Isaiah 26:14-19 CSB
“The dead do not live; departed spirits do not rise up. Indeed, you have punished and destroyed them; you have wiped out all memory of them. You have added to the nation, Lord. You have added to the nation; you are honored. You have expanded all the borders of the land. Lord, they went to you in their distress; they poured out whispered prayers because your discipline fell on them. As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so we were before you, Lord. We became pregnant, we writhed in pain; we gave birth to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and the earth’s inhabitants have not fallen. Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits.”
In our preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, we have been looking at some Old Testament witnesses of the hope of resurrection. Last week we listened to wise, patient Job, as he declared his confidence that his Redeemer would one day stand on the dust that Job disintegrates into and raise him from the dead.
This week, we move several centuries into Job’s future to the time of the writing prophets. Isaiah is serving as God’s spokesman to the nation of Judah. The people of Judah are discouraged. Isaiah wants to encourage them, but at the same time, he has to admit that his people are not ready for God to intervene as he has in the past. What do you say in such a time as that?
Isaiah reminds Judah that their former lords are dead (14)
In the previous verse, Isaiah told the LORD that “lords other than you have owned us.” He was talking about the kings of other nations – like the Pharaohs of Egypt, who had dominated God’s people.
So, now Isaiah reminds them that those foreign kings are now dead as door-nails. They are not alive somewhere under the earth. Their spirits are not going to rise up and dominate God’s people again. God has punished and destroyed them. He has even wiped out all memory of them.
Prophets don’t just tell the future. They are also very good at reminding us of the past. This gift is especially helpful when we are depressed about our present circumstances. We need somebody every once in a while to slap us in the face, and remind us of what God has done for us.
Judah needed that. They needed to be reminded that Pharaoh’s oppression and slaughter and slavery is in the past. Sihon and Og are dead. Goliath is dead. There is a long line of enemies who sought to destroy God’s people, and they couldn’t do it. Instead, God punished and destroyed them.
“Where are those other lords today?” Isaiah asked. They are not alive. God has wiped them out.
Isaiah reminds Judah that God miraculously expanded their nation (15).
He turns his eyes to God in heaven, but he keeps writing, because God knows what he is going to say, but Judah needs to hear his prayer:
• “You have added to the nation, Lord. You have added to the nation; you are honored. You have expanded all the borders of the land.”
The people are discouraged and depressed. They come to Isaiah with a long list of things they expect God to do for them. So, Isaiah has his own list. He reminds the people through this prayer that God has already blessed them. In fact, they expanded into a nation because of his miraculous help.
They had forgotten to count their blessings. We sometimes forget to do that. We get so caught up with our list of what we want God to do for us now, that we forget to name our current blessings, one by one.
What Isaiah is trying to do is bring his discouraged and depressed nation back to reality. They need to see how big God is. He is bigger than their problems. He has already shown them in their own history that nothing is too difficult for him.
Isaiah laments the lack of victory that Judah is now experiencing (1-18).
The prophet was not unaware of how bad it has gotten for his people. He talks about how they are pouring out whispered prayers while God seems to be not listening. He adds himself by changing the pronoun to “we.” He says. Lord we have been writhing in pain like a pregnant woman, but all we have given birth to is wind.
• “We have won no victories on earth, and the earth’s inhabitants have not fallen” (18).
Isaiah says that this was not what any of them expected. They knew God was with them. Why haven’t they overcome all their enemies in battle?
“Are we dead Lord? Is that what it is?” Isaiah knows that God is not dead. He doesn’t need a movie to tell him that. But he wonders if his nation has lived its three-score and ten and its time is up.
So, what is God telling Isaiah. What is he revealing to the prophet? Are we dead, God? God says … Yes. But.
Isaiah challenges Judah to expect a resurrection (19).
It is in this context that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophet to declare another amazing prediction of a coming resurrection.
• Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits (19).
God tells Isaiah that his people are dwelling in the dust like they are already dead. But being dead is not a problem if you have a God who can raise the dead.
So Isaiah tells that dead nation of Judah to wake up and sing. The earth is going to bring out its departed spirits. They are covered in dust right now, but they will soon be covered with the morning dew. They are just skeletons right now, but God is going to raise them as whole living bodies.
This sounds very much like the confidence Job expressed. Isaiah was saying, remember when Job said that even after his body died, that his Redeemer would stand on his dust and raise him to life again? Well, Judah, God’s going to do that for you as well.
In his previous chapter, Isaiah had said:
• “When he has swallowed up death once and for all, the Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said, “Look, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he has saved us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him. Let’s rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (25:8-9).
The apostle Paul actually quotes that text in his chapter on the resurrection:
• “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:52-54).
Paul knew that Isaiah was not just talking about a “spiritual revival”. Isaiah predicted an actual revival: the dead coming back to life. And Paul knew who was going to make that happen. God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord, it sometimes seems like we are dying every day. It seems like death is swallowing us all up. But we trust you to raise the dead. We believe that you are going to swallow up death itself in your victory. We choose to wake up and sing. Thank you for the hope of the resurrection.