Isaiah (Part 57): Zion Reaffirmed (Ch 49c)
The major covenants we find in Scripture provide the framework of God’s interaction with his image bearers. These covenants include:
- The Covenant of God – This covenant is God’s own, made with himself before the world began. In love and foreknowledge, he determines to create. His purpose is the creation of image bearers with whom to enjoy everlasting love relationship in the glory of God. And God is faithful to his covenant. With foreknowledge he knew the Fall would occur. But with love he would see his covenant fulfilled.
- The Original Covenant of Life – God made covenant with his first image bearers in the Garden. The covenant promised God’s loving caregiving to them, the vulnerable, and was symbolized by their Garden home in the provision of communion, sustenance, and security. The image bearers were to trust God as caregiver. They forsook that trust, focusing it instead on themselves, thus breaking the covenant and receiving the consequence for covenant unfaithfulness—death. Yet, even as death is declared, God provides the first hint of promised redemption, which would keep the Covenant of God on purposeful track.
- The Abrahamic Covenant – God plans rescue for his image bearers by involving himself through his creation. He chooses Abraham to be the father through whose offspring the Anointed One, the Redeemer, God himself would come as one of his own creatures to be faithful to the covenant of life, expiate sin’s curse through his death, inherit the promises given to Abraham in this covenant, and, again through his death, provide those promises as inheritance to all born to him—those who have faith in him as the rescue from our caregiving God. The sign of this covenant was circumcision which reminded Abraham’s physical descendants of that physical descendant, the Messiah who would come.
- The Mosaic Covenant – God made covenant with the nation of Israel—the physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This covenant established the nation as God’s own possession as distinguished from the nations of the rest of the world (“although all the earth is Mine” Ex 19:5). For their part, Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, representing God to the nations and the nations to God. The covenant terms included the Law, and God promised this covenant based on obedience by the nation to the terms (Ex 19:5a).
- The New Covenant of Life – In this covenant made through Christ, the Original Covenant of Life is restored and the Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled. Those who have faith in Christ as the Redeemer—the Rescue of our Caregiving God—are born into the family of God through Christ and will be able to enjoy everlasting love relationship with God in the glory of God (fulfillment of the Covenant of God).
As mentioned, these covenants provide the interaction of God with us in order to accomplish his purpose. This was not two plans or a plan in two parts. God did not first have a plan to rescue through the nation of Israel and, when they failed, tried plan B through Christ’s death. This is one plan put together in the mind of God before time began. As we read Scripture and understand the details of soteriology, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, we must be sure to remain faithful to the covenantal framework. If, for example, our eschatology considers a regeneration of covenant status with ethnic Israel to take place at the “end times,” we must be able to see that within our covenant framework, or, if not seen, we must reject the notion. Keeping this framework of covenant activity in mind, we can continue to proceed through Isaiah 49.
In Isaiah 49:14 through 26, God verifies his purpose—the purpose of the Covenant of God. The section begins with Zion wondering whether the Lord has abandoned it. Who is Zion? Zion was one of the mounts on which Jerusalem was built. Perhaps we understand the significance of Zion best from Hebrews. We learn in Hebrews 11:10 that Abraham’s faithfulness to the call of God was not merely in anticipation of receiving a tract of land. We read, “[Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” That city, then, was a spiritual concern—a place where God and his people would dwell together. Hebrews 12:22 makes this connection even more sure: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem).” Thus, we understand Zion to symbolize God’s purpose of eternal relationship.
Back in Isaiah, verse 14 personifies this relationship purpose of God wondering whether God has abandoned it—abandoned his purpose. The reason for the wondering is found in the previous chapter. In 48:19, 22, God indicated an end to his covenant with Jacob. Zion (God’s purpose) wonders that if this covenant ends, relationship would necessarily end. But God answers in verses 15 and 16 that he would not forget his purpose (Zion). God compares himself to a mother who would not forget her child. God argues that his purpose is inscribed on his hands, indicating that every activity he does has, as its intent, the fulfillment of his purpose.
In verses 17 through 20, God says the “builders” of Zion—children of the purpose—are hurrying to restore the city. The wicked (the faithless covenant breakers represented by the nation of Jacob) have left, but new inhabitants (children) are gathered from the world. And the flood of the faithful from the world overflows the borders of the land, indicating the grand expansion of the land imagery to include a new heaven and new earth.
Zion wonders from where these children have come. God answers in 22 to 26 that kings of other nations were the foster fathers and queens were their nursing mothers. In other words, God is gathering these children from the previous subjects of other realms, and these other realms will “lick the dust” (49:23) or bow to God’s purpose. Verses 24 and 25 expand on the point that the strong of the world will not be able to hold back God’s capture/rescue of these other peoples. (Note: “righteous” in verse 24 in HCSB should be translated as “tyrant” or “fearsome one” as in older mss rather than as the Masoretic text has it.)
In verse 26, we read that the oppressors will eat their own flesh and drink their own blood. This puts us in mind of the antichrist spirit shown in Revelation 17:16 in which the selfish interests of the God-deniers result in consuming themselves.
Chapter 50 presents a contrast between unfaithful Jacob and the faithfulness of the Servant. God asks, “Where is your mother’s divorce certificate?” and “Who were My creditors?” implying that there was no certificate and were no creditors, meaning it was not God’s fault that Jacob’s covenant ended. It was Jacob’s own faithlessness, as stated in the second half of verse 1. God said that he called to them, but they wouldn’t listen (verse 2), even though God was the God of the universe, controlling the sea and sky.