THE CHRISTMAS PROPHET
Isaiah. It’s a strong name. A good Hebrew name. The “ah” sound evokes the sound of breath, of God’s breath. The person who bore this label on his personhood would know Almighty God with face to face intimacy. Why, the name Isaiah literally means “God’s salvation.”
Theologians call Isaiah The Christmas Prophet. That’s because of all the Old Testament prophets who foresaw the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, Isaiah had the most to say about it all.
Isaiah was called to preach by the age of 25. The year was 765 B.C. In chapter 6 of his work he powerfully tells of his experience in the temple during which God seared his lips with a burning word. “Here am I! Send me!” Isaiah responded. And he went out to preach with fiery passion.
The office of a prophet in God’s employ is a two-fold labor. First, prophecy can mean to forth-tell God’s Word to society. The most often repeated phrase in the Old Testament is “Thus saith the Lord.”
Second, prophecy can mean to retell the future. “It shall come to pass” is frequently on the lips of God’s preachers.
After God ordained Isaiah a prophet, the Lord informed this man that his ministry would be largely fruitless. “Go and say to this people, ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ “ God was strengthening Isaiah’s resolve to proclaim God’s will to a truculent, stiff-necked people who were rushing headlong into ruin. Isaiah’s job was simply to be able to say, “I told you so!”
Biblical history explains that Isaiah ministered for fifty years in southern Israel, in the region we call Judah and Jerusalem. Three kings reigned during his tenure as preacher; Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.
Reading the Christmas prophet is to discover a man who made his messages clear. He did it with memorable illustrations and remarkable poetic style.
Now, every life has a context. Just as Robert E. Lee generaled in the Civil War, so Isaiah’s era, his time, is trenchant in understanding his message.
After kings David and Solomon, Israel as a nation was diminished in glory. There was disunity as the country split north and south. God began to be served half-heartedly. And corruption and injustice spread.
Not unlike our own nation today, Israel was a nation grown soft; material possessions were what mattered, and people became enthralled with self. God was small. The individual was large.
Suddenly society was threatened by Assyria, a cruel, ruthless, marauding military power to the north. Utterly pagan, these warriors had humbled the Mideast from the Fertile Crescent to Egypt. They were known to slaughter their enemies with glee. Any prisoners of war were stripped bare, no matter if they were male or female.
Often the Assyrians put a fish hook in the cheeks of the prisoners of war. These hooks were then tied to a tether, and these human spoils of war were then jerked along in a procession of misery.
It was during the time of the Assyrian menace that Isaiah was ordained to speak with God to Israel.
He became his nation’s moral conscience, perhaps the greatest of all Israel’s prophets.
How did Israel respond to Isaiah? Smug in their material wealth, secure in themselves, having reduced their relationship with God to a covenant of convenience, Israel turned a deaf ear to preaching and set to work trying to solve their problems without reference to God.
To fend off Assyria they formed military alliances with area kings. They hired mercenaries to bolster their army. They even provoked God’s jealousy by resubmitting themselves to Egypt and the pharaoh, ignoring their national history and how God had brought them out years ago. It is a human tendency verified in the course of history. When we become our own moral standard, ultimately things go terribly wrong. But rather than repent and turn back to our creator God, we work harder, we throw money at our human woes, we seek a political solution.
Isaiah’s job was to tell Israel, “If you lean on Egypt who once enslaved you, the same Egypt whose pharaoh God destroyed, from whom God brought you out in a mighty exodus never to return, if you lean on Egypt as a crutch, they will break like a stick and pierce you with a mighty would!”
So it was Isaiah who called God’s people to repent of their waywardness, to return to God Almighty, to start living their creed once more.
What Isaiah did next is amazing. He married and fathered two sons. The names he gave his boys were prophetic. It goes to show the lengths some preachers will go to be heard, to get their point across! Son number one was called Shear-Jashub, which translated “The remnant will return.” The second was called Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, “The shame is imminent.”
More of Isaiah’s life is recorded in the second book of Kings. Outlining Isaiah’s preaching is easy, for he was a clear, organized author who wrote things down. His outline is as follows:
1. The covenanting Holy God of Israel is!
2. We are His people, and we have grown slack in keeping His covenant.
3. God is judging us with Assyria.
4. We cannot fix things ourselves. Alliance, money, human endeavor are false hopes.
5. Return to the covenant now in repentance and obedience.
6. Since you won’t repent, my two sons’ names say it all: “The shame is imminent”—war, conquest, nudity, fish hooks in your jaws. And “The remnant will return after a punishing exile.”
7. Now Isaiah (some say it was his assistant) turns from scalding prophetic doom words to tender-hearted pastoral eloquence, Isaiah 40:1: “Comfort, comfort my people…speak tenderly…cry to her…her warfare is ended.”
8. The final portion of Isaiah’s message is not forth-telling, but foretelling. He speaks and writes of the coming one, the Messiah, the Savior Jesus:
“A young woman shall conceive” (Isaiah 7:14)
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).
“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 4:6).
Years later in the mid-1700’s, a German-born composer living in Great Britain, a man known as George Friedrich Handel, a Christian, uses the prophet Isaiah’s words as the ordination for his now famous Christmas oratorio, Messiah. It is performed in every major city almost worldwide each December. So Isaiah’s message still speaks. He calls us to the Christ—once a baby—now a savior—soon a judge! Stephen Crotts
CAROLINA STUDY CENTER 3110 CARRIAGE TRAIL HILLSBOROUGH, NC 27278 919.636.2618 carolinastudycenter.com email@example.com