound for a horrible, eternal hell. But God changed that through his loving, merciful sacrifice to pay for our sin, to make us guiltless, to robe us with Christ’s righteousness, to grant us the hope of eternal blessing with God. Yes, redemption is vital. And yes, our eternal gratitude should be beyond containment.

But still, the three elements shown above do not tell the complete story. God did not create for the purpose of redemption. God created for the purpose of relationship. So describing relational meaning and living with God without reference to this purpose skews the picture. Consider the following:

1. God’s purpose: everlasting love relationship

2. God’s plan: reconciliation from the fall and sin

3. God’s method (mission): redemption

4. Our mission: Support God’s purpose, plan, and method

5. Our motivation: God

Notice that 1 and 2 of the first list are almost the same as 3 and 4 of the second list. The difference is that the first list ignores some aspects that must be there to fully satisfy the relationship God intends. As Jesus said, it is the knowledge of the Father’s purpose and plan as well as the method that brings us into that more intimate relationship. The slave may be forever thankful for redemption, but it is the friend that then joins in the love relationship.

The last point on both lists—our motivation—is an important difference as well. Again, we should be forever thankful, with ultimate sincere and expressive gratitude, for our redemption by Christ. But what motivates us to join in relationship with God is not only gratitude. Think of it this way—if there had been no sin, would we still have motivation to follow God? Well, of course. But that means that gratitude for redemption can’t be the only reason.

As we understand who God is, coupled with our guiltless soul and Holy Spirit’s indwelling, we will take on the nature of Godly pursuit motivated by the passion for God. Remember that God is the only being whose essence equals his existence. Simply put, essence is who you are; existence is what you do. God does good, God acts in mercy, God displays justice, and God loves, not because those are some fine absolute, abstract virtues that he consistently incorporates in his life. He does those things because he IS those things. God IS goodness. God IS mercy. God IS love. Those virtues that we praise have their very source in who God is. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in appreciation and impassioned embrace of who God is and, therefore, of those virtues that have their basis in God. That, then, becomes our motivation for whether we eat or drink or whatever we do; we do everything for God’s glory.

Gratitude is important. Gratitude is necessary. But if only gratitude motivates us, we can easily slip back into the master-slave mindset as the sum total of our relationship with our God.


Isaiah Outline (so far)

  1. Preface (chs 1-5): Judgment and Hope
    1. Level 1: General Terms (ch 1)
      1. Heading 1:1
        1. Identifies who, when, where
        2. Vision
          1. Dream / sight (like John’s Revelation)
          2. Heightened perception of truth
            • Inspiration
            • Gifts: Prophecy and Knowledge
      2. God’s Complaint Concerning Judah 1:2-3
        1. Call to heaven and earth
          1. Heaven and earth called as witnesses
            • De 4:25-26
            • De 30:19-20
            • De 31:24-29
            • De 32:1-34
            • In all passages, the witness shows:
              • Boundary of human existence (time & space)
              • God’s instruction
              • God’s care
          2. Heaven and earth express God’s righteous emotion
            • 2 Sa 22:8
            • Is 49:13
            • Expression of emotion shows God’s care
          3. Heaven and earth are used as backdrop of God’s judgment
            • 1 Ch 21:16
            • Rev 10:5-7
          4. Heaven and earth identify domains of God and humanity
            • Ps 115:16
            • Mat 6:10
            • 1 Co 15:47
          5. Heaven and earth specifically give care
            • Ps 85:11 – righteous teaching
            • Is 55:10-11
            • Cloud and Fire
              • Power of God
                • Ex 14:24
                • Nu 9:15
              • Care of God
                • De 1:32-33
                • Is 4:5-6
          6. Conclusion – use of heavens and earth
            • For all-encompassing witness
              • God’s domain and people’s domain
              • Boundary of time and space
            • For display of care
              • Court setting to contrast God’s care with people’s unfaithfulness
              • Picture of care giving and faithfulness emphasized throughout Bible
        2. Understanding belonging to God
          1. God’s analogy shows slave relationship
            • Ox to owner – possession
            • Donkey to master – authority
            • Service
              • Not wild animals (bear and lion)
              • Not food animals (lamb and chicken)
              • Not pets (dog and cat)
              • Service (ox and donkey)
          2. God shows care relationship
            • “Raised” and “brought up” in verse 2 mean cause to grow and become great
            • Animal analogy shows care
              • Ox knowing owner means knowing the one who cares for it
              • Donkey knows where food (care) is
          3. Conclusion – God’s people don’t understand
            • They don’t understand care comes from God
            • They don’t understand obligation to faithfully serve
        3. Key – Care giving and faithfulness is primary picture principle of God
          1. In relationship of God and humanity
          2. In relationship of humanity and earth
          3. In relationship among humanity
            • This is not authority, decision-making, or even leadership
            • Authority does include care, but not all care implies authority – James 1:27
          4. Full relationship of God and humanity
            • Not just master-slave
            • Image-bearing qualities signify more
              • Conceptual intelligence
              • Conscious morality
              • Perceptive aesthetic
              • Spiritual wisdom
              • Volitional faith
              • Relational love
            • NT reveals relationship as friend
              • John 15:15 – friend w/o losing service
              • Understanding of relationship with God
                • God’s purpose – everlasting love relationship
                • God’s plan – reconciliation from fall and sin
                • God’s method (mission) – redemption
                • Our mission – Support God’s purpose, plan, and method
                • Our motivation - God