We had planned, a pastor-friend and I, a series of studies in Isaiah for his church. His enthusiasm for the studies was infectious. But when the time came, he did not attend. Why not? Some people would put it simply: "Cancer killed him." Yet from another perspective, we can say, "The Lord took him home into his presence."
Thus, it was with a heart filled with sorrow and gratitude that I set off for the week in question. Filled with ideas and enthusiasm, I was convicted that "trusting God in troubled times" was the right theme for this bereaved church. I was loaded with emotion and the hope that our study times would be real encounters with God himself. And what times we had together! Times of worship, laughter and sober reflection. So it is to the memory of Eugene Kwa, to his wife, Ann Nai, and to the members of the church which he pastored that this is dedicated.
Isaiah is a difficult and, therefore, often-neglected book. Why should we study Isaiah? First, because it is part of holy Scripture and is great literature. We should study these selected passages because trusting God is still essential and troubled times are our lot too.
These studies contain some fascinating passages, including (1) hard-hitting criticisms of empty religion;(2)panoramic and extraordinarily impressive views of God's coming day of judgment and the everlasting joys which follow it;(3)some of the most famous Messianic prophecies;(4)dramatic narratives of times of national crisis;(5)honest exposures of a rotten society and a heartfelt cry for revival;(6)the famous story of Isaiah's call and mysterious commission and meditations on what it means for us to be trustful, faithful servants of God;(7)robust assertions that God is the world's only Savior with worldwide purposes we are to carry out;(8)and many passages full of pastoral comfort and memorable verses for our "spiritual armory."
Isaiah lived through turbulent times. He was called to his work at the time when a famous Assyrian king was building his empire into the largest and cruelest that western Asia had ever seen. He saw the neighboring kingdom of Israel crack, collapse and vanish. For forty years Isaiah walked quietly in the corridors of power challenging a knock-kneed king to trust God even when he could see the campfires of the apparently invincible Assyrian army right outside his own city's locked gates and hear the threats of the general coming over the walls.
We know nothing of his wife, but Isaiah had two sons with names which were signposts to coming events. Isaiah was a social critic, remorselessly applying the yardstick of God's law to what he saw. He was a prophet—not an astrologer with cunningly ambiguous forecasts but a man who saw both the present and the future in an eternal light. He was a pastor, looking with compassion on his fellow citizens and feeding them by teaching them. He was a poet, seeing the same events more fully, more deeply, more sharply.
It is our privilege to read his words, to be still, to observe, to receive, to meditate on what he said, and then to join in life-building, invigorating discussion in order that we too might trust God more, and thus with joy draw water from the wells of salvation.
Kosuke Koyama has pointedly contrasted Christianity as a noisy religion with the quiet religion of Buddhism. The barrage of words increases daily, amplified and multiplied by ever more sophisticated technology. We need some countermeasures. Isaiah's one hundred pages represent forty years of ministry. What then is his unusual impact? Most of the time he lived what he talked. By studying Isaiah, your life can also find a still center.
"This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength' " (Isa 30:15).