Isaiah (Part 13): Israel Regathered (Ch 10b-12)
From the middle of Isaiah 10 until the end of the section (through Isaiah 12), we see God’s care specifically for his remnant—the heaven-dwellers, those of faith. Verses 20 through 23 provide the prophecy of the remnant’s return. This is an interesting introductory phrase for this whole section. As we begin, the obvious meaning is that the people of faith turn or return to the Mighty God (v.21). But looking at the section as a whole, we see the prophecy end with all those of Israel (the true Israel of God) streaming in return to the land—the place of promise and security for those of faith—the relational presence of God.
That the meaningful understanding of the remnant is more than just living in an earthly location can be seen easily from this side of history. The Jews never again reached the height of their early history with David, Solomon, or even Uzziah. The Jews would live in a broken land to be harassed by their enemies, to be taken into captivity and released in relatively paltry numbers, to be conquered and controlled still by Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Rome as the years of their history plodded by. Bright spots appeared here and there, but never again was seen the sustained strength of their past. The purpose for that is repeated throughout Scripture, culminating in the very words of Jesus to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Yes, the world will be renewed—resurrected. And that will be the physical location we enjoy in God’s kingdom. But the focus even then, and here in our passage as well, is on the real “place” for us in God’s kingdom—in the presence of our king.
The connector “on that day” appearing in verse 20 and several times throughout this passage is also not meant to tie us too specifically to a point in time, but rather to point in God’s purposeful plan. “On that day” means at the time of, or, better, as a result of, the judgment on Assyria in the previous section. As a result of that, the remnant will depend on God for their provision and security.
Verse 21 begins telling us almost exactly the fulfilled result of the Shearjashub prophecy: “the remnant will return”—shear shuwb, presenting a shout of victory in its fulfillment. They return “to the Mighty God,” reminding us of the Messiah’s name in 9:6, which signals a return to following/imaging God since that is how the Messiah is defined. In verse 22 we are reminded that this is “only a remnant.” This is not Israel as the whole of its nation. Many of Israel continued as earth-dwellers, and would continue so even upon the Messiah’s arrival. But, again, the focus is not on quantity of ethnicity. The focus is on quality, on faith.
In verse 23 we read of a destruction, a judgment, occurring—one that was decreed. This is not to focus on the judgment. We had the focus on the judgment in the previous section. This is directed toward the remnant, calling to repent and giving them assurance.
We find the next section in verses 24 through 34. Here the judgment of Assyria is recounted. Again, this is not leveled against Assyria. This is spoken for the sake of the remnant to give them assurance. We see that assurance bookends the section (at the beginning vv. 24-27 and at the end vv.33-34). The “do not fear Assyria” encouragement of verse 24 puts us in mind of Christ’s words in Matthew 10:28 as he encourages his disciples saying, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul.” God’s point is that people pay too much attention to the protection of this temporal life when it is pitted against eternal values.
Verses 25 and 26 are interesting in that they not only urge patience, but urge that patience about the suffering that the remnant is experiencing within the fuller nation of Judah and Israel that are receiving God’s punishment. It provides understanding for us that in the tapestry of God’s control, not every good or every bad that happens to affect a life is the result of that individual’s goodness or badness. Isaiah then gives a good example: the children of Israel suffered for years as slaves in Egypt before God, in his perfect timing, rescued them. Israel and we have to be patient for purposes of trust, justice, and glory.
The middle of this poem of promise to the remnant highlights Assyria’s march toward Jerusalem to conquer it. Isaiah builds up the threat, and you can almost hear the Jaws’ shark attack notes pulsating as Assyria moves from city to city, closer and closer. Just as they reach Nob, overlooking Jerusalem across the Kidron valley, God intervenes. We see words of comforting relationship and security in the daughter designation of Zion and the mountain imagery.
Some scholarly debate exists concerning God’s action in verses 33 and 34. Is he acting against Assyria or against Judah? Based on the link to the next verse, the first verse of chapter 11, it would seem Judah is the one attacked. The felling of the forest must be in Judah if it is from Jesse’s stump that the Messiah shoot grows. However, the previous context of chapter 10 argues that Assyria, the antagonist, receives the judging hand of God. We’ve created a false dichotomy. A third option exists. Both Judah and Assyria receive judgment. Remember the contrast of focus is not Judah and Assyria but rather heaven-dwellers and earth-dwellers. The remnant is rescued. But both Judah as a nation not trusting God and Assyria as a nation also arrogantly relying on their own strength fall. The trees are cut removing arrogance and security.
Chapter 11 begins with a reference to a branch or shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. This reminds us of Matthew’s allusion to Jesus, whom he says was prophesied to be called the Nazarene. Since there is no prophecy in the OT saying that Messiah would be called the Nazarene, some scholars have suggested that Isaiah 11:1 is the source passage. The Hebrew word for branch is netzer. Without the vowels, as Hebrew was originally written, netzer is presented as NZR. Since these letters are also the root consonants of Nazarene, these scholars argue that Matthew was word-playing there to connect the Messiah of Isaiah 11:1 with Jesus’ boyhood home of Nazareth. In our Matthew series, I argued that this was probably not the case. A more likely reason Matthew spoke of the prophecy is that the name Nazareth has at its root the meaning of being guarded. Therefore, the Nazarene is the guarded one. Matthew had just recounted how God protected the divine child from Herod through the escape to Egypt and his return away from Palestine to settle in Nazareth. Therefore, God’s guarding of Jesus, leading him to a city meaning guarded, prompted Matthew to connect that with OT prophecy of God’s care over the Messiah, and call him the Nazarene, the guarded one.
Notice also that in 11:1, the Messiah is the branch or shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. In verse 10, however, the Messiah is the root of Jesse. This indicates that the Messiah is both king in David’s line, but also the very God that established Davidic royalty.
The first nine verses of Isaiah 11 expand on the Messiah image first pictured in Isaiah 9. We see how the Messiah will have the Spirit of the Lord resting on him. The six point breakdown of that Spirit of the Lord helps us understand that Messiah will depend on God and not human reason or feeling for knowledge and wisdom. Verses 3 and 4 tell us that the Messiah will not only act in righteousness, but he will do so because he delights in it. And verses 5 through 9 show the good results of faithful righteousness.
This passage is full of the example of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness coming to the Messiah, accepted by the Messiah, and expressed by the Messiah. This is the perfect reflection of God. The Messiah as perfect man perfectly images God in truth, beauty, goodness, faith, hope, and love. Note that these verses all describe the activity of the Messiah in his first advent. The wolf living with the lamb is not about the animals in the resurrected earth not devouring each other. We must remember context. The attacks of Ephraim and Syria only to be attacked by Assyria are those things that do not happen in the kingdom of God. Christ comes to end sin for those in his kingdom. He did this in his first coming as Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. We see those qualities in these verses and in the New Testament describing what Christ accomplished in setting up his kingdom through the cross and resurrection.
The result of the kingdom established is that Israel—remnant Israel—the true Israel of God—would be regathered. Verses 10 through 16 speak of that regathering. Even the middle verses 13 and 14 picture, through the nation defeating nations, the blessing of Israel versus the defeat of the enemies of God’s people.
Isaiah 12, then, is the song of joy for what God through Messiah has accomplished. The song is one of praise, trust, joy, thanksgiving, and singing.
In this section of Isaiah—chapters 6 through 12—note the pattern that has occurred. In each subsection we saw a complaint of God about Israel: they were unfaithful; they turned away; they did not trust; they did not fear. Then we saw judgment occur. Land was taken away, and that meant security was removed. Land became desolate, and that meant provision was removed. But even amid these judgments we saw that hope remained—a remnant always returned.
Notice the development of that hope. In Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s Call), we saw the stump left, which we were told was the holy seed (6:13). In Isaiah 7:1 through 8:17 (Assyrian Prophecy), the remnant was to bind the testimony and seal instruction. They were told to wait. (8:16-17). In Isaiah 8:18 through 9:7 (Darkness Prophecy), the dawn came for the remnant. The Messiah child was born and ascended to David’s throne (9:2-7). In Isaiah 9:8 through 10:23 (Hand Raised Prophecy), the remnant faithfully depends on God, and justice prevails (10:20-23). Finally, in Isaiah 10:24 through 12:6 (Rescue Prophecy), the Messiah reigns; Israel is regathered; and there is joy (11:1-12:6).
Therefore in these five sections, we see the remnant prophecy grow from holy seed through how to live (instruction and patience) to see the dawn and the Messiah born while they then remained faithful as justice was established until they finally saw fully Messiah reigning as Israel was regathered. That is a progressive revelation of the remnant, perfectly paralleling all of history from OT to NT in the progressive revelation of God.
Obviously, the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11 and 12 is not only about who the Messiah is and what he does. Much of Isaiah 11 and all of 12 relate to the resultant activity of the remnant who are living and coming to Christ in our current age—between the advents of our Lord. We see gathering expressed and incredible joy. However, as we look around at the greater Christian community alive in the world today, it may be a bit puzzling to square that picture with what we see in Isaiah 11 and 12. There is triumph and singing and praise and joy depicted in Isaiah. Around us we find Christians troubled by sin and walking hardly greater than defeated, frustrated, disappointing lives. We may generate some emotional fervency when the music plays on Sunday, but normal life is…well…pretty much normal—undistinguishable from the non-Christian community around us.
One of the reasons for this disconnect, I believe, is that Christians still do not understand the difference between faith and works. We believe in Christ. We know the Holy Spirit lives within. But those are concepts that are a bit too nebulous for most of us to base the activity of our lives upon. I want to take a slight break from our verse by verse activity through Isaiah to look a little closer at this faith / works issue that we have seen at work in Isaiah so far.
The starting point should probably be with Abraham. The NT identifies him as the father of those of faith (although there were those who trusted God prior to him). In his discussion on faith, Paul emphasizes God’s reckoning of righteousness on Abraham because of his faith. Here are Paul’s words in Romans 4:1-5: “What then can we say that Abraham our physical ancestor, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to brag about--but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.” Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.”
Now let’s take a look at what James says using the same passage of Scripture that Paul uses: “Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Quite a contrast there, isn’t it? Paul says Abraham was justified by faith, not works. James says that Abraham was justified by works along with faith. Should we really rip the pages of James out of our Bibles as Martin Luther suggested?
I think we’ll find that these two biblical writers were not at odds. They were merely looking at different parts of the process. Let’s review the four major points of Abraham’s life in which interaction with God occurred.
The first major point is Abraham’s call by God. We read this in Genesis 12:1-3: “The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Here we find three subjects that are heavily involved in Abraham’s relationship with God. God promises LAND, SEED (great nation), and BLESSING.
The second major point for Abraham occurs in Genesis 15. God makes a covenant promise to Abraham in verse 18 using these words: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River:...” We notice here a promise of specific LAND and SEED (descendants). The seed of Abraham would inherit the land. There is no qualification for this promise. It is unconditional. However, we do not see the promise of blessing to the world revealed in this covenant as we had read in the call of chapter 12.
The third major point for Abraham occurs in Genesis 17. Many people simply describe this as a reaffirmation of the Genesis 15 covenant. There are, however, several distinctive differences that could lead us to understand this as a separate covenant. In Genesis 17 we read these verses:
1b-2 “Live in My presence and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.
4b “You will become the father of many nations.”
7 “I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant….”
8 “And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing…as an eternal possession.”
11 “You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”
Let’s examine these statements to see the differences from God’s previous covenant with Abraham. First, although not explicitly stated, the Hebrew of verses 1 and 2 implies a contingent relationship. The command of verse 1—to live in God’s presence and be blameless—is a qualification to verse 2—gaining the covenant blessing. Therefore, this, unlike the Genesis 15 covenant, is a conditional promise. Secondly, verse 4 promises many nations—a difference from the call which promised “a great nation.”
Verse 7 marks the most significant differences. First, this covenant is being established between God and Abraham (like the other) but also with Abraham’s “future offspring.” Who is this future offspring? Without any other hints, we might just assume it is all Abraham’s descendants. But this is not so. Paul clears it up for us. In Galatians 3:16 we read: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.” Based on Paul’s authority, we are to understand this particular covenant as one made with Abraham and with Christ—not with Abraham’s other offspring. Genesis 17:7 also tells us that the nature of this covenant is “everlasting,” something not spoken of in the Genesis 15 covenant. Christ, the everlasting God, certainly can accept an everlasting covenant relationship.
Verse 8, then, must be understood in light of verse 7. In verse 8, the land is given to Abraham and his “future offspring” as an everlasting possession. We now understand that the everlasting possession is held, not by the physical offspring of Abraham, but by Christ. As confirmation, we may look back at the Genesis 15 covenant and see that the land would be inherited by Abraham’s physical offspring. And that inheritance was fulfilled. Joshua 23:14 says (Joshua speaking), “I am now going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the Lord your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed.” We see fulfillment to the Genesis 15 covenant. But we know it was not an everlasting covenant because Israel lost the land after their possession.
Finally, verse 11 of Genesis 17 establishes a sign for this everlasting covenant. The sign is circumcision. Again, Paul helps us to understand the nature of this circumcision. We read in Romans 2:28 and 29: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter.” This covenant, made with Abraham, to be confirmed in Christ, would be extended to all those born of Christ, signed and sealed by the circumcision of the heart—the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The fourth major point for Abraham comes in chapter 22. It is here that the fulfillment of the qualification set in Genesis 17:1b is decided. Abraham had been told that all the promises would extend through Isaac. Yet God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham believed God concerning his promises. Based on that he believed that if God would have Isaac sacrificed, somehow God would resurrect Isaac to fulfill the promises. God prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son, although Abraham had been willing. God said in Genesis 22:16-18, “By myself I have sworn...because you have done this thing...I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore....And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” Here we have the confirmation made of the Genesis 17 covenant promise. And here we see what had not been seen since Abraham’s call—confirmation of blessing to the world.
In recounting this history, we find that God’s reckoning of righteousness and his promise came to Abraham based on Abraham’s faith—so Paul was right in Romans 4:1-5. Yet that faith was confirmed as true faith based on its expression in Abraham’s (preparatory) act of sacrifice of Isaac—so James was right in James 2:20-24.
How does that translate to us? Christ has received the everlasting covenant. Christ now has promised the blessings of the covenant to us through the New Covenant. In that New Covenant, Christ himself had faith in God. Christ himself was righteous. And Christ lived the blameless life before God. The covenant blessing then is reckoned to us by faith alone.
As James said, true faith will always find articulation. But we do sin as well. Does our sin now disqualify us? If not, why not? In what ways are the consequences for sin as a Christian different? We will be discussing this next time.