Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 16, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 1-39. St. Louis: Concordia, 1969. Logos Electronic Edition. The lectures are arranged by chapter and verse, which will serve as our referents for citations.
“Isaiah Chapter 1”
Luther notes, referring to Isaiah 1:1, that the prophet Isaiah is a contemporary of Micah and Hosea. The book is focused on Judah. “But this whole prophecy is summed up above all in three parts, namely, the prediction of the coming captivity in Babylonia, secondly, the return from this captivity, and thirdly, what it says about Christ” (LW 16, 1:1). The call to hear in verse 2 is a bold statement, typical of God rather than Satan, the deceiver. The proclamation is heard by God’s people (LW 16, 1:2). The text in verse two addresses God’s people as “sons,” which Luther finds important. These are heirs of all God’s blessings (LW 16, 1:2). Their rejection of God is compared to the world’s rejection of the Church. Verse three compares Israel to a beast of burden, pointing out that Israel does not even know where home is (LW 16, 1:3). Luther compares this to Hosea 4:6, urging compassion in light of Romans 14:1. Verse four concludes that the people are condemned in every way because of rejecting the Lord (LW 16, 1:4). True worship has been replaced by what is merely external, and even that has been abandoned. Luther notes the irony of verse five mirroring the Roman church of his time, in which those who departed from a biblical faith would complain of hardship (LW 16, 1:5). In verse six, as Isaiah confesses the trouble which permeates the people of God, Luther contrasts it to the perfect safety found in Christ (LW 16, 1:6). Yet the desolation which has come upon Israel is going to come upon Judah as well. It is inevitable (LW 16, 1:7). Luther compares this to a showing of sins which allows for cleansing and healing. Luther observes the frequent references to Isaiah 1:9 throughout Scripture, particularly an allusion to it in Romans 9:29. God’s preservation of a remnant is a message of central importance (LW 16, 1:9). The corrective call to repentance is directed from God through the prophet to the king, essentially saying the king has left his nation in ruins (LW 16, 1:10). Luther provides several cross references to the negative statements about sacrifices in verse 11. The concept is found in Psalm 40:6; 50:13; Jeremiah 7:22; and Ezekiel 20:25, among other places. The works which are pleasing to God are works of faith and trust. In verse 12 God is actually offended by the offerings made to him (LW 16, 1:12). Luther comments that the offerings which served as an attempt to show our worthiness are arrogant and deny God’s grace (LW 16, 1:12). Verses 14-15 go on to speak of the ineffectual and selfish prayers of the people. Luther gives numerous counter-examples showing kindness and grace rather than self-centered prayers. Isaiah proposes a cure in verse 16 (LW 16, 1:16). Cleansing of actions and attitudes is called for. Verse 18 emphasizes the reasonable claims of God. Luther votes that the good and gracious God calls his people to be good and gracious (LW 16:1:18). The imagery of red for sins indicates guilt of blood, that which leave us dead. The choice is then presented in verses 19-20.We can trust God or refuse him (LW 16:1:19). The people as a whole had rejected God, resulting in Isaiah’s prophetic label of prostitution in verse 21 (LW 16:1:21). All which could be good is recast as something bad. God’s response in verse 24 is to speak of what will happen to his enemies.
Luther emphasizes the power of God’s speech (LW 16:1:21). God will use his enemies to bring judgment on his people. God’s judgment in verse 25 is not complete destruction, as Luther would expect from Satan. God leaves a remnant (LW 16:1:2). He not only promises a remnant, but he even promises restoration. This restoration comes from justice rather than from laws (LW 16:1:27). The rebels who refuse justice will find their own innovations will be their destruction.