Series: Our God Saves: Turn
Who's Going to Help You?
- Jun 20, 2021
- Mark Vroegop
- Isaiah 3:1-5:30
Big problems require a big God.
That is what Isaiah is all about. From chapter 1 through chapter 66, the message of this Old Testament prophet is simply that “Our God Saves.” Ultimately, the salvation that the world needs came through the Messiah—Jesus. At the most basic level, the Messiah comes to solve the problem of our sinful rebellion against God by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. But God also aims to redeem the entire created order. His plan involves a New Jerusalem along with the New Heavens and the Earth.
It’s a glorious and gracious plan.
But there’s a major challenge, one with which I’m sure you are familiar. God’s people often fail to see either the danger of their problems or where to turn for the right solutions. Just think back on your life and consider how many of your big mistakes were simply the result of not realizing the seriousness of what you were dealing with. Or perhaps you can now see how you looked for answers in the wrong places.
Isn’t this the role of a good parent—even a good Dad? Faithful fathers do their best to help their children understand and avoid the major problems in life while pointing them toward the right solutions. After an eight-year gap, I’m back into “driver’s training mode.” And it’s remarkable how much of that training is simply identifying the right problem—anticipating danger and making corrections.
Isaiah 3-5 is still part of the introduction to the book. Next week we’ll cover chapter 6, a glorious section of Scripture that shows us the holiness of God and Isaiah’s call to ministry. Then we’re going to take a short break from Isaiah during the month of July to look at everyone’s favorite psalm: Psalm 23.
Our text today follows a familiar line of argument that we’ll see repeated throughout the book. Isaiah often identifies the problems, offers hope, and issues immediate warnings. Even though these were written over two thousand seven hundred years ago, there’s a lot for us to learn.
- What’s the Problem?
In the simplest of terms, God is trying to get the spiritual attention of his people. There was a massive disconnect between their worship and their way of life. God cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly (Isa. 1:13). He was graciously calling them back to himself. The message of the first 39 chapters of Isaiah is that of turning back to God before it’s too late.
Now, this disconnect between the people’s worship and way of life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Their lack of obedience is really a trust issue. In other words, if the people of God are not trusting in God, then they are trusting in other things. Sometimes they might not even realize that it’s happening. So, God aims to highlight their problem by taking away the things in which they trust.
You can see this clearly stated in 3:1 – “. . .The Lord God of hosts is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and supply. . .” One of the ways that God tries to get the attention of his people is by removing the things upon which they have placed too much hope. He removes the good things upon which we depend.
In verses 1-3, we find a list of things that tend to stabilize society. God is removing food and water, the mighty man and soldier, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and of rank, the counselor, the skillful magician, and the expert in charms. God takes away provision, power, wisdom, and discernment. The ingredients that make a society stable are targeted by God’s judgment.
What’s more, these are the resources to which people turn when they are in trouble. If God’s people will not trust him, he removes the things upon which we build our trust.
Several years ago, David Powlison wrote a ground-breaking article entitled “The Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair.” He helped biblical counselors understand the connection between the Old Testament concept of idolatry and the New Testament concept of sinful desires. He wrote:
If “idolatry” is the characteristic and summary Old Testament word for our drift from God, then “desires” (epithumiai) is the characteristic and summary New Testament word for the same drift. Both are shorthand for the problem of human beings. The New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires. Idolatry becomes a problem of the heart, a metaphor for human lust, craving, yearning, and greedy demand.
But idols or desires need a society in which to operate. This is why Powlison talks about Vanity Fair, the market in Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian is offered any number of distracting pleasures.
Bunyan’s entire book, and the Vanity Fair section in particular, can be seen as portraying the interaction of powerful, enticing, and intimidating social shapers of behavior with the self-determining tendencies of Christian’s own heart. Will Christian serve the Living God or any of a fluid multitude of idols crafted by his wife, neighbors, acquaintances, enemies, fellow members of idolatrous human society...and, ultimately, his own heart? 
Why is this important for Isaiah? Because the idols of individuals and the idols of a society (the collection of individuals) are linked together. They feed off of each other. They facilitate one another. And one of the ways God brings judgment is to take things away.
Another way he deals with our waywardness is to give us what we think we want only to show us how badly we’ve missed the mark. In 3:4-7, we see the effects of idolatry or misplaced desires:
- They are ruled by immature leaders with “the unpredictability and thoughtless cruelty of children”(v. 4) 
- Self-centered oppression becomes widespread (v. 5a)
- A lack of respect for the elderly and for those who should be honored (v. 5b)
- Qualifications for leadership will be greatly diminished (v. 6)
- People will be reluctant to lead (v. 7)
The basic ingredients for how people interact will be deeply affected by their idolatry.
Isaiah 3:8-4:1 probes a bit deeper. In verse 8, we learn that Jerusalem has stumbled because her words and her actions are against the Lord. They do not fit with his presence or his glory. In verse 9, the people have no shame over their sin. As a result, the Lord is taking them to court and laying out his case against them. The leaders used their position to crush people and enrich themselves (v. 14-15).
The people (women in particular) are haughty and sensuous (vv. 16-17). And God intends to take away the things that make them attractive (vv.18-22).
The chapter ends with a dark picture and desperation:
“Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; empty, she shall sit on the ground. And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, ‘We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach’” (Isa. 3:24–4:1).
This is the picture of the problem for the people of God. Their idolatry has gotten the best of them, and God is starting to apply the pressure of divine discipline. Their problem was that they were drifting from God, and he was using painful circumstances to bring them back.
Do you know that God does the same today? If you are a Christian, you can probably look back on your life and see the ways that the Lord used some kind of loss in order to refine you. And it may be that you are not a Christian and that some difficulty has awakened a need for you to ask some really important questions.
I think it’s important not to create too much distance from Israel to us today. Until Jesus returns, idolatry will not have an expiration date. It is our collective human problem. It always has been. It will continue to be.
Can you think of anything in your life right now that has too much hold on you? Anything that is occupying too much emotional control? Anything you’d rather have than intimacy with God? Israel’s problem is still our problem, and Isaiah 3 helps us to see that clearly.
- What’s the Hope?
Thankfully Isaiah doesn’t stop there! This section (Isa. 1-5) is a small microcosm of the entire book. There is judgment, but with hopeful intentions.
We get our first hint of the promised deliverer in Isaiah 4:2. Deliverance is going to come through “the branch of the Lord,” and this will usher in a new kind of culture and experience which “shall be beautiful and glorious” (v. 2).
This will take shape more fully in the second section of the book, and you will see a consistent theme. The hope for Israel comes in a way that is surprising, backward, and contrary to their natural expectations.
Take note that Isaiah doesn’t use a metaphor like a massive tree, an impressive city, or a powerful ruler. Throughout the book, deliverance comes from something small and unimpressive. We’ll see this theme in other texts.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:1–2).
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).
Now, for those of us who know the story about Jesus coming as a baby, being rejected by religious leaders, dying on the cross, and being resurrected on the third day; this message isn’t as unusual.
But imagine that you are Israelite and you are part of this tiny nation with major superpowers all around you. Imagine the kind of leader or hero you’d be looking for. Imagine what kind of deliverance you would desire. Well, the whole message of Isaiah is going to be about this coming Savior who will be more different than anyone imagined.
So much of the message of Christianity and the hope of the gospel is backward from how the world thinks. The humble are exalted; the proud are resisted (1 Pet. 5:5-6). Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, and those who are persecuted (Matt. 5:3-8). The apostle Paul said that God chooses what is foolish and weak in the world so that “no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
This is the way that God works. To those Dads who are Christians, can I remind you that living out this example is an essential part of our discipleship strategy? Be careful that you do not buy into the cultural value-set that manliness is merely rugged individualism or self-sufficiency; it is not conquering, and self-advancing strength. There was no one more powerful, manly, and significant than this “branch of the Lord,” and our goal is to emulate him.
Notice the promise of what this deliverer will do. According to verse 3, everyone will be called holy—those “recorded for life.” We hear early whispers of God’s sovereignty and the Lamb’s Book of Life in Revelation 13:8.
But that’s not all! None of this is possible without cleansing. Isaiah 4:4 speaks about washing away of filth and being cleansed from the bloodstains by means of judgment and a spirit of burning. We’ll see this play out in Isaiah’s life in chapter 6, and we see it fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins (see Col. 1:13-14; Heb. 10:10-14).
This is critical to understanding the message of Isaiah! Throughout the book, we are going to hear about the individual and corporate failures of God’s people. As Isaiah will say in chapter 6, “I’m a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” The only hope for both individuals and then the rest of society is for divine cleansing—a change of heart.
The glorious hope of this future new society is conditioned on a washing away of the filth of our sinfulness. In other words, our lives and our world will never be right until the problem of our sinfulness is dealt with once and for all. The hope for our lives, our society, and our future is only through a cleansing that God can give. That’s why the preaching of the gospel is still critical and important.
True and lasting change—individually or societally—comes from the inside out because of God’s cleansing. Whether it’s in how you talk, how you relate to other people, how you conduct yourself at work, how you handle your money, how you care for the marginalized, and how you advocate for justice—all of it flows out of God’s cleansing. The gospel is essential, and it has implications.
And then finally we see the promise of the future. Notice the glorious description in verses 5-6. We see familiar metaphors connected to God’s presence (i.e., cloud by day, fire by night). And there is a promise of a booth for shade and a shelter from storm and rain. The imagery here may relate to a wedding canopy as in Joel 2:16, and we hear themes striking similar to Isaiah 54:4-8 and Revelation 21:9-11.
Isaiah shows us the kingdom that we long for. He shows us what that kingdom is like. He hints at how it will come. And he does all of this in order to give God’s people a vision of what they should be living for.
Do you think we need to be reminded of the same thing today? What kingdom are you living for? Where do you look for hope for change? How does this vision shape what you love, what you think about, and what you do?
This is a glorious vision. It’s inspiring. It’s motivational. And it’s set in contrast to where we live. Isaiah wants you to see this contrast. And that’s why he ends this preface (chapters 1-5) with a warning.
- What’s the Warning?
Isaiah is a prophet. He will not allow God’s people to merely think about “a mansion on a hilltop” without dealing with challenges in our present house. He concludes with a sober warning about the world in which the people of God were living.
Here’s a list of things that Isaiah raises:
- Despite God’s graciousness and kindness, the people (vineyard) yield wild grapes (5:1-4)
- God is going to remove his protection; divine discipline is coming (5:5-7)
- They were marked by greed, accumulating more and more (5:8-10)
- The passionate pursuit to celebrate and party but never be satisfied (5:11-17)
- There were brazen acts of sinfulness without regard for what God thinks (5:18-19)
- There was self-deception and moral blindness (5:20)
- The people were living in pride (5:21)
- They were successful and honored in dishonorable pursuits (i.e., drinking and manipulation)
These are the things that are breaking God’s heart. But even more, these are the things that are creating the looming clouds of God’s discipline. That’s why verse 25 says “therefore.” God is not pleased with his people, and he’s about to bring judgment.
Verses 26-30 are a warning that God is ready to use another nation to bring God’s people to their knees. The picture is dark:
“He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come! None is weary, none stumbles, none slumbers or sleeps, not a waistband is loose, not a sandal strap broken; their arrows are sharp, all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, and their wheels like the whirlwind. Their roaring is like a lion, like young lions they roar; they growl and seize their prey; they carry it off, and none can rescue. They will growl over it on that day, like the growling of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds” (Isa. 5:26–30).
This section ends with the question lingering in the air: “Who is going to help you?”
In light of these three chapters, let me invite us to ask ourselves some questions:
- What are our “go-to” idols? What are things in which we place our hope, our emotional happiness, our trust? What are the things that if taken away we’d feel hopeless and that life might not be worth living?
- What kingdom do we really love? How does that evidence itself in our lives?
- What might God be using in our lives, right now, in order to get our attention?
- How could we celebrate the cleansing of Jesus and then live out the implications of redemption in how we live?
When you study Isaiah, I think you’ll realize that not much has changed since 700 BC. Israel and Judah’s issues look surprisingly familiar. And the question of who is going to help us is relevant today.
Our world, the church, and our lives have big problems.
And Isaiah confidently declares that big problems require a big God!
Ó College Park Church
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