Text: Isaiah 21:1-17, Isaiah 22:1-25, 1 Corinthians 15:54, 1 Peter 2:6
We’re in the thick of Isaiah’s prophecy now, about a third of the way through the book we call by his name. But if you’re like me, things don’t feel much clearer than when we first began. So far in our reading, I’ve come across more questions than answers. But I think that’s okay. I think this feeling we’re feeling (are you feeling it, too?) is by design. We are not meant to feel comfortable here.
Isaiah’s prophecy to this point, both in general and in detail, is dark. If his message were one of those Magic 8-balls we had when we were kids, we’d shake it and it would say, “Outlook not good.” Judgment was coming. This was certain.
“Looking” is a recurring theme in these two chapters. We see it in chapter 21 when the Lord tells Isaiah, “Go, post a lookout; let him report what he sees” (v.6). The watchman sees what the Lord said he would: horsemen approaching in pairs. “Babylon has fallen, has fallen,” the Lord replies. “All the images of her gods have been shattered on the ground” (v.9).
As readers of Isaiah’s prophecy, we look, too, watching the scene through our modern-day imaginations. And we see it: destruction and devastation, pain and anguish. We see a kingdom fall along with its false gods—gods incapable of rescue.
Further into chapter 21, we see the lookers again. In his oracle against Dumah, Isaiah reports: “One calls to me from Seir, ‘Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?” (v.11). Desperation echoes in the repetition; surely there is something good, somewhere off in the distance? And there is—for a moment. “Morning has come, and also night,” the watchman replies (v.12). There is hope, sure, he says, but it won’t last.
In short, Isaiah 21 leaves us right where we started: lost in darkness and despair, no hope to be found among us.
No hope to be found among us.
Hope had to come to us. And Hope did, though we refused to see Him (John 1:10-11).
In chapter 22, Isaiah’s prophecy pivots to an oracle against Jerusalem, the holy city itself. Though referred to here as the “Valley of Vision,” Jerusalem was blind. They’d built up walls of self-reliance and weapons of their own strength, all in vain. They looked to themselves, forgetting their God. The prophet says to them:
“You made a reservoir between the walls for the waters of the ancient pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or consider the One who created it long ago.”
- Isaiah 22:11
God called Israel to repent, but they had a party. God offered them solace, but they celebrated their futility instead. God said “Look!”, but they would not see.
What about us? Will we look? Not just to the future, hoping for a bright light on the horizon. Not to ourselves, drawing strength from our empty wells. And certainly not to whatever shallow joy we can cook up on our own. No, we look to the Lord of Hosts.
The Lord is the One who establishes kings and kingdoms, and He is the One who remains after they fall.
The Lord is the One who calls out to those in darkness and implores them to see His face—beautiful, holy, good.
The Lord is the One whose holy justice cannot overlook sin, and He is the One whose merciful compassion provides sin’s remedy at His own expense.
The cross of Christ was the darkest point on the landscape of humanity, but that sacrifice purchased our rescue. Because of Jesus, His death and glorious resurrection, death itself “has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Devastation is still all around us, and we are bowed down, dismayed (Isaiah 21:3). But we look. We look to Christ. We look to Christ and we return to Him, repenting of our sin and trusting Jesus, the only true and lasting Hope.
Thanks be to God and to Jesus Christ, our eternal, incorruptible Savior. Amen.