Isaiah (Part 67): One Covenant Family (Ch 56a-b)
These last eleven chapters of Isaiah actually can be broken into two major sections. The first is chapters 56 through 59. These, rather than all of 56 though 66, would more appropriately be labeled “Entering Sabbath Rest” on their own. As we have discussed before, the idea of Sabbath rest implies covenant fulfillment. The rest is the security in realized covenant. Of course, Christ was the firstfruits in covenant fulfillment. He made the way (accomplished redemption) so that we could follow. But now that we enter, the rest we find is the restored and settled covenant whose purpose had always been a rest for God and his image bearers in everlasting love relationship. Within this purpose, we realize God to be Caregiver and Source of truth, goodness, and beauty. We image bearers are dependent valuers of truth, goodness, and beauty. In other words, God made us creatures who value truth, goodness, and beauty. In valuing those, we find our desire set on them (Matthew 6:21). With God’s full, complete revelation to us of truth, goodness, and beauty, coupled with the Holy Spirit’s testifying of their source from God, we find our desire everlastingly set on God. Our expression toward him and the entire covenant community is in relational love, which by definition gives of self for the benefit of others. This then completes our concept of Sabbath rest—one covenant community, involving God and his image bearers in everlasting love relationship in which he is Caregiver and we are happily dependent on the care he provides. Note that this is not several relationships or a confederation of individual covenant relationships. It is one relationship of us together.
The first eight verses of chapter 56 emphasize, first, this Sabbath rest. Maintaining that rest (or remaining in trusting covenant relationship) is the justice of which God speaks. Justice is a legal term relating to the contract or covenant with God. Our obligation in this covenant is simply to trust God as Caregiver. That is why these first verses emphasize both preserving justice while not desecrating the Sabbath. Both ideas relate to the same idea of trusting relationship.
The passage goes on to speak of the foreigner and the eunuch. Both these types of people would normally feel on the outskirts of Jewish society in any measure other than fulfilled covenant hope. The foreigner is ethnically different, a heritage born apart. The eunuch has no inheritance with the people. He is unable to produce offspring, and offspring were the means of the pre-cross Abrahamic covenant vision—toward Christ. But in understanding fulfillment of rescue, we are the children. We are the offspring of the Servant Savior. Thus, God, in Isaiah 56, comforts the foreigner and the eunuch with full acceptance. Ethnicity or children are not the divide in God’s covenant community. The verse 8 conclusion is of one covenant family.
Verse 8 mentions a community to which God will add others. This parallels the message by Christ in John 10:16 in which he says, “But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Ephesians 2:11-18 as well as Galatians, parts of Corinthians, and the thrust of the New Testament preach to us of the unity among our covenant community. This emphasizes the gospel message that goes beyond our individual rescue from destruction to a rescue toward that everlasting relationship in love that we enjoy together.
The next subsection in Isaiah is from verse 9 in chapter 56 through 57:13. The perspective changes slightly. Isaiah’s vision had been looking outward (over 150 years to its earliest fulfillment and 600-700 years to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ). But Isaiah reels back the vision to impress on his listeners once again how it is that they ever became enslaved to Babylon in the first place. Isaiah recounts their failure as a nation of God’s priests.
At the end of chapter 56, God presents the nation as sheep whose shepherds (the Jewish leaders) were selfishly concerned with their own ease and comfort. Since they did not care for the sheep (imitating in priestly fashion God’s care for them), God calls to the other nations—the animals of the field and forest—to come eat. This is ultimately what happened as Ephraim, then Syria, then Assyria, and finally Babylon came in to destroy. We note that those who did care for God were harmed by the actions of these false leaders (57:1). But God tells us in verse 2 that they would be ultimately cared for by him.
In verses 3 through 13 of chapter 57, the failures of the leaders and the people are brought into even greater focus. God begins by calling these Jewish deserters offspring of a sorceress, adulterer, and prostitute. They are directed by evil (sorceress), unfaithful to the covenant (adulterer), and looking for care from others (prostitute).
These people mock those who truly worship God. The leaders had continued their ritual activity of sacrifice, but understood the God of Judah to be no more than local deities of other cities/nations. And so they would mock true worshippers, thinking they were calling after an ineffectual god. But verse 4 tells us that these mockers were actually the ones whose lives were ineffectual in the pursuit of their own way.