In our last essay we studied Isaiah 24-25. In this essay we study chapters 26-27, which continue the thought of chapters 24-25. The section begins with a song of thanksgiving that will be sung in Judah.
Here we see a contrast with respect to what we saw in 24:10-13. There we saw a “city of chaos” that represented the evil world, a city that God broke down and whose gates he destroyed. Here in the song of thanksgiving, instead of the city of chaos, we have another city whose walls are salvation, whose gates are open to all the righteous, and whose might lies in trust in the Lord.
Verses 2-3 tell us that faith and trust are the keys to entry into the city. Ever since chapter seven Isaiah has been pushing the issue of whether or not Judah would trust in God or in other nations. And as we see here in verse four, the day is coming when Judah actually will trust in God forever. Verses 5-6 explain why God can be trusted. He has brought down the evil city of chaos. And the feet of the poor will trample on their former oppressors.
John Oswalt labels verses 7-19 “a psalm of dependence.” I don’t think he means to separate these verses from verses 1-6 in the sense of their being a separate song. The same song continues, but Oswalt sees a change of emphasis from thanksgiving to dependence. By dependence he means dependence on God for salvation. God is the only one who can save them.
Notice Isaiah’s transition from verse six to verses seven and following. In verse six he mentions the feet of the poor. Now in verse seven he speaks about the road, or path, on which the righteous (which would include many poor) walk. In a land of many hills a flat, straight road is a welcome thing. And that is the image Isaiah uses here to describe the way of the righteous.
Verse eight reminds us that those who are in right relation to God, who do the will of God, walk the road that leads to God. And for such people, oneness with God is the goal of life.
Verse nine continues the thought of verse eight, but it goes further. It suggests that even the wicked could learn righteousness. However verse 10 acknowledges the fact that the wicked, if favor is shown to them, normally do not learn righteousness. That is, if they are not punished for their wickedness, they refuse to see the light.
But Isaiah sees another possibility for the wicked that he expresses in verse 11. Since the wicked do not see God’s hand at work in the world, Isaiah prays that they will see God’s love and zeal working on behalf of his people and be ashamed. But if that doesn’t work, then Isaiah calls for the fire of God’s judgment to consume them.
Verse 12 is a kind of transition verse. In it Isaiah returns to the theme of his confidence in God. He expresses his faith that God ultimately will bring peace to his people. And he credits God for all the goods things the people have experienced.
In verses 13-15 Isaiah glances back at Israel’s history and also ahead to the end-time. He reminds his readers that “other lords” have ruled over Israel many times. But a remnant of Israel always has acknowledged only the Lord’s name and thus remained faithful to God. Those foreign rulers all are dead now. They have come under God’s judgment. But Israel lives on. And she has increased in number.
As we shall soon see, Isaiah also has his eye on the end-time. His perspective is the final restoration, which will consist of all believers, including the New Israel, the Church.
Next Isaiah once again returns to his present situation. This movement back and forth between the present and the future is a common pattern in Isaiah, as is the movement back and forth between judgment and restoration. Verse 16 suggests that the hard experiences of Israel’s history were the Lord’s chastisements. The people were much more likely to turn to God when under stress than when everything was going well for them. In verses 17-19 Isaiah likens Israel’s struggles to a woman in labor. Unfortunately, nothing was produced. Instead of babies to populate the next generation, it was as though they had given birth to the wind. In other words, as they struggled through the years in their own strength, they produced nothing of value.
Yet, according to verse 19, there will be a happy ending. The dead will be revived with songs of joy; and they will partake of the festivities associated with God’s final triumph. From our Christian point of view, Isaiah was foreseeing the coming resurrection of the dead made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. The righteous dead are not abandoned. They belong to God.
Oswalt calls verses 26:20-27:1 “an oracle of salvation.” Since the resurrection spoken of in verses 16-19 had not yet taken place, Isaiah invited the people of his day to take refuge from the wrath that was present at that time. But he kept the final judgment in view. The day will come when God will settle all accounts and punish the wicked. The earth itself will reveal those who were unjustly killed.
Oswalt includes 27:1 with the oracle, because he believes that the chapter division is misplaced. Isaiah wanted strong imagery to conclude and cap his vision of God’s triumph, so he turned to the Leviathan story. In Israel the Leviathan symbolized everything that is evil; and Isaiah says that God will kill it.
In 27:2-6 Isaiah once again uses to the imagery of a vineyard, as he had done back in 5:1-7. In both cases the vineyard is Israel and the keeper is God. However, in chapter five the vineyard was unfruitful, and God abandoned it. Here Isaiah is referring to post-judgment Israel, the Israel of the restoration. It is pleasant and fruitful. God waters it moment by moment. In other words, every need is met when needed (v. 3). In chapter five the briars and thorns were invited in. Here they are kept out (v. 4). Furthermore this restoration vineyard will produce fruit that will benefit the whole world (v. 6).
Verse seven raises the question whether the promise of verse six is possible. The “them” of verse seven is Israel of verse six. In Isaiah’s day Israel was suffering, and as verse eight indicates, exile was coming; so it was a reasonable question to ask. Verse nine tells us that the punishment, the exile, mentioned is intended for discipline and purification from sin. Notice that all idols will be completely smashed to smithereens, and all sacred poles and altars of false gods will be pulled down.
Some have identified the city of verse 10-11 as Jerusalem; others as Samaria; but it is the same evil city that we saw before (24:10-12; 25:2-3; 25:6). It is the symbolic city that represents all of Israel’s oppressors. And notice that it is completely destroyed. In verse 11 it is described with a new image, that of a dead tree whose branches are stripped for firewood.
The section (chapters 24-27) ends with another reference to the end-time restoration. In the end-time there will be a great harvest of God’s people. He will gather them one by one from the entire Near East. Notice his use of the word “dead.” Once again we see a suggestion of the end-time resurrection.