Isaiah 8:11-15 - A Stone of Stumbling - Part 2

Isaiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  28:33
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11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.

Target Date: Sunday, 18 February 2024

Word Study/ Translation Notes:

16 – bind - יָצַר yâtsar, yaw-tsar’; a prim. root; to press (intr.), i.e. be narrow; fig. be in distress:— be distressed, be narrow, be straitened (in straits), be vexed.
To bring and tie closely. Used in reference to sieges against cities and in bundling things for travel.
16 – seal – חָתַם châtham, khaw-tham’; a prim. root; to close up; espec. to seal:— make an end, mark, seal (up), stop.
To close, perhaps officially, so that only those who are authorized may open.
The tomb of Jesus was sealed.
He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.Daniel 12:9
17 – wait – חָכָה châkâh, khaw-kaw’; a prim. root [appar. akin to 2707 through the idea of piercing]; prop. to adhere to; hence, to await:— long, tarry, wait.
The waiting here is not simply passing the time, but attaching to the LORD and being along for the ride in His time.
17 – hope – קָוָה qâvâh, kaw-vaw’; a prim. root; to bind together (perh. by twisting), i.e. collect; (fig.) to expect:— gather (together), look, patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).
This hoping follows the attaching to the Lord; it is the entwining with Him in His timing.
18 – signs – אוֹת ˒ôwth, ōth; prob. from 225 (in the sense of appearing); a signal (lit. or fig.), as a flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, etc.:— mark, miracle, (en-) sign, token.
18 – portents – מֹפֵת môphêth, mo-faith’; from 3302 in the sense of conspicuousness; a miracle; by impl. a token or omen:— miracle, sign, wonder (-ed at).
The combination of these words may serve as little more than an idiomatic statement since both are often translated “signs”.
The difference between the two seem to be the “signs” in this case are more warnings, where the “portents” are more direct announcements akin to the trumpets of the book of the Revelation.
Signs (’ōtôt) direct attention (Exod. 3:12); symbols, literally ‘portents’ (mōpĕtîm), arrest attention (Exod. 3:3).
In relation to Isaiah’s children’s names, this probably bears no exegetical weight beyond the idiomatic use.
20 – teaching – תֹּרָה tôrâh, to-raw’; from 3384; a precept or statute, espec. the Decalogue or Pentateuch:— law.
This points directly to the existing word of God in these matters. Rather than seeking the voices of the dead, they must seek the living God through His living word.
20 – testimony – תְּעוּדָה te˓ûwdâh, teh-oo-daw’; from 5749; attestation, i.e. a precept, usage:— testimony.
Assuming Isaiah is pointing the people to Scripture for answers, these would be the other writings of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms (and the other writings of Job and Solomon) and histories which would already have been extant. This may also have included some early prophets, although many of the twelve had not begun, not had the other major prophets been born.
20 – dawn – שַׁחַר shachar, shakh’-ar; from 7836; dawn (lit., fig. or adv.):— day (-spring), early, light, morning, whence riseth.
They will not have the hope of glory in Christ.

Thoughts on the Passage:

This message no longer seems to be aimed at Ahaz, but at some faithful people, even the remnant or perhaps those Isaiah was training.
The terminology used is insider:
V.15 – They shall fall…
V. 19 – They will say to you…
The message of this passage is for those who will follow the LORD in faith, in spite of the devastation and opposition they see.
12 – The conspiracy here seems to be the lack of Isaiah’s blind support of the king and the people. When he preaches the judgment of God and the need for the holiness of God’s people, he is declaring a message some would consider traitorous.
When he declares in this passage the faith in God that is required, he is repudiating the faith in Assyria and Egypt that the government favors.
In all this, though, Isaiah is not fomenting rebellion nor trying for a regime change. He is loyal to Judah through His loyalty to God. He is calling his disciples to greater faith in God.
This is not the only time a prophet, preaching God’s message, was accused of such:
Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, “ ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ ” - Amos 7:10-11
It was Isaiah himself who had been attempting to dissuade Judah from seeking foreign aid. That was to go contrary to the policy of the court. Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets advocated a policy of dependence upon the Lord and not upon foreign powers. Surely that was treason!
13 – Fear God - Matthew 10:28–33 (ESV): And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
13 - But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.1 Peter 3:14-17
15 - Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”Matthew 21:43-44
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” - Romans 9:30-33
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. – Romans 11:17-23
15 - What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” - Romans 11:7-10
16 – among my disciples – There could be some question whether this was Isaiah talking about his students or God speaking of His.
In the end, it does not matter. The message is the same – proceeding from God.
19 – mediums and necromancers – today, these might be the historians and experts.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14

Teachings (Passage Outline):

11-12 – Don’t trust the definitions and issues the world defines for you.
13-18 – Trust in the LORD and His revelation through the Scriptures.
19-20 – Urge those among God’s people to His Scriptures.

Applications:

How do we preach the gospel in situations like this? Just like in our day, the hearts of the people are not seeking after God, yet we are not called to abandon them to their fate; we are called to proclaim the gospel to them with the best of our ability.
1. God knows who are His, and He will unerringly call them to the gospel if we only open our mouths with His word.
2. The deeper people descend into their sin, the more meaningless and hopeless they find it. Sensuality only satisfies for a moment, and that less and less. For many, it takes the depths of sin to cause them to see the heights of God’s love through Jesus Christ.
3. It is not helpful for the church, or the individual believer, to endorse the sin or accept the false justifications and false premises of those who would defend it. We preach the truth in the gospel of God.
4. We must know going in that many people will find false solace in the number of people who follow the wrong way. They will be encouraged by those around them who justify the sin. But we must recognize, and help them to do so, that those who would lead them to sin do not do it out of love or sincere affection: they do it out of selfish motives in justifying themselves or to profit from the other’s fall.
5. Every single person who has died now knows the truth – Jesus Christ is Lord, and they must face God’s judgment. The worst sinner, the most devout atheist, once he passes through death, will know too late the holiness of God and his utter defenselessness before His righteous wrath.

Primary Preaching Point:

God builds His kingdom His way.

Building Points:

11-12 – Trust God for the future.
13-18 – Trust God through the storm.
19-20 – Trust God for the results.

Sermon Text:

We come again to this passage from the prophet Isaiah for the daily bread of God’s teaching through this prophet.
Last week we began looking at this part with the question, “How are we, the followers of Jesus Christ, to live in our day and among our people?
Some may object that “Isaiah was speaking to the people of his day and to their situation.” And they would be correct – he was.
But the Holy Spirit who inspired these words and turned them into Holy Scripture meant them for us and for all time as well.
Now I will say quickly, though, that we must be both cautious in our understanding and godly in our application of these truths of the Old Testament.
We have a greater light into God’s grace and mercy and justice and love because we live in the light of the completion of God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ.
That means when we take the things of the Law or the examples of the conquests, they must be understood in the light of the cross and the complete revelation of God.
What our confession calls their “general equity”.
To fail to do this, to fail to acknowledge and apply the greater revelation of Jesus Christ, would be as disastrous as sewing a patch of unshrunk cloth onto an older garment.
Our Lord said: No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.Matthew 9:16
Even when we see examples and commands to faith, as we do here in our passage today, they are enhanced, even beautified, by the supremacy of the light of Christ by which we read them.
No matter the esteem we hold the Old Testament heroes of faith in, we can be sure they would rather have had the light we often take for granted.
For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. - Matthew 13:17
You can almost feel Isaiah in the passage today leaning forward, straining to know the fulness of what the Spirit is telling him,
Yet knowing it is for him to know and understand only in part.
Even with these great words, breathed by the Spirit of God through him, he, like us, had to live by faith.
Last week, we began this passage by looking at the first point – Trust God for the future.
Do not fear or be dismayed by the things that terrify those who are not our Lord’s.
Don’t assimilate the definitions and virtues of those who are estranged from God, who are not His at all.
Fear Him today, and know He holds the future securely in His decrees and power.
And know His abiding love will forever be upon those He calls to Himself.
We began the second point that begins in verse 13 and runs through verse 18 – Trust God through the storm.
You may remember we ended last week with the shocking statement of verse 14: He will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And we talked about the fact that the sanctuary He was establishing was not a castle, but a tent, a tabernacle, a holy place for His people to come to.
If you don’t remember, I am compelled to remind you that God’s answer to the dilemmas and dangers of your life is not more defense, but more holiness.
It is His holiness that will be the greatest comfort to His holy people.
The martyrs were not burned or stoned or crucified or tortured because they cherished their safety, but they cherished the Holy God more than their own lives.
On the other side of all the storms of earth, all the dangers and toils and snares, there is the testimony of the faithful:
Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. – Revelation 12:10-11
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this testimony is just about those martyrs of the past, present, and future who were slain for naming the name of Jesus Christ.
They are certainly included.
But the victory proclaimed here is that the great accuser, the serpent from the Garden, the adversary, the Satan has been overcome.
And he is overcome in the life of all believers, not just those who died in a certain way.
The blood of the Lamb was shed for ALL His people.
And it is the testimony of ALL His people, cleansed by God from their sinful guilt that they have loved Him more than their lives even unto death.
They have PERSEVERED in the faith, held fast to God through all their trials and temptations.
I am certain in heaven, when we proclaim our testimony among the saints about how God kept us in this life by His holiness, each one of us will remember times when it was a close-fought battle.
When the temptation or trial from the enemy struck us and we fell back at his onslaught.
When we wondered if God had really saved us.
Or if He had, why He had done so.
When we despaired of killing the sin, and felt the long, sickly fingers of our great enemy closing around our throat.
When we cried out with the psalmist:
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. - Psalm 116:3-7
That is the testimony of the righteous:
Not that we always chose the right way or did the right thing.
Not that we loved perfectly, even though these are the things we strove to do out of love for our Lord.
Our testimony is that even when we were weak, even when we sinned, God RESCUED us from sin.
His strength and goodness were glorified when He saved us in our weakness.
Christians – this is the gospel we must preach to ourselves and to others all the time.
Cry out to God, especially when you are the least worthy of His notice, and He will save you.
Trust in Him, and He will do it.
Because when you have overcome the great enemy of your soul, you will find you have done it by the powerful blood of Jesus Christ.
This holiness, as I said last week, is a comfort to God’s people, and also an obstacle for everyone else.
A stone of offense and a rock of stumbling.
Here, Isaiah enumerates Israel and Judah, and singles out Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple.
But we may understand this, in the greater light of the New Testament, to be anyone.
And not just anyone – everyone who hears the word of the gospel will be confronted by this holy sanctuary God has established.
In Isaiah’s time, the main people who would have even heard of the LORD would have been these two nations;
Now, the gospel is being proclaimed throughout the earth, penetrating to every land and tribe and people.
And God’s people are being called from everywhere.
And when they come to this sanctuary, they will find in it their great desire.
Or they will fall on it and be broken; they will be snared and taken.
This sanctuary that God becomes in the midst of the trials of this world is a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling.
We are used to seeing synonyms, words that are similar, and parallel phrases used in the Bible, particularly in the Proverbs, to emphasize something:
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. – Proverbs 10:31
The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers. - Proverbs 10:29
When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. - Proverbs 10:25
But the stone and the rock here are a little different, and I think we ought to take a look at their difference.
The effect is the same: those who, when this life is over, are offended by God’s holiness are shattered and cast from His loving, holy presence forever.
But I think some might find help and instruction in seeing more what these great stones are.
The first, the stone of offense, is a quarried stone.
It is a great stone, like those that made up the temple in Jerusalem or those that make up the pyramids in Egypt, that has been cut out of a mountain or quarry by a stone mason.
This is, incidentally, also the work of someone in the First Century who was called a carpenter.
Carpenters didn’t just work with wood; they shaped building stone as well.
This is the type of stone Daniel describes as: a stone … cut out by no human hand - Daniel 2:34
And Isaiah later in his prophecy describes as:
thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: - Isaiah 28:16
Peter, in his great first epistle, ties these references together:
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. - 1 Peter 2:6-8
The point is that this stone is intentionally made (as Peter states).
God makes it, and it is good.
And He makes it for His own purpose.
Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. – Ezekiel 3:20
The other rock is not necessarily quarried or shaped; it is a rock that sits buried in the ground, with only part of it protruding.
It could be used to describe a mountain, a half-buried rock, or a ruin covered in sand or dust, with only the tops of the walls still visible.
And whether it is a peak in the Rocky Mountains or a piece of granite sticking up in the trail in the national forest, it is an obstacle, an opportunity to stumble and fall.
So the importance of what Isaiah is telling us by using all these examples is this:
In this life, we will all have to face the reality of God’s holiness and His call for us to be holy.
Some will welcome that call and find Him a great sanctuary and comfort.
There may be someone who hears this who has been fighting their greatest fight against following God through Jesus Christ.
You have all the reasons you have heard.
All the logic you have been taught.
You have scouted difficult Scriptural texts to stump Christians.
You have diabolically contorted questions sure to make even the most learned Christian stammer their ignorance.
Maybe you have even debated and won your debates where you refute God.
You reject His power; you reject His Bible; you reject His love and mercy and kindness.
Or perhaps you just stamp your foot like a child and say “I won’t believe!”
Perhaps you are the greatest atheist you know.
What have you won?
What do you have after all this effort and argument?
Are you richer? For how long? Are you going to live forever to enjoy those riches?
Are you more famous? What does that fame bring you? Will you be remembered a thousand years from now?
Are you a better person? If you are, what standard are you using? Surely not the biblical standard you have rejected.
But if not that one, which one?
One that you in your pathetic imitation of a god have cobbled together to match your strengths and minimize your weaknesses?
That is the problem when we encounter the true God – we cannot break Him;
We can only be broken against Him.
If you will indulge me, please allow me to set before you another choice:
God, who made everything that was ever created, made it good.
And He created man, your great, great, great…grandfather with the capability of obeying Him simply through trusting God’s goodness.
But then the man sinned after he was tempted by the devil to think HE should make his own decisions as to what was right and wrong; that HE should be like God, a little god in his own right.
Except that was sin, and it polluted all creation so much that you don’t even have an idea of a world without it. You can’t see yourself not covered in it.
So you told yourself that you should make the best of this life, even embracing your sin and rebellion.
And that rebellion and sin earn you God’s guilty verdict and eternal torment because you are God’s enemy.
But God didn’t give up on mankind.
He sent His only natural Son to die on the cross so if you only believe, you would be saved.
So He says even though you are completely guilty, if you will turn from that sin and rebellion and trust Jesus Christ, His Son, you will be saved from His wrath.
Come to Him as your sanctuary, your holy place, rather than stumbling to your destruction.
The third thing we are to do is “Trust God for the Results”.
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