Isaiah (Part 26): Remnant Rejoice – Chosen Faithful (Ch 27)

06/25/2012 09:45


In verses 7 through 13, God shows how this weeding of his vineyard is done. He begins by saying that God’s treatment of Judah the nation was different from that of—in our particular spot in history—Assyria. How did they differ? We must be careful about looking for some empirical evidence as to how the fate of some Jews differed from or matched the fate of some Assyrians. In this discussion, God is keeping to a higher level of perspective. The Jews were banished from the vineyard of God’s care (27:8) so that their dependency on others would be realized as sin and repented of—purged (27:9).

Thus the fortified city (the attitude of dependence on self or othes) was deserted. Again, we must walk carefully through this. God did not literally cause Jerusalem to be deserted (although it was close to being so during the time of Babylon’s world empire). The idea is that the city of man was deserted by God. This contrasts with God’s care for those whose trust rested in him. Those who clung to other nations and their gods were deserted by God and, therefore, become the broken branches that are good for nothing but to be burned (27:11). God would not have compassion on them.

The chapter ends, however, with focus returned to the remnant. This remnant, following the vineyard image, would produce fruit. But notice that the fruit goes beyond the land of Jerusalem. It does so for two reasons. The first is to complete the idea introduced earlier in the chapter that the banishment to other lands would end. God would gather them again into his care. The second reason is to expand our perspective from Judah to the other nations which will produce remnants of their own that will become part of the true Israel—all those, Jew and Gentile, who trust in God. These all will worship on God’s mountain in his holy city.

The ideas of chapter 27 relate to New Covenant discussion. In fact, I am convinced that Paul must have had this chapter in mind as he was deep in his discussion in Romans. The thrust of Romans 11 especially parallels what we learn in Isaiah 27. However, to understand Romans 11, we have to understand the progression of Paul’s argument through Romans.

The theme of Romans is found in verse 17 of the first chapter—the righteous will live by faith. Romans was written by Paul while he was in Corinth on his third missionary journey. He wanted to visit Rome but knew he had to make a trip back to Jerusalem first. Perhaps he was worried that he would never make it to the capital city of the empire. In every city in his travels, his pattern had been to head to the synagogue first to teach the Jews of the fulfillment of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. When they rejected his message, he would turn his focus to the Gentiles. I think this letter to the Romans, then, matched his approach in what he preached to the Jews in the cities he actually visited.

He begins in Romans 1 with the general revelation that God has given to all his image bearers. In verse 18 we learn, “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness.” And in verse 19, we read, “What can be known about God is evident to them, because God has shown it to them.” In other words, God has revealed to all people that he is there, that a standard of morality—good and evil—exists, and that God will punish the evil. God gives to every living person this revelation so that “as a result, people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20b).

Paul moves in to chapter 2 with the intent of letting the Roman Jews in particular know that they cannot individually rest on Israel’s special covenantal status with God in order to obtain everlasting relationship. He tells them in verses 6 through 11:

“He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth but are obeying unrighteousness; affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. There is no favoritism with God.”

Notice the two points Paul is interested in emphasizing. First, he argues that God will reward according to works. The problem of course for the Jews as well as everyone else is that no one does good. That means that everyone is due to inherit wrath. The second point is meant especially for the Jews who were depending on their special nation status to maintain relationship with God. Paul says that they can’t depend on it. He says, “There is no favoritism with God” that would grant them exemption from the principle that failure in works (to them, failure in keeping the law) would win them only the “wrath and indignation” of God.

 Paul emphasizes his point in verse 13. There he tells them that just because they have the sacred Scriptures and read them aloud on the Sabbath, “the hearers of the law are not righteous  before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous.”

Paul ends the chapter explaining that the true Jew (which literally means one who praises God) is not one based on any outward designation: “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. That man’s praise is not from men but from God” (2:28-29).

Paul then anticipates the Jews' next question. If they are in the same boat with Gentiles in condemnation for their failure to live righteously, then “what advantage does the Jew have?” (3:1). Paul responds, “They were entrusted with the spoken words of God” (3:2). The spoken words of God were further revelation beyond the general revelation given to all people. God began even as far back as the Garden, immediately after sin entered the world, to provide an ever-expanding stream of revelation, beginning with the seed of the idea in Genesis 3:15 and culminating with the incarnation of the Son of God. This stream of revelation, entrusted to the Jews, is of utmost importance to Paul throughout his argument. And even though many Jews failed to believe the growing revelation, it did not nullify or change the faithfulness of God in what he intended through the revelation (3:3-4).

Back to Paul’s line of argument, although everyone is due to receive God’s wrath, God, through his revelation, provides hope. “Apart from the law” and its requirements and condemnation for failure, “God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets—that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:12-22). “God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood.” (3:25) And we learn, “A man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (3:28). So, although all will be judged by their works. Jesus has paid the wrathful penalty for the sin so that all who through faith believe in his atonement may stand justified before God without any guilt of sin.

In Romans 4 Paul seems to anticipate the Jews’ claim of a safety net in Abraham—the righteous, covenant-initiating father of the Jews. So Paul begins by agreeing that Abraham was credited with righteousness, but, Paul insists, it was only on the basis of his belief in God. Paul draws a distinction between works and faith saying, “To the one who does not work, but believes…, his faith is credited for righteousness” (4:5). And then Paul lets the hammer fall. He asks, “In what way then was [faith] credited—while [Abraham] was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while he was circumcised, but uncircumcised” (4:10). Paul makes clear that God was not obligated because of Abraham’s work, position in covenantal relationship, or anything else to grant righteous standing to Abraham. Abraham was credited with righteousness before the covenant and its sign of circumcision. So it was by faith alone that Abraham received his righteous standing before God. And Paul goes on to tell us that this revelation about God crediting Abraham with righteousness “was not written for Abraham alone, but also for us.” Just like with Abraham, righteousness “will be credited to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:23-24).

Romans 5 contains reiteration of the point of Christ’s atonement for us, but it also holds the beginnings of a puzzle of conflict. Paul exclaims, “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (5:8). Just as Abraham received righteousness through faith without meriting it, we also did not merit Christ’s love and sacrificial death. We were in sin when he died for us. But “through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:19). And “we have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand” (5:2).

But Paul also says that “we also rejoice in our afflictions” (5:3). Why are we afflicted? Why are we still under burden of the effect of sin? Have we not been made righteous? There seems to be a conflict of current sin effects although our souls stand justified before God. The conflict is not immediately resolved because Paul will still develop it further. Verse 5 of Romans 5 states, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Here is reason for tremendous joy and contentment. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to live within, continuing to pour God’s love into our hearts! From this we are assured of relationship everlasting with him! But it again hints of a “not yet” aspect. We are still feeling those effects of sin.

In Romans 6, Paul asks what may have been a question to him from other Jews in other cities: “Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?” (6:1). There is a sense of logic in the question. If grace rises due to sin, would not more grace arise if we continue to sin more? But Paul answers, “Absolutely not!” We have died to sin, he says (6:2). That means we have a complete change of perspective. The desires of our hearts (into which the Holy Spirit continues to pour God’s love) have been changed from selfish, sinful lusts to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. Therefore, Paul urges, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (6:12), and “Since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life! (6:22). Thus, we are on a course away from sin and toward ever greater Christlikeness.

Paul continues the sanctification focus by explaining that we have been removed from the Law: “But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law” (7:6). Again, this may raise a question in the minds of his audience. If we have been removed from the law, was the law somehow bad? Or, “Is the law sin? (7:7). And again, Paul answers, “Absolutely not! (7:7). It was the failure to keep the law which was sin, not the law itself. “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (7:11-12).

But then Paul faces that nagging buildup of conflict—why does sin still have effect over me when my soul/spirit has been regenerated and I am in right standing before God? In verse 21 of Romans 7, Paul admits, “When I want to do what is good, evil is with me.” Paul strongly hints at a resolution to come by the end of chapter 7: “Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.” Paul recognizes that our Lord Jesus Christ will rescue him from his flesh of sin, but in the meantime that conflict will continue.

Romans 8 begins with additional comfort. Although that conflict remains of sin in the flesh while his soul is born of God, “no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:1-2). Again, Paul lets us know why we are permanently free from the law of sin and death—“the Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16).

And then Paul satisfies any lingering thoughts on that conflict of redeemed soul / sinful flesh. Our flesh is made of the physical character of this earth (Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground…” (Genesis 2:7)). Paul says, “For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed” (8:18). And then he continues, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22-23). That conflict, hinted at back in chapter 5 and climaxed in chapter 7, is now resolved in chapter 8. God promises a resurrection of all physical creation—our bodies and the earth from which our bodies were made. That resurrection will occur when he returns (1 Cor 15:52).

Paul’s intermediate discussion of sanctification ends in chapter 8. In Romans 9, Paul returns to his discussion with the Jews concerning their need to gain everlasting relationship with God as being equal to the Gentile need. By this Paul does not intend denigration of the Jews. They simply cannot rely on their physical heritage and the Law for everlasting relationship with God. Paul shares his heart saying, “I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood” (9:2-3).

But immediately Paul goes back to recounting the advantages of the Jews. He says, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.” (9:4-5). Notice a couple things about this statement. First, that the Jews “have” all these things does not give them everlasting relationship with God. Paul is still profoundly concerned about their state, as evidenced in verses 2 and 3. Second, Paul seems to think it an advantage that the giving of the law belongs to the Jews although he has argued in Romans 7 though 8 that we are no longer under the law. If we are no longer under the law, why are these things that he lists advantages?

They are advantages to the Jews in the same way as Romans 3:2 told us that being entrusted with the spoken words of God was an advantage. The Jews—as a people, as a nation—have been given this tremendous stream of the ever-expanding revelation of God that began when sin first entered the world and culminated with the incarnation of our God, Jesus Christ. That revelation Paul will now rest heavily on as he makes his argument in Romans 9 through 11.