Isaiah was a prophet in ancient Judah, whose father is traditionally identified as the brother of King Amaziah, making him a grandson of King Joash (Is 1:1; 2Ki 14:1). Isaiah prophesied from about 740 to 681 B.C. during a period of steady decline—economic, political, and military—but Judah’s real distress was spiritual and moral.
Isaiah thus begins his book with a warning (chs. 1-6), showing the people that their sinful hubris violated the holiness of God himself, “the Holy One of Israel” (Is 1:4). Unfortunately, instead of responding with “a contrite and lowly” humility, Judah closed the eyes of their heart and rejected the healing of the Lord (57:15 ESV; 6:10). So Isaiah turns to the future, predicting God’s holy judgment and his merciful deliverance. Like a miniature Bible, Isaiah spends 39 chapters laying out the bad news, and then 27 chapters tracing out the good news, with a few detours along the way. Like many of the prophets, his visions are fulfilled in three ways: (1) initially in threats from Assyria (chs. 7-38; 7:17) and Babylon (39:1-44:23; 39:6-7), (2) eventually in the exiles’ return under the Persians (44:24-66:24; 13:17), and (3) ultimately in the reign of God himself (52:7).
It’s this coming of God’s kingdom that most fascinated the writers of the New Testament. When they read of this newborn king (Is 9:6-7) and suffering servant (52:13), they recognized him as the same bringer of good news they knew as the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:35). Isaiah’s own name says it all: Yahweh is Salvation. The prophet’s ultimate hope is therefore the same as ours today: one day our King will return to reign over an everlasting kingdom filled with joy, love, and light (Is 35:10; 54:8; 60:19-20).
Why These Texts? And What’s With the Outlines?
Selecting texts for a 12-week survey can be difficult, but especially for a book as significant as Isaiah. These lessons focus on those passages most influential in the New Testament (NT). To identify them, I started with an outline of Isaiah from Outline of Bible Books by David Lang, Greg Ward, and Sean Nelson (Accordance, 2015), and then simply listed NT citations from Isaiah using the margins of my ESV and NKJV, plus a great table in The ESV Study Bible (C. John Collins, “Old Testament Passages Cited in the New Testament”). Next, I highlighted the passages of Isaiah that were cited most often (sometimes expanding or contracting sections in the outline to fit the context), and then rounded these selections out by adding an introduction (chs. 1-2) and conclusion (chs. 65-66).
When I teach, I prefer to use outlines just deep enough to remind me of the author’s thoughts, but not so in-depth that I get bogged down in my notes. I share these here in hopes they might be of help to others too. These were usually tweaked right after I taught the text, so they don’t always reflect exactly what was recorded. To focus our thoughts each week, I like to ask a few fundamental questions:
For more information on Isaiah, check out the study helps listed below, or leave me a note at the Contact tab above.
“In nine passages, the Hebrew Bible pictures the land groaning under the weight of sin, longing for redemption (Amos 1:2; Hosea 4:1-4; Jer. 4:23-28; 12:7-13; 23:9-12; Isa. 24:1-24; 33:7-9; Joel 1:5-20).”
— John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson,
Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, p. 73
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
for his mercy endures forever!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth
saving news from day to day!
For great is the Lord, and great in our praise,
for the Lord made heavens and earth.
In his image God made man,
male and female created them.
God blessed them both and said,
“Bear fruit and flourish, fill the earth,
subdue, and rule all that lives,
fulfill my form in the flesh.”
Thus Lord formed man of dust from ground
and breathed in him life’s breath,
and man became a living soul.
Then Lord planted garden facing dawn,
there he put them he formed.
And from the ground trees sprang and sang.
The tree of life was in their midst,
and tree knowing good and evil.
A river there flowed to water all,
and he called all he made, Very Good.
There the Lord put the man he made
to tend and keep it safe.
Remember his covenant forever,
O seed of Abram his friend,
the promise he spoke
for a thousand births,
saying, “The land is yours,
roped off and gifted.”
When you were few in number,
mere strangers in the land,
he gave no room for injustice;
for you he counseled kings,
“Touch not my anointed;
do my prophets no harm!”
But I looked on earth, and lo,
without form, and all void;
and the heavens above, alas,
were black, for they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo,
they trembled, to and fro.
The earth is utterly broken,
his surface rent asunder,
the earth is violently shaken,
he staggers like a drunk.
Transgression lies heavy upon him.
If he falls, will he rise again?
The earth mourns and fades;
and all earth’s people wither.
The world lies polluted, stained;
for laws they transgressed,
changed judgment, broke faith.
Their curse devours the earth.
“They trampled down my portion;
made delight a desolation.
She mourns to me,
but none takes heart.”
So the sword of the Lord devours;
no flesh finds Sabbath rest.
Be ashamed, O farmers;
wail, O vinedressers.
Is not food cut off from our eyes,
joy and gladness from his house?
Lament like a virgin in sackcloth
for the husband of her youth.
How the beast groans, bewildered!
With no pasture sheep suffers need.
For fire eats at open field,
and flames burn all the trees.
Even beasts out grazing thirst for you;
their brooks run only dry.
Cursed is ground because of you,
in pain you eat all your days.
Thorns and thistles earth brings forth,
plants of field you eat,
by sweat of face seeking daily bread,
till back to dust you turn.
The field is destroyed,
the ground groans,
the seed shrivels under clods.
The storehouse is vain,
the granary in ruins,
the grain itself dries up.
The new wine mourns,
the vine withers,
the trees in grove sing no more--
pomegranate, palm, and apple.
No joy for Adam’s sons,
all merry-hearted sigh.
The Lord roars from Zion’s Mount,
his voice pours forth from Salem;
the shepherds’ pastures wither,
and Carmel’s springs dry up.
There is no faith or mercy,
no knowledge of God in the land.
Rather cursing, lying, killing,
thieving and perverting;
broken bounds and bloodstains abound.
Thus beasts of the field
and heavens’ birds,
even fish in the sea flee away.
“Shepherds destroyed my vineyard;
both prophet and priest polluted.
Thus their way shall be
slippery paths in the dark,
into which they shall drive and fall
in the year of disaster.”
Put on sackcloth and wail, O priests;
Come, pass the night in tears.
Set a fast, call around,
gather all who inhabit the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry aloud to his name.
For it shall be, as with people, so priest;
as with worker, so watcher;
as with buyer, so seller;
as with debtor, so lender;
The land shall be emptied and plundered;
for the Lord has spoken his word:
“I have forsaken my house,
my love is in enemy hands.
My home is but a hyena’s lair;
vultures loiter with greed.
Go, gather the beasts of the field;
bring them to devour!”
Dread and pit and snare upon you,
O kings who rule the earth!
He who flees the voice of dread
shall fall into the pit,
and he who climbs the walls of pit
shall be taken in the snare.
For windows high are opened wide,
and earth’s foundations tremble.
Moon will stare confounded
and sun will sulk in shame,
for the Lord Sabaoth reigns on high
in glory, before his saints.
Behold, the Lord empties and ruins,
twists surface and scatters squatters.
The city of chaos lies broken;
each house shut up so none enter.
In the city Death moves in,
the gate is battered to ruin.
Behold, on the corners heroes cry;
brokers of peace weep bitterly.
Highways lie waste;
and traveler ceases.
Their course is evil,
and might is not right.
Alas for the day!
The mirth of timbrels ceases,
the sounds of Jubilee fail,
the mirth of lyres is stilled.
All joy, like night, has fallen;
the world’s gladness is exiled.
But for you, O Lord, they wait with longing,
lift up their voice and sing.
Your majesty they shout o’er waves of sea,
and glory in your name at dawn.
From earth’s end we hear the songs
of praise to the Righteous One.
Let heavens rejoice, and earth shout out,
say to the world, “He reigns!”
Let sea thunder, and all its fullness;
and field burst forth from chains!
Then shall the trees of forest sing
to the Lord, for he comes to judge.
And saints embodied give an ode, newly sung,
“Worthy are you to take scroll and seals,
you were slain and your blood paid the price.
From natives’ tribes and peoples’ tongues,
you have made royal priests unto God,
and they shall reign on earth.”
Then seventh angel trumpet sounds,
and voices loud in heaven say,
“The world’s kingdom is Christ’s,
he reigns evermore.”
And twenty-four elders enthroned on high
fell on face and worshiped in song:
“To you we give thanks, O Lord our God,
who was, and is, and will be,
for you have taken up your reign.
Nations raged, but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
to destroy the wicked who destroy the earth.”
Then heaven and earth I saw remade
for first heaven and earth passed away,
and the sea separates no more.
But holy city I saw, New Peace,
led down from heaven above,
adorned as a bride for her groom.
And I heard a voice out of throne say:
“Behold, God tabernacles with man.
To him who conquers this garden comes,
their God will he be, he adopts them.
He will wipe every tear and Death shall die,
without mourning and crying and pain.”
And he who sat enthroned spoke out,
“Behold, I make all things new.” And,
“Write these words, faith and truth.”
And yet again, “It is finished!
Alpha and Zed, Beginning and End.
To the thirsty I give without pay.
“As for cowards and faithless,
loathed murderers, fakes,
loving sex and self and stone,
their portion will be in the lake that burns
with fire and brimstone--
Then angel showed me waters of life,
flowing brightly from the throne
through the midst of Salem’ street;
and on either shore of river wide
the tree of life sings with joy,
yielding leaves and fruits that heal.
No longer any trace of curse,
for God and Lamb are there.
When all his servants see his face,
not by light of lamp or sun,
but by splendor of his gaze.
Where righteousness at last is home.
“Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.”
— 1 Chronicles 16:33 ESV
Before leaving our series, I want to give you one more way to enjoy these early songs and prayers, alongside some other favorites. You see, part of what makes these songs so great is that their truths echo across the centuries, and reflect the light of Christ toward us from new angles and with new applications. Setting these songs alongside other classic and contemporary hymns allows us to extend the wisdom of the ages to our situation today. Remember, the gospel is both ancient and timeless—it doesn’t grow old. Like Christ himself said, “every writer who has been discipled for the kingdom of the heavens is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52).
The question then becomes, Which songs make the cut? Well, there’s definitely more than one way to do it, but here’s what I settled on.
Currently, this gives us 42 songs, with 2 hours and 4 minutes of great acapella music you can take with you anywhere. Here’s the link. So which songs are you surprised made the list? Which ones are you surprised didn’t? How would you have done it differently?
However you answer those questions, just remember that when we sing, it’s not about a particular list of songs. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). Wisdom and Grace—that’s our goal. So let these songs speak the word of Christ to your heart, and find your joy bringing glory to God alongside his people.
Have you ever sat in a Bible class, in awe of the grace and knowledge of your brothers and sisters (2Pe 3:18)? Or heard a prayer in worship that you knew came from the heart of a righteous person (Jam 5:16)? The more you get to know these good people, the more you realize how much of that deep faith, hope, and love were developed alone with Jesus. And when you visit with them in their homes, you’ll find a well-worn Bible and a heart filled with songs and prayers.
In this series, you’ve hopefully seen why it’s so important for every Christian (and every Christian family) to set aside time each day for communing with God. And hopefully you’ve also caught some of the how: “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16 NKJV), learning to “pray without ceasing” (1Th 5:17), and meditating on the word “all the day” (Ps 119:97).
So before we go, let’s pause and think more about what meditation looks like. When we hear that word these days, we probably picture someone sitting silently with eyes closed, legs crossed, breathing deeply. And those are all good things. But when the Bible speaks of meditation, the picture is of someone holding an open scroll, whispering the words of God under their breath, and turning them over in their minds.
It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said about how to enjoy beauty: “Look. Listen. Receive” (An Experiment in Criticism, p. 19). Here’s how that works with the Bible:
So as we read Scripture, we’re not just skimming the words on the page; we’re reading at the pace our own heart can grow. This may be a few chapters a day or just one, a few verses or a single verse. But when we do this well, we find that we’re not just reading Scripture, the Scriptures are reading us. For a great example of these principles in action, check out the Jews coming home from Babylon in Nehemiah 8. For a not-so-great example, compare this to Jesus’ chat with “a certain lawyer” in Luke 10:25-37.
Of course, everyone needs some help sometimes, a “Phillip” to come alongside us as our guide (Acts 8:31). Here are three resources I really enjoy:
However you decide to meditate each day, though, pick up a good Bible collecting dust nearby and put it to good use. Remember, these words are ancient, but ever true. Reflect on what God reveals to you through them. Their good news belongs in your heart. Teach it to others with every song you sing and every prayer you pray. Live out God’s own wisdom and grace. Grow more into him, and you will find your strength for the day.
Meditation isn’t about finding the perfect prayer routine or the perfect reading plan (though both can be helpful), but about drawing closer to the one who is Perfect. And don’t worry about how much progress you are making each day or whether you’re doing it just right. Just remember those words of the Lord:
Stand by the roads, and look,