“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (Isaiah 6:9-13).
The prophet’s message is to be predominantly one of judgment (Isaiah 6:9-13). Heaven’s sentence has been passed upon the nation of Israel as a result of it’s widespread and deep apostasy from God. God cannot bear any more of their dead hypocritical religion (1:4-15). And so the prophet’s ministry will be the means by which God’s judgment will be made effective upon them. His ministry will make the people more blind, more deaf, and harder in the heart. The test of any ministry is not that of success but faithfulness to God. The prophet’s ministry may seem to end in failure. It will not. The land of Israel will lie in ruin and the people will be carried away into exile in Babylon (v11-12). But there will be a seed, a tiny remnant that will survive. The roots of this remnant will shoot again and true living faith will emerge once more. We need a long-range perspective on ministry.
For “go ye” is yet God’s command to his people (Matthew 28:19). God has yet a remnant according to the election of grace in this world, though it heaves with sin. It is a task that requires men with stamina, courage by the grace of God Men with a deep awareness of their own sin and a profound experience of grace. A willingness to spend and be spent in the service of the Lord whatever the cost to themselves. It is apparent that the prophet’s lips and mouth have been cleansed (v7). The Lord’s servant, albeit the church, that bears the word of God to both nation and the world also must be pure. There must needs be an overwhelming sense of the glory and awesome holiness of God. The worldwide church today has a need to see the throne (v1).
1 The Content of the Prophet’s Message (v9-10)
The question is from the Triune God, who will go for us (v8; Genesis 1:26). What the prophet has seen and heard has greatly disturbed him, now he feels compelled to offer himself to God. This is a genuine response to saving grace, offering oneself in service to the God who has granted such a gracious deliverance. If nothing else is to be learned from the Pentecost event (Acts 2), it is that people filled with the Spirit of God are compelled to speak of the wonderful works of God. When people refuse to serve the Lord it is I think perhaps that they are strangers to such grace and to the Spirit of God. It was his sin that silenced the prophet (v5). But now he is a redeemed sinner he is free to speak. Being united to a reconciling God he finds himself united to God’s missionary society, the church. The church in any age is brought in to be sent out.
The content of Isaiah’s message is to be clear (v9). Not obscure. Just like the parables of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. These verses we are studying here are quoted five times in the New Testament, that tells us they are of some importance. The people must hear and they must see clearly. The word of God will come to them through his servant repeatedly and they must be left in no doubt. The prophet must speak plainly in intelligible language so that hearing they may hear and seeing they may see. The content is ever the same. Negatively, the message is of man’s sin and God’s judgment upon that sin, warning (Isaiah 57:21). Love warns people of their danger. The churches failure to warn people of God’s impending judgment today reflects a lack of love. It is love that cries out against the desolation of a wicked society. Positively, the message of God’s grace and salvation through that grace to those who bow humbly before him, repent and believe the gospel.
But for Isaiah, his message is to be predominantly of judgment (v11-12). For how long? Until the land is in ruins The purpose of God in the prophet’s preaching is in actual fact that they mustn’t understand, perceive the truth spiritually, that is. O they understand naturally, intellectually, with their minds. But not spiritually, not with the heart, not savingly. They will not understand in such a way that they will repent, convert and be healed. The preacher’s preaching will harden them (v10). And it will do so in a clear, consistent way. This is not an easy ministry but then ministry never is easy (2Corinthians 2:15-16). The preacher in any day and generation must be both ready and willing for this or he will be sorely disappointed. So why will the people be hardened? It is God’s wrath, his holy displeasure, and indignation against their apostasy from the truth (Romans 1:18ff). We do well to remember what God has done for these people before we ourselves think hard thoughts about God and incur his displeasure ourselves. “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:4)?
Of course, if we believe that saving grace is intended for all this text will make no sense at all. God is love and that he loves is all we hear today. Yes, he is, but first and foremost he loves himself, his own holiness. And then his love is particular towards his elect people. His grace to is particular, never common. His wrath is constantly being revealed against all the ungodliness of men (Romans 1:18). So here the preacher is sent in holy indignation, preaching the word of God, which will, in fact, be an operation of the wrath of God. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). If there is no gracious response to the word preached then there is ever opposition, rebellion, rejection, and hardening. But a response there always will be (Isaiah 55:11). Without the sovereign, particular, saving grace of God, there is no salvation.
2. The Reason for the Prophet’s Message (v11-12)
If we begin and end with man we will not solve anything, least of all man’s problems. Now some hold that God shows his grace to all but if they are unwilling to receive his grace then hardening sets in. The hardening, in other words, is man’s own doing. The problem with that is, what about those who are saved? I mean they were dead too, spiritually, as all others (Ephesians 2:1-2). Not just a little bit dead but a lot dead, totally dead. Also if men harden their own hearts is God impotent to soften their hearts? He does so with the elect. Is he not sovereign, powerful enough to do so with others. Is man then more powerful than God, that’s what the question comes down to? The answer is clear, the problem is not with man’s will. Oh, man is responsible, no question, he is guilty. God does not treat his creatures as stocks and blocks, as robots even. No, it’s clear, the answer lies in God’s will, not man’s. It is God’s rejection of some men (v10). Reprobation it is called. For God not only elects but also rejects. This is denied by many Christians who think that they are more loving than God. Then some speak of God merely passing by some. But is that not rejection? I mean is God not the potter and man the clay?
““Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:2-4)?
He hardens and softens according to his own will.
“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour“ (Romans 9:18-21)?
God is God. Through reprobation, he reveals both his divine wrath and righteousness. It is the exact same teaching as the parable of the wheat and the tares.
“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
This is the context of Isaiah’s ministry, it is to harden the hearts of many guilty sinners in Israel. Their guilt must be manifest. God must be seen to be a righteous Judge in his acts of judgment. This is never clearer when in the preaching of God’s salvation men are hardened, and to be clearly seen as wicked. This is true of all the Old Testament preaching and even that of Jesus. What was the result of their preaching? The majority displeased God.
“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1Corinthians 10:5). “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” Matthew 11:18-24).
In the end, Jesus was deemed unfit to live.
“And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas” (Luke 23:18).
The influence of the word of God upon the reprobate is ever the same, it is a savour of death unto them. This is the negative purpose in Isaiah’s ministry. It is a ministry of God’s ripening the apostate in Israel for judgment. Oh, the saving operations of God’s Spirit are always present in the word of God proclaimed, but there are times when this recedes into the background and hardening comes to the fore. The purpose of Isaiah’s commission is to ripen for judgment. So the good seed, the grain will ripen also, both grow together (Matthew 13:30). But there are times, that if God does not act in judgment the remnant will be choked out. As in Noah’s day. The ungodly are ripened for judgment and Zion is redeemed by the same judgment. National Israel must be rejected so that the elect in Israel may be saved.
3. The Outcome of Isaiah’s Ministry (v13)
Envisaged in the plan is one of mounting tragedy and destruction. God’s judgment is no light matter, much more than a few bad days. The cities, houses, fields will lie in ruin, the people will be gone, deported exiled. Some will never see home again. And that is not the worst, there is also eternity to come. It is Assyria that is the initial threat, they will come and go. Read chapters seven to thirty-seven and catch something of the devastation visited upon Israel. Beyond that, it gets even darker still, just when you think it cannot possibly get any worse. It does, the Babylonians come, chapters thirty-eight to forty-eight. But it is then just when you think all is lost, as it was with the prophet himself, the nation too is undone (v5), the voice of God cuts in (v7). For there is a holy seed, a remnant who will enjoy the promises of God (v13b). In the Zion, that is yet to be. God’s work is not finished, not yet awhile.
There is, of course, the short-term sorrow, the prophet cries, “how long” (v11). It is not an unbelieving, rebellious question but one of pain, grief, deep sorrow (Romans 9:3). The same sorrow expressed by Jesus (Luke 13:34). The outworking of God’s sovereign decree in election apart, that any of his kinsmen should be lost tears the prophet apart. It tears the man Christ Jesus apart likewise (Luke 13:34). Anyone who is complacent or who rejoices in the thought anyone being lost has not understood the call of God. The Lord speaks of “this people” (v8, 10). The prophet he cries “his people,” whom he dwells in the midst of (v5). Is this you, is this me, do we cry to the Lord today, how long Lord? Will you destroy the United Kingdom altogether? Do you ever ask? Surely there must be an end, a limit to the hardening operations of the Almighty?
The utter destruction is short-term, the plan of God is long term (v13). The devastation will not be complete, a tenth will survive (v13). The number ten in biblical numerics is the full measure of God’s will on the earth. It is the number of fullness. This remnant will return from Babylon and begin to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem. In the meantime, this holy seed remains mixed with the chaff. That holy seed is Christ’s, they are in him and have been from before the foundation of the world. The tree will be chopped down, the judgment of God will leave only a stump, but then it will begin to sprout again (v13). The remnant will be saved, redeemed by judgment. Thus the conclusion. The prophet goes forth to proclaim the word of the Lord in the darkness of Israel’s day, rebuking, crying against their sin, warning of the coming judgment.
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sinsCry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).
If you have heard God’s word, spiritually perceived, understood with your heart? If you have turned, repented at God’s calling, it is not of your own doing. It is of God’s grace in Christ. Therefore, stand astonished at the difference between what you have received and what you truly deserved. At the state that you are in now and your past gracelessness, the heaven that you are now bound for and the Hell you merit. Who made you to differ, but God? For you were no more ready to receive Christ than are others. You would never have begun to love God had he not first loved you, or been willing had he not first made you to.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,5 even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)6 and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:7 that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9 not of works, lest any man should boast.1 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in themBut God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:5-10).
The days in our land today are dark, what will the end of our nation be, has God finished with us altogether? There is nothing but the evidence of God’s wrath all over us, it is like a rash. Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he forgotten his promises? Will he abandon his church? No, despite the hardening effects of the preaching amidst our nation today the remnant according to grace stands. There is a holy seed that abides to all eternity, we must keep this in mind. Without these last words (v13), we would be looking at utter and absolute hopelessness. There are some who will be irretrievably hardened, beyond repair (Hebrews 6:4-8), doubtless. The human eye cannot see the point of no-return but an all-sovereign God can. He knows and appoints in perfect righteousness and justice. In the midst of a difficult and discouraging ministry, the revelation of God’s utter sovereignty is what Isaiah, and we too, must cling to. He rules and reigns (v1). He stands upon Mount Zion in the midst of his people controlling all events and causing all things to work together for their good. All he has decreed will come to pass.