By Christina M Wilson
… chapter by chapter context clues continued
Recap: Descriptors of Faithful Israel
The purpose of the last several posts is to determine from previous context in Isaiah who the “barren” woman of Isaiah 54:1 might be.
1 Rejoice, you barren that bear not; break forth and cry, you that do not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband: (Isaiah 54:1 Septuagint)
We have determined that this desolate one can be neither Gentiles (Devotional 2.56) nor apostate (faithless) Israel (Devotional 2.55). The thesis of these posts is that God in Isaiah distinguishes between the faithful and the unfaithful. His promises will be fulfilled in the faithful. Chapter 44 begins to indicate that the “barren” woman of 54:1 is faithful Jerusalem (Devotional 2.61).
Isaiah chapter 45 declares the sovereignty and might of God. God defends himself very strongly as creator of all things. He even states that he creates darkness and evil (45:7). Devotional 2.21 develops this chapter with God as its subject. Chapter 45 anticipates the role of God’s Servant. It uses Cyrus the Persian as a type. In verses 20-22, God makes a special appeal to Gentiles to turn to him and “be saved” (verse 22). Chapter 45 does not appear to add to the theme of Jerusalem or Israel as the “barren” one of chapter 54:1.
In chapter 46 God turns from defending himself to describing the idol worship of Israel. The description God gives of idolatrous Israel does not use the word “barren.” Nevertheless, this short chapter describes an Israel that spiritually walks through deserted places away from God. God calls the unfaithful to repentance. He promises salvation and glory for Sion (verse 13).
God through Isaiah speaks directly to Babylon for the entirety of chapter 47. He refers to her as a “virgin daughter” (verse 1). He continues the motif of addressing the Babylonian kingdom as a female person throughout the chapter. God speaks nothing about Israel in chapter 47.
Chapter 48 presents a classic example of God’s “flip-flop” of attitude toward Israel. In the first eleven verses God addresses unfaithful Israel. See below some of the phrases he uses.
1 Hear these words, you house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and have come forth out of Juda, who swear by the name of the Lord God of Israel, making mention of it, but not with truth, nor with righteousness; 2 maintaining also the name of the holy city, and staying themselves on the God of Israel: the Lord of hosts is his name… [My comment: The text leaves no room for doubting that God addresses those who call themselves by the name of Israel.] … 4 I know that you are stubborn, and your neck is an iron sinew, and your forehead brazen. 5 And I told you of old… lest you should say, My idols have done it for me; and should say, My graven and molten images have commanded me… 8 You have neither known, nor understood, neither from the beginning have I opened your ears: for I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and would be called a transgressor even from the womb. 9 For my own sake will I show you my wrath, and will bring before you my glorious acts, that I may not utterly destroy you. 10 Behold, I have sold you, but not for silver; but I have rescued you from the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake I will do this for you, because my name is profaned; and I will not give my glory to another. (LXE)
God in the previous passage addresses a people whom he identifies clearly. People know them by the name of Israel. They identify themselves with the holy city [Jerusalem]. But they do so falsely. They also pretend to rely upon God. In reality, they worship idols, stubbornly and boldly. God did not ever “open their ears” to understand him. He knew that they would “deal treacherously” and transgress from the time even before they were born (verse 8). God would have destroyed them, but this would not look good before the nations. Because they call themselves by Israel’s name, God rescued them. He did this for his own honor and glory, not for their sakes.
Immediately after this diatribe, God again addresses Jacob and Israel (verse 12). But the Septuagint presents a major difference between this address and the one immediately prior.
48:12a Hear me, O Jacob, and Israel whom I call… (LXE)
The Septuagint uses the word “call” in present tense. The various English translations of the Masoretic use past tense. The difference is subtle. Past tense indicates that the calling was done in the past (obviously). This leads a reader to assume that God addresses the same group of people in verse 12 whom he addresses in verses 1-11. But this is not necessarily so.
The Greek word “call” (καλέω, ka-le-oh) is the same word Paul uses in Romans 8:30 and Matthew in Matthew 2:15. Now, God in Isaiah 48:8 states that he did not open the ears of the Israel whom he addresses in that prior section. If their ears were not open to hear, then they would not hear God calling them. The second group of addressees, however, God does call. He calls in expectation that they will hear and obey.
Therefore, it seems highly likely that within the people known as “Israel” are two kinds of people. One type of person is what today we would label a “false believer.” This is someone who goes by the name of “believer” and perhaps behaves and speaks as though they were believers. But their profession is false. In reality, they are far from God. The other type of person is one whom God himself certifies that he himself called.
Today, we all recognize two types of “believers” in the Christian church. This is indeed why Matthew warns against wolves within the church who dress in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). If such different kinds of believers exist in the Christian church, why would they not be present in God’s Old Testament congregation of “Israel”?
GOD’S WORDS TO THOSE HE CALLS
48:12 Hear me, O Jacob, and Israel whom I call; I am the first, and I endure for ever. 13 My hand also has founded the earth, and my right hand has fixed the sky: I will call them, and they shall stand together. 14 And all shall be gathered, and shall hear: who has told them these things? Out of love to you I have fulfilled your desire on Babylon, to abolish the seed of the Chaldeans. 15 I have spoken, I have called, I have brought him, and made his way prosperous. 16 Draw near to me, and hear you these words; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning: when it took place, there was I, and now the Lord, even the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me. 17 Thus says the Lord that delivered you, the Holy One of Israel; I am your God, I have shown you how you should find the way wherein you should walk. 18 And if you had listened to my commandments, then would your peace have been like a river, and your righteousness as a wave of the sea. 19 Your seed also would have been as the sand, and the offspring of your belly as the dust of the ground: neither now shall you by any means be utterly destroyed, neither shall your name perish before me. 20 Go forth of Babylon, you that flee from the Chaldeans: utter aloud a voice of joy, and let this be made known, proclaim it to the end of the earth; say you, The Lord has delivered his servant Jacob. 21 And if they shall thirst, he shall lead them through the desert; he shall bring forth water to them out of the rock: the rock shall be cloven, and the water shall flow forth, and my people shall drink. 22 There is no joy, says the Lord, to the ungodly. (LXE)
COMPARISONS AND CONTRASTS
1. Notice that God calls this second group “out of love” (verse 14). The first group he delivered for the sake of his own name and glory (verses 9, 11).
2. Although this group also sinned against God and suffered discipline at his hand, nevertheless, God spares a remnant, just as he does for the first group (verses 9, 18-19).
3. The tone of this address is completely different (verses 20-21 versus 8-11).
4. As if to ward off confusion, God states strongly that the “ungodly” will have no joy. Because the group God addresses in verses 1-11 are ungodly, readers can apply verse 22 to them.
Septuagint verses 15 and 16 appear to refer to God’s Servant.
15 I have spoken, I have called, I have brought him, and made his way prosperous. 16 Draw near to me, and hear you [plural] these words; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning: when it took place, there was I, and now the Lord, even the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me.
Chapter 48 closes immediately prior to the Second Servant Song of Isaiah 49:1-6. Verses 15 and 16 in the Septuagint follow the First Servant Song of Isaiah 42:1-7. This passage, therefore, falls within the context of God’s Servant. God speaks verse 15, while the Servant speaks verse 16. Readers may conclude that God will pour his blessings on this second group of Israelites by means of his Servant. (LXE) (See also Devotional 2.24: Messiah Speaks.)
CHAPTER 48: CONCLUSION
While the text of chapter 48 makes no specific mention of the “barren” woman (Septuagint Isaiah 54:1), it does delineate two kinds of Israelite: the strongly disobedient and another group, those whom God calls. The alternative to this conclusion–that there is only one group whom God addresses in both portions of chapter 48–leads readers to conclude that God’s chastisements are ineffectual. Readers might also conclude that God’s will is weak or that he cannot make up his mind. If God bestows the blessings of chapter 48 upon all Israel regardless of the condition of their hearts, then readers might conclude that for an Israelite the state of their faith does not really matter. In other words, why should they worship God? Why not cling to their idols, since God’s blessings will fall upon them anyway? But I strongly believe that chapter 48 does not state this. Those whose hearts remain closed off to God will not receive his blessings of joy (Isaiah 48:22).