Isaiah 2:6 reads, “You, LORD, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.” (NIV)
The word “abandoned” in 2:6 is a different verb than the “left behind” verb of Isaiah 1:9. It means to let go of something, to “loose” it. So, for instance, if someone were holding the hand of a drowning person, or of a person hanging over a cliff, and “abandoned” them, the verb would indicate a letting go of their hand. Another example would be if an army were to withdraw from an area being threatened by an enemy force, leaving the inhabitants behind to fend for themselves, it would be “abandoning” them.
Interestingly, in comparison with the Septuagint Greek of Isaiah, Hebrews 13:5, originally written in Greek, uses both the verb “abandon” from Isaiah 2:6 and the word “left behind” of 1:9–
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (ESV, unless otherwise noted, all quotations will be from the ESV).
The first verb is the one found in Isaiah 2:6, explained above. The next verb in Hebrews 13:5, “nor forsake you,” is the Greek verb found in LXX 1:9. This meaning is more subtle. It indicates the part that is left behind after something else has been chosen. For when the Lord says, “I will never forsake you,” it means he will never choose others but not you. Think of the foolish maidens who weren’t present with their lamps lit when the bridegroom came. The bridegroom selected the one wise maiden who had her lamp lit and was eagerly waiting for him. The bridegroom chose her and “left behind,” or forsook the others (Mat 25:1-13). Hebrews tells us that the Lord says that will never happen to his followers. He will never let go of them (“leave you”) and never depart to live without them (“forsake you”). οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω, Heb 13:5, Nestle).
How blessed is this reassurance given in the New Testament. But not so in Isaiah 2:6 and forward through 4:1. There God is very angry with his people and has indeed abandoned them. How can this even be?
Going back to Hebrews 13:5, we find that when the writer says, “For he has said… ” the quotation is actually from the Old Testament, not from our Lord in the New. In Joshua 1:5, the LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah) is speaking directly to Joshua just after Moses dies. He’s reassuring Joshua that he would always be with him, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” Joshua remained faithful to the Lord for his whole life, dying in faith. And, God kept all his promises to the people when he brought them out of Egypt.
But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, (Joshua 23:15).
There is a tough knot in the core of Christendom. Paul dealt with it in Romans. That is a belief that certain people feel they can claim the promises of God as an absolute guarantee that God can never, never break. “He said so, therefore… ” “If he doesn’t do what he promised, then he’s not God. Therefore, he needs to bless Israel.” Or, “I’m born again; therefore, God has no choice but to take me to heaven when I die.”
But nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that God rewards overt, willful, persistent disobedience (rebellion, changing of allegiance). In fact, Scripture everywhere claims the opposite. Joshua 23:15 begins with, “But… ” and continues with, “So the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” That’s clear as day. And Isaiah is warning in 2:6-4:1 that what Joshua foretold in chapter 23 is about to happen unless the people repent.
“But, but, but…if God requires my faithfulness, isn’t that works? I’ve been taught, Once saved, always saved.” And, “I can never lose my salvation. Trusting in my faithfulness to God means not trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient to cover all my sin, even my unfaithfulness.” Show me a Scripture that says that.
Everywhere, but everywhere, the Bible teaches allegiance to God as a continuing prerequisite to his salvation. “But, but…” To say that we have no responsibility and no choice regarding that allegiance is to deny Scripture. God does not drag us into heaven against our will. The whole book of Hebrews is a warning against forsaking Jesus Christ. Chapter 11 is an exhortation to faithfulness. Christians so often quote the latter portion of 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and leave off (Yes! our verb) the first portion, which is a warning against loving money instead of trusting in Christ, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have… ”
Christians often say, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb 13:8). We need also to quote Malachi 3:6, “‘For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.'” If God does not change but is always the same, then the God who spoke Isaiah 2:6 hasn’t changed or gone away. Christ’s death on the cross doesn’t make that God of Isaiah disappear. So how do we reconcile these two extremes? A God of grace who always keeps his promise to bless and a God of wrath who punishes the wicked?
What needs to be reconciled? Grace and human responsibility. God’s indelible promises and his enduring wrath against his wicked people.
In answering these seeming contradictions, it seems impossible to escape the concept of the faithful remnant. First, the Bible everywhere teaches that people are saved by means of faith, that is, their belief in, hope on, obedience to, and allegiance toward God. “By grace you are saved through faith…” (Heb 2:8). But second, on the other hand,–although we haven’t gotten there yet, we will get to the rest of Isaiah 2:6-4:1–but in that passage God describes his aversion and repugnance to the wicked ways of his people. Isaiah 2:6 says that he has already “abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob.” So on one hand, Isaiah 2:2-4 speaks of their final blessing, and on the other hand God abandons and punishes. What gives?
Reading all the way through Malachi 3 reveals the solution:
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.
17 “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Mal 3:16-18 ESV)
These verses explain in a nutshell the concept of the faithful remnant. These are the ones whom God saves throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament through Christ. Paul also explains the distinction between the two groups in Romans 9 and 11. Read those chapters with Isaiah in mind. God’s grace always forgives those who repent and believe (trust in, rely on, obey, and show allegiance toward) him. The rebellious (traitors), no matter their lineage, he rejects.
So, is this faithfulness of the remnant a matter of their own virtue, a matter of works righteousness? No. Paul explains, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11:5-6). It’s faith, but it’s a faith born of grace.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
Nevertheless, we are the ones who must live out our lives. God does not live our lives for us. Down here on the ground, faith looks like a struggle. It looks like a struggle because it is a struggle. And living out our faith looks like choice, because without contradicting grace, it is a choice. It’s a gift and a choice at one and the same time. Faith is a choice that God’s grace allows and helps us to make. Those who perish do not make that choice, even when given plenty of opportunity. The lesson, as Paul teaches in Romans 11, is to accept the blessing of salvation with humility and thanksgiving, not taking it for granted, living in holy fear, lest the fate of abandoned Israel become our own. And we are to pray for Israel, that God’s grace would awaken and arouse them to living faith.
But this is what Isaiah is about: these two groups and God’s actions and promises for each. There is blessing for the one, and destruction for the other. Lord willing, we will continue.