Isaiah: Prophet of the New Mind

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Prophet of the New Mind

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What makes a literary work a classic?

The words of a masterpiece transcend the vagaries of time. They are forever new. They apply to all generations. Their precepts range across millennia.

Once that kingdom becomes reality—when all is said and done and when all things have been fulfilled—then these futuristic words of Isaiah will find their ultimate fulfillment: “For past troubles are forgotten; they have vanished from my sight. See I am creating new heavens and a new earth! The past will no more be remembered, nor will it ever come to mind” (Isaiah 65:16-17).

Such a legendary work outlives its time and circumstances. One such work is the book of Isaiah. Transcending its historical context, Isaiah is a classic whose pages are not bound by any particular time. Isaiah was inspired by One who, its author says, "inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15).

If Isaiah were a single book and not just one of 66 in an anthology, it would still be a classic. As it is, ancient Jewish authorities singled it out for the beginning of a major section of the Bible.

Isaiah properly epitomizes the books of the Hebrew prophets. It is introductory. Its themes range across the age of man and—when you understand it—beyond the age of humanity into eternity.

The Supremely Important Introduction

The introduction to a significant written work is critical to comprehending its contents. There the author defines his purpose and to whom his message is directed.

This one begins: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah" (Isaiah 1:1).

Based on the dates of the reigns of these rulers of the Kingdom of Judah, Isaiah wrote around 740-685 B.C. His message is historical. That is, his vision occurred in a specific place during a specified period. So why should we, 27 centuries later, concern ourselves with the contents of this ancient Hebrew writing?

First we should understand to whom the prophet's vision is addressed, along with who, if anyone, is exempt from the authority of his words. In Isaiah 1:2 Isaiah tells us to whom his message applies: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!"

Isaiah's message is universal, for all peoples of all ages everywhere, and as such it demands our closest attention.

Behind-the-scenes Author

But what should concern us most is the ultimate source of Isaiah's inspired words. From whom did Isaiah get his message? Who instructed the prophet to take these words to all peoples?

Isaiah writes: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken ..." (Isaiah 1:2). According to the Bible, its source is divine. The prophet's vision stems directly from the Creator.

If we accept the Bible's claim that it is the Word of God, Isaiah's message merits our closest attention. We have no option but to read his book for understanding and try to properly apply its counsel.

God called Isaiah around 740 B.C., "in the year that King Uzziah died." In that transitional time the prophet saw, in vision, the throne of God (Isaiah 6:1-3). Here, in the things Isaiah witnessed, are his credentials. Here is the source of his message. Here is ultimate authority.

Isaiah's initial response, however, is typical of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles who viewed a scene almost beyond human imagination. In the language of 2,700 years ago, Isaiah blurted out his reaction to the vision of the Creator of heaven and earth: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips; ... for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).

Only God can call a prophet and fit him to utter a divine message; our minds cannot understand how this can be. God symbolically cleansed Isaiah, with a burning coal, before He let him impart the message. God said to Isaiah: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged" (Isaiah 6:7).

These passages, early in Isaiah's book, establish three important points: to whom the book is addressed, the source of Isaiah's message and the author's credentials. But what about the message itself?

Good News and Bad News

Isaiah's writing mirrors the New Testament gospel—the announcement of the good news of the Kingdom of God—more than any other single book in the Old Testament. It is the book most quoted by Jesus Christ and the apostles. It has rightly been called a miniature Bible.

The essence of Isaiah is the good news of God's Kingdom and Christ's central role as its King. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, O Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7).

But we don't hear a lot of good news today. Turn on your television; read your newspaper. Bad news mounts up.

Yet Isaiah's priority was to address his contemporaries on their terms. He graphically summarized the state of his own nation: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment" (Isaiah 1:5-6).

Sadly, this description fits our world even better than it applied to Isaiah's. This is especially true of the West. Few aspects of our lives—financial, legal, moral, familial—are not threatened by disruption and disaster. No category appears safe.

But Isaiah's message remained one of hope. While lamenting the sad condition of the people, he boldly called for reform by imploring his hearers to "cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Are these the words of an antiquated, out-of-date political reformer? Or do they accurately describe the gaping lacks in our own state of affairs?

It was not that long ago that many elderly people lost their life's savings in a defunct savings-and-loan bank in a small Texas city near the Mexican border. One saver had even been assured that his money was as secure as if it had been locked up in Fort Knox.

These people began their lives before the Great Depression of the 1930s and served their country during World War II. They hadn't invested in junk bonds or speculative stocks. A supposedly reputable financial institution had failed them.

Yet it is characteristic of Isaiah to offer solace to all people, no matter how badly they have failed themselves and others. "Come now, and let us reason together," said the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow ..." (Isaiah 1:18).

Good Confused with Evil

Isaiah draws a distinct line between right and wrong, good and evil. Perhaps one reason Isaiah and other Bible writers are not taken seriously is our penchant for trapping ourselves in a maze of blurred and fuzzy moral standards.

At the heart of the West's slide into abject lawlessness is confusion about what's right and what's wrong. Isaiah describes and soundly condemns such moral misalignment: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20).

Haranguing people about wrongs and injustices, however, won't change them. Yelling at people doesn't alter their hearts and minds. Isaiah recognized this and called for a new way of thinking—indeed, a new mind.

"Do not remember the former things, nor consider things of old" (Isaiah 43:18); forget the sinful things of the past.

To blot any sense of sin or shame from their minds, people shut themselves away from reality. They live in the past, dreaming obsessively of yesterday's supposed golden age. They escape while morbidly yearning for the good old days.

A nostalgic obsession with days gone by clouds the present and obscures the future. We desperately need a new mind, free of inhibiting prejudices and old biases, yet with a sound perspective and residual regard for genuine history, the kind of history to be found in the Bible.

The Need for a New Mind

Our world cannot come to grips with its monstrous problems. Our technologies are outrunning our capacity to control them. We suffer from information overload. We live in, as Peter Ustinov wrote, "a world in which the genius of discovery is not matched by intelligence in its application" (The European, Jan. 23-29, 1997).

Authors Robert Ornstein and Paul Erlich concluded that "the human predicament requires a different kind of education and training ... We need to replace our old minds with new ones" (New World New Mind, p. 12). But how do we even begin to do this?

First hear the futuristic vision of the Isaiah: "Behold I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth ... I will even make a road in the wilderness" (Isaiah 43:19).

Isaiah stands as a prophet in tune with the future. He seeks a way out for mankind. He wants us to start to understand God's way of thinking, to elevate our minds. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts," says God (Isaiah 55:9).

In His revelation to another major prophet, God promises to let us in on this higher level of thinking: "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3).

Fixing Your Eyes on God

The mind's eye of which Isaiah spoke is sharply focused. It knows where the answers are and to whom to go. This mind understands the priority of trusting in Providence. It places little trust in fallible human beings and brittle, manmade creations.

Isaiah prescribes the perfect antidote. He writes of God: "You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). This beautiful passage is the starting point in our quest for a new mind.

We live, work and play in a world and system that does not exalt God nor put Him first in anything. Our priorities are upside down. The Eternal God justly asks: "Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die ...? And you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth ..." (Isaiah 51:12-13).

Jesus Christ stated the same principle in a more-positive vein. "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).

The Kingdom of God is the key. Once that kingdom becomes reality—when all is said and done and when all things have been fulfilled—these futuristic words of Isaiah will find their ultimate fulfillment: "For past troubles are forgotten; they have vanished from my sight. See I am creating new heavens and a new earth! The past will no more be remembered, nor will it ever come to mind" (Isaiah 65:16-17, Revised English Bible). Here is that wonderful time of God making "all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

Isaiah, with its millennial theme, brims with timeless values. The prophet's writing, translated from the Hebrew, waits for you in your Bible. Your task is to take the time to read and understand its pages.