Isaiah 40-48: The Purpose of Peace

Isaiah 40 marks a change in direction for the book of Isaiah. Starting here we really get into prophecy and the plan God has for His people. When I first saw my study Bible group the following 8 chapters as "The Purpose of Peace," I was expecting something very different. Now that I've finished all 8 chapters, I understand the purpose of peace.

Introduction

Isaiah 40 marks a shift in the book. Whereas the beginning of the book talks mostly about judgement, the latter portion speaks of Gods plan for Israel, all centered around peace. The latter section can be divided into three sections, and Isaiah 40-48 cover the first of those sections. These chapters talk about the purpose of peace. From a basic standpoint, I think we all know that peace brings in comfort. From a spiritual standpoint, peace ends the war Satan started. Also, peace, being synonymous with the Messiah (the Prince of Peace), also brings us the Comforter a.k.a. the Holy Spirit (James 14:16).

Prepare the Way

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Isaiah 40:3-4 speak of someone who will prepare the way through the wilderness for God's return to the people. Like many prophecies in the Bible it actually has two fulfillments. The first was the return of the Israelites after they had been in captivity. The ultimate fulfillment, however, was the task of John the Baptist, who prepared the way fo Jesus, the Messiah (Mark 1:2-3). This prophecy is also echoed in Malachi 3:1.

There is also symbolism in this prophecy. The wilderness represents the journey, or the path from being lost to being saved. Remember the initial encounter with the wilderness is when the Israelites are fleeing Egypt in search of the Promised Land. Similarly, when Jesus came, many people we enslaved by the additional laws the Pharisees had implemented; they were lost. John the Baptist opened the door to their hearts, reminding them that God is a forgiving God whom we can go back to if we just repent. This opened the hearts of many to be ready to hear what Jesus had to say, thus leading to salvation.

The Awesomeness of God

Think about the world today. There is so much discord and confusion, the thought of world peace is a joke. It seems like an impossible task. Well, the first 17 verses of Isaiah reminding us just how awesome and powerful God is. God has already done the impossible, so there's no reason He can't do it again. God created our world in peace, and desires to bring us back to the state of His original design.

Idols

The reason we have trouble in this world is because we have replaced God. It's that simple. The root of every sin is choosing to listen to someone other than God, placing someone or something above God, and thus usurping (or aiding in the usurping of) God's authority. Idol worship was a major problem for the Israelites.Whole chapters in Isaiah 40-48 are dedicated to discussing the issue of idolatry so we know God wasn't/isn't taking this issue lightly. God basically asks the Israelites how they can associate these man made idols with God, whom we can't fully comprehend. We can't sketch out what He looks like, or confine Him to some sculpture. No matter how much the cost of the materials, no matter how skilled the artist, we can't replicate God.

Furthermore, the things we create are powerless. As people, we like tangible things; things we can touch and feel. People who mock believers often refer to God as an "invisible man in the sky" (which of course shows that they don't understand that God is not a man and is not only in the sky, but is everywhere). God has ultimate power, be we have a hard time leaving everything up to someone we can't see—let's face it, many of us have trouble trusting people we interact with every day. When we read passages like the one presented in Isaiah 40:18-24, it's easy to think of worshiping pagan gods and excuse ourselves. However, there is a lot of idolatry in the modern Church. Be it the act of bestowing power to physical objects or idolizing people.

Growing up my grandmother used to tell me if I slept with a Bible under my pillow it would keep away nightmares, and my mom thinks a Bible has to be the first thing carried into a new home. Both of these superstitions are imbuing the physical book with power, when really the power comes from knowing what's inside the book, knowing Who's inside the book. Similarly, people think a crucifix can ward off evil spirit, we see this in movies all the time. Others think the church is a holy building and it is more safe than a regular building. However, none of these things have any power of their own. Power always comes from God, so even we have to be careful about giving power to objects and people in our lives.

Strength

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.Isaiah 40:31 KJV
Chaos and confusion wear you out. Have you ever had that moment when you have too many things to do and instead of tackling an issue, you just feel tired and overwhelmed? Peace is the opposite of that. When you have peace, you are worried about outcomes and you aren't exhausted by the things happening around you. This why along with peace, God gives us strength. Isaiah 40:31 is a popularly quoted verse that reminds us of the strength we find in God when we follow Him. This verse is the source of Fred Hammond's "They That Wait"[1]

The Infinite Nature of God

In the beginning of Isaiah, God makes the point that He has been around forever. His main point is that He raised up the righteous man (Abraham), but in doing so He talks about the land being witness to all of His actions. He reminds us that He is the First and the Last (the Alpha (Α) and the Omega (Ω)—or in Hebrew, the Alef (א) and the Taw (ת)).

The isles spoken of in these verses, while easily associated with the Earth itself as mentioned above, can have a symbolic meaning as well. The isles are where the Gentiles were (Genesis 10:5, thus the isles could also reference Gentile nations.

The World Encourages Sin

Isaiah 41:6-7 is particularly interesting. Out of context it sounds like workers encouraging each other and lifting each other up, which is a good thing. However, when read in context, adding a few verses before and after, it seems that the people encouraging each other are those apposed to Israel. Many commentaries agree, considering the isles to be pagan nations. When looking at the verses from this point of view, the verses are actually talking about how people come together to support sin. In a world covered in peace, people would support each other because there would be no need to fear each other's success or actions, however, when we encourage sin, we push the world further away from sin.

The majority usually rallies around false doctrine and sinful ways. Take the Biblical example of Lot; the entire community was there requesting to rape the men. They were encouraging each other to do wrong (Genesis 19). Similarly, when Amnon desired his sister Tamar, his friend encouraged him as well (2 Samuel 13). The nation of Israel&mash;God's people—are supposed to be set apart from this behavior. Israel was chosen to lead the world to salvation, re: discourage sin. This point is further discussed in Isaiah 42 where Israel is said to be the light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6).

Persecution

Persecution isn't what you'd expect to talk about when talking about peace, but before we get to a state of absolute peace, the war has to be fought and won, which means God's people have to be persecuted. When the pagan nations are coming together to support each other, those who are standing firm for God will feel alone. However, God tells us to fear not. God promises Israel that He will be there strength, that He will fight the war, and that there is nothing to worry about. It is important to remember that in this, God is not saying the war won't happen or that there won't be obstacles. Rather, He is saying that in the face of those obstacles, He promises to take care of everything. So even though persecution is the opposite of peace, God is giving us peace in those situations by taking away the need to worry.

The God of the Poor

If there's one thing you can't miss reading the Bible, it's that God will provide for the poor. God promises to hear the cries of the poor and provide for them, whether it's food or water. Again, this can be taken literally or spiritually. There are people who are literally poor; they literally have nothing to eat or drink. However, there are also people who are spiritually poor; they have not been exposed to the Word of God and are in need of the Spirit—remember Jesus calls Himself the Living Water (John 4:10) and the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

Prophecy About Cyrus

While reiterating the point that idols are worthless, Isaiah prophesies about a man that is to come from both the north and the east. This man was to be a great conquerer, stomping over kingdoms. Upon first reading this passage I was a bit confused because I could see how this person is tied to the abomination of idolatry, but it also says that this person called on the name of God and is good news for Israel. After reading the commentary in my study Bible, it made more sense. This prophecy is identified with Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus was a pagan, but he also is the one who issued the decree allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

God always provides a way home, though it may not be an easy road. For Cyrus to come into power, battles were fought, people died. However, his rise to power is what allowed the Israelites another chance at their relationship with God. Similarly, for us to have a second chance with God, Jesus had to die for our sins. In general, there will be times when things will have to get worse to get better. Unfortunately, peace comes with a price. Fortunately, Jesus paid our fare, so as long as we stick with Him, we will reap the benefits.

Prophecy About Jesus

One of the most icon moments from the New Testament is when Jesus is Baptized; God makes the declaration that He is proud of His son (Matthew 3:17). That declaration is prophesied in Isaiah 42:1-4.

Gentiles Receive the Law

In Isaiah 42:4, it is prophesied that the "isles" will receive the law. These isles, as we've discussed could represent the Gentiles. During Isaiah's time, it would be unheard of for the Gentiles to adopt the Law of God or to commune with God at all. However, just as prophecy predicted, after the crucifixion of Christ, the Word of God spread rapidly through the Gentiles.

Fire That Doesn't Burn

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Isaiah 43:2 talks about how fire doesn't burn those who are under God's protection. As always there are two ways to interpret this: figuratively and literally.

Figuratively

You know the saying "Jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire"? It symbolizes tough situations as fire. Similarly, when God says that His people can walk through the fire unscathed, He means that He will protect us through hard situations. Once we get through the fire, only the lessons we've learned and the growth we've managed will come with us; there won't be any scars or bruises.

Literally

It makes no sense that you could light someone on fire and the person not burn, however the Bible shows us an example that proves this is possible. When Moses is in Midian, his introduction to God is through the burning bush, a bush that is on fire but does not burn! Here is something interesting to consider when thinking about the literal concept of being untouched by fire. God is light. He shows Himself as fire all the time and when He will come back as fire. However, those who are with Him will not die in that fire because we will have taken on His nature and will be covered by Christ.

Creating Evil

A verse that often trips people up is Isaiah 45:7. In this verse God says that He created light and darkness, peace and evil. One of the most popular questions people have is why did God create evil, and this verse seems to perpetuate the idea. As always though, every verse has to be taken in the context of the whole Bible—precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10). So, what stands out? In the beginning, the earth was already dark (Genesis 1:1-2). God created light to counter the darkness. The darkness we see today is because God allowed a time for darkness, not because He created it. Darkness is merely the absence of light; it is a state of nothingness.

Now let's apply our understanding of light and dark to peace and evil. Peace is what we have when we are full of the Holy Spirit. It is what we wouldn't have if the world had chosen God over Satan. Evil is what comes of sin and choosing not to follow God. In giving us freedom of choice, God is allowing evil to occur. It isn't that He desired atrocities to occur in His creation. Once again, evil is the absence of God's light; it is a state of being devoid (of God). If you're wondering why He allows us to choose knowing the repercussions, there are two main reasons (that I know of): 1) if we didn't have the freedom to choose to follow God or not, He'd be a tyrant and 2) you can't force someone to love you.

The Virgin Daughter of Babylon

I've heard of the Whore of Babylon and her daughters, but Isaiah 47 introduces the virgin daughter of Babylon, which is a stark contrast. While virginity is usually used to symbolize purity and innocence, some commentaries state that in this case it means unconquered, while others suggest it does not mean unconquered.[2] Sufficiently confused? Me too.

So I went digging for more information. One believer suggested that the reason Babylon is likened to a virgin is because they have hidden sins.[3] While I don't necessarily follow that logic, it did lead me to think Babylon pre-captivity and post-captivity. Pardon the crudeness, but every "whore" has a beginning. People, nations, ideas, etc. usually start with benign intentions. Remember, during Isaiah's times, Babylon hadn't taken the Israelites into captivity yet, they were still developing into the nation that would forever be associated with opposition to God.

Lying to Yourself

The people were thought no one else would know about the sins they committed and therefore they could go on forever the way they were. However, God promised to bring about judgment and invoke consequences for their actions. There are many sins that fall easily into this category. We think no one will know, and what's more, it might even seem like it doesn't hurt anyone, but God knows and it's hurting us.

Cultural Christians

In Isaiah 48:1, God addresses those who associate themselves with Him and the Israelites but don't adhere to righteousness.

It makes sense that there are cultural Jews, because "Israelite" refers to a lineage. Anyone who descends from Jacob (later called Israel) is an Israelite. That doesn't mean they are walking with God. However, in today's society, people refer to themselves as "cultural Christians." Christianity isn't a lineage or a birth right. Despite what some people teach, you cannot be born a Christian—you can be born into a Christian family, but that doesn't make you Christian. You have to choose Christ to be a Christian, which means you have to be a believer to wear the moniker. However, history repeats itself. God warned the Israelites who wanted to be associated with God without having a relationship with God, and we should be wary of claiming Christ without the relationship as well.

The Glow Up

God says we are refined by affliction, not sliver. Culturally, we talk about the #glowup and it usually references material change—whether it be better style, new hair or skin routines, correction of our teeth, etc. it usually focuses on our physical appearance. But the true #glowup occurs in the heart and that change is forged through trials and tribulations. In order to become the people we are meant to be, we have to trust God to lead us through situations, and we have to grow in each situation. Think of it like this, no one learned to walk without falling.

Fulfillment

Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.Isaiah 48:19 KJV
In Genesis 22:17, God promises Abraham that his lineage will be as numerous as the sand. In Isaiah 48:19, Isaiah points out that Israel has already fulfilled that promise. When God promised to make Abraham's seed numerous, I don't think He meant literally the number of grains of sand or stars burning, but used these examples as hyperbole. When you consider that the Israelites, Edomites, and Ishmaelite (Arabs) were all the seed of Abraham, it's easy to see this fulfillment.

No Peace For the Wicked

Because peace comes from YHWH, and is intrinsically tied to following His commands, peace doesn't exist for those who do not follow His commands. One thing I've noticed as I've gotten older is that His laws are an absolute truth. Our world has it's own set of problems, so even if you could follow His commands to the letter of law, you'd probably suffer the consequences of other people's inability to do so, however, by deliberately not following His commands, you place yourself in a position to take on much more stress and anxiety.

In school, I watched friends sleep around then fret over both pregnancy and STD scares. They lost a lot of their peace of mind worrying about the guy (or girl), pregnancy, and STDs, while I and my friends who listened to God's call for abstinence were not worried about these things. If you stop and think about it, I'm sure you can think of countless situations where just following God's commands will give you peace of mind. (If you can't think of any thing, drop a comment below and we'll talk).

The Purpose of Peace

Reading through the chapters, peace isn't explicitly mentioned. As I was studying these chapters, I constantly wondered why the commentary in my study Bible referred to this group of chapters as "The Purpose of Peace." However, as I studied the last chapter, it finally dawned on me: the purpose of peace is to prove YHWH as the true God. No one else can achieve true and lasting peace.

God gives us prophecy from the very beginning so that when things happen, we can know that it was Him who did it. This identifies Him as the one true God because no one else can do that. Idols can't accurately predict the future; they may luck out and get one or two predictions right (like a meteorologist), but they won't be right all the time.

Have you ever seen Inception? In the movie, people carry "totems," objects that can tell them whether they're awake or asleep. The need for this stems from how real the dream world has become. Similarly, once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, our sinful world has become so normal, we have a hard time remembering it's not normal. Peace is our indicator of God's presence!

References

  1. Fred Hammond. "They That Wait". YouTube; visited May 2019
  2. "Isaiah 47:1 Commentary". Bible Hub; visited May 2019
  3. Beth. "Virgin Daughter of Babylon". Highway to Holiness. February 23, 2013

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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