This is a blog diving deeper into the content from our Exiles sermon series on 1 Peter.
Isaiah is a complicated book. There’s no getting around it. Many Christians I talk to, even mature believers, read Isaiah and intuitively understand that there is something important and deep captured in this prophetic writing, but they can’t make any sense of it. But, they are right. This book is perhaps one of the top five most important books of the Old Testament for understanding the new. We who listened to Pastor Andrew’s sermon last week can see this as 1 Peter 2:6 cites Isaiah 28:16 and 1 Peter 2:8 cites Isaiah 8:14.
Biblical scholars have become increasingly aware that the NT writers like Peter often had the original context of the scriptures they cited in mind. So, if we were to go back to Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 and look at the surrounding context, we should understand more of why Peter used those passages and what he meant by them. That’s exactly what I did last week, and the time spent was a great blessing to me. So, I hope I can pass that blessing on. I hope to accomplish two things in this blog 1) show the general original context of each scripture and 2) demystify Isaiah a little.
King Ahaz’s Rebellion
We have to go back to Isaiah chapter 7 to get the full story here. The time is around 735 B.C. Earlier, during the reign of Solomon’s son, Israel split into two kingdoms (Israel—also called Ephraim—and Judah) and the kingdoms are involved in many conflicts over the course of the OT. King Ahaz, a descendant of King David, rules Judah, and the King of Ephraim and Syria have teamed up against him (7:1). They want to replace King Ahaz with a king they can control (someone not from the line of David) (7:6). Ahaz and the people of Judah are terrified (7:2) and therefore, God sends Isaiah to prophesy to Ahaz to not be afraid for the Lord had promised to keep someone from David’s line on the throne (2 Sam. 7:16). Isaiah’s message is literally just to be calm, not fear, and trust in God’s promises (7:4), but also warns Ahaz that if he does not believe, he will be overcome (7:9). The Lord through Isaiah even pleads with Ahaz to ask God for a sign so that he might be sure (7:11), but he would not do it (7:12). Isaiah then prophecies that the sign (essentially the sign that God will protect the line of David) is the sign of the virgin-born Immanuel (7:12). And before Immanuel is grown, Syria and Ephraim will be forsaken (7:16). This is a long-awaited sign, for it won’t come to pass for over 700 years. Consider that.
We learn in the account of 2 Kings that Ahaz completely disobeys God and forms an alliance with Assyria against Syria and Ephraim (16:7). And because of Ahaz’s lack of faith, God even rejects Judah (after already rejecting Ephraim and Syria) and promises to bring Assyria (the very country Ahaz made an alliance with) against them and wipe them away (8:7-8). Notice that the land is said to be Immanuel’s (i.e. Jesus), the true ruler of Judah (8:8).
Now it is obvious that the people of Judah won’t like this prophesy. They both fear it, and in their dread, they say it’s a conspiracy (8:12). This obviously would have frustrated Isaiah. But the Lord encourages Isaiah and instructs him to fear God instead, for he will be a holy place to him (8:13-14a), but to both the houses of Israel (Ephraim and Syria), God will be “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling” and “a trap and a snare” to Jerusalem (i.e. Judah) (8:14). There’s an important point to see here. God declares himself to be the stumbling stone. And yet, Peter says that the stumbling stone is Jesus. Time after time, careful readers of the Bible will see that the New Testament writers clearly identify Jesus Christ as the LORD of the Old Testament. He is in essence Lord and God, but also distinct from Father and Holy Spirit.
After some time (probably 20-30 years), the leaders of Judah finally understand the coming Assyrian threat. But, instead of coming in repentance and faith back to God, they make an alliance with Egypt. They celebrate this new feeling of security, and they think that they no longer have to fear an Assyrian invasion (no matter what Isaiah says) with Egypt on their side. God calls it “a covenant with death” and mocks them by saying they are basically rejoicing in finding their rest and refuge in lies (28:14-15). The Lord answers by saying that he will provide a sure place for people to find refuge if they trust him and stand on it, making it their foundation (28:16). But those who do not trust God will be wiped away by the Assyrians (28:17-22).
Do you see how the context helps us understand Peter’s usage? Much like most Old Testament prophecies, there is a current fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, sees that ultimately God is telling people that trust and faith in him and his work and promises, is a sure place of refuge and eternal salvation. All those who don’t see him, that is Jesus, as cornerstone will stumble over him and be destroyed.
This is the one from the line of David, from the root of Jesse, named Immanuel, whose throne will last forever and will never be overcome. Those who are his people, will never be ashamed.
If you are interested in further study on Isaiah, I can’t recommend this commentary enough: The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary.
-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)