I was recently listening to a sermon from a noted preacher years ago, who encouraged his congregation to consider the task of “finding a home” in one or two books of the Bible. His philosophy was that most of us, with our limited amount of brainpower as humans, simply don’t have the capacity to know the entirety of the Bible with ultra-precision and clarity. So, maybe instead of growing discouraged at our assumed shallow understanding of the whole Bible, what if we rooted ourselves deeply into a couple of books for our lifetime, and studied the others as we could?
That preacher was Dr. Ray Ortlund, and he soon informed his congregation that one of those books for him was the book of Isaiah. In coming to read through Ortlund’s Preaching the Word volume on Isaiah, I knew that I was not simply getting side-project material from one of my favorite preachers; these meditations and areas of study were his life-blood. It is rare to find commentaries that encapsulate a man’s entire ministry focus, but that is exactly what I think we find in Ortlund’s volume on Isaiah.
You may be asking, “Why should we study Isaiah?” Ortlund describes Isaiah rightly as deserving “better than to be a ‘classic’ – a famous book nobody reads anymore” (18). But alas, many of our Bibles find Isaiah unvisited. Ortlund seeks to dedicate much of his life work to reverse the course for this major prophet. He sums up the message of Isaiah to three words – “God Saves Sinners” – which serves as a fitting summary of the entirety of Scripture as well. Ortlund’s commentary, then, is an invitation to “rethink everything from this prophetic viewpoint: God saves sinners” (23).
What I love about Ortlund’s commentary (and all of his other books) is that he always bears the preacher in mind. He seems to be thinking about the preacher who’s trying to find the right words to feed the flock or the pastor who’s trying to see God’s grace accurately in this or that passage. Ortlund does a brilliant job of taking really difficult Hebrew concepts, ancient customs and practices, and historical anecdotes and equipping preachers and pastors to clearly communicate and exposit the text at hand. After all, this is the focus and the goal of Crossway’s Preaching the Word series.
But especially in considering that Ortlund is working with a 66-chapter book of prophecy in the Old Testament, we should be especially grateful for clarity in this present volume. Part of the reason for this clarity and the reason it appeals so much to pastors is that these are indeed sermons adapted to a commentary. Built in are Ortlund’s punching one-liners, illustrations, and application points. Not to mention, the chapters are fairly short to read and study.
Any pastor looking to teach through the book of Isaiah will benefit from what Dr. Ortlund has to teach us in these pages. In Isaiah is a magnified sense of God’s grace towards an undeserving people, a need for revival in our land, and the attributes of the God we serve. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners is an engaging study, an easy read unlike a standard Isaianic commentary can be and is a fresh perspective into how Isaiah fits our current context. I highly recommend it to you.