Given that God’s promise to Isaiah occurs several hundred years before the birth of Jesus and the Holy Spirit coming upon the people at Pentecost, we will do well to consider how this makes sense with the words being used. Although the Holy Spirit has not entered and filled people at this point of time, God has said it will happen and because of this it’s a certainty that cannot be reversed. The words of the Divine will be proved true and a time will come when the Holy Spirit will fill not just the receiving generation, but also all other generations after that. Unlike God’s Spirit that rested upon a leader or judge or prophet to fulfil God’s purpose and plan for a specific moment in time, things are about to change so that all who worship God will be part of the programme of restoration, whether they are young or old or yet to come. It’s good news (and they knew it even if they didn’t fully understand the depth of the promise made to them.)
To understand this verse in context you might want to read the whole chapter of Isaiah 38 which can be found by clicking here.
Done that? Great! Now, we’re ready to consider Hezekiah’s reflection on his illness and recovery as he questions: why these terrible things are happening to him (v10); the emptiness and isolation in his life (v11); his desolation of death that awaits him (v12); and finally the heart-felt cry that follows as he pleads, ‘I am being threatened Lord, come to my aid!’
Like many in early times who believed that calamity came upon a person because they had somehow displeased God, Hezekiah shows his limited understanding of what has befallen him with the words ‘(God) himself has done this.’ It’s possible the king’s misunderstanding was due to the influence of fertility cults with their dualistic ideas that God was capable of both good and evil acts. However, whatever way Hezekiah understands this- as either God directed or circumstantial – one thing is for sure: It does not dent his faith and belief that God is faithful and attentive and through faith in Him, he will find peace and rest.
These words are spoken by the prophet Isaiah to the people of God who have gone astray. Desperate to be like the cultic groups that surround them and do they things they do, the people of Israel had turned away from God to engage in fertility and idol worship involving multiple gods, incest, immorality and even child sacrifice, etc. In short, the people lost all semblance of what it meant to be chosen by God as a community that would be a beacon of light to others who would see their lives and look to the One True God .
Okay, fast forward a few hundred years and things are about to change big time as God’s ultimate plan fires into action. Jerusalem: following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples lock themselves away for three weeks to await God’s (promised) Holy Spirit . Then – bingo! One day, the Holy Spirit fills the room where they are praying and falls upon the disciples – no longer fearful of being arrested and killed as Jesus was – the disciples fall out of the house into the streets, praising God in tongues to those people visiting the city from different regions who are amazed to hear them speak in their native language. Amazed, they ask who they are and how they can hear them in their native tongue. Peter explains about Jesus death and their need to believe in him and that day 3000 people believe his message, repent and are baptised before returning home to tell others the ‘good news.’
Returning to our verse ‘the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.’ we see how the prophet is foretelling the day when God’s Holy Spirit will be released to fill and dwell in the people of the earth. An invisible event that will be like a river that floods into the desert of people’s lives where they were once spiritually dead but now are resuscitated and brought back to life. This is the promise of God and the work of the Holy Spirit!
Coming a few hundred years before the day of Pentecost – when God’s Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and visitors to Jerusalem and they speak in tongues and prophesies – this first verse almost sounds like Jesus’ foretelling of what is to come: ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.’
However, Pentecost is yet to happen so what does verse 24 mean? Well, it seems that the prophet is making a unique distinction between a person who is ‘wayward’ and one who is ‘wilful.’ In short, a person who is open to learn from their mistakes, seek forgiveness and move on, rather than allow themselves to be dragged into a cycle of disappointment, anger and bitterness. That is, a person who is open to instruction and prepared to heed it.
Really important to note in this verse that Spirit is denoted with a capital letter to show this is not human in nature but is the Spirit that is the essence of God. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters in Genesis 1. Why does God call them obstinate? Because they refuse to listen and allow God’s Spirit to direct their lives and actions. As a result, the people make plans for themselves and rubber stamp it as ‘approved by God’ and yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that they continue in this process is the reason why God accuses them of ‘heaping sin upon sin.’ How different is this from those who are ‘wayward in spirit’ yet willing to learn – prone to complain but ready to be instructed.
Great as verses 6 is, it needs to be understood in the context of the verses that come before it. In Judah 28 we learn that the leaders of Ephraim and Judah have made a right mess of things. In response, God promises a leader who will be faithful and bring change. Hence,
In that day the Lord Almighty
will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
for the remnant of his people.
6 He will be a spirit of justice
to the one who sits in judgment,
a source of strength
to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
Now, unlike the previous two posts in which the term ‘spirit’ was used as the ‘essence’ of the person, ‘Spirit’ as it is mentioned here, relates directly to the Divine. Why? Because we are told that God will be ‘a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgement.’
While it is easy to see this as alluding to the ‘Trinity of God’ where Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign, the reference to a king who turns back the enemy at the gate seems to suggests that this is a historical monarch. Which is very interesting as it also suggests that in this instance the Spirit will rest on the person (and not within!). As such, the Spirit is given for a specific amount of time to enable the leader to accomplish the task they have been given. Which makes perfect sense given that Pentecost has yet to come when God’s spirit will reside in all who are open to receiving Him. But for now, God will operate through the leader who is ready to bring about justice and judgement.