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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Isaiah's Vision of the End, chapters 65-66

In these chapters, the prophet foresees the condition of Israel recently restored to the land of their ancestors and confronted with opportunities both to fulfill God's will and to relapse into complacency and idolatry. It is not an ideal picture—not one that Isaiah would have liked to paint. But it is realistic. Even today, among the people of God, we have always two groups: one eagerly  pursuing God and his righteousness, and the other complacent and dangerously close to the edges of Christian profession.

The Two Classes of People in the Restored Israel, 65:1-16
“I revealed myself  to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me.  To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’ 2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations — 3 a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; 4 who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat; 5 who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day. 6 “See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps— 7 both your sins and the sins of your fathers,” says the LORD. “Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills,  I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds.” 8 This is what the LORD says: “As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and men say, ‘Don’t destroy it, there is yet some good in it,’ so will I do in behalf of my servants; I will not destroy them all. 9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live. 10 Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me. 11 “But as for you who forsake the LORD and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny,  12 I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” 13 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says:  “My servants will eat, but you will go hungry; my servants will drink, but you will go thirsty; my servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame. 14 My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but you will cry out from anguish of heart and wail in brokenness of spirit. 15 You will leave your name to my chosen ones as a curse; the Sovereign LORD will put you to death, but to his servants he will give another name. 16 Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth; he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes." 

The first group are characterized as not consulting God or even answering, when he called them by the prophets and the written Scriptures (65:1-2, 5, 12). God always gives maximum opportunity to be found and understood, even—or especially—to those who seem indifferent. In v 2 he is depicted as holding his hands out wide in a plea. It reminds us of Jesus' invitations to those who hated and opposed him most: "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy loaded, and I will give you rest".  

The behavior of this group is a strange contradiction. On the one hand they say to others, "Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!" (v 5), and yet they offer pagan sacrifices in gardens and burn incense on brick altars (vv 3, 7), they sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; they violate the dietary laws of Moses by eating pork, with the broth of other unclean meat (v 4), they "forget my holy mountain" (v 11) which may mean that they ignore Moses' law that sacrifices can be offered only in Jerusalem, they spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny (v 11). The "keep away from me—I am too sacred" reminds us of the Pharisees of Jesus' day. But the other half of the description doesn't match their behavior. They didn't offer pagan sacrifices in the gardens.  But we have to assume that there were people like this in the community of the returning exiles.  God's verdict on them is: "Such people are smoke in my nostrils" (v 5). A powerful image!

Because of this, God's judgment awaits them. That judgment will be certain even if delayed, just as certain as a person snorts and blows offending smoke from his nose.  It will be measured, but also full. "I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds.” (v 7).  To each according to his deeds, is both the Old and New Testament promise.

But another group—a godly remnant— will be spared God's judgment.  Verses 8-10 tell us: "“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and men say, ‘Don’t throw all of it away, there is some good in it,’ so will I do in behalf of my servants; I will not reject them all. 9 I will bring forth true descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live. 10 Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me."

In vv 13-15 there is a sequence of contrasts between the fate of the faithful group, called "my servants", and the unfaithful one, called simply "you".  The faithful will eat, drink, rejoice (v 13), sing (v 14), and receive "another name" (v 15). The unfaithful will go hungry and thirsty, be put to shame,  cry out from anguish, and have their name become a curse.

The Glorious New Creation,  65:17-25
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. 20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. 23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. 
Here is another of Isaiah's "Utopian" visions. If they are not just general anticipations of better times phrased in the idioms of the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28-29, but real predictions, they can only be fulfilled literally at the end of history, when God does indeed create a new heavens and a new earth, i.e., an entirely "new" universe on the analogy of the first one that he created in Genesis.
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. (2Peter 3:13)
[The Apostle John wrote:] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21:1)
And even then some of the details of this paragraph have to be taken only figuratively. The words in verses 20 and 22 about extreme longevity and dying are to be understood as just another poetic way of saying that no one will die.  The old curses of Genesis 3 have been reversed. And if so, then not just the limited life spans but death itself will be done away with.  In the new heavens and new earth there will be no more curse, so v 20 is again mere figurative language.

Certainly, since God is omnipotent, he can make all of these things happen literally, including making lions eat straw like the oxen (v 25). But they could also be images meant to suggest peace and reconciliation. All the hostility and killing which in this life can cause such sorrow and pain will no longer exist.

But since all believers in all ages—both before and after the First coming of our Lord—will experience a bodily resurrection and enter that kingdom in the new heavens and earth, this promise was available also to the Jews for whom Isaiah wrote these chapters. In a sense, they already in their own day were a godly "remnant", as the preceding verses make clear. And since we too as believers in the present Church Age will also participate in that bodily resurrection and live in that new heavens and new earth, these promises are also for us. In Romans 8 Paul anticipates that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage to decay that was part of the curse deriving from the first sin.
 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18–23)
Verse 24 is a conscious reversal of the situation described in 65:1, where God also eagerly awaited the prayers of the rebels in Israel, only to find that they weren't interested.

The Worship that God Demands, 66:1-4
(Isaiah 66:1-4)  This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? 2 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.  3 But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;  4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” 
When the exiles returned to Israel in the days of the prophet Haggai, they had to rebuild Jerusalem. And this meant rebuilding both the walls of the city and the temple on Mount Zion. It was therefore appropriate for them to consider at this time what the new temple would be. Unlike the Babylonian gods among whose people they had lived and who lived in earthly temple buildings, Yahweh lives above. For 70 years they had lived and prayed and heard God's prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, all without a temple for him. Yet he was there to guide, rebuke and encourage them. This proved that God didn't need a temple. Yet through his prophet Haggai he instructed the returnees to build a new temple on the site where Solomon's had once stood. How should they regard this new temple?

The earlier temple of Solomon had been poetically called Yahweh's "throne" and the ark in the holy place his "footstool". But Isaiah reminds the returned exiles what Solomon prayed at the consecration of his first temple (1 Kgs 8:22-53): that Yahweh is too big to be confined in a temple building (1 Kgs 8:27).
[Solomon prayed:] “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!  (1Kings 8:27)
Heaven is his "throne"; and the earth is his "footstool". The temple and its ark were merely symbols of a heavenly reality. God has created all these things that the new temple builders were making for him (v 2).
And the new sacrificial rites, of which the exiles had so long been deprived, and which they lovingly re-engaged with, needed to be understood in their proper place too and not overestimated. They will be acceptable to God only if offered by persons who are obeying his Word. If not, then they are not only worthless, but disgusting: Verse 3 describes sacrifices made by insincere worshipers this way: "But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol."

The one whose sacrifices will please God is described in v 2:  “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite, and trembles at my word." (‏wᵉḥārēḏ ʿal-dᵉḇārı̂).1  This Hebrew phrase occurs one more time in the Bible, in Ezra 9:4, where it describes the godly remnant among the returning exiles, who did not intermarry with surrounding pagans. So the stress is on those who fear to disobey and displease God. This kind of devotion and obedience is what drives true worship of God.  In Second Isaiah this description recalls 57:15, which reads:
"For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy:  “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isaiah 57:15). 
To be "lowly" is to be humble, always serving others and loving them better than one loves oneself. To be "contrite" means to be conscious of one's own shortcomings instead of criticizing others. Another word for this quality is the word "meek", which today has a bad flavor. But all this reminds us also of our Savior's Beatitudes:
(Matthew 5:3-10) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
What today is so glibly called "counter-cultural" is usually just extremely self-serving behavior. The true "counter-cultural" behavior of Jesus was in asking his disciples to look to the needs and interests of others before their own. Not the assertive person, but the giving and sacrificing person pleases God and will eventually be rewarded in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And it is the worship of people who act like this that God loves to receive. Their sacrifices, their songs of praise, are not disgusting to him, but utterly delightful.

The Lord Vindicates Zion, 66:5-13
(Isaiah 66:5-13)  Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: “Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame.  6 Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve. 7 “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son.  8 Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. 9 Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD.  “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. 10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. 11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.” 12 For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. 13 As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” 
Here the ones whose worship God delights to receive are addressed: those who "tremble at his word" (the ḥārēdîm). According to v 5, they have been mocked by the outsiders with the sarcastic words: "Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!" But the mocked godly people are the remnant, on the basis of which, God will rebuild the nation. The godly remnant is always seen that way in scripture. They are never to remain only a small minority, but to become the nucleus of the reborn whole.

And so, in vv 7-13 Isaiah gives the promise that out of the small remnant of returnees who truly love Yahweh and obey him in the face of the mockery of the ungodly, will come the Messiah and the reborn kingdom. At the time of Jesus' birth this godly remnant can be seen in the persons of Elisabeth, Mary, Simeon, Anna, John the Baptizer,  the Twelve men that Jesus chose as apostles, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and many others. Paul considered himself part of that believing remnant of Israel that will some day be expanded when Jesus comes to embrace "all Israel" (Romans 11).

The Reign and Righteous Anger of God, 66:14-24
(Isaiah 66:14-24)  When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. 15 See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD. 17 “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together,” declares the LORD. 18 “And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD. 22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” 
The Bible never soft-pedals God's righteous judgments, never tries to make them less fearful or bloody. If we were writing these verses, we would not speak of the righteous going out and looking on the eternally rotten bodies of the damned. We would consider that "unloving", perhaps even disgusting. Not a suitable picture of "the God I believe in"! But there is no other God but the one portrayed in the Bible. And we had better not consider ourselves superior to him as he is portrayed. If you think this is just part of the somewhat "outmoded" Old Testament view of God, then read again the end of the Book of Revelation, and even more to the point, the words of our own loving Savior in the gospels.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.  (Mark 9:47-48)
Our understanding of the eternal destinies of unbelievers must be based on the plain statements of scripture, but since some aspects are probably metaphorical, we have to rest on our understanding of the infinite wisdom and justice of God. However he sees fit to mete out his justice will be the right way. We rest in that confidence, because we know him and trust him. As Abraham said to him, "Shall not the God of all the earth do what is right?"

The positive side of this vision is found in vv 18-23.  As Christians, we tend to think of "missionaries" as something distinctly Christian. But God intended the ancient Israelites also to be missionaries, spreading the knowledge of the true Creator who also received prayers and granted forgiveness and gave rules for right living.

In this passage the prophet anticipates the day when Israel will have seen God's glory in the person of the Suffering Servant Jesus (v 18), will have believed in their Messiah, and will have a message to share with the nations of Earth. They will proclaim God's glory among the nations (v 19). They will bring converts from all over the world to Jerusalem (v 20) to meet in person the risen, exalted and returning Messiah. Older forms of worship and calendrical occasions such as New Moon and Sabbath will be filled with new meaning through their faith in the Messiah Jesus (v 23).
In the meanwhile, as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for Jews and gentiles everywhere who need to see the glory of God in the person of Jesus, we pray for missionaries who carry this message to distant parts of the globe.  

1 The Hebrew word for the one who trembles at my word (ḫārēdîm) is the word in Modern Israeli Hebrew for the ultra-orthodox Jews who dress traditionally and observe the strict dietary laws, etc.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Servant's Good News — Isaiah 61-62


What is so remarkable about this second half of the book of Isaiah is how the prophet alternates description of Israel's sins with sections of encouragement and comfort. In our last posting, our teacher explained how in chapter 59 we learn that even those Israelites who believed God's promises of a return from exile and a redemption through the Suffering Servant experienced spiritual failure, and needed the encouragement offered in chapter 60—encouragement like that which God also gives to Christians today in the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit to produce godly living in us (Romans 7-8). Isaiah promised the Jewish exiles "Your people shall all be righteous, and they shall inherit the land forever" (60:21).

This in turn leads the prophet to a further description of the coming blessings upon Israel and those of the nations who join themselves to her in faith (chapters 61-62).
1.    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release … for the prisoners, 2 to announce the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV)
61:1 This is the first reference in Isaiah to the Suffering Servant as an "anointed" person. Other than here, the word "anointed" appears only in 45:1, where it describes Cyrus the Great of Persia, whom God raised up to set the Jewish exiles free to return to their homeland. Both in the case of Cyrus and of the Servant, the anointing is in order to carry out a commission from God. Cyrus was to proclaim to the Jewish captives in Babylonia liberation from exile in a foreign and pagan land; the Servant was to proclaim to Jewish (and associated gentile) captives a greater liberation from sin and death. Now it is possible to see in the Servant's ministry a near-view comforting of the returning exiles as they faced discouragement at the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding their land. Certainly there were "brokenhearted" Israelites at that time who were filled with discouragement. They needed to hear promises of God's blessing upon them and the fulfillment of the promises (see v 4 "they shall build up the ancient ruins").

But it is impossible to read these verses and not feel that the plight addressed goes beyond those times. And it was this understanding that also underlay Jesus' words to the synagogue in Nazareth, when he was called upon to read and comment upon this passage in the weekly assembly (Luke 4).  In the time of Ezekiel and Daniel there was a physical exile and detainment in Babylonia that was both painful and discouraging. It left God's people wondering if there was any hope of the fulfillment of the ancient promise to Abraham and to Moses. But Jesus taught that there was a spiritual exile from God, a captivity to sin and death, that was a more profound danger than the ancient physical one.

Jesus was not alone in his day in reading these lines this way. But he alone as God's promised Servant knew—and indeed was himself— the true answer to that predicament.  Others in his day argued about what the answer might be. He alone did what was necessary to provide the answer. When he stood to read Isaiah 61 on that Saturday in Nazareth, he was the embodiment of the answer. As Cyrus "proclaimed" liberty not just by talking about or promising it, but by announcing it as a fact which he had performed by the royal authority that was his, so Jesus announced redemptive liberty from sin and death as a fact which he had accomplished by the authority that was his. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't just talk about freeing the American slaves, it enacted that freedom the moment Lincoln pronounced its words.

Notice that the parallel with the first part of this verse suggests that the anointing of the Servant is by filling him with the "Spirit of my lord Yahweh".
The Servant's mission is to people called the "poor", the "brokenhearted", the "captives" and the "prisoners". In short, to all who are in desperate need. The terms need not be taken absolutely literally. At least, when Jesus quoted them in Nazareth, he was addressing people who did not consider themselves literally poor or in prison. But sin has enslaved everyone and impoverished us all.
His message to them was good news because it promised a meeting of their need. It was an announcement, not a demand. That is why it was good news then and remains good news to us today.

The language is the language of debt canceling and amnesty—often announced by a new king who had just come to the throne. That is what the words "year" and "day" refer to.

The Servant's words also constituted an invitation to those who needed this liberation. If the Servant tells us here that God has given him the authority to announce or proclaim this debt cancellation, he is implicitly inviting all with debts to come to him and ask for that cancellation.

There is an interesting clause in the ancient Babylonian law code of Hammurabi that illustrates the thought. This code was issued at the initiation of Hammurabi's reign and was  inscribed on a pillar which stood in the public square. At the end of the text the king invites anyone who sees on the pillar a ruling that affects any injustice done to him to come and receive redress. In our passage here the Suffering Servant is entitled by virtue of his suffering for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53) to offer amnesty and forgiveness of the "debt" incurred by sin to anyone who will come and claim it. When Jesus stood and read this words in the synagogue of Nazareth and then said "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), he was making the same offer on the basis of his future death on the cross.

The words "year of the LORD's favor" express the positive side: the experience of the person freed from poverty and imprisonment. The words "day of vengeance of our God" express the other side of the coin. The oppressed person is freed, but the oppressor must be judged and punished.

In historical terms, Israel was freed from captivity, but the Babylonians who put them there had to be punished, which they were by the armies of Cyrus the Great of Persia. In terms of the Suffering Servant's mission, those oppressed by sin and death are delivered by accepting the good news of the Servant's suffering in their places. But also the great oppressor who put enslaved them must be judged.

The true fulfillment of that took place at the Cross, when Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities [i.e., Satan and his demons], [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15).

But Christians today have to heed Paul's command "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:12–14 NIV)". It is our privilege as partakers of the same promises of victory over the oppression of sin to read the following passages in both their historical and their transferred meaning.
2.   They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God.  You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. 7 Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs. 8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.  In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.  9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:3-9 NIV)
61:3 But in the verses that follow, the prophet's words focus exclusively on those who will have been mistreated and will receive God's rewards and comforts. They will receive the symbols of celebration and joy instead of those of mourning and sadness: a garland, fragrant oil to anoint the face and hands, lovely clothing. Even in the physically impoverished circumstances of the initial return to Zion under Zerubbabel, the sheer joy of being "home" again could not be overestimated. But because of the intense joy of this experience, we need to read the following verses as the language of joyful hyperbole.

61:4 The rebuilding of ancient ruined cities did actually take place after the return under Ezra and Nehemiah. But in the immediate context the full fulfillment will take place at Messiah's second advent.

61:5-6 The nations serve the Judeans (cf. 60:4-16), and the Judeans in turn the nations as priests. At Sinai God described his people as a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). For "priests" merely substitute the word "missionaries", and you have the concept. This ideal would now come to pass. In our last class we claimed that those verses in ch. 60 would find fulfillment at the Second Coming, when after "all Israel" calls upon her Messiah and is saved (Romans 11), she will again be God's witness to the nations. If the picture of Israel as the bearer of God's gospel to the nations and receiving physical gifts in return seems strange to you, it can be seen in miniature in the days of the ministry of Peter and Paul. Most of the earliest missionaries of the Gospel were believing Jews, and the center of the outreach was Jerusalem. Because Paul's converts in a real sense owed their salvation to Jewish missionaries, they sent gifts of support to the poor saints in Jerusalem. What we see there in miniature, is what will transpire when the "blindness in part" which has befallen Israel during the present age is lifted and she becomes God's prodigal son, "no longer worthy to be called your son", but welcomed with open arms and a fatted calf.  But we should also be clear that the true "wealth of the nations" brought to Israel at that time will be new believers, just as Paul brought along with the money from his churches also gentile believers to present to the church in Jerusalem.

61:7 The mention of the "double portion" of inheritance refers to the right of the "firstborn" to an inheritance portion twice the size of his siblings. All nations are children of God by creation. But Israel is God's "firstborn" son by redemption. Therefore, Isaiah anticipates that will be blessed above the other nations.

61:8-9 The blessing promised here to repentant and converted Israel is an "everlasting covenant". Some think this is the final aspect of the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham, given in Genesis: Israel as Abraham's "seed" will become a blessing to the nations of the earth, only possible once they themselves are "blessed" by receiving forgiveness of sins through their Messiah (cf. Acts 3:26). In v 7 the word translated "offspring" (ESV; "descendants" in NIV) is literally "seed".   Only one other covenant in the OT is called "everlasting", the one with David in 2 Samuel 7, which however focuses on the perpetuity of the royal line of David, fulfilled in the ultimate Son of David, Jesus.
3.    I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.  (Isaiah 61:10-11 NIV)
61:10 As we have learned, Isaiah's language makes quick turns from one speaker to another. In vv 8-9 the Lord God is the speaker. But in v 10 it is believing Israel. Verse 10 is the song of thanksgiving of the converted Israel, which can apply also to the converted and redeemed Christian. We too are clothed with the garments of salvation. We are adorned as the bride of Christ. We are priests of God, indeed a royal priesthood: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light"  (1 Peter 2:9). We wear Christ's own righteousness like a robe. Some of the imagery of v 3 is repeated here. Although the righteousness in v 10 can be seen as conferred right standing with God, that promised in v 11 is tangible and visible right living that emerges like a new sprout from a planted seed. It provides the evidence to the observing "nations" that God has produced  a dramatic change in Israel, as it provides evidence to family and friends that God has made a great change in our lives.
4.    (Isaiah 62:1-7 NIV)  For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’S hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. 5 As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. 6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, 7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
62:1 Chapter 62 is generally entitled "the Vindication and Salvation of Zion". Like portions of many other OT prophets, this chapter promises that the Lord will someday make his people, whom his once cast off because of their sins, to be to the praise of his glory. What I like to think of as the "economy" of God is that he never really loses anything that he can redeem. Of course, over the centuries of human history billions of individuals may have gone to their graves in unbelief. But larger entities in God's redemptive program are never completely lost. In the garden of Eden Satan attempted to ruin God's creation, which consisted of the heavens and the earth, but especially the human race. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, death entered the scene. Death and alienation from God. And this resulted in the Earth itself—animals, plants, everything—entering what Paul calls the "bondage to decay" (Romans 8:18-25). Someday a redeemed human race will rule a redeemed Earth, freed from that bondage. The earth itself groans in anticipation of that coming freedom. A part of what Satan thought to ruin was God's chosen people Israel. And so, although that nation fell from God's favor by rejecting her Messiah, God will redeem her as well. And that redemption will constitute a vindication not just of Israel's status as a chosen people, but also of God who chose her.

As is frequently the case in Isaiah, it is not clear who speaks in v 1. Since his not remaining silent seems to refer to persistent intercessory prayer, it must either be the prophet himself or the godly remnant. . He will not keep silent until Israel's "righteousness" and "salvation" shines so brightly that all nations will see it. The same theme is taken up again in vv 6-7, where it is clear that it is the faithful human intercessors for Israel who are in view. They are not to keep silent, not to give Yahweh any rest, until he fulfills his promise to Israel and restores her. St. Paul certainly applied this to himself, when in Romans 10:1 he wrote: "Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [my fellow Jews] is that they may be saved".

62:2 The new name to be given to Israel refers to what the prophet talks about in v 4. Once sent into exile as punishment for her idolatries and called "the deserted woman" and "the desolate woman", she will now be called Hephzibah ("My Sweetheart") and "the happily married woman".  These terms reference a common metaphor for God's relationship to Israel: he was her husband, and she his wife. Verse 5 makes this clear. Other so-called gods seduced her, and her  worship of them was labeled "adultery", for which she was divorced and sent away to Babylonia. But now God will re-marry her.

A similar metaphor is applied to Christ and his church: he is the Bridegroom and we his bride. But the specific form of the metaphor in Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament is unsuitable to be simply equated to Christ and his church, since it presupposes the renewal of a previous marriage which was ended by a divorce. This fits a restored Israel, but is untrue of Jesus and the Church. The genius of the Old Testament metaphor, as was acted out in the life of the prophet Hosea, is that a wife guilty of adultery is first divorced and sent away and then retrieved and re-married. This theme of God's unending concern to restore wayward Israel stretches from Moses' words at the end of Deuteronomy to Malachi's.
5.     (Isaiah 62:8-12 NIV)  8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm:  “Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; 9 but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.”   10 Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. 11 The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth:  “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes!  See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’” 12 They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.
62:8-10 When God takes an oath, you know he is deadly serious. Men swear by God, but God can only swear by himself, which he does here ("by his right hand and his mighty arm"). What he swears is "never again". He has already taken such an oath in 54:9-10.
6.    “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:9-10 NIV)
God swears that he will never do again something that he has done before to Israel. What he did before was the Babylonian exile. This will not be repeated. But what are we to make of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the worldwide dispersion of the Jews that followed? Isn't this God's doing it "again"?

62:11-12  There is no easy answer to this question. But a partial answer is to see this promise as contingent upon Israel's heeding the Lord's proclamation to the "ends of the earth" given in v 11, and accepting her coming Savior, so as to be called as in v 12 "the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD". They did not fulfill that condition in AD 30, but according to Romans 11:26, they will do so in the End Time and will receive the promised "Deliverer" who comes "out of Zion".  Then there will truly be a "never again".

Verse 11 should be compared to Zechariah 9:9 ("Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; he is righteous and having salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey") and to Matthew's application of it to Jesus' "triumphal" entry into Jerusalem on Passion Week in Matthew 21:5.

Personal Reflection

Beyond all the discussion of how the details of these two chapters should be interpreted historically and prophetically there remain in them several glowing and timeless truths about our God. Like the good shepherd in Jesus' parables, he is not unconcerned about his straying sheep. He doesn't just content himself with the 99 who do not stray. His heart is always with the one that does. It makes no difference whether that "one" is ethnic Israel, his ancient chosen people, or individuals today who wander from a once vibrant faith in Jesus into unhealthy beliefs and behavior. We all know individuals like that. Sometimes they are relatives, sometimes even our own children. If we cannot wash our hands of them or cease to care for them, it is because our love mirrors God's own love for them. As unlovable as they may act, he created them and he paid the price of their redemption in the Cross of Jesus.

Will there be a miracle turnaround for these individuals like that predicted here for the rebellious and unbelieving Israel? We simply do not know. But for our part we cannot claim to be followers of a God who never ceases to love and pursue the strays, if we are unwilling to do likewise. God's part is his persistent offer of forgiveness and restoration. Our part is not to give the impression to these strays that the way back to God has been closed off. The Father of the prodigal son stands in the road looking for him, with arms open to welcome him home. We act on behalf of that loving Father.