Isaiah (Part 23): Remnant Rejoice - Salvation for the Repentant (Ch 25)
The first verse of chapter 25 transfers focus from God’s judgment to God’s sovereignty, but it is a focus built on and not replacement of the prior subject. Isaiah’s vision of judgment is the cause of the praise that wells up within him. He praises because that which God has done—the wonders in orchestrating his judgment—were all plans formed long ago. But this raises a question. If God is sovereign (supreme rule), why was sin ever allowed to lift its ugly head? Wouldn’t a sovereign, almighty God be able to thwart the actuation of evil rather than merely judge its occurrence? This, of course, is one of the atheist’s arrows in attack against theism: the problem of evil.
But sovereignty is not simply absolute will; it is absolute control. The question presumes that God’s greatest goal is to ensure that evil never occurs. But God appears to hold everlasting love relationship with his created image bearers as a loftier goal. When two otherwise good and right goals cannot both be satisfied, God prioritizes his will based on that which fulfills the existence and expression of his character best. Love is not pure love if coerced. Therefore, God allowed evil in order to gain the pure love relationship that was the purpose for creation.
Therefore, we learn that God wills according to his essence (his attributes—who he is). God prioritizes according to his will. (Or, God prioritizes his will based on that which most fully fulfills his attributes. Again, in other words, God prioritizes his existence to most fully express his essence.) And then God controls according to his priorities. This, then, is the sovereignty that Isaiah is praising in verse 1—a sovereignty that controls all things, including the judgment of the wicked, in order to fulfill God’s priority of will based on who he is.
The next few verses (2-5) show us that even in judgment, repentance is born. Verse 2 mentions again a city. We need not be confused about which city, although the previous prophesies dealt with numerous cities and nations. Isaiah uses the city as a metaphor to speak of the security and provision for a related people. The “fortified city” of verse 2 is the city of man—a related group who looks to self for security and provision. This is opposed to the city of God—a related group who looks to God for security and provision. Of course, whatever the perspective, the reality is that it is God and God alone who gives security and provides for any people. Thus, when God judges the city of man by withdrawing his care-giving hand, the city falls to ruin as verse 2 explains.
The rest of this mini-section shows God’s work in care giving as the city. He is described as a stronghold for the poor and needy. The walls of his city rebuff the barbarians as surely as they do the rain. And what is most interesting in the history of this time is that there were those among the nations who recognized the security God gave to Judah while feeling the oppression of judgment on their own nations. God provided revelation to the nations of the world that it was his hand that protected. In 2 Kings 18:28-35 we read of Assyria’s assault on Jerusalem. In trying to dishearten the Jews, the Assyrian leader recounts all the other nations who fell to their army. All those nations, the general recounts, were not protected—could not be protected—by their gods. His point was that the people should not expect their God to be able to protect them either. In 2 Kings 19:8-13 that same reasoned taunt is again given. But in 2 Kings 19:35-36 and with more detail in 2 Chronicles 32:20-23, we read that God took the lives of 185,000 Assyrians camped around Jerusalem. The point is that no army of any other nation could stand up to Assyria. But in attack against Jerusalem, not a single Jew lifted a sword, yet the army was wiped out. This fact of Assyria’s non-fighting defeat was not lost on the surrounding nations. Many understood this to be the hand of God and turned in repentance to God. Those are the ones mentioned in verse 4—the strong people who honor God and the cities of violent nations that fear him.
In the next mini-section—verses 6 through 8—we read of the Lord welcoming these remnant peoples from the surrounding nations. They are welcomed with a feast. God usually uses feasts as a means of emphasizing relationship of those united by God’s blessing. We see that idea in the feasts of the Law, the Lord’s Supper, and in the marriage supper of the Lamb. Also here God uses the imagery of the dead coming to life—the pulling back of the burial shroud—to depict the change from their dependence on self to their dependence on him. And, of course, it is life and relationship which are the very purposes for creation and redemption.
The chapter ends with a contrast of those who are dependent on God and those who are independent of God. The dependent ones “wait” for him. In other words they look for him to provide. They realize that salvation comes from God alone. And they trust in his mountain—his power and strength.
It is interesting that Isaiah chooses Moab to represent the contrast. Why not a major nation like Egypt or Babylon? Why speak of the relatively weak, desert-dwelling nation of Moab? The choice is obvious once we remember the oracle against them. This nation fled before Assyria pressing down from the north. They fled south and then west around the Dead Sea. Recognizing the opportunity for safety in the land of Judah, they petitioned Jerusalem to hide in their land until the Assyrian threat was over. God would have welcomed them into his safe-keeping if Moab would have turned their faith and trust to Yahweh. But Moab refused. They rejected God’s provision. So, Moab provides a greater picture than any other nation of the rejection of God’s care giving even with their heightened understanding (enlightenment) of the care that could come if only they gave up their independence and submitted themselves to God.