As you turn to the book of Isaiah, the introduction (Isa 1:1) explicitly time-warps you back 150 years, to the decade before the Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom. Isaiah lives in Jerusalem, in southern Judah, and can see the gathering Assyrian storm on the horizon. He’s convinced that the northern kingdom of Israel is done for, but he still has hope that things could turn out differently for Judah and the family of David ruling in Jerusalem.
Remember the divine blessing
Now, a quick summary of the back story that Isaiah assumes you know… Recall the story of Genesis 12 onward, how God chose Abraham after the scattering of Babylon and promised to make him into a large nation that would mediate divine blessing to all of the nations (Gen 12:1-3, 22:15-18). That promise got developed as Abraham’s family grew, ended up in slavery in Egypt, and then was rescued out of slavery and brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex 1-18). There, at the mountain, God asked the Israelites to obey all the terms of the covenant so that they could be God’s priestly representatives to all the nations (Ex 19:1-6). However, as the story went on, we watched the family of Abraham fail at this task (remember the book of Judges?). So, God raised up a royal leader who would be faithful on behalf of the unfaithful people, David. Yet, even this leader had his failures (adultery, murder), and so God promised that the ideal leader for Israel would come in the future, from David’s line. The key story was 2 Samuel 7, where God promised that a faithful king would arise and lead Israel towards faithfulness, and that he would rule over the nations forever and ever.
David himself was not that king, nor was his son, nor were any of his descendants for that matter. Because of this, when we open the book of Isaiah, we’re anticipating this promised king from the line of David who will fulfill the ancient promises of God to Abraham, Israel, and David. Isaiah does not disappoint. One of the main themes of this book is the future hope of this anticipated king.
In chapter 1, we learned that the Davidic rulers in Jerusalem have become murderers and thieves (Isa 1:21-26). God promised he would purify Israel with a coming act of divine justice, and only the repentant would be redeemed. He was referring to the Assyrian empire gathering just over the horizon, taking out Israelite cities everywhere (Isa 5:24-30). However, he trusted God’s ancient promise to David, and he knew that this act of judgment would not be God’s final word. And so, his hope for a future ruler is introduced in the opening chapter: “I will restore your rulers as in the beginning… and you [Jerusalem] will be called ‘city of righteousness, the faithful city’” (1:26).
God allows the southern kingdom and family of David to go through the fire and come out the other side purged and faithful. The ultimate goal isn’t just to glorify Israel. The poem in Isaiah 2:1-5 shows that when God restores Jerusalem and the family of Abraham, all people will be drawn to the Kingdom of God, resulting in peace among all the nations.
The storyline of Isaiah in chapters 1-2 goes something like this:
Israel’s sin > Divine justice: Assyria > Restoration of Israel with a new king > Peace on earth!
The rest of the book of Isaiah picks up and develops this storyline, introducing new twists along the way. If you grasp this basic storyline, you’ve got the main idea. The poems and narratives to follow show how Assyria came to town and ruined much of the southern kingdom (Isa 3-11). Isaiah confronted one Davidic king, Ahaz (Isa 7), who ended up being as faithless as his ancestors, and so Isaiah looked forward to a king who would be like David and have radical faith to save Israel from the Assyrian threat. This is the king described in the famous poem in Isaiah 9:1-7 (the excerpt below is from 9:2, 6-7):
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them…
For a child will be born to us,
a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.