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Isaiah’s Flip-Flops: Isaiah Journal 2.14

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/isaiahs-flip-flops-isaiah-devotional-2-14/.

God’s Problem

God created humankind for his glory.

 Genesis 1:31 And God saw all the things that he had made, and, behold, they were very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Then, as everyone knows, God’s enemy Satan attempted to ruin God’s creation. He enticed the people God had created away from their loyalty to God. God punished the world by sending an enormous flood (Genesis 6-9). After this flood, the Old Testament records how God seemingly gave up on the bulk of the world’s people (Genesis 7-11). Rather, he chose to focus upon a small group. They were the progeny of God’s faithful servant and friend, Abraham. They became known as “Israel.” God chose this small group to be his showcase, his special witnesses. They were to demonstrate God’s character of goodness and righteousness to the world.

But that didn’t happen. God had given them a glorious Law. But these people of his kept ignoring, losing, and disobeying it. They left God again and again to worship the gods of the nations. Repeatedly, the Old Testament records how God punished his people by allowing their enemies to trod them underfoot. When they repented, God would bless them. But their loyalty never endured. Continuously, they recommitted the sin of their first parents. Over and over again, they left the God who loved them and followed the idols of the false gods of the nations surrounding them.

God’s problem in a nutshell is that he is faithful, but those he seeks to bless are not.

God’s Problem Expressed in Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is like the weather in Southern California. The climate there never settles down. Heat follows cold and flood follows drought, all in rapid succession. Throughout the entire year, the weather proves itself erratic. The book of Isaiah is like this. Isaiah bounces back and forth between assurances of blessing for Israel and pronouncements of judgment. Isaiah 42:16-44:8 provides a good example of this principle.

Isaiah 42:16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will cause them to tread paths which they have not known: I will turn darkness into light for them, and crooked things into straight. These things will I do, and will not forsake them. 17 But they are turned back: be ye utterly ashamed that trust in graven images, who say to the molten images, Ye are our gods. 18 Hear, ye deaf, and look up, ye blind, to see. 19 And who is blind, but my servants? and deaf, but they that rule over them? yea, the servants of God have been made blind. (Septuagint, Brenton)

First, notice God’s blessing and promise in verse 16 above. Then, see the statement of the problem in verses 17 through 19. Description of the problem and God’s response of judgment against Israel continues through the end of the chapter in verse 25.

Isaiah 42:25 So he brought upon them the fury of his wrath; and the war, and those that burnt round about them, prevailed against them; yet no one of them knew it, neither did they lay it to heart. (Septuagint, Brenton) (See also Isaiah 42:25, ESV or Isaiah 42:25, NET.)

Then, Isaiah 43:1 switches back immediately to God’s assurance of blessing. God’s blessing continues throughout chapter 43 and into chapter 44.

And now thus saith the Lord God that made thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. (Septuagint, Brenton

God’s Solution 

Part One: Messiah

How can a reader deal with these flip-flops? Is either God himself, or Isaiah, or both schizophrenic? What is God’s intention: blessing or judgment? He seems to insist on both. No, God is not schizophrenic, and everything he says he will do, he will do. The resolution to the seeming contradiction goes all the way back to the very beginning. God has always had a plan. And God’s plan has always been to send people their Savior.

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for His heel. (SAAS) (1)

A Savior will be born into the people of Israel. He will be God’s singular Servant, God’s Son. The Savior/Servant will obey God fully and always. He alone will accomplish God’s purposes of righteousness and loyalty on behalf of all Israel.

EVIDENCE OF THE SAVIOR IN ISAIAH

God’s glory against the backdrop of Israel’s failure (Israel, plural) first appears in Isaiah 4:2-6. Note especially verses 4 and 5.

 Isaiah 4:2 And in that day God shall shine gloriously in counsel on the earth, to exalt and glorify the remnant of Israel. 3 And it shall be, that the remnant left in Sion, and the remnant left in Jerusalem, even all that are appointed to life in Jerusalem, shall be called holy. 4 For the Lord shall wash away the filth of the sons and daughters of Sion, and shall purge out the blood from the midst of them, with the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. 5 And he shall come, and it shall be with regard to every place of mount Sion, yea, all the region round about it shall a cloud overshadow by day, and there shall be as it were the smoke and light of fire burning by night: and upon all the glory shall be a defence. 6 And it shall be for a shadow from the heat, and as a shelter and a hiding-place from inclemency of weather and from rain. (Septuagint, Brenton

Without the New Testament, these verses would remain unfulfilled. But Christ has completely fulfilled this promise. Thank God for the light the New Testament sheds.

First, the Lord washed away the filth of not only the sons and daughters of Sion but of the whole world on the cross. Second, Christ continues that work by means of his Holy Spirit. Third, the Holy Spirit is also the Comforter (or, Helper), who defends and shelters God’s new Israel, the church, from adversity and from enemies.

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (ESV)

Notice the similarities between the images Matthew uses and those of Isaiah 4:4, quoted above. The Apostle John speaks more of the Holy Spirit, see below, much as Isaiah does in Isaiah 42:5-6, quoted earlier.

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (ESV)

Isaiah’s verses find fulfillment in the activities of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (ESV)

Readers can find further references to the Savior in Isaiah, up to this point, in Isaiah 9:1-6; 11:1-16; 12:1-6; 22:20-24; 32:1-4, 15-20; 40:1-11; and 42:1-16. This list may not be exhaustive.

Part Two: A Remnant

All Scripture is clear that only a remnant will be saved. Noah’s boat provides the first example. It carried only eight people to safety (Genesis 7:13). Israel itself is but a remnant of the entire human race. Further, Isaiah makes clear that only a remnant of Israel will be saved.

Isaiah 10:20 And its hall come to pas sin that day that the remnant of Israel shall no more join themselves with, and the saved of Jacob shall no more trust in, them that injured them; but they shall trust in the Holy God of Israel, in truth. 21 And the remnant of Jacob shall trust on the mighty God. 22And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved. (Septuagint, Brenton)

Isaiah 4:3 And it shall be, that the remnant left in Sion, and the remnant left in Jerusalem, even all that are appointed to life in Jerusalem, shall be called holy. 4 For the Lord shall wash away the filth of the sons and daughters of Sion, and shall purge out the blood from the midst of them, with the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. (Septuagint, Brenton) [See also Isaiah 28:5; 37:31-32; and 46:3-4. There may be other references.]

The Apostle Paul, an Israelite among Israelites (Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:4-5), picked up and expounded Isaiah’s theme of a remnant from Israel. To this remnant are added as many Gentiles as choose to come.

Romans 9:27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the and of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” (ESV) [And see all of Romans 9.)

Romans 11:4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (ESV) [See the complete context in Romans 11.]

Jesus himself spoke of a small proportion that would be saved.

Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (ESV)

Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Luke 13:22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. (ESV)

THE MAIN POINT OF A REMNANT

I don’t believe God’s purpose in specifying a remnant is to limit the number of people who finally enter the gates of his kingdom. (Neither should we.) Other places in Scripture claim that number will be as many as the sand in the sea and the stars in the sky (Revelation 7:9 is one such place). Rather, God seeks to emphasize that only those who believe, repent, and faithfully (continuously until the end) trust in and follow God as Lord, Savior, and King will be saved. Because God makes a promise to save Israel does not mean that he will save the arrogant, the hard of heart, or those unrepentantly disobedient to his will. That has never been God’s purpose. By means of the cross of his holy Servant, Jesus Christ, God gives everyone–Israelite and Gentile alike–opportunity to repent, be saved, and find their rest in him.

__________

1 SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Big Picture and Details: Isaiah Journal 2.13

By Christina M Wilson. Originally posted at https://justonesmallvoice.com/big-picture-and-details-isaiah-devotional-2-13/.

The Big Picture and Some Details

The Big Picture: Chapters 40-42

MESSIAH

The overarching theme of the second volume of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) is the advent of Messiah. Isaiah 40:1-11 announces and describes his coming. Chapter 41 repeats and establishes this theme. It announces Messiah’s righteousness and peace to his believing remnant (Isaiah 41:8-20). Then God in Isaiah 42:1-9 speaks of Messiah his Servant. He even addresses him directly in verses 6-7. Isaiah 42:1-16 very much resembles Isaiah 40:1-11. In both passages, descriptions of a changing landscape announce the social upheavals with respect to God’s spiritual comfort that Messiah will bring. Comparing these passages with Gospel descriptions proves their fulfillment in Christ. That is, Christ lifts the poor and needy in his speech and ministry. He also brings down the unbelieving religious elite by speaking against them.

IDOLS

Interwoven with the theme of Messiah as God’s true representative is the counter theme of the falsity of idols. The conflict between God’s truth and lifeless idols forms the backdrop to the whole. For example, Isaiah defends God against idols in Isaiah 40:12-26. Chapter 41:1-7 and 21-29 also concerns God’s rejection of idols and those who worship them. These idol-worshipers appear to be among the Gentile nations. However, Chapter 42, verses 8, 17, and 18-25 are also against idols. But this time, those who trust in them belong to the nation of Israel, God’s “servant,” plural (Isaiah 42: 8, 17, 18-25).

GENTILES AND ISRAELITES TOGETHER

God welcomes Gentiles to believe and receive his good news in Isaiah 42:10-12. These verses flow right into verses 13-14. Verses 13-14 describe God in metaphors. One is of a strong soldier marching out to battle. The second describes God as a woman laboring intensely to give birth. These metaphors describe God overpowering his spiritual enemies through the advent of Messiah. Isaiah 42:15-16 again picks up the theme of changes to the landscape (see Isaiah 40:3-11). These changes indicate the spiritual reality of God’s care for the blind, verse 16. Gentiles are embedded without transition in this entire section, Isaiah 42:10-16. And, God of course includes his own believing people, verse 16.

SUMMARY

Believers Versus Non-believers

In summary, Isaiah in these chapters distinguishes between those who believe and those who do not believe. Both of these groups include Israelites and Gentiles. Chapters 40-42 reveal that God’s real enemies are those who refuse him, preferring rather to call upon their idols. Both the Gentile nations (Isaiah 41:21-29) and Israel (Isaiah 42:18-25) harbor those who shape and trust in their powerless idols. God rebukes and rejects both of these groups.

Comfort and Peace for Believing Israel and Gentile Nations Alike

When God speaks “comfort” for his people, he does not include those whose stance is arrogant hardness of heart and idol worship. God favors the poor and needy among his own people. These are those whom he blesses. (See Isaiah 41:8-20). Likewise, God also welcomes those of the Gentile coastlands (isles) who joyfully receive the good news of Messiah. (See Isaiah 42:1-13.)

In a Nutshell

In a nutshell then, the dividing line is between believers and non-believers, between God-followers and idol worshipers. There is no line between Gentiles and the sons of Jacob. God rejects the idol worshipers among his “own” people and from among the Gentiles. Conversely, God gives his singular Servant Messiah to believers from among his own people and to believers among the Gentiles. Thus speaks Isaiah, God’s prophet.

Details: Three Metaphors in Isaiah 42:10-16

I. METAPHOR ONE-GOD AS WARRIOR

13 The Lord God of hosts shall go forth, and crush the war: he shall stir up jealousy, and shall shout mightily against his enemies. (Isaiah 42:13 LXE)

  1. The Verse in Context

This verse appears almost out of place. If it were to be interpreted concrete-literally, it would be out of place. Isaiah 42:1-12 continuously and solidly presents Messiah joyfully and with song. Messiah is gentle and quiet. He is compassionate and just. His presence makes people glad. It seems odd, then, to abruptly find God going forth as a warrior to fight against his enemies. This segment presents no enemies, not until verse 22.

2. Great Spiritual Sense

Spiritually, however, in light of Messiah, the verse (Isaiah 42:13) makes a great deal of sense. Who are God’s enemies but the powers of darkness that wage war against God through idols that appeal to men? God’s great enemy is Satan. At what point in human history did God defeat Satan? There is only one answer: at the Cross. Christians know that the cross is the place of God’s victory over all his enemies, including death. Psalm 18 portrays God’s rescuing his Son from death after he died on the cross (see Psalm 18 at JustOneSmallVoice).

II. METAPHOR TWO-GOD AS A WOMAN IN HARD LABOR

14 For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14, ESV)(1)

  1. The Verse in Context

Here again, unless the reader understands Isaiah’s metaphor, this verse may appear shocking. First, is Isaiah still using the God-as-mighty-warrior metaphor? No, I don’t believe so, contra the subject note of one study Bible. How many writers seeking to glorify a mighty warrior would compare him to a woman in labor? No…

2. Its Meaning

God does, however, acknowledge and honor women in this verse. What unites this verse with the prior verse is the theme of strong, focused effort. Giving birth is sometimes similar to a battle. But why use two so very different metaphors, if the underlying meaning is the same? The reason is that they are not the same. A warrior destroys. As verse 13 states, God will “crush…” The outcome for a woman in labor, however, is new life, a new creation. The woman brings forth something entirely new, something that was not there before.

Not just this verse, but the entire context speaks of newness.

  • new things Isaiah 42:9; 43:19; 48:6
  • new hymn Isaiah 42:10
  • good news Isaiah 52:7
  • new name Isaiah 62:2; 65:15
  • new heaven and a new earth Isaiah 65:17; 66:2

Revelation 12:1-6 uses the metaphor of a woman giving birth to describe the advent of Christ and the birth of his church.

III. METAPHOR THREE-A CHANGED LANDSCAPE

15 I will make desolate mountains and hills, and will dry up all their grass; and I will make the rivers islands, and dry up the pools. 16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will cause them to tread paths which they have not known: I will turn darkness into light for them, and crooked things into straight. These things will I do, and will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:15-16)

1. The Verses in Context

As mentioned already, these verses resemble those of Isaiah 40:1-8. All four Gospels refer to the verses in Chapter 40 in connection with John the Baptist. Therefore, the reader knows that the landscape imagery is metaphorical. That is, the mountains, hills, crooked places, and rough places indicate spiritual realities, spiritual obstacles, possibly people and powers who stand opposed to God. Plus, Isaiah 40:6 identifies grass as humanity. The best a human puts forth is no more glorious than a flower of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Finally, Isaiah 40:11 speaks of Messiah as a husbandman, feeding his flock as a shepherd (cf. John 10:11, 13-14).

2. Their Meaning

So, what does it mean in Chapter 42 when God speaks in first person and states, “I will make the rivers into coastlands and dry up marsh-meadow… I will turn darkness into light… and make crooked places straight,”? (SAAS). Is God announcing a concrete-literal landscape renovation complete with lamps and lanterns? I think most would agree that these metaphors are spiritual. The new thing that God announces will be completely different from all that has gone before. We might say in common speech that God is about to turn the world upside-down. And this is exactly what Jesus did.

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:16 ESV)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
(Matthew 5:3-6, 10-11 ESV)

The poor man [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (Luke 16:22-23 ESV)

Summary

The majority of the world’s people both in biblical times and now are Gentiles. The majority of the world’s people are poor and needy. And, a very small remnant of Israel in both the Old and New Testaments (think weak, overlooked, poor, and powerless)  clung to their loyalty to their one true God. For all these, the gospel of Jesus Christ, Messiah, is very good news indeed.

Covenant to a Race: Isaiah Journal 2.12

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/covenant-to-a-race-isaiah-devotional-2-12/.

What Does “Covenant to a Race” Mean?

From the Septuagint

6 … ἔδωκά σε εἰς διαθήκην γένους (Isaiah 42:6, LXX)

6 … I have given you as a covenant to a race… (NETS, Silva)

6 … I have given thee for the covenant of a race… (LXE, Brenton)

6 … I will… give You as the covenant of a race… (LXE, SAAS)(1)

From the Masoretic

6 … וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם (Isaiah 42:6, WLC)(2)

6 … I will give you as a covenant for the people… (Isaiah 42:6, ESV)

6 … I will appoint You as a covenant to the people… (Isaiah 42:6, NASB20)

6 … I… will make you to be a covenant for the people… (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)

6 … I… make you a covenant mediator for people… (Isaiah 42:6, NET)

Israel Singular and Israel Plural

God speaks directly to his Servant in Isaiah 42:6-7. The context indicates that the Servant is a singular person (Cf. Isaiah Devotional 2.9). The use of the word “servant” here in Chapter 42 differs from its use in Chapter 41. There, the word “servant” referred to the group of believing Israelites-“the seed of Abraham, whom I loved” (Isaiah 41:8). We know that Chapter 41 referred to a group of believers, because context determines the word’s particular meaning. In the context of the passage, Septuagint verse 14 (Isaiah 41:14) describes Israel as  “few in number.” The Masoretic writes, “you men of Israel.” 

In Chapter 42, however, all the pronouns are singular from verses 1 through 7. Note especially that the pronouns “you” and “your” in verse 6 are singular. But even more than the grammar, the context indicates that “Israel” in Chapter 42 refers to a singularly outstanding person. The content of verses 1 through 16 describes someone who is uniquely wonderful. Israel the people, even at the best of times, never lived up to this description. However, the promised Messiah will.

And This Is Why It Matters

The text of Isaiah 42:6 teaches that Messiah, a Person, is a covenant to a people. The Septuagint captures this meaning in all three of its translations. Of the Masoretic translations included above, the NIV does not shrink back, but boldly proclaims the plain meaning of the grammar, “I… will make you to be a covenant for the people.” The ESV, the NASB20, and the older KJV  also give this meaning.

But I want to contemplate a note in the NET Bible for this verse. Note 15 flatly declares, “A person cannot literally be a covenant,” (see link to NET note). Then, the translation adds the word “mediator” to the text in verse 42:6. This word is not in the text. The NET Bible translators add it to the text. Presumably, this is to cause the text to conform to the editors’ hermeneutical principle that Old Testament prophecies must remain “literal,” or physically concrete. But, rather than make such an assertive presupposition, that Isaiah spoke on a purely literal level, I will ask, “How can a person be a covenant?”

How Can a Person Be a Covenant?

In order to begin to approach answering the question, “How can a Person be a covenant?” I want to ask a further series of  questions.

  • How can a Person be literal bread? “I am the bread of life.” John 6:48
  • How can a Person be literal light? “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12; Isaiah 42:6
  • How can a Person be a literal door? “I am the door of the sheep.” John 10:7
  • How can a Person be the literal resurrection? “I am the resurrection…” John 11:25
  • How can a Person be literal life? “I am… the life.” John 11:25
  • How can a Person be a literal way? (a road, a path) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
  • How can a Person be literal truth? “I am… the truth,” John 14:6
  • How can a Person be a literal vine? “I am the vine,” John 15:5 
  • How can a Person be the literal Word? “In the beginning was the Word… the Word became flesh,” John 1:1, 14 
  • How can a literal Word create? “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:3 
  • How can a Person be literal peace? “For he himself is our peace,” Ephesians 2:14

The answers to the above questions are all the same. Jesus was not speaking (or being spoken about) concretely (“literally”). For example, Jesus’s body in John 10:7 is not a concrete doorway (a physical, “literal” doorway) through which sheep may pass. Nor does he physically lay his body down on the ground so that people can walk over him, John 14:6. Jesus, of course, speaks spiritually in these texts.

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

But for some reason, certain biblical scholars tell us that prophets living in Old Testament times were incapable of speaking spiritually, even with God’s guiding hand–his Spirit–directly upon them. Why else would they actually change the biblical text by adding words that are not there? The NET Bible adds the word “mediator” in Isaiah 42:6, NET. “Mediator” is not present in preserved texts written in the original Hebrew language. Nor is it present in the Septuagint, the earliest known translation of the Hebrew. Is the reader supposed to believe that NET Bible translators are better interpreters of God’s intended meaning to Isaiah than Isaiah himself? Isaiah was God’s chosen prophet.

Another Example

As another example of NET Bible’s literalistic presupposition (their philosophy of interpretation), let’s consider the last portion of verse 6 combined with verse 7.

Isaiah 42:6 “I am the LORD… I will give you as… a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

We believers in New Testament times know what this verse means, because Jesus Christ is the direct fulfillment of it.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (ESV)

And of course we know that Jesus is speaking spiritually. Nevertheless, the NET Bible notes accompanying verses 6 and 7 in Isaiah chapter 42 choose to portray a concrete, physical, (“literal”) interpretation of the biblical imagery. First, the NET note for verse 6 appears acceptable. They write, “sn Light here symbolizes deliverance from bondage and oppression;” (Link to NET note 16). That note interprets “light” as a metaphor (whether or not their explanation is correct). That may seem all well and good. But second, the notes interpret the phrase, “to open the eyes that are blind,” in verse 7 in an entirely concrete, i.e. physically literal, way. Further, they say, the prisoners are actual prisoners in literal dungeons.

18 sn This does not refer to literal physical healing of the blind. As the next two lines suggest, this refers metonymically to freeing captives from their dark prisons where their eyes have grown unaccustomed to light. 19 sn This does not refer to hardened, dangerous criminals, who would have been executed for their crimes in ancient Near Eastern society. This verse refers to political prisoners or victims of social injustice. (Link to NET notes 18 and 19)

What the NET notes state is that God informs his servant that at some future time, he–the servant–will free literal prisoners from literally dark prisons. Note number 18 explains that these captives have been in the dark prison for so long that their physical eyes have grown unaccustomed to the light. I guess that is supposed to mean that their eyes are no longer capable of seeing properly. For all intents and purposes, these prisoners are physically blind. God will be sending his servant to these Gentile (verse 6) prisoners to physically remove them from prison.

Is That What God Really Meant to Say?

Now how can this contrived textual interpretation possibly be more acceptable than simply acknowledging that God in these verses gives Isaiah spiritual words to speak? (See the above paragraph.) Or, does Isaiah, in contradiction to the Apostle Peter, not have the Spirit of God when he prophesies?

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of. (NET)

Peter directly claims that these Old Testament prophets did have “the Spirit of Christ within them” indicating what would later happen to Christ. Also, who were their audience? Notice that Peter flatly states that these Old Testament prophets were not primarily writing for an audience in their own timeframe. They were in fact, according to Peter, writing for listeners in the New Testament timeframe, “serving not themselves but you…” 

Are we then who read Isaiah’s words–we to whom the Holy Spirit has been given when we believed (Ephesians 1:13; Acts 19:2-6)–are we not permitted to consult that Spirit because of an unstated NET hermeneutical principle that flatly proclaims that all Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted physically (concretely, i.e., “literally”)?

But What About Jeremiah?

Yet, somehow, the prophet Jeremiah, still solidly embedded within the Old Testament timeframe, is permitted to speak spiritually.

Jeremiah 31:33 I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts… (see Isaiah 31:31-33)

I’m wondering why the NET notes don’t state that God’s law cannot be literally written on people’s hearts? Is the use of language here so very different than what Isaiah writes in Isaiah 42:6-7? If a law can be written on people’s hearts, why can’t God give his Servant to be a covenant for people? Why can’t God give his Servant to be a spiritual light to Gentiles who are spiritually blind and locked up in spiritual prisons?

The Underlying Issue

Indeed, many people who lived in Israel during Isaiah’s timeframe were locked into the same stolidly literal hermeneutic that NET Bible notes so often use. What did Isaiah write concerning his own people?

Isaiah 59:10 We grope along the wall like the blind, we grope like those who cannot see; we stumble at noontime as if it were evening. Though others are strong, we are like dead men. (NET)

And didn’t Jesus agree with God’s prophet Isaiah?

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (ESV)

And John the Apostle understood that Israel’s religious leaders were spiritually blind.

John 12:37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (ESV)

Blessedly, Jesus healed both the physically blind and the spiritually blind.

A Basic Question

Since the religious leaders of the Israelites in Jesus’s day misunderstood their own Scripture to the extent that they missed their own Messiah, why should we, who have the Holy Spirit, limit ourselves to their blind lack of understanding, interpreting their Scripture wrongly, as they did? We also have the hermeneutical key to the Old Testament that Jesus gave his disciples–himself! (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). And, we have the example of all the New Testament writers who wrote about Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Why then should we make the same literalistic mistakes that unbelieving Israel did?

We have no reason today to suppose that Isaiah had no spiritual understanding. Even if the bulk of his listeners may not have, can we not grant that God’s Spirit broke through to Isaiah? Otherwise, why would he be quoted so often in the New Testament? I believe that the New Testament quotes Isaiah so often because Isaiah prophesied the Christ, and that One’s words are Spirit and life.

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 

__________

1 SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

2 WLC: Westminster Leningrad Codex

God Speaks: Isaiah Journal 2.11

By Christina M Wilson. Previously posted at

God Speaks: Isaiah 42:5-7

A Simple Reading Lesson

God has been speaking all along in Isaiah. I encourage readers to go back through the paragraphs and chapters to locate the verses in which Isaiah writes, “… says the Lord God,” or, “… thus says the Lord God…” God often speaks in Isaiah. In fact, he speaks so often that a reader may come to take his speech for granted and barely notice. Therefore, readers need to read attentively for the portions in which God speaks directly.

Many Bibles use quotation marks to set boundaries around the portions God directly speaks. A few others use no quotation marks. Readers must judge by context who is speaking and the boundaries of the speech. Sometimes various translations disagree one from another and place the quotation marks differently. Generally speaking, the context, the content, and the exact words of the text in its original language provide the best indicators of speech and its boundaries.

For literary and spiritual purposes, direct speech is dramatic and effective. An example of the former is nearly any literary work of fiction, whether a play, a novel, a song, or poetry. Authors use speech, or dialogue to bring the piece home (make it real) to the reader or listener’s ear. Spiritually, God’s Holy Spirit uses speech in Scripture to interact with readers from all ages and places. Imagine the effect on a child of God (or soon-to-be child of God) when the Holy Spirit applies in a most personally direct way the words from Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” straight into that reader’s heart. The effect can be profound and life changing.

When seeking to understand a biblical text, careful readers pay attention to dialogue. Who is speaking to whom?

Verse 5: Dialogue Set in a Broader Context

Isaiah 42:5 defines the context for God’s speech to his Servant in the verses that follow.

Thus saith the Lord God, who made the heaven, and established it; who settled the earth, and the things in it, and gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to them that tread on it: (LXE, Brenton)

Isaiah the narrator presents God the speaker as Creator of the heaven, the earth, and all things in it, especially people. God is the source of life (spirit, breath) to all people. (Confer John 1:4 and Acts 17:25.) God as Creator, and therefore as sovereign ruler, all knowing and powerful, is the theme of chapter 40 through at least 48. In these chapters, God continually sets himself apart from the idols his people continually worship. God argues that he alone is God; idols are merely human creations. As Creator and sustainer, God has power both to foretell the future and to bring it to pass. Which of the idols can do that? By these prophecies God proves his identity and his power.

God throughout Volume 2 is calling his people back to himself. That is God’s purpose in displaying himself to his people as God Almighty, a Prophet with power to foretell and bring about the future. He earnestly desires his people to forsake their idols and return to him. He prophesies in advance the advent of his Servant in order to help his people believe. He gives them the solid evidence of prophecy as proof of his identity as God.

God Addresses the Servant

6 I the Lord God have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will strengthen thee: and I have given thee for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 to open the eyes of the blind, to bring the bound and them that sit in darkness out of bonds and the prison-house.  (Isaiah 42:6-7 LXE, Brenton

God addresses the Servant. This is in itself amazing. There are two identities present in this verse: the speaker and his addressee. Peeking ahead to chapter 49–we find that the Servant also speaks. There are two eternal Beings, right here in these texts of Isaiah.

But where in the Old Testament or in Israel’s post-exilic history is this prophecy fulfilled? If someone answers, “In Cyrus,” then what a tremendous disappointment for readers today. Cyrus has been dead and buried for millennia. What hope would his dead, desiccated corpse provide today’s bruised and nearly extinguished people the world over? But thank God the prophecy refers to one greater than Cyrus. Thank God for the fulfillment of his words of prophecy to the Servant, as recorded in the New Testament.

The Old Testament does not record the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah (unless one counts the strictly local life and death of Cyrus the Persian). And God would not be God if this prophecy of Isaiah were not fulfilled. Thank God for the New Testament! Thank God for these “new things” (Isaiah 42:9) whose fulfillment the New Testament records. God always intended the Old and New Testaments to be a unified whole, the former prophesying in detail and the latter recording fulfillment of the former.

1  Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (ESV )

Israel’s Messiah

Messiah has always existed within the pages of the Old Testament. In early Genesis, he is there (Genesis 1:1 {אֱלֹהִים noun common masculine plural absolute}; Genesis 1:26). In Moses, he is there (Deuteronomy 18:15; John 8:55-59). In the Psalter, Messiah is there (Psalm 2; Psalm 110:1). And here in Isaiah, Messiah is right here.

6 I the Lord God have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will strengthen thee: and I have given thee for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 to open the eyes of the blind, to bring the bound and them that sit in darkness out of bonds and the prison-house.  (Isaiah 42:6-7 LXE, Brenton

Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (ESV)

Praise God on behalf of his people Israel and Gentiles alike for the New Testament fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. God the Creator is God indeed.

Characteristics of the Servant: Isaiah Journal 2.10

By Christina M Wilson. Previously posted at https://justonesmallvoice.com/characteristics-of-the-servant-isaiah-devotional-2-10/.

Characteristics of the Servant: 42:1-4

The Masoretic text (Hebrew) of Isaiah 42 does not name the servant. The Septuagint text (Greek) names him, “Jacob” and “Israel” (vs 1). What are the characteristics of the servant?

  • verse 1 (Septuagint)
    • helped by God
    • chosen by God
    • accepted by God
    • the Spirit of God placed by God upon him (the three persons of the Trinity in one verse)
    • he will bring “judgment” to the Gentiles; i.e., he will fulfill the purpose of God’s Law among the Gentiles
  • verse 2
    • he will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard outside; i.e., he will not be a “rabble rouser”, nor an instigator, nor a politician, nor a mighty speech maker
  • verse 3
    • a bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench; i.e., he will be gentle towards the weak and lowly (cf., Isaiah 40:11)
    • but (the Septuagint includes a strong contrastive conjunction (ἀλλὰ)  in Isaiah 42:3, LXX; the Masoretic contains no connector (Isaiah 42:3, ESV). The contrastive connector “but” joins the foregoing (bruised reeds, smoking flax) as the context for that which follows, “he will bring forth judgment to (or in) truth.” In other words, he will treat justly (or fairly) and truthfully those people who have been bruised and beaten down, unlike the established norm (“but” = contrary to the norm). An example of this verse in Christ’s ministry is the woman caught in adultery. The ruling righteous (the falsely righteous scribes and Pharisees) wanted him to declare that she should be stoned to death. But (ἀλλὰ)  Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn (“judge against”) you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (See John 8:3-12.) Jesus brought “justice to truth.” That is, he brought a full understanding of the intent of God’s law to truthfully bear upon this situation. Strongly implied in this passage is Jesus’s awareness that the woman’s sin was not of her doing alone. He applied the Law equally to everyone, regardless of their station. And, he acted with great compassion toward the woman, who was a “bruised reed” and a “smoking flax,” or in other words, a “dimly burning wick.”
  • verse 4
    • he will “shine forth” (SAAS), or “shine out” (Brenton), or “blaze up” (NETS, Silva). This is the exact opposite of the prior “smoking wick” (NETS) of the previous verse.
    • “and not be overwhelmed until” (NETS) See John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
    • “until he has established judgment (righteousness) on the earth”; in other words, the scope of his activities and influence will be worldwide. Even for Cyrus, this would be a grandiose prophecy.
    • “and in his name shall the Gentiles trust” (Brenton), or, “will hope” (SAAS); Isaiah 42:4, LXX. Here is a direct, explicit statement in the Old Testament that the Christ’s ministry (the Servant whom God will anoint with his Spirit, see verse 1) will extend to and intentionally include Gentiles. (Clearly, the Church is not a “parenthesis,” as some Christians claim.)

The Singular Servant: Isaiah Journal 2.9

By Christina M Wilson. Previously posted at https://justonesmallvoice.com/the-singular-servant-isaiah-devotional-2-9/.

Servant Song–Isaiah 42:1-4

Isaiah 42:1, ESV Jacob is my servant, I will help him: Israel is my chosen, my soul has accepted him; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 2 He shall not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor shall his voice be heard without. 3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench; but he shall bring forth judgment to truth. 4 He shall shine out, and shall not be discouraged, until he have set judgment on the earth: and in his name shall the Gentiles trust. (LXE, Brenton)

Servant (A Group-Collective) 

Scripture clearly states that Old Testament Israel, as a collective whole, is the servant of God. 

Isaiah 41:8 But thou, Israel, art my servant Jacob, and he whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraam, whom I have loved: 9 whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and from the high places of it I have called thee, and said to thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and I have not forsaken thee. (LXE, Brenton)

But, by this point in the book of Isaiah, is there any doubt that Israel has failed to fulfill God’s commission to Abraham, “In you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed,” (Genesis 12:3)? Those who read straight through the chapters in this portion of the book will realize that Israel appears to sabotage God’s plan for them again and again. Their failure stems from their lack of belief and trust in, and loyalty to their one true God. They worship idols. God’s desire was to bless Israel and through them the whole world, but they would not. 

42:21 It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious… 24 Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. 25 So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart. (NIV)

Servant (Singular)

Scripture also clearly states that God will not abandon forever his servant, Israel. God must stand by his promise to Abraham, yet the people Israel make this impossible. Therefore, because of their repeated failures, God creates a “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). This “new thing” is his Servant, a very singular Servant, one person, one man, unique, one of a kind, God’s Son. God calls his Son “Israel.”

Chapter 42 of Isaiah does not state that “my servant” is God’s Son. Matthew, the Gospel author, does so state.

Matthew 12:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (ESV)

Without the Servant, Isaiah a Bleak Book

If the reader were to read Isaiah 41 followed immediately by Isaiah 43, the picture would be bleak, barren, depressing, and static. Isaiah 42:1-17 introduces the contrasts of joy, happiness, excitement, hope, and a flowing river that carries the depressed human soul forward. The book of Isaiah without the Servant would be utter darkness–just like the book of a human life without the Lord, Christ, God’s Servant Son. Believers and non-believers alike, let us all make room for Christ in our lives. As the chapters of our lives unfold, let us never leave out God’s solution to our existential problem of sin and hopelessness. God gave his Servant to Israel the people and to all the Gentile peoples of the world as a gift. Let us come to his light and partake freely of the abundantly flowing waters of life.

Gleanings #6-7: Isaiah Devotional 2.8

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/gleanings-6-7-isaiah-journal-2-8/.

Gleanings from Isaiah 41

Continued from Prior Posts

VI. Isaiah 41:17-20 Gleaning #6

“The Poor and the Needy” 

17And the poor and the needy shall exult; for when they shall seek water, and there shall be none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord God, I the God of Israel will hear, and will not forsake them… 20 that they may see, and know, and perceive, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has wrought these works, and the Holy One of Israel has displayed them. (LXE, Brenton)

(οἱ πτωχοὶ καὶ οἱ ἐνδεεῖς) (ee p-toe-khee kay ee-ende-eess)

The word “poor” in Greek is the same as in Matthew 5:3, mGNT, or simply Matthew 5:3. It signifies either one who is concretely poor in this world’s goods or metaphorically oppressed, beaten down. The second word “needy” is rare. It occurs only here in the Septuagint and once in the New Testament in Acts 4:34, ESV. It also means poor in this world’s goods. The passage in Isaiah 41:17-20, LXE could work both ways, concrete-literally and metaphorically.

An example of an explicitly metaphorical passage in Isaiah that speaks of water is Isaiah 58:11, LXE.

Isaiah 58:11 and thy God shall be with thee continually, and thou shalt be satisfied according as thy soul desires; and thy bones shall be made fat, and shall be as a well-watered garden, and as a fountain from which the water has not failed. (LXE, Brenton)

God’s Attitude Toward the “Poor and Needy”

What is God’s attitude toward the poor and needy?

Psalm 40:17 But I am poor and needy; the Lord will take care of me; thou art my helper, and my defender, O my God, delay not. (LXE, Brenton)

Psalm 70:5 But I am poor and needy; O God, help me: thou art my helper and deliverer, O Lord, delay not. (LXE, Brenton)

The passage in Isaiah clearly spells our God’s intended blessings upon the poor and needy. The blessing appears as future to Isaiah’s point of reference.

Isaiah 41:17 And the poor and the needy shall exult; for when they shall seek water, and there shall be none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord God, I the God of Israel will hear, and will not forsake them: 18 but I will open rivers on the mountains, and fountains in the midst of plains: I will make the desert pools of water, and a thirsty land watercourses. 19 I will plant in the dry land the cedar and box, the myrtle and cypress, and white poplar: 20 that they may see, and know, and perceive, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has wrought these works, and the Holy One of Israel has displayed them. (LXE, Brenton)

Christian Applications

Readers should bear in mind that all of Chapter 41 is future to Isaiah’s time frame, however one calculates when he prophesied Volume 2. Minimally, God’s people haven’t yet returned from exile to Babylonia. If the prophecy were intended to be physical-concrete only, it might seem strange to the exiles in a foreign land, who may or may not have had sufficient water there.

From a Christian standpoint, however, the words are spiritually highly applicable. First, there is Jesus’s own ministry to the poor and needy peoples of Palestine. They were both concretely-literally poor and spiritually poor and oppressed.

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (ESV) 

Second, Jesus used imagery of water freely flowing to signify the Holy Spirit.

 John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (ESV) 

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (ESV)

VII. Isaiah 41 Gleaning #7

God Is For Us!

 Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (ESV)

The sum total of Isaiah 41 is that “God is for us!” Who is us? The chapter teaches that God is for his people, the seed of Abraham, his servant. Who are the seed of Abraham? The New Testament teaches that all those from any ethnicity whatsoever  who believe as Abraham believed are Abraham’s seed. There is no need to be physically descended from Abraham to be a child of God.

“Us” includes the poor and needy. God is for the poor and needy of every ethnicity who depend upon him. But, Isaiah 41 teaches that those of  any ethnicity who gather together against God and his Anointed are not God’s people (“You are of your father the devil.”) Yet, if they repent, they can be. God is not stingy, nor unkind. He all but begs, rather he does beg, people everywhere to turn to him and be saved.

Isaiah knew these facts about God. He prophesied the gift of Messiah’s coming well. That is why New Testament authors and characters quote him so freely. Isaiah knew that God is for us.

Gleaning #5: Isaiah Devotional 2.7

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/gleaning-5-isaiah-journal-2-7/.

Gleanings from Isaiah 41

I. Isaiah 41:1 Gleaning #1: Isaiah Journal 2.5

II. Isaiah 41:2-3 Gleaning #2: Isaiah Journal 2.6

III. Isaiah 41:4 Gleaning #3: Isaiah Journal 2.6

IV. Isaiah 41:25 Gleaning #4: Isaiah Journal 2.6 

V. Isaiah 41:8-16 Gleaning #5: This Post

GOD HAS A SPECIAL PEOPLE, ISRAEL

8 But thou, Israel, art my servant Jacob, and he whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraam, whom I have  loved: 9 whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and from the high places of it I have called thee, and said to thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and I have not forsaken thee. 10 Fear not; for I am with thee: wander not; for I am thy God, who have strengthened thee; and I have helped thee, and have established thee with my just right hand. (LXE, Brenton)

Yes, indeed, thank God, he has a special people, Israel, whom he loves and cares for. Today, the question is, Who is Israel? The answer, apparently, appears difficult for large numbers of Christians to accept.

1. THE SHORT ANSWER

The text itself clearly answers the question, Who is Israel? “But you, O Israel, are My servant, and Jacob, whom I chose, the seed of Abraham, whom I loved.” (SAAS) (1) Clearly, the text speaks of a people, not a geo-political country. At the time of Isaiah’s writing, the people of Israel are in exile in Babylonia. Babylonia will soon to be taken by Cyrus, the Persian. The people, Israel, have no country. And yet, God’s people have not ceased to exist. “Israel…the seed of Abraham, whom I loved” has always been a people, not a geo-political nation.

2. OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL–A PEOPLE

  1. God called Abraham to leave his country, his “land.” God sent him to another “land.” (Genesis 12:1). Genesis 12:2-3 states God’s original promise to Abraham.
    2 And I will make of you a great nation [ἔθνος, eth-nos, nation, people. Cf ethnicity], and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
  2. Abraham wandered in the wilderness and became a nomad. Later, Abraham’s descendants, the sons of Jacob, remained in slavery in Egypt for some 400 years. But they were still God’s people, even without their own country.
  3. After Isaiah, the geo-political region known as Israel belonged at various times to the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. By the time Messiah arrived on the scene, the geo-political entity called Israel still remained an occupied land. Then, Rome demolished its capital, Jerusalem, along with the temple in 70 CE. Many of the descendants of Abraham went into exile. The New Testament prophesies this event (Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 24:2) but does not record its occurrence.
  4. But God specifically called Israel, “the seed of Abraham.” In God’s eyes, Israel has always been a people, not a country.
  5. The inclusion of Gentiles among God’s people hovers ever-present in the background of Isaiah to this point (Isaiah 11:10, 12; 12:4). In future chapters, the promise becomes more explicit (Isaiah 49:21-23; 54:2; 56:3-7).

3. NEW TESTAMENT

  1. The New Testament all but drops the subject of “land” entirely. When Scripture does mention the land, we find that the promise to Abraham and his descendants has turned from “land” into “world” or “earth.”
    • In Matthew 5:5, when Jesus promises the meek that they shall inherit the “earth,” Scripture uses the same Greek word (γῆν, geen) that it uses in God’s command to Abraham in Septuagint Genesis 12:1, LXX.
    • Paul explicitly states that God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would be “heir of the world” (κόσμου, kos-moo) (Romans 4:13).
  2. The apostle Paul devotes many chapters in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians to prove with Scripture that Gentiles are included among the offspring of Abraham. Just a few examples are Romans 4:16 and 18 and Galatians 3:29).

4. QUESTIONS

  1. In all honesty, dear Christian reading this post, do you find comfort and personal application in Isaiah’s words to “Israel” in Isaiah 40:1-2; 41:8-14, and 17-20? I certainly do.

2. Assuming a positive response, does it make any spiritual sense at all to delineate division between a) spiritual only blessings upon all of Abraham’s children by faith, and b) concrete (real estate) blessings upon his racial-only progeny? Does Scripture as a totality (Old and New Testaments together) teach race? No, it does not. Not by any means.

Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (ESV)

Conclusion

It is not the purpose of this blog to be contentious. Nevertheless, there seem still to be large numbers of Christians who cling to earthly, carnal, political fulfillment of God’s precious promises to all peoples everywhere from every tribe, language, people, and nation. God is inclusive, not exclusive. Reserving certain promises of God to those of a particular racial ethnicity robs other Christians of different ethnic descent of their full blessings in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:18-22). Plus, it complicates Scriptural interpretations enormously. Christians the world over should all be rejoicing together, as one, as Christ and his Father intend it to be (John 17). Inserting any kind of ethnic divisions into the mix ruins rejoicing as one.

As we shall see in the next post, Lord willing, “the God of Israel” favors the “poor and needy” (Isiah 41:17-20). Let us all seek to become one of these. The “poor and needy” throughout Scripture are God’s special people (Matthew 5:3-6).

__________

1 “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved,” in The Orthodox Study Bible, Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Gleaning #2: Isaiah Devotional 2.6

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/gleaning-2-isaiah-journal-2-6/.

Gleanings from Isaiah 41

RECAP

Picking up the “story line” from the last post (Isaiah Journal 2.5), in Chapter 41of Isaiah, God summons the nations to renew their strength, gather themselves in consultation together, then “debate” (Isaiah 42:1, NET) with him. The debate will determine who is more powerful, God or his united enemies.

Differences Between Septuagint and Masoretic Texts

God speaks first in Isaiah 41:2-4 (1). The narrative of the Septuagint differs from the Masoretic in verses 2-3.

II. Isaiah 41:2-3 (2)

A. The Masoretic

The Masoretic text (Hebrew) portrays the victorious conqueror from the east accomplishing his militaristic feats through violence.

41:2 Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.
3 He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. (ESV)

Verse 3 appears obscure. What does it mean that he pursues nations “by paths his feet have not trod,”? Readers can compare translations at this website: Blue Letter Bible.

B. The Septuagint

The Septuagint text (Greek), on the other hand, portrays the victorious conqueror accomplishing his feats peacefully.

41:2 Who raised up righteousness from the east, and called it to his feet, so that it should go? shall appoint it an adversary of Gentiles, and shall dismay kings, and bury their swords in the earth, and cast forth their bows and arrows as sticks? 3 And he shall pursue them; the way of his feet shall proceed in peace. (LXE, Brenton)

C. Application

  1. I do not pretend to be an historian. Readers may consult online encyclopedias to discover that some accounts state that Cyrus achieved takeover of Babylonia peacefully by diverting waterways that protected the city. His soldiers marched through thigh high water by night. The Babylonians caved without resistance. Not all accounts agree with this. They vary by source material used.
  2. Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 mention Cyrus by name. We have not arrived at these verses yet in our study. However, Isaiah does use metaphor. Cyrus could well be a metaphor for God’s shepherd, Christ. The Orthodox Study Bible (3) contains study notes that so indicate.
  3. If a reader chooses to interpret the phrases “righteousness from the east” and “his feet shall proceed in peace” as prophecies extending to God’s Messiah, then indeed, they are true. Christ, through his followers, spiritually conquered Gentile nations by means of peaceful preaching of the gospel.
  4. In any event, these questions concerning the meaning of verses two and three would most likely not be asked if the reader only consulted the Masoretic text.

III. Isaiah 41:4

Isaiah 41:4, LXX pops in the Septuagint text. The last two words state, “I Am.”

4 Who has wrought and done these things? he has called it who called it from the generations of old; I God, the first and to all futurity, I AM. (LXE, Brenton

A study note for this verse appears in the Orthodox Study Bible (3).

41:4 I Am, repeated twenty-seven times in chs. 41-49, means “I am the existing One.” This phrase is traditionally written in Greek in Christ’s halo on Orthodox icons (OΩN). This is how the Son and Word of God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex 3:14).

Additionally, the high priest tore his garments when Jesus spoke these words in Mark 14:62-63. On another occasion in John 8:58-59, the religious leaders picked up stones to hurl at Jesus when he spoke these words. These are actions Jewish people performed whenever they heard blasphemy. Because Isaiah consistently uses the “I am” phrase with reference to Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty, they understood that when Jesus spoke “I am” with reference to himself, he equated himself with Yahweh, the Old Testament Lord and God. This resulted in charges of blasphemy, by their interpretation.

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)

In all fairness, yes, the English versions of the Masoretic text do bring out the force of Isaiah 41:4, ESV, some more than others (see Isaiah 41:4, NET). But to anyone with an Old Testament Septuagint interlinear, the text in Greek immediately calls to mind New Testament parallels. (See also Revelation 1:8, 17 and 22:13).

IV. Isaiah 41:25

With much less dramatic impact, verse 25 contains a small difference worth notice.

The Masoretic (Hebrew) reads:

41:25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; (ESV)

Another version translates the Hebrew differently:

41:25 I have stirred up one out of the north and he advances, one from the eastern horizon who prays in my name. (NET)

The Greek text reads:

41:25 But I have raised up him that comes from the north, and him that comes from the rising of the sun: they shall be called by my name: (LXE, Brenton)

The introduction of “they” here, in association with “him” calls to mind a New Testament text that points to Christ and his followers. “They shall be called by my name” finds fulfillment in Acts.

Acts 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (ESV)

CONCLUSION

Not too many years ago, many church “scholars” and pundits considered the Septuagint translation as “less than.” I, for one, encountered discouragement toward its use. In the past several years, however, a fresh appreciation of the Septuagint has grown. Some English translations of the Masoretic use it to inform their text, when the Hebrew meaning seems less clear or certain.

New Testament authors quoted extensively from the Septuagint. I find the linguistic connections between it and the New Testament to be many and rich. Septuagint Isaiah is a book in which the gospel connections between the Old Testament and Christ in the New are brought to light, rather than obscured. Lord willing, may he permit and encourage me to continue exploring its treasures.

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1 In fact, the nations never speak in all of this chapter. God speaks throughout. Rather, the text shows us their actions of constructing their idols together.

2 The prior post contains point one: Isaiah Journal 2.5

3Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Gleaning #1: Isaiah Devotional 2.5

By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/gleaning-1-isaiah-journal-2-5/.

Gleanings from Isaiah 41

Differences Between Septuagint and Masoretic Texts

I. Isaiah 41:1

A. The Details

40:31 but they that wait on God shall renew their strength; they shall put forth new
feathers like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not hunger.


41:1 Hold a feast to me, ye islands: for the princes shall renew their strength: let them draw nigh and speak together: then let them declare judgment. (Septuagint {LXX}, Brenton translation {1})

Compare the above verses from the Septuagint with those from the Masoretic below.

40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.


41:1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment. (ESV)

A main difference in these verses is placement (location) of the word “together” in verse 41:1. In both the Septuagint English translation (LXE, Brenton) and the Greek text itself, “together” (ἅμα) refers to the action of the “princes.” The verb “shall renew” is future active indicative. This describes what will happen. In view of this, God states, “Let them” draw near and speak together.” In other words, with their newly found strength, God invites, or commands, the “princes,” or rulers, to draw near to one another and speak together with each other. “Then,” says the text, let them declare their judgment. (Conclusions will be drawn below.)

Another difference in verse 41:1 is the word translated “princes” in Brenton’s English Septuagint. The Septuagint, as translated by Moisés Silva (2), reads “rulers.” The princes are rulers.

The Masoretic text (ESV) for this word reads “peoples.” Also, the Masoretic assigns the word “together” with reference to God and the peoples, rather than to the peoples together among themselves. Further, unlike the Septuagint, God invites the peoples to renew their strength (“let the peoples renew”). Finally, they and God will “together draw near for judgment.” This order and grouping becomes very apparent in the NET translation.

“Listen to me in silence, you coastlands! Let the nations find renewed strength! Let them approach and then speak; let us come together for debate! (Isaiah 41:1, NET)

B. Gleanings from the Details 

By now, most likely, many casual readers have long since disappeared from the scene. “So what? Big deal. Who cares? This is really picking through straws,” some of them might say. But the Septuagint Greek text contains many treasures of richness in God’s holy Word, for those who have patience to read, reread, compare texts, listen, and notice. One reader’s chaff is another’s golden thread.

A STORY LINE REVEALED

Verses 40:31-41:1 reveal a story in the Greek text. We include Isaiah 40:31 because of the verbal tie established by repetition of the word “renew.” Isaiah 40:31 is one of the more popular verses from Isaiah. This verse has been set to music, and decorative wall plaques containing this verse adorn people’s homes.

Considering 40:31 and 41:1 together, side by side as they are, the reader perceives two distinct groups which renew their strength. One group are the blessed, “they that wait on God.” Waiting on God in Scripture is a marvelous thing to do. God favors those who wait on him. The other group are composed of the rulers, the nations, the far off islands. These words refer not so much to geography in this context, but to spiritual condition. Those far from God abide so because they oppose him; they have no interest in him. But God says they shall renew their strength. And being strengthened, God bids them to gather together with one another, to converse together in a huddle, to plan their strategy in opposition to God.

Now ordinarily, the peoples of islands, or far off nations, would not speak the same language. God confused the languages at the tower of Babel and scattered the people groups. Here they come together in a united front of opposition against God. A comparison with other Scriptures helps us to see that this is the case.

Psalm 2:2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ; (LXE) 

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV)

God’s people, on the other hand, are not united by a “cause.” They are united by nature, for they share the nature and character of Christ.

John 17:11… Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one… 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me… 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one… (ESV)

As the story line progresses through the chapter, the reader discovers that the united enemies of God, the “rulers,” lose the argument. They and their idols neither foresee the future nor bring it about. God, however, created the world, foretells its future history, and in his might and power brings it to pass (see prior post).

Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (ESV)

CONCLUSION: GLEANING #1 God is in control. He designs the outcome and brings it to pass.

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1 English Septuagint Translation, Brenton, available at eng-Brenton_ISA.pdf (ebible.org), October 7, 2021.

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