Bible Study: Isaiah 51:1-23
In today’s lesson, God sends several messages to His people, calling them to righteousness and reminding them of His strength and deliverance.
Isaiah Chapter 51
Lessons from the text
Blessing Or Burden?
Jesus says that the ways of God are like a light yoke and an easy burden (Mt 11:30). That is, what He has to put on us is not difficult to bear. Why, then, do people complain about having to be a Christian?
I wish I could go watch that movie, but I have to separate from the world. I wish I could drive that fancy car, but I’m not supposed to care about material things. I wish I could boss everyone around like the top person at work, but I am supposed to serve.
The Cupps have a song that sums up the attitude quite nicely: people want to leave God and His ways out of the picture, but what’s wrong with living right?
For some reason, people who do not know God find His ways troublesome, heavy, outdated, or intolerant. The opposite is true; His ways are living right.
What’s wrong with living right? What’s wrong with turning the other cheek, answering anger with love? What’s wrong with choosing to invest your time with friends and family instead of putting in extra hours to get a material good you desire? What’s wrong with simply turning off the TV to open the Scriptures or to pray?
It is actually easy. Our flesh makes it difficult.
Jesus says that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41). Paul says that the desires of the flesh and of the spirit are contrary to each other (Gal 5:17).
For example, consider fasting. By failing to eat and or drink, you literally starve the body. You cut off the physical source of life for the body and rely solely on the spiritual source of life. The flesh, then, is weakened, which allows your spirit to draw closer to God. With the desires of the flesh being starved, you can see more clearly spiritual things because you are depending on the Spirit of God to be your food and strength.
Does your stomach want you to fast? Of course not! Yet the desire to draw closer to God compels believers to sometimes withdraw from the physical. Our spirit desires to return to God, but the body and our natural mind want to eat our favorite foods, partake of our favorite hobbies, and, if you’re like most of us, do whatever we want to with our time! Point being, the spirit is interested in spiritual matters and the flesh is interested in physical things.
That is why the nonbelievers who lack the Spirit of God in their hearts cannot understand why someone would enjoy neglecting the physical necessities by fasting. It doesn’t make sense to do something which will, if continued, kill you. To the lost, fasting is a heavy, difficult burden. To go a week without food! That’s pushing physical limitations!
To the believer, however, fasting is easy. The believer overcomes the physical rules by the indwelling Spirit who is our source of life. When the spirit moves on us to fast, He stifles our desire to eat and instills a satisfaction better than bread. See John 4:31-34 for an example.
(Note: fasting, because it is literally starving yourself, should never be undertaken unless God has told you to fast. Without Him supporting your body, you will be weakened and could suffer physical consequences. As with other rituals of the Christian faith, only engage in fasting after receiving God’s permission.)
God is trying to tell the Jews that His Law should be a light, easy burden. They, however, viewed it as a heavy, cumbersome duty, revealing that they were more interested in satisfying their flesh than their spirit. As a believer, we should be careful that we are not viewing God’s expectations of our lives as troublesome. If we find ourselves doing just that, it is a strong warning that we are giving in to our flesh and not walking in the spirit.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-2 God has a specific message for those who seek righteousness. One is to look back to one's origins, for the Jew and Gentile both it is the example of faith demonstrated by Abraham. The rock is Abraham, and the hole of the pit is Sarah.
3 God promises to comfort by healing the desert and wilderness. When one is right in the eyes of God, then one's life will become rich and bountiful, not necessarily in physical things but in bearing spiritual fruit. These are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal 5:22-23). When a person has these, what seemed empty and uncontrollable in one's life now becomes a place of comfort and happiness.
4 God's law is a source of light to people. David, in Psalm 119, says that the word "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (v105). Jesus said that he is the light of the world (Jn 8:12). The Scriptures are there so one can fully understanding God and the ways of righteousness. When one learns from them and obeys them, then one is able to see clearly what choices and direction one should take in one's life.
5 God is never far away. Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation has been made readily available to all humans. The reference to the arm of the Lord is to make one realize that God is actively working on the earth. He is not a distant God but is instead a God who actively participates in our lives and who is standing right beside us; if mankind would merely turn to see Him, all could have salvation.
6 God pleads with man to consider not the earthly things that perish but the heavenly things which are eternal. The earth and all its goods are to be viewed from the heavenly perspective, which is that this world is only a short time compared to the vastness of eternity. Such is why it is more important to secure a life in heaven than to live as one pleases in this life.
7 A person is righteous when one has God's law in one's heart. One is not righteous through the works of the law, but the presence of God's word in one's heart. That is, one is made righteous by the indwelling Spirit of God and not by any action or performance. On fearing men, see Matthew 10:28.
8 Similar to verse 6, God is drawing attention to the fact that the things of this world will perish whereas His ways and His salvation are eternal. If one chooses to dwell in this world and does not consider heavenly things, then one will perish as this world perishes. On the contrary, if one chooses to pursue heavenly things, then one is partaking in eternal things.
9-11 The believer pleads for God to work on this earth and in a mighty way because the believer knows that His ways bring everlasting joy. The sinner is frightened by the strength of God, but the believer rejoices.
12-13 When one steps back and really considers the difference between God and man, one recognizes the error in fearing man above fearing God. Man may be able to oppress others but is nothing compared to the power and authority it takes to speak creation into existence. God can at any time override man's power and do as He pleases. Such would be an example of God's hand being strengthened.
14-16 God is saying that He is not like an oppressor who keeps His people captive. His hand is one of comfort and protection, yet people try to flee from Him as though He is a burden to them. He binds one to Him in a covenant not to imprison one but for one's own good. He is the Almighty Creator. Ultimately, His ways are right and will endure forever. One should count it an honor and privilege to be put in His care and to partake of eternal things instead of viewing it as a burden.
17-23 God calls to the Jews to wake up from their current state. They have fallen so low that no one mourns their affliction. That is, because of their sins, they have no friends. It is easier for men to look down on those who are reaping negative consequences for their choices than to have compassion on them. God, however, is not that way; although they have been under God's wrath, God will deliver the Jews. He has compassion on those who are afflicted, even if they are afflicted because of their sins.
This promise of deliverance is a specific prophecy concerning Babylon; the Babylonians who took the Jews captive were themselves overthrown by the Persians. As they took advantage of other's weaknesses, they would be made weak and lowly. This prophecy, then, is not to be extended to all believers. God delivered the Jews because of His covenant; this does not mean that He will deliver one from the consequences of one's sins. He may do so, but then again He may not.
Thank you for your faithfulness in studying God's word.
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