The Prodigal Son in Isaiah

The Prodigal Son in Isaiah

When the people turn back to God and he answers their cry—this is a glorious reunion! “He will surely be gracious” to Judah (Is 30:19). “He will no longer hide himself” but Judah will behold their God (Is 30:20 NASB). Notice how great a reward God himself is in this passage! When Judah returns to God, they will see him (Is 30:20) and hear him (Is 30:19,21); he will offer corrective advice so they can walk in the way again (Is 30:21). Another dramatic result of this reunion is the destruction of their idols (Is 30:22). How could an imitation ever hold a candle to the one true God they have now beheld?

Why are some of Jesus’s parables more popular than others? The story of the prodigal son, for example—why do we hear so much about it? The return of a wayward child strikes a deep chord. We all know friends, siblings, or church members who have turned away from God. We long for the joyful return described in Luke 15.

Isaiah 30 presents an Old Testament precursor to this story. This chapter describes the despicable idolatry of Judah and the lavish love of God the Father.

First, a bit of history: Isaiah prophesied to the kingdom of Judah from 740 BC until at least 681 BC. Assyria was the major political and military power of the time and the nations around Assyria lived in fear. These countries often negotiated alliances among themselves for protection. Judah, despite being commanded to the contrary, was not immune to this temptation.

Judah’s Alliance with Egypt

In Is 30:1–5, Isaiah lays out God’s displeasure with Judah. They are “stubborn children” (Is 30:1) who “set out to go down to Egypt without asking for my direction” (Is 30:2). They do this in order to “take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh” (Is 30:3).

Catch the irony—the dominant Old Testament story of deliverance (the exodus) is powerful because of how ruthless, bloodthirsty, and oppressive Pharaoh was toward God’s people. In the history of Israel, Egypt is a place of death! So how can Judah now seek life there?!

Isaiah tells us that Judah’s alliance with Egypt won’t even be successful. Notice the words “shame” and “humiliation” in Is 30:3 and Is 30:5. Why will they be ashamed? Because Egypt is “a people that cannot profit them” (Is 30:5).

The worthlessness of Egypt’s help reappears in Isaiah’s poem (Is 30:6–7). Notice especially in Is 30:7 where God says that “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty” and he refers to Egypt (“Rahab”) as a “Do-Nothing” (Is 30:7 NIV). There is more sad irony in this poem: God once led Israel out of Egypt full of treasure plundered from the Egyptians (Ex 12:35–36), but now Judah carries treasure back to Egypt (Is 30:6) as payment for protection.

A Rebellious People

Isaiah presented the basic accusation against Judah in Is 30:1–2; he now presents a deeper charge in Is 30:8–11. The children of God are not behaving like true children (Is 30:9), because they are “unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord.” In this refusal, they don’t silence the prophets, they merely limit their speech. They don’t want to hear “what is right.” They only want to hear “pleasant words” and “illusions” (Is 30:10 NASB). And in a very revealing way, they want to hear “no more about the Holy One of Israel” (Is 30:11).

Note the clear connection between rejecting God and rejecting his word. The people realize that hearing a true prophetic word would mean being confronted with the Holy One, and they want no part of that. Since this Holy One is their father, they are acting like “lying children” indeed (Is 30:9).

A Word From God

As much as Judah didn’t want to hear from the “Holy One” (Is 30:11), they will hear from the Holy One (Is 30:12,15)! After summarizing Judah’s sin in Is 30:12, God details the consequences. Of the two violent metaphors used in Is 30:13 and Is 30:14, I found the smashing of the pottery particularly vivid. The jar will be shattered so completely that no useful piece will remain (Is 30:14).

Read More

Scroll to top